Monstrum: procedurally-generated horror on the lost ship from Hell

By Dave Cook, Friday, 25 April 2014 14:00 GMT

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Monstrum is a new breed of survival horror that uses procedurally-generated elements to ensure each play through is both unpredictable and terrifying. Dave Cook speaks with developer Team Junkfish about its incoming Steam release.

”On paper it sounds like the most demonic game of Pac-Man ever conceived, as your survivor attempts to flee a stranded 1970s sea freighter while being hounded across its maze-like corridors by an unrelenting monster.”

Ambiguity goes hand-in-hand in fear. Say, for example, you watch a scary film for the first time and find yourself caught off-guard by unexpected jumpy moments and disturbing imagery. Will you be as frightened during your second viewing? Probably not.

That’s because the horror genre is tied to diminishing returns, and that age-old truth that the more we come to understand something, the less-intimidating it becomes. Speaking with Jaime Cross of Monstrum developer Team Junkfish, I bring up that classic scare at the start of Capcom’s original Resident Evil. You probably know the bit I’m talking about, with the dogs that jump through the window?

When I first experienced that section in my youth I was truly scared, largely because I had never seen such a cinematic attempt to frighten players before. It worked, but as the years went by, I memorised precisely when and where those bastard canines were going to attack, and the fear was gone forever. Horror games are prone to this dilution over time, and that’s the problem Monstrum’s developers are looking to solve.

On paper it sounds like the most demonic game of Pac-Man ever conceived, as your survivor attempts to flee a stranded 1970s sea freighter while being hounded across its maze-like corridors by an unrelenting monster. The beast will never stop searching for you as you try to piece together whatever supplies you need to make good your escape, and to make matters worse, each playthrough sees the ship’s interior completely randomised using procedural tech in Unity.

Stacked containers in port

”You’ll never know which of Monstrum’s several creature types have spawned in at the start of the play-through. Given that you have no means to fight back, you’ll need to think about self-preservation constantly.”

“It was a bit weird,” Cross recalls. “When we were discussing ideas it was a case of everybody being told, ‘come up with an idea,’ and the guy that did, Grant, who is one of the programmers said, ‘I like Amnesia and I like The Binding of Isaac, let’s see if we can smoosh them together and make a replayable horror game.’

“One of the things he mentioned was in Amnesia, if he plays it again he knows where all the scares are going to happen, where the monster’s walking patterns are going to be, and so every time he goes through it the effect is reduced. As hesitant as I am to use the term ‘more roguelike,’ we wanted it so you don’t know where the monster is – he could be around the next corner or it could be on the other side of the ship – just to make it a bit more uneasy that way.”

The aim in Monstrum isn’t simply to find the ship’s exit and stroll out to safety. In fact, the final build should throw multiple escape routes at players with randomly-placed sub-objectives that must be fulfilled to proceed. “The room positioning and corridors are all procedurally generated,” Cross explains, “but it even goes a little deeper than that.

“Inside the rooms there will be random items scattered on tables and stuff like that, as well as non-consequential items that will be randomly-generated, and things on the walls. Collectibles have spawn points in rooms and they’re not so much randomly-placed, but will be generated from a pool of items that way.”

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Jaime Cross

Monstrum

Team Junkfish