The Search for Something Preposterous: Here Be Monsters

There once was a strange civilization filled with sexless muppets that worshiped eleven giants.  They were often savage little capitalists, but they did not settle their differences with violence.  We know this civilization existed as the archaeological record is available on facebook pages and blogs and soon in art books and CDs.  But when this civilization came to a halt, the lives of the muppeteers did not.  Where did this diaspora lead them?

Many of their communities traveled nearly intact to facebook.  Some of them became emboldened by the success of the journey and set out to explore the bowels of their new territory.   Among these dark and dingy caves, known to most as facebook games, they encountered a place they found similar to their old home.  Thus some of us were introduced to Here Be Monsters.

Although HBM is not going to replace Glitch for me, there are some positives to the game, and I find myself enjoying it despite not expecting to.  Even the time I started playing helped overcome my expectations as I had the pleasure of finishing some introductory tasks and returning to London, the game’s hub location, to find maybe a dozen or more players I knew from Glitch.   HBM is a game of quests, exploring, harvesting, recipe unlocking, and fishing.  Oh and there’s some monsters too.

Although the game’s title and lore center around the monsters, I seem to spend little time with them.  And that’s too bad since the monsters are the best art in the game by far.  I think of my trap as a teleport point and a money generator.  Since you can travel to it for free, I set it up near a quest hub or resource that I am interested in and leave it there — as long as I make sure it has something for bait, it will generate money.

If I’m actually playing the game, I find a small slice of my time goes to crafting, and the majority goes to exploring and harvesting, usually both at the same time.  Crafting, unfortunately, is designed to be a large time sink, with some items taking hours to craft, and many items having a potential to fail despite the time — such failure can be prevented by success potions, but these seem to be only available as gifts from friends (but one of many options, with no way to really make a request) or from the cash shop.  The time to craft needed items begins to extend from minutes to hours to days, and while there are time potions that will speed this up that can be crafted, those also come with a chance of failure and take significant time.  Of course, you can get those potions if you spend money.

I’m not a big facebook game person.   In fact, when starting this one, it had been years since I played any facebook game, not even a puzzle game like Bejeweled.  I found the experience disheartening: despite the gigantic dip in Zynga’s stock, this company, if not others, still seems to be using the Zynga monetization methods.  I know these companies need to make money, but there’s a difference between conveniences that improve the free game and inconveniences designed to make the free game unwieldy and time consuming.  Ultimately, I think HBM commits the same sin I’ve repeatedly seen from many of these casual games: rather than try to make the moment to moment game play fun, they instead insert artificial time barriers that encourage a player to log out and check in later.  Rather than making the game a joyful distraction, this approach makes the game a habit.  Rather than playing the game to have fun, I found myself pulling up the game to see if my crops were done so I could do some cooking so I could do some other activity so I could finish a quest.  Most of the time, that meant a few minutes of gameplay and then hours of nothing with no reason to stay in game.

Even with these issues, I would be still playing HBM if it enabled me to spend time with my friends from the Glitch community in a virtual world again.   But despite that the game has persistent, multiplayer zones where other players can be seen moving and interacting with the world, there seems to be no reason at all for the developers to have put any effort into making that possible.  Other players interacting with the world have absolutely no effect, positive or negative, on your own interactions.  The chat interface is incredibly awkward: having it open blocks a sizable chunk of the play screen from view, but not having it open makes you very likely to miss the occasional message from a friend.  Private instant messaging is possible, but as far as I can tell, only between two players in the same zone.  And it cannot be done while playing.  Opening an IM window takes you to a screen with the two avatars standing there, completely eliminating any access to anything relating to gameplay.  The idea is creative, but it doesn’t belong in a game.  You cannot give, trade, sell, or buy items from other players, with the exception of sending an unsolicited gift once every 24 hours.  And this seems unlikely to change — the time it takes to craft items is inherent to the pacing of the content and the monetization style of the game.

The one thing I feel they have right is the incentive for adding friends.  Adding friends provides convenience but not adding does not lead to a penalty.  Really, the opposite approach of the crafting system.   Players can travel to the homesteads of their friends for free, making it a good idea to have lots of friends spread out around the world for easier exploration.  But a player who refuses to add friends will still be able to explore as her level increases, it will simply take more time.  There’s no failure, no push to the cash shop, no push to recruit or add strangers.  Well done there, HBM.

But I don’t think this game will work for most Glitchen.  Interaction is minimal.  Socializing is difficult.  Depth is completely lacking.  And as the game is intended for children, the chat filter is draconic.  Even the word “space” is filtered, presumably because one could then explain to another player that you can swear if you put spaces between the letters.  Well d a m n that approach to h e l l.  I even noticed a Glitch player in their forums complaining because she cannot use her normal screen name — it contains that nasty “space” word.

Despite that it is intended for children, I really don’t recommend it for them either.  Children have even less resistance to the habit-forming mechanics  that these kinds of games are so fond of than adults — in my completely amateur opinion, kids should just play games that are fun or informative, not games designed to make them check in at regular intervals.

On a scale of Rube to Scion of Purple, I give this game a Rube.  For you non-Glitchen, that means it’s often not that great and just a wee bit annoying.

There are other “Games for Glitchen” on my list, so we shall keep trying.

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One response to “The Search for Something Preposterous: Here Be Monsters

  1. Thanks for the review! I am looking forlornly for a new game. I tried a couple and decided my new necessary and sufficient condition for trying another is whether or not you can leave notes in the game. As Abed said in that one episode of Community (Digital Estate Planning), being able to leave notes makes games the best games ever.

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