The HeBGB Horror by Eric Mayer
Just to try something different, I thought I’d have a go at this little game - an ALAN game from a previous IFComp (it came 16th) which I’d meant to play a while ago but, for some reason, never did.
You play a musician (or, the game informs you, you at least know how to play a few guitar chords) called Phil Howard who has arrived in New York to follow in the footsteps of his idols, groups like the Ramones, the Stranglers and so on. Only things haven’t gone quite according to plan and you haven’t managed to get a single gig. All you can do right now is attend one last show at the HeBGB, your favourite rock club.
All well and good so far. Nicely atmospheric start with a few touches of humour (the zombie-like hordes clogging up the streets made me smile). The game begins with you standing outside a record store - The Land of 10,000 Disks - wondering how you’re going to find enough money for a ticket to the HeBGB. One of the first things you notice is a poster being taped to the window announcing that a group called the Laughing Kats are going to be performing their new single at the HeBGB. The aim of the game seems pretty obvious: get some cash together and then head to the club. (Actually, you can’t go to the club straight off anyway as the game informs you that you cannot leave the area of the shop until you have found what you need. The first time I saw this it threw me a bit because at that stage I hadn’t bothered examining the poster and didn’t know what my next move should be. I thought I needed to get to the HeBGB as soon as possible and being hit with a message telling me that I couldn’t leave until I had found what I needed (whatever that was!) left me a little baffled.)
“Getting what you need” actually turns out to be a mini-game in its own right. Very little here is straightforward, although most of the puzzles are fairly easy and none should really give you problems. In fact, I seemed to spend most of my time discovering something I hadn’t previously known, trying it out, and then being presented with another problem to solve. Example: there’s a tall, cadaverous fellow outside the shop who won’t speak to you until you know his name. Figuring that, as this is a text adventure, his name will be found somewhere nearby, I conducted a pretty thorough search of the shop. And found his name. And told it to him. He then offers to sign something for me. Unfortunately I don’t have anything he can sign so I go back into the shop to find something. Which I do. Only then he can’t sign it because neither of us have a pen. Off I go to find a pen…
Logic took a backseat here for a while. Okay, neither of us have got a pen but in real life wouldn’t I just have nipped down the street to another shop and bought one? I certainly wouldn’t have practically turned the record shop upside down searching for one. (As it happens, the pen you find isn’t what’s required to get an autograph but that’s not something I found out until I tried giving it to the tall, cadaverous fellow and being advised it wasn’t working. At that point I fell back to the tried-and-tested method of “giving every item in the game to the NPC and hoping one of them works”. One of them did thankfully.)
The game opens up a little more after you leave the vicinity of The Land of 10,000 Disks (successfully having found what you needed) and you then make your way to the HeBGB club itself. Here I felt the game went downhill a bit. Getting inside the club involves an awkward series of commands, none of which seemed very obvious to me at the time and at this point I found myself looking hopefully at the helpful walkthrough file which accompanied the game. In hindsight, I can see how the commands fall into place and with enough time and effort it’s probably not that difficult getting inside although one of the commands - “push pin through cheek” - wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years. Maybe I just don’t have enough punk in me for something like that…
Inside the club, things get strange indeed. I bought a drink (after first being forced to leave the club and scrounge some money up to pay for it) and then proceeded into some kind of drugs/drink haze where I appeared on stage, played a guitar and then spoke to a punkette who promptly disappeared in a puff of smoke. (Told you it was strange.) There’s not much beyond this point to the end of the game which is perhaps even stranger than anything else that has gone before.
Overall I found myself liking the game. A lot. But I also felt that the earlier part - around The Land of 10,000 Disks - was a lot better than the later parts. Once inside the HeBGB club itself, the game becomes decidedly weird and little of it makes any kind of sense. It also becomes a lot harder - while I was able to complete the first part easily enough, I became completely unstuck as far as getting inside the club was concerned and once I was in there I didn’t have a clue how I was supposed to proceed any further. The sequence of events right before the end - the alien creature in the room beneath the commode and dropping peanuts and a pretzel to distract rats - just baffled me altogether.
Problems? I’d put down quite a few to the system but none of them really affected my overall enjoyment of the game. ALAN’s scrollback window seems very limited in that no more than a few screens of text can be stored at any one time, meaning that if you want to read over something more than a few screens back you’re out of luck. There’s also no transcript ability, at least not that I found. And the cursor seems to move remarkably slowly, often being several characters behind the one I’m actually typing. But those are problems with the system and not the game itself. The only problem I encountered with the game came when Billy attacked me and the obvious command - “kill Billy” (I’m assuming the Quentin Tarantino film of almost-the-same-name wasn’t based on this) - told me that violence wasn’t the answer to that one. The next moment, I stabbed him with a record called Stab Stab Stab Stab so, clearly, violence was the answer after all.
The HeBGB Horror left me with the feeling that there was a very decent game here but one that I didn’t fully warm to due to the downright strangeness once the first part was taken care of. At times I wasn’t sure what I should be doing or how the game should proceed; while the first part had defined goals, the later parts didn’t. One thing I liked was that most of the puzzles have multiple solutions to them and the idea of stealing the single from the record shop by hiding it about your person was one I really wished I’d though of trying at the time.
All in all, above average but could have been better.
6 out of 10