Like so many other great things in life, The Hole Man owes its initial inspiration to Homestar Runner. Last year’s Halloween event, where all the cast dressed up as adventure game characters, surprised me with Pom Pom’s costume; he went as The Manhole, itself.
“The Manhole is an adventure game?” I thought. “…Well, hell yeah it is!”
It proved such a stirring reminder of how much I loved The Manhole as a child, I started to wonder if it could be recreated in Twine. A text-based The Manhole? Let’s try it.
The Manhole, obviously, as well as its own inspirations, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The basic format of journeying through weird worlds populated by non-human people comes from The Far Side— or more specifically Tales From The Far Side, the rarely-seen animated special. The object of the game, meeting the Men and having a mostly one-sided philosophical conversation with them, comes from Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams”, which gets an even more direct homage in the Go Man sequence.
Each Man was created by simply looking up a word that begins with “man” and reversing it. Mandarin, mango, manhood, mankind, manslaughter, mandrake, manmade, mandrill, manservant, manchild. There isn’t an Ifesto Man or an Icotti Man because those don’t form words on their own, and that would give the game away too quickly!
Once I had my twelve (later cut to ten) Men in mind, I wrote down a few brief thoughts that I felt I could explain better in the form of a conversation, then matched them with the punny name that fit the best, which turned out to be enough of a hook to hang a personality on each one of them with. For the Child Man it was “You never stop being a parent”, for the Slaughter Man it was “Fear is something you’re born with, but horror is taught by your environment”. Some of them got away with the conversation, though, and may not have made my thesis statement as clear as it could be!
The Men each have a specific ethnicity, “like yourself”, which suggests that this Man might have been the real you all along: however, my real hope was that the first Man a player happened upon would actually share their own ethnicity, which would be an extremely lucky guess but would also build on the delirious, reality-blurring feel of the game. (Until the player came to another Man, of course, and realized it was all a big coincidence!)
The first Man I wrote was the Darin’ Man. The urgency of your situation with him (a conversation in midair while falling from a plane) established the pattern of your encounters with Men: the lower your choice on the list of questions you have, the more quickly the Man will get to the point. This is a handy speed run strategy.
The Hole-Wide World:
It was crucial to me that this world not feel like Middle-Earth or Cimmeria or anything out of place or time. It’s a reflection of the post-industrial world we live in; for that reason, many of the places you go are stores, malls and tourist traps. One of my favorite reviews suggested the game had a theme of “consumer tourism”, which is a brilliant lens through which to revisit the game; myself, I just felt like it wouldn’t be a world we would recognize if everything wasn’t for sale.
Since the object of the game was to meet Men, it put one interesting limitation on the narrative: you couldn’t meet any other humans! Each of the various hub areas is thus defined by its residents.
- The Nocturne Mall is, of course, all nocturnal animals.
- The beach is all monsters, although it’s classic monsters at the beach party and slasher monsters at the marina.
- The skyscraper is all insects and spiders. And Santa, of course.
- The airplane is all flightless birds, but the seaplane is piloted by airborne fish.
- The snowscape is all high fantasy creatures, dragons and elves. (It’s also a post-extreme-climate-change Hollywood.)
- The countryside is all baked goods, as well as the Made Man, whom you yourself “bake” after a fashion.
The downtown area where you start the game is my own downtown, the very unimpressive Fulton Mall in Fresno. You can warp to just about everywhere from the mall itself, but the greater connected world forms two “loops”: the walking loop takes you from the suburbs to the airport, and the riding loop takes you from the trolley, to the subway, to the shuttle bus, back to the mall.
The two major formats for exploration are the “rummage” areas (like the Lost Souls), which encourage you to revisit the same area and see how many results you can get, and the “lift-the-flap” areas (like the monster beach party), where there’s a lot of links you can click that open more and more detail on the page where you are.
The People In Your Neighborhood:
One thing I felt was very important about this world was that everyone needed to feel welcome here. You never meet any “enemies” (besides the Hole Man himself), and everyone you do meet is happy to see you and greets you like an old friend. The “final” ending would ring false if there were anything about this world you were trying to avoid; it had to be a world where everyone likes who you are, except you.
The first people you’re likely to meet in the game are the “Lost Souls”, who are implied to be people who lost their bodies like you did and are still incomplete. This part owes a LOT to the “Moonside” sequence from EarthBound. Did I mention I love Earthbound? I’m total Itoi trash.
The standout friend you make at the mall is the galago, a primate-y thing who works at the tax prep office. If you keep revisiting him between Men, he’ll have more suggestions about places you should see and where to avoid. My friend (and podcast partner!) @bitterkarella has gone by the name “Galago” in past lives, so I borrowed some of her quotes and personality quirks for the galago in this game! He’s not a perfect caricature (Karella is a lot more fun to be around) but mutual friends may recognize some of her affectations.
My Favorite Obscure References:
- The window displays outside the department store all feature scenes from Oz books! A little nod to L. Frank Baum’s passion for window dressing, the subject of a periodical he once published.
- The Darin’ Man paraphrases a Tumblr meme: “There are many benefits to being a marine biologist.”
- Several of the tsukumogami (living inanimate objects) in the cherry blossom scene can be found on this classic woodblock print.
- The Made Man’s contraption is homaging the toy-making machine from Disney’s Babes in Toyland, especially in its random robot head.
- The bookstore cites “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, the now infamous horror manga where holes shaped exactly like specific people open up in a mountainside. Seemed appropriate.
- The absurdly sized hamburger you’re served in the diner includes “hot dog, pickle, egg, chef’s hat”; the four major characters in the arcade game Burgertime.
- “Miss Bee” in the office is a guest appearance from my free creepypasta novel, Joy Traveler— read it here, but be sure to set aside some time!
I was surprised to see people reacting with surprise at how long this game is; I worried it was too short! A lot of things got dummied out to meet the deadline. Most significantly, two whole Men had to be cut.
- The Handle Man: The intention was to meet this guy in the baggage compartment of the airplane, where he literally lived out of a suitcase. He was cut because I didn’t feel like his conversation was very strong, and the defining quote I gave him, “Imperial or metric, the only true measurement is the Lifetime” sounded a lot less profound on rereading.
- The Aged Man: This was a very old man that you’d meet while he had a picnic in a graveyard. He was accompanied by ten ghosts of varying ages: speaking to them would reveal that they were all himself at different ages, and each of them had contempt for the one that came before him and forgiveness for all the others. This got cut because it was a lot of writing to do at the last minute, but I liked the idea so much that I’m repurposing it for my next game!
- The Suburbs: This is just a dead end in game, but it was intended to be a whole hub area where you would meet the Go Man and the Made Man. The original Suburbs was going to be a bustling neighborhood full of kids at Halloween! You could attend a party and go trick-or-treating with the kids, who were actually just costumes themselves with no kids inside them. This is echoed in the current Suburbs, which is only peopled by lawn ornaments.
- Although their sequences were cut, the Aged Man and Handle Man do make cameo appearances in the “bonus” content. There’s also a thirteenth character, the Neighs Man, who is a pun I came up with way too late to implement in the game.
“Most Endings” Award
Twelve endings is quite a few, but here’s a secret: most of them aren’t really endings! There are ten Men and an ending for each one, but if you really want to see the END end, you have to journey through the game and refuse all ten Men and their offers, and that opens up the last two endings. There’s a “true” ending and also a secret alternate ending that leaves some things in doubt (while not actually contradicting any aspect of the true ending!).
Here’s a walkthrough with no spoilers to get everything:
- Find all ten Men and answer “yes” to their offers. Start again from the courthouse each time.
- On the eleventh go-around, visit all the Men, and say “no” this time. Two of them will reward you by teleporting you to another Man you haven’t seen yet, so if you’re having a hard time finding any, save the Kind Man and Drill Man for late in the game!
- Once you’ve met and refused all 10, go to the parking basement and take the elevator.
- When you meet the Hole Man, choose “I’m not a man.” That will take you to the secret ending.
- When you reach the ending screen, choose to start again, and the Mall will have changed. You’ll go straight to the bonus content, followed by the final ending.
Where do we go from here?
I have a vague idea for a sequel where you meet Women instead of Men? But a sustained burst of whimsy like this needs some air around it, so you probably won’t see Cosmo McOz or whatever I end up calling it anytime soon. In the meantime, I know most people didn’t get all the endings, so go back and look some more! There’s a lot to experience in The Hole Man— you’ll know you’ve seen it all when you see the title on the end screen change!