IF Comp 2014: HHH.exe

hhhHHH.exe (Robot Parking) is a CYOA Twine game based (with permission) on the 1990 graphic adventure Hugo’s House of Horrors.

Having never played the original, I’m at something of a disadvantage here; I hurriedly patched together some context from glancing at YouTube videos.

HHH.exe recognises that the creepiest thing about the original is the crude art and ham-fisted narrative, and builds on it by describing the action in uncanny and grotesque ways, while steadily changing the images to glitch art. The hokey funfair-horror-house vibe of the original shifts, initially, to emphasize the alien strangeness evoked by inept pixel art, rendered in over-the-top squickspeak. ‘The kitchen is fucking nuclear with top-of-the-line slimepliances,’ it declares of a room which is mostly coloured in a green that, yeah, calls to mind the glowing toxic goo that cartoon villains maintain supplies of, rather than any actual room you’ve ever seen.

You plunge your high heel through the eye of the jack-o-lantern and twist your knee viciously, breathing through your teeth. The rotting pumpkin collapses in on itself. You dip your hands into its shattered shell and come up with a slimy key.

Yeah, okay, fine, the whole world’s a Giger painting, we get it.

The protagonist of the original is a man, Hugo, trying to rescue his girlfriend Penelope. HHH.exe’s hero is heavily signaled as a woman, probably Penelope. The game throws up repeated references to the Cretan Labyrinth and the Minotaur. There’s a strong sense of shit being fucked with by some chthonic chaos being. A sinister dog-like monster must be placated with three gifts before gaining entrance to an underworld; here, the art from Hugo’s House of Horrors is abandoned in favour of a primitive-3D maze (Wolfenstein? Doom?) that exploits and expands on the garish, creepily-organic feel of the era.

An approach taken by certain kinds of horror is to maintain the mystery by building more confusion into the narrative style as more and more is revealed: the closer you get to the Alien or the Blair Witch, the darker and more shakycam things get. Here, the glitches build and the lurid descriptions get more lurid and less coherent, until finally – just before you encounter the Minotaur/rescue your partner? the game cuts out.

Mechanically, it’s all fine; sufficient to pace the story without getting in the way too much. There are very light gating puzzles which can be progressed through quickly. There is a maze, sort of, but you can hammer your way through it without mapping.

The focus on lurid, fucked-up, organic/digital creepiness with much left unexplained is a standard Twine style, as is the ugly uncanniess of old games; lot of this territory is, I think, better-explored in ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON IIISimilarly, the collapse of narrative coherence or of the game itself as an element of a cosmic-horror story is something we’ve seen before, and classic games reskinned to disturbing effect is practically its own genre.


From the original game, a thesis statement.


So the question is mostly about whether HHH.exe is a good example of this sort of thing. I’d say: eh, it’s okay. Someone who was keen on its basic tropes would probably have a pretty good time with it, but it doesn’t go beyond that. While there were some glimmers of interesting thematic stuff going on underneath, and the squickspeak occasionally produces a nice line, these didn’t get developed enough for me to get much out of it.

Score: 4

This entry was posted in cyoa, interactive fiction, review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to IF Comp 2014: HHH.exe

  1. Jason Dyer says:

    I’m having fun playing the ‘guess where an ifdb link goes before clicking’ game.

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