The Video Games Are Good team got hands-on with with the PAX West demo for Hyde's Haunt and Seek and talked with Design Director and Engineering Lead David Turpin of Smol Games.
In the Arch Building at PAX West 2023, all the way at the back of the expo floor, stood a section of indie games holding together like a fortress — a very well-populated one. On any given day from Sept. 1-4, you'd have seen the center aisle packed with people aiming to get their hands on the demo for Hyde's Haunt and Seek (and its equally popular neighbors).
Hyde's was one of just a handful of multiplayer demos available on the show floor, making it a perfect pit stop for those who showed up to Ye Olde Penny Arcade Expo with a group of friends. That includes your Video Games Are Good duo! We tried the game on Day 1 and returned again to swap roles on Day 4 when the crowds had finally thinned.
Hands-on impressions with Hyde's Haunt and Seek
Developer: Smol Games
Genre: Online multiplayer horror
Hyde's Haunt and Seek first caught our eye because of our interest in multiplayer horror games like Phasmophobia and Ghost Exorcism, Inc. However, as we played its demo at PAX West 2023, we quickly found that it shared more DNA with the likes of Luigi's Mansion and Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.
Up to three players can take part in this multiplayer online experience, with one playing in first-person mode as the human seeker, and two playing with a top-down perspective as the spirits.
Armed with a flashlight, the seeker searches the dark rooms of Hyde Manor looking for ghostly keepsake items hidden by the spirits. The seeker essentially tears the house apart, shaking things out of the furniture, opening cabinets, digging through potted plants, and searching every nook. They're simultaneously aiming to catch the pranking ghosts in the crosshairs of their flashlight beam and zap them, which helps illuminate a blacklight path to nearby keepsakes and provides energy upgrades for the flashlight. You'll want to constantly be on the move as the seeker, maximizing your ability to find keepsakes and dodging the pranks of the ghosts.
As the seeker, with unprepared ghosts during our first run, it felt pretty easy to overpower the spirits. But we certainly saw some more evenly matched games play out. The tension rises as you search frantically through drawers and your time ticks down toward a haunt being triggered.
The spirits have a vastly different play experience from the seeker. For starters, they play from a top-down perspective, looking down on the mansion almost like a little dollhouse. They start each round hiding their keepsake objects within Hyde Manor. While the seeker investigates, the spirits play pranks and haunt objects in the seeker's line of sight, all while trying not to get caught in the light of the seeker's flashlight. The pranks ranged from silly — like ballroom-dancing ghosts on a piano or a biting houseplant — to genuinely kind of spooky, like illusions of bugs, bees, spiders, or a tub filling with blood. The spirits can move through walls, allowing them to move from room to room quickly. This is key, because the seeker will be on the move constantly, and the ghostly pranks happen quickly, so timing them right is important.
By scaring the seeker, the ghosts collect and fill a meter with fear energy, which, when filled, triggers a haunt. The haunt traps the human and ghosts together in a room where they duke it out. The ghosts are tasked with performing a ritual, moving furniture into specific positions to summon their more monstrous forms to get the seeker (like good old Mr. Creepy Clown here, complete with long arms that yearn to wrap a human right up in a big hug).
The spirits are working together — and the duo of merry pranksters could probably be more effective when you're playing together with friends at home than it was for us, playing alongside a stranger with little room for communication on a loud show floor. But we're excited to see how that coordination can manifest during a game night with friends.
Following our time with the PAX West demo, we had the chance to interview David Turpin, one-half of the two-person indie development team Smol Games, to get a deeper understanding of the game and the very nature of fear.
Read on to learn more about the developers' plans for Hyde's Haunt and Seek!
What's in store for this game of multiplayer manor madness?
Now, before you take one look at that creepy clown smile and run for the hills, the team wants you to know: This game is more spooky than scary. And we know a few won't-leave-the-van-in-Phasmophobia types of players who will be glad to hear that.
Turpin: It's not so much Dead by Daylight or like horrifying blood fests. It's more Disney's Haunted Mansion or Luigi's Mansion, but we've got just a little bit more of an edge.
VGG: The spooky-not-scary balance is a difficult one. How does Hyde's accomplish that?
Turpin: I think the easiest thing is it's just very little violence. One thing that we're very fascinated by is that certain things are scary to us and we don't know why. What's so scary about this face? [David gestures to a cardboard cutout of the game's own Peter Perot, who simultaneously has Just A Little Guy vibes and also bears one of the most eerie, empty, and haunting clown faces you ever did see.] I actually don't know. There's something kind of elemental about it.
And then, there's the fact that a lot of the spooky pranks that happen, they're pretty silly. Some of them are kinda creepy — but one of them, a potted plant becomes almost like a Piranha Plant from Mario and tries to bite you. And it's like, is it scary? Maybe if you're not expecting it, but the scary music plays anyway, and there's this funny moment where the game is taking itself too seriously in a way, where the music is scary, but what just happened really isn't.
So I think that's how we kind of accomplish that balance. But you're right, it is tricky. And we try to stay away from jump scares. So it's the kind of thing where maybe you get startled, but then you kind of laugh after. There's something funny about fear, I guess, if you've ever been to a horror movie and people are almost giggling in anticipation. There's somebody in the back going, "Oh, hell no," and everybody's laughing. We're trying to play more into that.
VGG: I like that a lot. I even had to laugh at my own reaction to the cake prank in the game when I was playing as the seeker.
Turpin: That's really funny to us. And it's fun to be the one doing those pranks too. Because you're anticipating, and you're sort of imagining what it might be like for them. You're like, "I want to give them a good scare," but all you have to work with are mostly silly things like that.
VGG: How about your approach for players who really want to try this game but aren't quite sure if they'll be able to laugh and shake it off?
Turpin: We haven't implemented this yet, but you know how you can turn off blood in some gory games? Well, we're going to have the ability to just turn off anything that might seem like a jump scare. Like when the clown comes out and grabs you, instead of that happening, it'll just go black, and you'll hear the sound.
The outcome is the same. The gameplay is the same. It's just your processing of it is different. We want this thing to be as accessible as possible to everyone.
VGG: We love when devs are thinking about creative ways to welcome more people into their games, like this spooky filter, and others, like Grounded's arachnophobia filter.
Turpin: The way I experience horror, I'm not into the most horrifying horror movies or games. I think of it like eating a spicy pepper. And I ask, "How much do I want of this?" And it gets to a point where I think it's too much. And everybody has their comfort level, but we can all be playing the same game together and still have fun.
VGG: Your second team member, Morgen Stern, has a background in screenwriting and her bio notes that she's writing some spooky lore for the world of Hyde's Haunt and Seek. This game doesn't scream "narrative-heavy" at first glance. How much writing, narrative, and lore can we expect to see?
Turpin: One of Morgen's main roles on this game as narrative director is to figure out what is the secret of Hyde Manor. What happened here? Why are all these ghosts here? If you're playing as the seeker, you're actually being sent by a museum docent, a historical society, and trying to find out as much as possible about this historic building and what's going on here. And so you're piecing together lore every time you play. We're working on a system called lore points, where every time you see a unique prank for the first time, the more time you spend with the character, you learn more about them.
And then these keepsakes that you find — remember, the ghosts are hiding these keepsakes all around this house — each of these has lore attached to them. So, you're gonna bring these keepsakes to the séance, unlock lore, and find out more. It's going to factor into the XP of the online game system, and you'll be able to unlock things through that. That's kind of how we're imagining it. It's like you're piecing together what happened at this house every time you go in.
And then each of these characters, we've got one here, but there the plan is to have eight. Each character has their own backstory. You know, this clown has certain meaning to this character.
So, we think of this as a very narrative-focused multiplayer game.
[For the story enjoyers out there, David shared an extra tidbit about the team's hopes for the game's rich lore.]
Turpin: We've been experimenting with photogrammetry for some of our art assets. We live in L.A., where there are a lot of old Victorian buildings you can visit. What we'd like to do is ask them if we can scan things, bring those into the game, and have keepsakes from real people. It would just be really cool.
VGG: We're big-time narrative game fans here, but what's great is that Hyde's sounds like the kind of narrative structure that you can engage with as deeply as you want to.
Turpin: Absolutely. If you only just care about the multiplayer hide-and-seek, then that's great. This game is still for you.
VGG: We're super excited about what Hyde's is bringing to the table. And going from Prop Hunt in classic Counter-Strike to the newly released Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the spooky hide-and-seek genre has had a storied legacy. What do you hope Hyde’s adds to it?
Turpin: First: Spooky, not scary. Even though we like Dead by Daylight, it's a bit much for us, as far as violence goes. The other thing is, when it comes to prop-type games, the problem for us is there's not really a whole lot of reason to jump out of your prop once you're in a good hiding spot. Hyde's focuses on a risk-reward system where you want to hide, but then you also want to pop out to do the prank, and then run away again. There's that constant push and pull.
So, we think Hyde's could be the next great horror multiplayer game. I think it has broad appeal. Nobody's really doing Victorian multiplayer horror either.
And finally, the gameplay is so unique. In a lot of these horror games, it's about trying to kill each other, ultimately. This is, the ghosts are not trying to kill you. They're trying to scare you. And it's a little bit cuter. It's a little bit more silly.
VGG: What's the best way people can support Hyde's Haunt and Seek right now?
Turpin: The very best ways you could support us are following us on Twitter and wishlisting us on Steam. We are seeking a publisher right now. We're in the sort of prototype phase, we're just very extremely indie. Just two people with a passion for haunted spooky games. And the more wishlists and followers we can get, that shows publishers that people want this and care about this, so that they'll hopefully fund us and allow us to make this thing what we imagine it could and should be.
When it comes to ghosts and games, seeing is believing, and we're big believers in Hyde's Haunt and Seek. If it's caught your eye too, follow along with the development team at Smol Games to help them bring their big plans to life.