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

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

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Stacked containers in port

”In another sadistic turn, Team Junkfish has created a second monster type that is harder to hear, and won’t give chase once it spots the player, rather, it will seek an alternative, stealthy route towards its prey.”

Cross explains that one escape method is the life raft, which must first be patched up with duct tape, inflated, hooked on to a lowering winch and lowered into the water outside, before the player finds their way down to the dingy and casts off to safety. Doing all of this without any sense of direction, while being hunted by aggressive AI, sounds like a total nightmare.

To make matters worse, you’ll never know which of Monstrum’s several creature types have spawned in at the start of the play-through. They each have different behavioural AI settings and methods of attack.

Given that you have no means to fight back, you’ll need to think about self-preservation constantly. Cross tells me that his testers regularly try to whack the beast with boat oars and other objects with zero effect, but he feels that giving players direct power over the monster would cheapen the scare factor.

Cross explains the decision by saying, “You don’t want it just to be ‘Oh I’ve been spotted, I need to go run and hide somewhere,’ because that can get quite boring quickly, even if you’ve got multiple places to hide. We did toy with the idea of trolling people a little bit, so if you found a gun and you tried to use it on the monster, but then you find it’s actually a novelty lighter, and all you get is a little flame going out, but we thought that might be a little too evil.”

That’d be evil indeed, but I suggest that little easter eggs like that could make for some great YouTube Let’s Play fodder, but no, the player’s only means of delaying their death is to either distract or trap the monster. “There’s a few things that you could potentially do,” he goes on, “and things you can do before the monster is chasing you as well.

Stacked containers in port

”Seeing rooms filled with retro decor and movie posters, set against the sound of ’70s music over the radio reminds me of BioShock’s rapture, a place that felt out of sync with its era.”

“You can set up little audio distractions – radios, TVs – and it’ll investigate them if it hasn’t spotted you, so you can try and lure it away from an area you want to investigate. Beyond that you can set up traps or there might be actual environmental hazards that you might be aware of, that you can try to lure the monster into.

“We’ve been talking about having parts of the floor come away whenever you or the monster run over it, so that’d be a break in the chase. If you fall through you’ll see the monster reach down to try and grab you, and then go off to try and find you again when it realises it can’t pass through. We can set up little traps like that as well.”

“Just now the traps are more environmental hazards than things you can do,” he adds, “but there’s things like the floor panels that trip you up when you walk over them – the same thing happens to the monster. In later builds we’re hoping to include fire and water hazards, plus some monsters that might be more sensitive to fire, so you might be able to get a fuel can and a lighter, then use them to start a fire hazard, a little flame wall.

“That might not be a good idea if then you can’t get through it, because if you set a room on fire you’re kind of dead. But then again, if you get a fire extinguisher you might be able to combat it that way, and little things like that.”

Interestingly, the monster doesn’t simply phase into the world nearby at trigger points, rather, it’s always active in the world, sweeping each room and deck in the hopes of spotting you. Being seen results in a chase, and while the player can hide it out until the beast moves its search elsewhere, the savage Brute type is capable of smashing down doors as it gives chase. It’s not easily fooled, but it is entirely possible for the player to be standing on one side of the ship, only to hear the monster trigger a trap they placed earlier on the other.

Stacked containers in port

Cross reveals that the team is consider giving players a slight warning that their hunter is nearby, possibly linked to a heat mechanic. He theorises that perhaps the player could cough due to a shift in atmosphere around the beast, alerting the player to its presence. Currently, the AI sign-posting is purely sound based, but in another sadistic turn, Team Junkfish has created a second monster type that is harder to hear, and won’t give chase once it spots the player, rather, it will seek an alternative, stealthy route towards its prey.

I close our chat by asking Cross about ambiguity, and to what extent the team is willing to explain why the player is trapped in a ship from the 1970s. Seeing rooms filled with retro decor and movie posters, set against the sound of ’70s music over the radio reminds me of BioShock’s rapture, a place that felt out of sync with its era. Cross agrees with the comparison and stresses that his team doesn’t want to explain everything actively. Instead, collectible notes and other clues will dispense passive clarity with each play-through.

Team Junkfish and Cross really do understand the problem of repeat play in horror games. The way players can cobble together traps in the world or use resources to their advantage reminded me of Dead Space hero and versatile engineer Isaac Clarke, in the way that they will cobble together defences with whatever items they can find.

Cross replies by saying that the first time he played Dead Space, he did so only using the player’s default Plasma Cutter weapon because it fit Isaac’s role as an engineer. It also put him at a severe disadvantage against the monstrous hordes encountered throughout the game, a challenge I suspect he relished.

Yep, he definitely gets it.

Team Junkfish hopes to release Monstrum on PC this year, and may or may not release some form of early access build this Autumn. We’ll update you as things get narrowed down. In the meantime you can check the game out over on Steam Greenlight.

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