Title card for Hyde's Haunt and Seek

Hyde’s Haunt and Seek: Smol Games Delivers Big Fun with their Frightful Parlor Game

Aside from the many big booth titles that dominated the floor at PAX East 2023 there were many indie booths garnering a sizable gathering over the weekend. One such title that caught my eye was Hyde’s Haunt and Seek, located in a tiny corner booth with a large cutout of a grotesque clown. I approached and saw people stepping up to enjoy the game, taking part in possessing objects and spreading scares. It seemed like the perfect mix of fear and fun to keep a group of fright-loving friends entertained. 

I took time to watch a group of my friends play the game, as well as play it myself. The game is a delightful mix of games like Prop Hunt and Phasmaphobia. Players fill one of two roles, either as the seeker, aiming to expel all ghosts within, or as the ghosts themselves, aiming to scare the seeker senseless, and summon their scary specter to aid them in capturing them. After getting a better handle on the game I took a moment to speak with the two-person team at Smol games, consisting of Morgan and David. 

After exchanging introductions I asked Morgan and David how long had they been working on Hyde’s Haunt and Seek?

David: We started at the end of 2019. So like, three and a half years or so. Most of that time has just been spent iterating on the game design and finding the fun of the two different roles, the seeker and the ghosts. 

Morgan: Yeah, that’s the hardest part. It’s basically two games in one. The mortal seeker is first person, your typical horror game, you’re in a house exploring with a flashlight. But the ghosts are top down, so it’s an isometric point of view where you can see a whole room and be able to move around the seeker and play pranks. Trying to get both of those sides to interact was honestly the hardest part of this. Initially, the ghosts would just hide in furniture and then the seeker could just avoid all the furniture. So how do we get those two sides to interact and have something that’s fun and replayable.

David: And like she said, it really is like developing two games in one. But it’s almost worse than that, because they both have to work together. And so you’re constantly going back and forth and being like, this might be a great idea. And it might be a great idea for the ghosts, really fun, but what happens when the seeker has to deal with it? Is it fun for them still? So that’s where things get really complicated.

I could only imagine, I commented that it must add a new layer of level design when considering the two perspectives, since they are about as far apart on the scale as they can be.

Morgan: It is a work in progress, for sure, I think right now, the seeker feels pretty good, you have the glowing hint arrows that help you out. But the ghosts point of view, I think, could use a little bit of simplification. The house is a Victorian Manor. So there’s a lot of busy carpets that kind of take, you know, a visual space. So I’m still working on iterating that

David: level design wise, that’s our next major step, one of our next major design improvements that we’re going to be working on. We have one level right now, but we want to be expanding and trying out all kinds of different layouts, really getting a feel for what kinds of spaces are most fun for this game. And like you said, most fun for the seeker, most fun for the ghosts and most fun for both.

I told the team that it was nice to hear that while they still wanted to build a world and tell a story that the most important aspect at any time was the player experience on both sides.

Morgan: Yeah, so that’s kind of my next step. The gameplay loop is super solid right now, but the next step for me is to really start putting in more of my characters into the lore and into the house. Especially for the final cage match, which we’re calling the haunts. And when that happens, you’re able to summon your final haunt ghost. So if you think about, like, the Dead by Daylight characters, how they each have their own move set. That’s what these ghosts are going to have, too. That’s not in the current build, that’s our future plans.

David: And that’s really what’s going to draw people to this even more than the game mechanics. Yes, it’s important to have really fun gameplay, and that’s our foundation, you need that. But even before that, people are gonna see these characters and they’re gonna be like, Oh, that looks like a cool character. Like, who’s that clown? You know, Who’s that woman in the dress?

Morgan: Yeah, the clown already has pretty much a cult following on TikTok. He’s gone viral a few times. His actual name is Peter Poirot, but people call him Gramps. I don’t know why they love him, they want to hug him and kiss him, I’m down for it. 

David: And they have it right, I mean, these ghosts at the end of the day, they’re not trying to kill you, murder you, they’re happy haunts. They’re here to have fun, too, they just happen to be really scary.

Morgan: They want you to get to know them. That’s the whole point of playing the game, actually. So at the beginning of the round, the ghosts hide their prized possessions and the seeker needs to find them. The way you get to know the ghosts better is by collecting their prized possession. So at the end of the round the seeker, if they’re able to get out of the house alive with all of their possessions, is able to set them at the altar of all these different ghosts. The more you have, the more you get to know them. And then maybe they can move on happy to the afterlife, they don’t have to stay stuck in this house anymore.

David: Yeah, so Morgan, I think pointing to a little bit of a possible progression system where as the seeker finds more objects hidden throughout the house, each of these objects has some meaning. It’s like a memento, it’s a keepsake for each of these ghosts. You collect them, put them in your collection, and now when you are playing as a ghost, you can use them, disperse them throughout the house and other players can go find them. Sort of a little bit of an economy of everybody figuring out the lore of what happened here at Hyde Manor, and everybody kind of putting it a little bit together piece by piece finding these keepsakes.

I liked this idea, it was nice to get more depth and replayability out of a game without requiring players to dedicate large amounts of time or learn complex systems. A nice casual game where your friends could swing by two weeks later and check all of the new items and lore that were unlocked.

David: In addition, another new thing we’re going to be doing are more bespoke pranks. Like, one of them, a bookshelf, bats fly out of and that’s one of the pranks that if the seeker sees that it’s  extra fear energy. What we want to do is to be all over the place. We’ve got a bathtub that fills up with blood, there’s rats on the kitchen table, all kinds of, you know, bespoke things like that. And then having a way for ghosts to be able to sort of design their own loadout of things. Like maybe for me, the bathtub has a crocodile in it, and that’s because I unlocked that by playing the ghost enough. Doesn’t actually change the game mechanic really, but the content of it is totally different. And so having that be another way of progression we think sounds great… And if I know my friend is really scared of alligators, I’m gonna select that as part of my loadout.

I joked that my fiance hates clowns, so I knew what kind of loadout I would be building.

David: Well, at the end of the day, you know, we’re trying to be nice. We’re not trying to traumatize anybody. And that’s why, you know, we’re not really going for violence here. You know, we’re going for something a little bit more Haunted Mansion, a little more spooky rather than silly.

I loved to hear that, as a hardcore horror fan, I can’t just keep playing the darkest, grimmest games. I commented that it would be nice to take a break and play something fun and light while keeping the mood spooky. As we continued to speak I asked the team what the win conditions were for each team?

Morgan: So the win condition for both of them is all dependent on the cage match at the end. The entire time the seeker is trying to find these keepsakes, not only to take them out of the house, but it also upgrades their flashlight. So every time they find a keepsake, you know, we get a rapid pulse beam, we have a wider beam. So that helps them out in the final cage match. For the ghosts it’s the same thing. They’re trying to fill up their meter so that they can become all the more powerful when the hunt begins. It’s a cage match where everybody’s locked in one room. So the seeker basically just needs to eliminate all ghosts. You need to catch them moving furniture, get them out of the furniture and blast them. The ghosts are doing this cool little ritual where they’re moving furniture onto pads. And that actually is the summoning ritual for our one clown ghost right now. And all they have to do at that point is just grab them.

To clarify, I said that it sounded like the ghost’s main focus was summoning the clown, and that it was pretty much game over for the seeker if they did.

David: Once the clown is unleashed, you have a slight chance of victory but it’s really hard… But in the future it won’t just be the clown it’ll be whatever ghost you selected that’s their final form that gets to attack you. 

As our conversation continued another group came up to play the demo available, and David took this opportunity to talk about the team’s hopes for the multiplayer experience.

David: So basically, right now we’re in the lobby, the whole point here is you’re kind of waiting for your friends to join you. In the main version of this game, you’re gonna see a four digit code, a room code that you can type in, just like, like Among Us or something like that. we do want this to be something that ghosts can play on mobile, because we’re such huge fans of the way Jackbox is just so easy to jump into. And we’re thinking wouldn’t it be cool if ghosts could play for free. I don’t know, we have to evaluate our business model and whatever, but that’s kind of the hope. And in fact, early prototypes, the seeker was in VR even. And it would be a great mode to have at some point. VR is so perfect for this partly because it forces you to wear headphones, and so much of that seeker experience is listening. You’re hearing creaks, you’re hearing spooky sounds, you’re hearing ghosts move around you and you’re trying to pinpoint where they are. And so for the ghosts it is very much a stealth game. 

The players began the game, but were first tasked with completing a short tutorial on the game’s mechanics.

David: So the tutorial takes everybody through on their own. Because the game is so different for each role you get a unique tutorial for each person. The ghosts are learning to stay away from the flashlight. Possessing furniture keeps you safe, but they can see you moving around as furniture. It’s got a little bit of that Prop Hunt magic to it.

Watching the game begin, I commented that the flashlight itself was doing a lot of smart UI work by displaying which upgrades were being acquired by the player without cluttering the screen.

David: So there’s some mystery around the flashlight itself. It was built by a researcher in the 1920s who at some point came and explored Hyde Manor and something happened. We don’t know, but we have their flashlight. And Mr. Hyde is using it as part of his parlor game, which he’s very excited to tell you all about. When you play, you’ll hear he’s guiding you through all of this.

While we were on the topic of My. Hyde and his parlor games, I asked the team what it was that brought these people together in this house to play this game?

Morgan: So Lord Hyde was like a Victorian dandy in his life. He loved throwing parties and having people over. But it got to a point where all of his friends kind of moved on from that partying lifestyle. So he wanted to have one last hurrah. He invites his four closest friends over and was like, “Hey, everybody bring over a keepsake that means something to you, hide them around the house, and then I’m going to try to find them.” So he plays a seeker, he finds all the objects and he keeps all of their keepsakes because he’s like, “Look, I need mementos to remember you guys. You guys are moving away. I want to remember you.” So at the end of the night, they take a picture and Victorians believe that picture stole a part of your soul, and it turns out it did. So when all of his friends ended up dying, they came back to the house. So now it’s this eternal parlor game that we’re playing in the afterlife.

I followed up by asking if it was up to the player to break their chains and set them free?

Morgan: So once they’re able to collect all the keepsakes of these four ghosts that basically is able to set their spirit free so they can actually move on. But it is also fun for them to keep playing and introducing people to this parlor game. 

Again, as with the loadouts, it was nice to see that there was a good amount planned to keep the players returning to the game. Having a continued thread to pursue definitely helps elevate a title like this above being just a party game. And who doesn’t love the feeling of ending a night with a new unlock.

David: When you are playing Smash Bros with your friends and you’re unlocking those characters as you go, that’s the kind of excitement that we want to feel as you’re playing multiplayer. You’re unlocking stuff that was really cool.

As the round in progress progressed, David told me more about the seeker’s mysterious flashlight and its various functions. 

David: This mysterious flashlight has the ability to absorb ethereal energy and use it to upgrade itself, attack ghosts, and also see into the ghost world. It kind of has this black light effect… the normal mode of the seeker visually is kind of the sepia tone, almost like a Victorian vibe. But then when your flashlight is engaged, you have this vibrant, almost black light or UV reactive kind of look to it. So yeah, and that’s kind of like you sort of seeing into the ghosts world a little bit.

At this point in the match the ghosts took the most direct means of stopping the seeker and began barricading the doorways with furniture. 

David: Sometimes the ghosts, we call it a toxic ghost behavior, it’s not really, but it’s a strategy where you try to block the seekers path with furniture. It is a valid strategy, and it is pretty funny when they do it. The seeker can sort of move things back into position, but it does slow them down.

I told them that it sounded like that was the name of the game, anything to stop the seeker. 

David: Pretty much, I mean, one strategy is you could do that. But I think most ghosts kind of just focus on getting their own power. We have this meter called the team spirit meter… The idea is, the more things you do that the seeker can see, the more scary things like levitating an object filling a bathtub with blood, you can absorb that fear energy that goes into your team spirit meter, which all the ghosts benefit from. So the ghosts become faster, they can move inside furniture faster, they have better prank stamina, stuff like that. And it’s all about that final match, which again, we’re starting here. But even at the final match, it’s kind of still anybody’s game a lot of the time because a very good seeker could potentially pull it together at the end, especially if the ghosts sort of screw up.

I could absolutely see that, I commented that we all have that one friend who is MLG good at games, they could definitely be a problem. 

David: Oh yeah, And that’s why we’re gonna definitely need to have handicaps and stuff that you can set because, well, one of our favorite games that we loved fresh out of college was the Luigi’s Mansion game on Wii U. It was for Nintendo Land, it was called Luigi’s ghost mansion. And we played it late into the night. One of our roommates became so pro at being the ghost that it started to become less fun. And we realized that’s always possible in an asymmetrical game, we’re always going to need to have some ability to deal with that.

As the game came to an end and the seeker claimed his prize, we began to wrap up our conversation on the title. Before I departed, I asked Morgan and David if there was anything else that they wanted the readers to know about their title?

David: So we’re big fans of Halloween, and like I said, Haunted Mansion. These are family events, the Haunted Mansion is a family ride. We think that experiencing small, manageable amounts of fear is good for our mental health. And we think that when we do it together socially with friends, it helps remind us that we’re not alone in our fear, and we all are afraid of things. Death, you know, is one of them. But things like Halloween really helped us, I think, to deal with those feelings, especially when we can do it in a playful way, like this. And people of all ages need that, we think.

Morgan: I would just say, you know, we’re trying to get the word out about this game. Right now. We’re seeking funding. So you know, if you’re able, if you do have a Steam account, we do have a Steam page, so you can find it and wishlist it. Also, follow us on Twitter, you know, any metrics that were able to be like, Look, 5000 People love this game. So just getting the word out really helps us out.

With that I thanked them for taking the time to speak with me, and let them get back to managing their space at the convention. For the remainder of PAX there was seemingly always a group of people having a frightfully good time at the Hyde’s Haunt and Seek booth. 

If Hyde’s Haunt and Seek sounds like the perfect mix of hunting and haunting with your homies then be sure to wishlist the title on Steam so you don’t miss this macabre multiplayer amusement when it launches, and if you want to stay up to date on the development of the project, be sure to visit their website or follow Smol Games on Twitter. 

And as always, if you are fiending for the latest and greatest in gruesome, ghoulish gaming, then be sure to head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!