A Boat For Pigs: Monstrum

By Ben Barrett on February 19th, 2014 at 4:00 pm.

Perhaps a Machine for Boats? The Boat Descent?

Let’s get real folks: I’m what is colloquially known as a “scaredy cat.” It’s not so much that the more terrifying of this hobby’s fine works prevent me from sleeping as they do prevent me from playing. I got about an hour into an Amnesia Let’s Play before deciding there were other ways to spend my time. A friend had to sit with me for the majority of Outlast, or I never would have got through it. So take it as the highest compliment, or the lowest evaluation of my character, when I say I look forward to probably never fully experiencing sea-bound run-away-‘em-up Monstrum. There’s an announcement trailer below the deck if you’re brave enough, but it omits some of the most interesting details.

A good impression of a far too standard fare, but there’s much juicier morsels on that greenlight page. The first “commercial venture” of Scottish studio Team Junkfish, their feature list shows they’re doing more than recycling the concept onto the high seas. Here’s the highlights:

Multiple Pursuers – Three different monster types, each with different behaviours and tactics means you’ll need to find out what you’re up against before deciding on your plan. Will you be able to work your way out of an ambush or a direct attack after being spotted? And will the same actions work each time?

Procedural Arena – Each time you load up the game the ship will have a different layout, putting the player’s navigation skills to the test.

Predictability is a horror game’s greatest enemy. Fear, in all its forms, comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. If that is taken away – be it by multiple playthroughs of the same area, or a learning that comes from having battled enemies before – a key element is lost. The procedural generation solution is obvious in hindsight and, developed correctly, should be the way forward. Enemy types is an extension of this, though also an interesting regression in design to a time when digital opponents came down to more than humans who spoke a different language holding variations of gun. I’m personally nostalgic for that Doom-style discovery of how different monsters attack and react, so I’m very interested to see how this is implemented. Discussion on the game’s subforum suggests they’re making sure each is as unique as possible, which I can only commend.

The tidbit that wraps this all up into a terrifying, intriguing ball:

Permadeath – Death is death. Get killed in Monstrum and you’ll be starting again. In a different ship, possibly against a different monster. Good luck. Start running.

That’s how you keep a player guessing. The implications for the plot are just the tip of the iceberg as far as making a more replayable experience. Contrary to the above I enjoyed my time with Outlast but have no inclination to go back to it, beyond freaking out a few friends. Monstrum definitely seems to be going in all the right directions, pushing forward in what was threatening to become a stale and samey genre.

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50 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Cinek says:

    So.. there’s some objective in that game or you simply run around the ship in horror praying to RNG gods till you die?

    That doesn’t sound like fun at all.

    • johnkillzyou says:

      Seems fun to me. We dont get enough pure survival horror games, they all turn into shitty puzzle games with a few scares in between.

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        Cinek says:

        So there is some point where you actually can sit down and say: “I survived” in there? You don’t just pray to RNG gods all day long (or: before opening every single door) till you inevitably die?

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Maybe wasn’t clear in my post, but escaping the ship is the eventual goal.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Okay so in my time in the US Navy I was fortunate enough to be deployed on a few ships…including this old-ass badgirl — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kitty_Hawk_(CV-63)

      She was an old ship with a lot of…personality…when I served on her about 8 or 9 years ago. On one of my deployments, she was having serious generator problems, and we had nothing but emergency lighting for several days straight…in a hull with no windows.

      Her e-lights were literally glorified flashlights bolted to the bulkheads.

      It was scary as fuck. I’ve been wanting all of the horror-games set on ships ever since that experience. It’s perfect: a closed, claustrophobic environment, with miles of companionways to run through; a confusing lay-out, easy to lose your sense of direction/location; no real hope of escape, anyway, as you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean,

      More pls!

      (Never got a chance to play Cold Fear much, but I liked a lot of what I saw from it, despite it being a pretty run-of-the-mill campy J-horror,)

      • SillyWizard says:

        I also used to sneak out and smoke on a radar sponson immediately below the flight-deck. Without a doubt the most heart-poundingly meet-your-maker experience of my life, maybe a couple hundred feet from where jets ar being catapulted into the night sky, and nothing between me and the ocean a hundred or so feet below but a thin metal grate.

        (I made sure not to head out there during flight ops after that first time.)

        • Niko says:

          Yes, ships are a great setting. I can remember about 5 games now with a ship locale: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Killing Floor and Shadow Warrior, and X-COM: Terror from the Deep.

      • Ross Angus says:

        It might be worth looking at Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason. I liked it.

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    Sigh. Really getting tired of the idea that something can only scare you if you don’t know it’s coming, and once you’ve seen it the first time it promptly loses all value. Yes, yes, I know those aren’t the exact words you used, but if you say “Oh, obviously procedural generation is the solution” then that pretty strongly suggests to me you think all other options have been done to death. It distresses me that an awful lot of people I see talking about horror in videogames seem to think solely in terms of things jumping out at them and then having to run away, when they’d presumably be happy to rubbish the latest slasher remake from Platinum Dunes to anyone who’d listen. I just feel like such a freak sometimes for actually – gasp! – still finding skinless undead monstrosities unsettling even when I’ve got a gun, say, or not wanting to look at the thing with six mouths over in the corner even if I know for certain if I walk here, here, and here that leaves it utterly powerless to harm me. F.E.A.R. was ridiculous B-movie nonsense and yet for all so much of the writing was braindead it was Alma’s backstory that haunted me, that stuck with me, far more so than people melting into piles of chum, even if I knew full well that when she turned up in the lift she wasn’t going to do a damn thing to me. Pretty sure procedural generation isn’t going to build on that aspect of horror gaming in the slightest. It’ll build better haunted houses, sure, but without the human touch they’ll still be just as dependent on BOO, AAAGH as they ever were.

    • Kollega says:

      Hear, hear. The jump scare is the cheapest kind of scare. And it’s really dumb to think that horror games should be built around that. Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, now that was scary. Not because of jump scares, but because of how utterly horrific Half-Life’s zombies are. Same with Dead Space. And that’s not even saying about less direct horrors – if someone made a (competent) game version of Battle Royale where you either kill your friends or get your head blown off, or SCP Foundation where you futilely try to keep Lovecraftian horrors beyond comprehension from ravaging the world, that would be scary as all hell.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Whoa, you’re right, that isn’t what I said.

      Predictability ruining horror is not a statement that applies purely to jump scares. Something is always going to be more unsettling, scarier, whatever the first time you experience it, whether it’s subtle and creeping or quick and jumping. I actually think FEAR 1 and 2 are really good horror games that happen to also involve you outclassing human opponents at points, and Alma’s story is a good one. Procedural generation helps with storytelling in a certain way too, as they state. It allows you to create a plot that will be discovered in a non-linear away, letting players put facts together themselves.

      I don’t think all other avenues have been wasted, ignored or used. I’d love to see (though probably not to play, heh) more creeping horror. More horror centered around the fact you’re on a computer – odd shutdowns, graphics ‘bugs’, control changes. Hell, a good jump scare is still a good jump scare, even that area isn’t done with yet. When I say it’s a “solution” I mean simply to the problem of not wanting to retread old ground, no matter how fresh it may seem.

      • Syphus says:

        Argh, now I’m going to spend all day trying to remember what game it was that when I first loaded it, showed me a bunch of computer babble and I went, “Oh fuck, my computer is screwed up” but it was all part of the game. Maybe it was Majestic?

        • Ben Barrett says:

          It wasn’t this, obviously, but the section of Arkham Asylum where this happened is what I was thinking about as I wrote that. Would have been perfect if I’d been using a controller, but was amazing anyway.

        • aerozol says:

          Wont have been when you first loaded it up, but Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem has similar FANTASTIC insanity mechanics, and was quite non-traditional (eg used a wide colour palette) horror.
          When it made you think it was deleting all your save files, holy shit…

    • A Dangerous Sloth says:

      I think the thing people forget the most is that horror is very subjective. What scares one person may not scare another person at all. Amnesia didn’t scare me at all, but my friend was terrified of it, where as I though that Outlast was scary, the same friend just laughed the whole way through. Not to mention you get people like me who have watched so many horror movies and play so many horror games that they’ve become completely desensitized to the point where only jump scares get a reaction out of them, and that’s only because of reflexes. There is no real answer to how to make a good horror game, different scare tactics will work on different people.

    • Shooop says:

      And that’s exactly why I’m so cynical about this one.

      Surprise/shock is not the same as fear. Just making things unexpected doesn’t make them scary. Has no developer learned anything from the first four Silent Hill games?

    • The Random One says:

      Well I think this is brilliant, not because I think I can only be scared if I don’t know something is coming, but because I’ll be way more scared if death has some tangible consequences besides “you have to load a saved game now” or “you respawn at an earlier point”. If you can think of some way to have losing at a horror game be more visceral than that without procedural generation I’d love to hear it.

  3. Kollega says:

    Okay, I can’t really say anything about the game itself, but that concept art in th header is… strangely evocative. It’s like it reminds me of something similar in style, but I can’t remember what it is. Dishonored? Machinarium? Definitely not Cryostasis, though.

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    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I had a randomised boat once. It sank.

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      Cinek says:

      You should have randomized boats as long as one of them will keep afloat.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      HULL ON BOTTOM
      Thats an instruction, not a town in the North of England

    • The Random One says:

      That’s why we stick to procedurally generated boats round here.

      Love, The Procedural One

      • Premium User Badge

        Cinek says:

        That one sinks too, only instead of sinking on it’s own – it sinks as soon as you get onboard.

  5. Kefren says:

    Any other scary games set (at least partially) on boats? I can think of:
    Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2c/Call_of_Cthulhu_-_Dark_Corners_of_the_Earth_Coverart.png
    Cold Fear
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/91/Cold_Fear.jpg
    (Completed both of them).

    • CaidKean says:

      Not sure you’d call them scary but:

      Resident Evil: Gaiden (GameBoy Color)
      Resident Evil: Dead Aim (PlayStation 2)
      Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC)
      Resident Evil: Revelations (Nintendo 3DS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC)
      Cryostasis (PC)
      eXperience112 (PC)
      Echo Night (PlayStation)
      SOS (Super Nintendo), not all would call it scary but as someone who has suffered from being trapped in tight spaces and being unable to swim I found the idea of having one hour to escape from a sinking ship pretty terrifying.

      Those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head that you didn’t already mention, there’s probably more.

  6. noiseferatu says:

    *iceberg

  7. Shooop says:

    Throwing a random number generator into the mix isn’t going to make a game scary. There needs to be less “AAAAHHH a monster!” and more, “What the hell was THAT and what is going on?!”

  8. CookPassBabtridge says:

    So this is a game in which death metal chases you through a boat. Thats what I learned from the trailer

  9. Shazbut says:

    Is there water? I want my game set on a boat to be dangerous because of water

  10. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Mr. Barrett, have we had the pleasure of seeing your writing here before? I know RPS doesn’t stand on formality much since approx. 1886, but.. well. I suppose I’m curious as to what brings you to these parts.

    Also, how do you like your tea, sir?

  11. Christo4 says:

    One thing i am annoyed of in “horror” games it’s that you can either fight or you can flee. NO horror game actually game you the option to choose what you want to do.
    For example you could choose at the beginning to flee until you gather weapons or make traps and then you take the fight to them.
    I’ve never seen a game do that, though i wish they did especially since on a boat they could have a limited number of enemies randomly patrolling.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Sir, You Are Being Hunted is this. While you are usually on the lower end of the power imbalance, it is possible to be smart and lucky and pick your battles. In fact, you have to. Sometimes the Hunters sit sipping tea on top of the Machine chunk you need, so you have to get a weapon, plan carefully, and take them down.

      • Christo4 says:

        Fair point, but Sir, you are being hunted isn’t a horror game.
        A horror game within a cramped ship or spaceship with fight, hide or flight choices would be more interesting imo, especially if you could hide in vents or other stuff. Oh well i’m just ranting probably, but it kinda annoys me that there haven’t been any games in which you could actually choose how to handle an enemy