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Gun Media’s ’80s slasher project, Summer Camp, was an interesting idea lurking on my radar.

But that blip turned into one of my more anticipated game projects when Gun Media announced it had scored the Friday the 13th franchise, and that the game’s design was going to focus on asymmetrical multiplayer. This means one person would play Jason, the series’ infamous hockey-masked killer, and every one else would take the role of camp counselors.

Like Creative Assembly’s take on Alien Isolation, which took the franchise away from doing yet another action first-person shooter and went with a more thoughtful stealth-horror game. Gun Media’s play premise for Friday the 13th sounds like an intelligent retelling of the themes from the film series through the interactive language of game design.

It’s definitely a much better premise than previous Friday the 13th game attempts.

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Disclaimer: The author backed this project on Kickstarter


The team is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, which coincidentally ends on Friday the 13th. I got a chance to sit down and have a discussion with several members of the Friday the 13th team.

GamesBeat: I’m just going to hang out in these woods by myself here with my sleeping bag, my boom box playing some Van Halen, and some pot. Wait! What’s that? Who is making that creepy noise in the corner? Identify yourselves!

Wes Keltner: Hey! This is Wes Keltner, co-creator of Friday the 13th: The Game and founder of Gun Media.

Randy Greenback: Hi! Randy Greenback here, executive director on the project.

Charles Brungardt: Hello, I’m Charles Brungardt. President and cofounder of IllFonic. I also help out with engineering and production teams on the project.

Kedhrin Gonzalez: I’m Kedhrin Gonzalez, creative director and co-founder of IllFonic. I make things fun and scary … and pet cats.

Friday the 13th Camp Crystal Lake

GamesBeat: So what’s the deal with Gun Media? What is it and where did it start? Also, tell us about IllFonic and any past projects.

Keltner: We’re a small, scrappy group of game designers, producers, and directors. So what that amounts to is that we don’t have boatloads of cash and we wear a lot of hats. [Laughs]

But there’s method to our madness.

We first decide what our next title will be and we begin working on a barebones design doc. We flesh out the basic idea, core gameplay, and what features the game should have. We kick around the name of the title and start doing mock-ups and storyboards. Next, we identify talented development studios that we like. We find teams that are passionate and fun to work with. Then we shower them with tens of dollars. Then the fun begins.

Brungardt: IllFonic is a 50 person team in Denver, Colorado. We are working on various projects, but right now we have about 15 people internally working on Friday the 13th: The Game, and another five or so external resources. That number will go up a little bit as we get deeper into development.

We’ve worked on many different project at IllFonic, starting with Nexuiz, an arena first person shooter on Xbox 360 and Steam PC.

After THQ shut down, we started doing work for hire putting our CryEngine knowledge to good use, and we worked on Star Citizen, Evolve, Armored Warfare, Sonic Boom … the Team Challenges … a tech demo with AMD, Crysis 3, and some other really cool unannounced projects.

Currently, besides Friday the 13th: The Game, we are working on Moving Hazard and Project Advena — a working title — with Psyop Games, along with relaunching Nexuiz real soon.

In addition, we are continuing working on our MMO Revival, which is build in stages and has a pretty cool update coming to Phase 1 real soon. 2016 has some great releases coming that we will be bringing to the world, and we are really excited about working on Friday the 13th: The Game, as it has been a dream of ours to make!

GamesBeat: So, what’s the history behind the Summer Camp Team? How did you guys-‘n’-gals get together?

Keltner: Well, Ronnie Hobbs — a co-creator — and I have always wanted to make a horror game together. At least for the last ten years. It wasn’t until about 18 months ago that we could actually put that into action. The more we discussed internally, the more we realized that we had a pretty solid idea.

Randy is a big horror fan of the ’80s, too. As soon as Ronnie and I started talking about our early design ideas, he was hooked. He jumped in and helped us hone the design more. They were just winding down from working on Evolve.

Our teams hit it off immediately. Kehdrin is a horror fan and metal head. I knew the moment I met him in person, that the game was in good hands. He’s a strong creative director, and can shift into a producer role as well. The more we hung out with them and talked shop, the more we all started to think we were on to something with Summer Camp.

Gonzalez: Chuck told me that someone was wanting to talk to us about making a multiplayer horror game and I threw my coffee on the ground.

This is the kind of thing we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, the fact it is now Friday the 13th makes it 10 billion times better. I’ve been working with excellent people at IllFonic for eight years now and this is a perfect fit for our studio and our vibe. Gun Media mixes with IllFonic too.

At first I thought they’d be super hard to work with — always a fear of dealing with a new partner — but when I heard them talking crap about each other during our prototype playtests, I knew they were real gamers and not just suits trying to make a quick buck.

GamesBeat: Can you give a little bit of history behind the Summer Camp project itself? Before it became Friday the 13th?

Keltner: Sure! Summer Camp began as a conversation in the office at Gun Media, roughly two years ago. Just one of those discussions you have during down time. A wouldn’t it be cool kind of thing. Ronnie was just smart enough to start jotting these ideas down.

The topic kept coming up at the office. Someone would go home at night and think of more ideas, and bring them up the next day. The discussions kept growing, until we were at a point where we either needed to act, or shelf it and move on.

But we were already smitten with the idea. We had to move forward!

GamesBeat: Was the original Summer Camp premise, and I’m talking about the idea to do Summer Camp first sparked in your synapses and you jotted the idea down on paper, originally an asymmetrical multiplayer game?

Keltner: Yes, from the very start it was an asymmetrical multiplayer game. This was because we knew we wanted to pay tribute to a sub-genre of horror that was near and dear to our hearts; ’80s slashers.

The films of the era were light on narrative, heavy on gore. Most singleplayer experiences rely on a good story to guide the player through to a … hopefully … fulfilling climax. That didn’t make sense for this. It didn’t match the subject matter.

Summer Camp Gun Media

GamesBeat: Bear with me, but when I was a little kid, my older sister worked at this hole-in-the-wall VHS rental spot. From about 4th grade until my freshman year of high school, I would spend Friday night watching three movie marathons of whatever in the horror section didn’t get rented.

Those visual aesthetic of ’70s and ’80s horror soaked into my young and impressionable brain. So when I saw that Summer Camp image and some of the screenshots, I could see a creative team that, at least visually, has a close relationship with the same era of shock and exploitation.

Maybe you guys can share some of your VHS horror memories? Perhaps … look at what the biggest influences were for going with this premise and aesthetic?

Keltner: Oh man, that is so good to hear, because yes! We were those kids. I, too, had a hole in the wall VHS rental store in my hometown. I didn’t have a relative in the rental biz, but I had that friend whose parents were more lax with what we could and couldn’t see.

But my mother was pretty cool about me renting horror movies, too. Of course, being a kid, you have no concept of what is good and what is complete garbage. You just picked the movie based on the cover art, right?

Ghoulies, with the little monster in the toilet … oh yeah, gotta get that! Critters and Puppet Master, yep, rented those multiple times.

My first proper slasher film was A Nightmare on Elm Street. That film wrecked me. But it’s funny. Not sure if you had a similar experience or not, but in the school cafeteria, kids would pull out different ‘extreme’ candy, and lay it out on the table. Warheads and the like. Super hot or super sour candy. And we would dare each other to eat them.  In a weird way, that’s synonymous with horror films and my childhood. Horror films became a rite of passage.

Gonzalez: My mother tried her hardest to shelter me from this stuff, but USA Up All Night would sneak in the goods for me. As a kid growing up, these movies were the things I snuck behind her back.

I didn’t have access to VHS tapes so much, but I was always down to watch whatever I could find on TV. Tales from the Crypt was my weekly obsession, followed by a lot of scary books, drawing morbid stuff, and slowly turning into a pretty dark person overall.

My earliest horror memory is watching Halloween for the first time. I couldn’t sleep for weeks. It’s amazing.

GamesBeat: The Summer Camp concept has obviously evolved since then. When and where did Friday the 13th wind up falling onto the drawing board?

Keltner: It was roughly February or March of this year when they [the creators and owners of the Friday the 13th brand] initially reached out, via email.

Honestly, we thought we were being trolled at first. So we ignored them. We just kept our head down and kept working.

A month later they called and I answered. I’m glad I did. Apparently Sean Cunningham, the original creator of the film series, had caught wind of what we were doing. And he was very impressed. He saw the passion that Gun Media and IllFonic were pouring into this project.

We were a little intimidated at first, but we were way wrong. He loved the concept! The conversation then changed from questioned about the game, to figuring out a way to partner. Here we had Tom, Kane, and Harry — basically the team that built the franchise — but we were missing two key elements; Sean and the license.

Sean offered both. My heart sank, because here we are, this small team with a conservative budget. I informed Sean that we were very grateful for the offer, but we simply didn’t have the budget required to pay the licensing fees. I mean, they had to be expensive. Probably more than our entire working budget.

“I understand Wes, that’s why I’m offering it to you, gratis.” said Sean.

I knew just enough Latin to know what I had just heard was incredible, amazing, and totally fucking unheard of!

Jason Takes Manhatten

GamesBeat: How flexible have the Friday the 13th creators and licensors been about your creative vision for the project so far?

Keltner: They loved our design from the start. They didn’t want to get in the way of the vision we had for Summer Camp. It fit so nicely with the license.

Granted, there’s always some snags here and there when you’re working with a franchise that spans several mega companies like Paramount, New Line, and Warner Bros. But so far, they have been accommodating and open to our ideas, both new and our original ideas for Summer Camp.

GamesBeat: It looks like you guys have Tom Savini, the legendary special effects artist, on the team. What’s his role?

Keltner: Tom will be our very own Sultan of Splatter. He gets the opportunity — which he’s very excited about — to redesign a new Jason, exclusively for the game.

That’s pretty rad when you think about it. He birthed the look and feel of Jason, and now he gets to go back and tackle that again. He is also creating the kills for Jason. Granted, we will have some fan favorite kills from the films in the game, but we thought it would be cool for Tom to come up with new ones. It’s been … what? … twenty-five plus years since he’s had to think about how Jason could creatively kill teens with household implements? He’s got to have a whole diary full of gore and mayhem we get to tap into.

GamesBeat: How is he taking to the video game medium?

Keltner: This isn’t Tom’s first foray into games or digital gore. He teaches a school on practical special effects and make up, and within the school, they use programs like Maya, etc. to tease out ideas before giving birth to them in real life.

He has also acted as an adviser on a few games in the past, but not at the level her will be for Friday the 13th. When talking with him, one of the things he is most excited about is the freedom this allows.

When shooting a film, there are so many variables at play to really sell a gag to the audience. The weather, lighting, and actor energy levels just to name a few. Everything had to go off without a hiccup, perfectly, at the right moment.

He had to create several of these practical effects, just to make sure multiple takes can occur, for film. With games, he just has to create it once. This frees up time to be more creative and really push the envelope.

Jason X sleeping bags

GamesBeat: One of my favorite scenes from the entire Friday the 13th series is actually from Jason X. Whenever I think of Friday the 13th, I think of the “we like premarital sex” scene from that movie. It’s this really great bit of self-reference. Tell me, will I be able to batter one of my victims with a sleeping bag?

Greenback: Of course! Sleeping bags are pretty much a staple in Friday the 13th as far as kills go. We’re aiming to recreate all of the different sleeping bag kills from across all of the movies, especially the infamous one from Part VII.

I know know of many other games that feature interactive sleeping bags. Actually, I can’t think of a single one at the moment. Maybe we’ll be the first?

Keltner: Interactive Sleeping Bag Technology! That might just be a back-of-the-box bullet-point!

Gonzalez: A huge challenge for us is making sure these moments make sense from a gameplay point of view. Games are non-linear, and players can do a lot of random things at any point in time. Our goal is to entice players into getting themselves into situations where this type of thing might happen.

In a multiplayer match, things get even more chaotic. We need to make sure we lay out the tools and keep the gameplay simpe enough to have these experiences.

GamesBeat: Another kill, which actually terrified me as a child … and I mean, I never laid on my bed the same way again after seeing it, was from the original Friday the 13th. Where the dude is just laying in bed, enjoying his joint, when boom! This arm grabs him from under the bed and jabs an arrow head through his neck from behind, through the bed!

What are some memorable, or favorite, death scenes from the series? And can we expect any of them in the game?

Gonzalez: I have lots of favorites, but one of the most rewarding is in Part IV, when Jimmy dies. He’s just being really annoying yelling at Ted, trying to find the corkscrew. As a viewer, you are kind of like, “Finally! Someone shut him up!”

…and then you really need to evaluate why you were relieved about someone dying because they annoyed you … in all fun, it was Jason giving him the corkscrewer, then cleaver to the face!

Keltner: Oh man … so many to choose from. I actually really liked the speargun kill, in part III.

It was just moments after Jason got his mask for the first time, and then he walks to the end of the dock and the female counselor is wading out into the water, trying to retrieve a dropped wallet. That was the first — and I think only — 3D film in the series, and they tried to milk that, hard.

Especially with the speargun kill. Jason fires it basically right at the camera, so you get a good jump effect from the audience … but then it hits the counselor right in the eye. So it was a mixture of being a 3D scene, and the first kill Jason committed with his newly found mask. Epic.

GamesBeat: Let’s talk about gameplay. Primarily, the asymmetrical multiplayer. How is this going to work? How can the seven camp counselors take out Jason? And what stops Jason from just going ape all over the counselors as soon as possible?

Gonzalez: A huge misconception here is thinking that you can ‘take out’ Jason. Is it possible to stop Jason in a match? Certainly, but it is extremely difficult and rare.

The goal isn’t to beat Jason in a fight, it is to survive and escape. Jason is over powered, if you watch Friday the 13th Part IV, it is where the series turned up the heat on how absolutely brutal Jason can be. There are so many window breaking scenes in that movie, it will make you laugh. Jason is a beast and we aim to deliver that experience.

If you were on even terms with Jason, you wouldn’t be terrified when you see him. It is important for us to introduce that, while making sure you still have a lot of fun being a counselor. It’s almost like hot potato, no one wants to hold a hot potato, but it’s great to have that experience with a group of friends.

I like to call it, “sharing social pain”

Keltner: Kehdrin [Gonzalez] is correct. This isn’t a competitive game. You can’t compete against Jason. I mean, that one kid, in Jason Takes Manhattan, tried to go up against him. Remember that scene? It was up on some rooftops. The character was a boxer. Yeah, we know what happened to him.

Friday the 13th The Game boats

GamesBeat: I imagine Jason wants to try to get the counselors to wander off alone? That seems to be how most deaths in the movies get set up. If so, how can he accomplish getting the group to split up?

Keltner: From our play tests, this generally seems to happen every match. Counselors just go in every random direction.

Sometimes you might have people team up, but even then … as soon as Jason comes near, it’s interesting to see how fast people will leave the other behind to save their own hide.

It’s a very interesting dynamic to see what players do in these situations. You get bonuses for sticking with each other. However, you aren’t punished if you go it alone. Many times it will probably work out in your favor more than having someone [else] reveal your location.

GamesBeat: On your Kickstarter page, you mention a stigma that people have for asymmetrical multiplayer gameplay. Can you elaborate a little bit on what this stigma is? I’ve never heard anyone complain about it.

Brungardt: It often can be a balance thing. Usually, everyone wants to play the bad ass lonesome guy, like the monster or the main killer. With Friday the 13th: The Game, we knew one problem would be everyone wanting to play Jason and a lack of people wanting to play the counselors.

We didn’t want to nerf Jason, so he wouldn’t be fun to play … he still needs to be deadly and powerful … but we wanted to make it really fun to play as a counselor.

Keltner: Right. The crucial part was giving the players that are counselors, the proper tools to try to stay alive. But this becomes more of a cat and mouse type gameplay. Wouldn’t you agree, Kedhrin?

Gonzalez: This was a big thing when we first started the game. Right out of the gates, Gun Media didn’t want the counselors to be something that you would compare to a competitive asymmetrical multiplayer game. You’re supposed to be weak, but how do you make that fun?

We went with staying closer to the rules of hide and seek. We decided to figure out a way to make it more fun to not be it, but still have a fun time if you are it.

There are just so many ways for you to interact with the world that Jason can’t. It’s a completely different experience. Naturally, Jason is for for it’s own reasons, I think you can probably imagine.

GamesBeat: I mean … maybe I am sitting in a position of luxury saying this, being a fan of asymmetrical design and all, but if a small portion of the audience doesn’t like the genre, should you care? I mean, we can’t please everyone, right?

Gonzalez: I think asymmetrical multiplayer can be a lot more subjective to the player when it’s put into a competitive light.

When the game takes itself extremely seriously on the balance and play-by-play, it makes players really focus a lot on that’s not fair or strangers never play together type of discussions.

Even though you’re a counselor, you can play 100 percent solo, just as if you were playing with other team members. Other asymmetrical experiences force you to cooperate with your team if you want to take down the  in the 1 vs. many scenario.

GamesBeat: Will there be a single-player component?

Keltner: We have a stretch goal to include a single player challenge mode. This will be smaller gameplay moment, ripped straight from the films.

The films didn’t rely much on a strong narrative. It’s simply not what the audience was after. They wanted to see the undying killing force of Jason kill teens in creative and unique ways. Who needs a story when you have that kind of eye candy?

We hope that we can hit that stretch goal, as we feel the design we have for our challenges will be crazy fun. To get an idea, it’s somewhat similar to a mission in Hitman, however, you only have a few targets to take out, so the experience would be much smaller than your normal Hitman mission.

Alternatively, if you’re playing as a counselor in the challenges, you have a couple of objectives, like: find the car keys, escape the cabin, and get to the car.

Friday the 13th The Game Jason

GamesBeat: Just a little development shop talk, but why the Unreal Engine?

Brungardt: We’ve worked with many different engines over the course of IllFonic’s eight years. Major commercial engines to publisher internal ones. We started out using Unreal Engine, which was always great to us, but when Unreal Engine 4 hit we just really loved what the engine could do for us.

Often when making games, you end up spending more time working on non-gameplay items just to make it do what you need, and to be able to ship the actual product.

We looked at Unreal Engine 4 early on and decided, as a studio, to start trusting it for all our games moving forward. We are able to work way more efficiently and we’ve set up our own internal IllFonic framework that handles a lot of the more common aspects of game development that can be shared across projects. This allows us to create games at a more affordable cost, but still hit the triple A quality bar e want to hit for all our projects.

In addition, it helps iteration as something can be out in the world on one project, and we can keep refining it for the future of another.

Also, just look at the community of developers Epic has built. It’s crazy, because our veteran developers are often blown away by what some new kid in or right out of school can do. It constantly pushes the team here to refine their technique, but it also gives the new guy an opportunity to make a huge impact on us as well.

As a company, we know it’s important to keep learning no matter what stage we are in our career, and when this stops, our products won’t be innovative anymore.

To be honest, we were pretty burnt out on every project before, facing the same challenges over and over again. Epic realized this was an issue and set up their code structure and engine to make it really easy for developer like ourselves to continue iterating on our own code base, and reuse as much as we can.

GamesBeat: Look. I know you guys are doing Kickstarter, but I think those in the know about how game development works, who are familiar with what a game like this costs in the long run … especially with this project having another two years of development left to go … know that these projects cost a lot more than 700K to produce. Unless everyone is working for almost nothing or back-end payments. I’m not trying to be all, Ah hah! I caught you bringing this up.

Greenback: You’re 100 percent correct. It definitely does cost a lot more to make a game at this level, but there are some special circumstances at play here.

I’m very glad you’re calling this out, though. We think it’s important for fans and backers to know why we’re here on Kickstarter. Maybe we’ve done a poor job of explaining this? I’m sure we can do better. It’s questions like these that are helping us get the word out and increasing everyone’s understanding of our situation. We definitely all appreciate this opportunity to make it more clear to your readers.

Brungardt: As I stated with the question about Unreal Engine, it has made the development process a lot more affordable, since not only is it now easier to develop games with Unreal Engine 4, but it’s just more streamlined since we can build on our own already existing framework.

With triple A development, and this current generation of games, costs are rising in certain areas but are reducing in others. As visuals are pushed, art and animation asset costs tend to rise, but since we have a solid framework to work off of, engineering and iteration costs tend to lower.

It’s a lot easier for us to get gameplay in a ballpark of where it needs to be early on, through heavy prototyping.As Randy [Greenback] stated, though, it does cost more than the $700K mark to build this game.

Keltner: Exactly. We did have a small budget for Summer Camp, which helps give us a leg up towards building Friday the 13th: The Game … but to get the experience that everyone wants, including the fans, we need some help. That’s why we came to Kickstarter.

Friday the 13th The Game dock

GamesBeat: Just to be clear, nor am I saying that it is malicious or bad to use crowdfunding as a preorder and marketing platform. But there has to be other money tied into a project this size. Who else is funding … outside of fans … or possibly publishing, Friday the 13th: The Game?

Greenback: No one.

Honestly, we had raised some initial funding for the game when it was Slasher Vol 1: Summer Camp, and then raised even more. There is no outside publisher involved, we’ve been quite up front about that on Kickstarter. We’ve even talked about meeting with several large publishers early on, before the name change.

Right now, it’s truly just the fans who are helping us grow the game to ensure it is as true to the classic horror film franchise, that we all know and love, as it can be.

The whole reason we’re going to Kickstarter is to help cover the costs of the increased expectations from fans. Now that we’re Friday the 13th: The Game [as opposed to just Summer Camp], we know we have to deliver on additional content and various must-have features that we weren’t planning on implementing in Summer Camp. We have multiple Jason’s that fans are looking to take control of and play with. In addition to more classic kills from the films that will be sorely missed if we don’t get them in.

There are lots of things we didn’t have to do when we were Summer Camp, we could have gotten away with less. We’re fans of the Friday the 13th series too, though. Big fans, that have also been wanting for a new game that let’s us play as the ultimate predator, Jason himself.

That’s the driving reason we’re asking fans for support, we want to make them happier than Jason Voorhees in a machete store, that just happens to be right in the middle of a counselor parade route.

To do that, though, we need to raise more money.

GamesBeat: How is the Kickstarter campaign going so far?

Greenback: Everything is going very well, we just passed 600K and are steamrolling towards our goal. We have over 9000 backers now, and that is a number that means a lot to us.

Our community is lively and helpful, so we really couldn’t ask for much more with over a week left to go. It’s amazing to have that many people out there, all over the world, ready to step up and get behind us. And we’re focused on making the backer number rise in our final push.

GamesBeat: And how is the project progressing so far? Are you guys on track to hit your release date?

Gonzalez: We’re heavily in pre-production right now. The entire team is making sure everything we did in the prototype can be implemented properly and effectively. We know our mechanic work, now we just need to make sure it doesn’t make us insane developing them!

This is a normal phase in development. There are some big things we’re doing, so right now is the phase where everything is carefully planned and managed.

GamesBeat: Anything else fans should know about?

Brungardt: It’s been extremely fun working with everyone on this project. The amount of excitement from the guys that brought us the films has been amazing, and you can tell they are really excited to work on this with us. We look forward to getting this in the backers’ hands and are looking forward to playing with everyone.

Greenback: This has all been a dream come true from start to finish.

From the start of Summer Camp, getting to tackle asymmetrical multiplayer designs, working with our experience horror icons, landing IllFonic as our development team, being gifted the official Friday the 13th license by Sean Cunningham, and now doing the Kickstarter … it’s all been pretty damn surreal!

The whole experience of planning and running the Kickstarter campaign had been completely incredible too. It’s my first foray into crowdfunding, and I’ve never felt as connected to the fans and community on any other project before.

It’s like we have a giant team all pushing to make this game everything it needs to be!

Gonzalez: There are high expectations and a lot of unknowns from the fans when it comes to what to expect from us in the final delivery. The most important thing to know is that, in our prototype, the game is already insanely fun.

To have a game that fun in the prototype stages is extremely rare, so we’re really excited about that. That really just means we need to implement and polish throughout development, without too many hurdles of “Will this work?”

We already know it will work, and I’m extremely happy knowing fans will love it.

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