Wes Keltner understands the pressure that comes with getting what you’ve always wanted. Keltner, the founder and creative director of Gun Media, is a longtime fan of 1980s slasher movies. His company recently acquired the game rights to FRIDAY THE 13TH and he, co-creator Ronnie Hobbs, and the rest of the Gun crew are hard at work on a PC, PS4 and Xbox One adaptation of the legendary horror franchise. Seems like a dream come true, right? Except the last FRIDAY THE 13TH game was more like a nightmare.
Back in 1989, Atlus crapped out a half-assed NES adaptation that is widely regarded as among the worst games ever made. No one in gaming touched the franchise for nearly 30 years, until recently when the stars lined up for the current version of FRIDAY THE 13TH, leaving Keltner and company to overcome a tarnished legacy and destroy the bad memories of the last game. Luckily, they seem like the right people for the job.
“We know fans have waited nearly 30 years for a FRIDAY THE 13TH game,” Keltner said. “And it would absolutely kill us if it came out and it was a turd. So we’re taking the responsibility very, very seriously.”
Killing Campers For Fun And Profit
Funded through Kickstarter, 2016’s FRIDAY THE 13TH is a third-person, “asymmetrical” multiplayer game. It looks like a 1980s VHS copy of a FRIDAY movie, and the plot follows that familiar formula too: Jason Voorhees, maniac/killing machine, methodically murders terrified teenagers at a summer camp. One player takes on the role of Jason, and the others are counselors at Camp Crystal Lake.
As you’d expect, Jason is way more formidable than the counselors, with over-powered tools and abilities designed to find and kill innocent teenagers easily and gruesomely. In the face of this seemingly indestructible enemy, the counselors must work together to stay alive, whether through repairing phones to call police, fixing up the boats or cars scattered around Camp Crystal Lake, or even fighting Jason directly. Each of the counselors is based on a classic slasher movie “type” and has his or her own class-based strengths and weaknesses, so the “Jock” is strong but can’t fix things, where the “Nerd” is great at engineering, but not so good at running away.
Keltner said he and his team had no doubt that playing as Jason would be fun, but that making it fun to play as a counselor was a challenge at first. The solution they hit on leads back to what made the original films so great: The life-or-death decisions made by people in peril. But this time, you’re not watching some dumb teenagers get themselves killed, you’re living it.
“Everyone has had that experience where you’ve just watched a horror movie, and when the credits roll, you look at your friend and say ‘What would you have done?’” Well now you’ll get to put your money where your mouth is and find out,” Keltner said.
As in the films, wrong choices lead to complex, elaborate and gory death scenes, the “kills” that fans of FRIDAY movies love.
“The fans are going to flip when they see these kills,” Keltner said. “We’re going to have to dial some of them back or the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) is going to ban us for everything. An M-rating would be a luxury. I’m afraid that it will go past that into an AO, or even past that into a stamp that just says ‘NO.’”
To get kills so gruesome that you’re worried about the ESRB, you have to turn to a professional, so Gun contacted horror icon Tom Savini to help create the kills and the Jason character design. Before long, other key players from the real-life world of FRIDAY THE 13TH followed.
Getting the Band Back Together
FRIDAY THE 13TH began as a game called Summer Camp, a concept Keltner and co-creator Ronnie Hobbs came up with to pay homage to the slasher flicks of the ’70s and ’80s. Savini was brought on as Summer Camp’s Visual Effects Supervisor, and was joined by composer Harry Manfredini, who did the music from the original FRIDAY THE 13TH films, and hulking, iconic Jason Voorhees actor Kane Hodder.
As you’d probably expect given the idea and the team behind it, horror fans went batshit at the announcement of Summer Camp, but then things went even bigger from there. Keltner says he and his partner Hobbs were hard at work on the Summer Camp prototype when the phone rang.
“I pick it up, and a voice says, ‘Hey, it’s Sean Cunningham,’ and I’m like, ‘No. No way. Someone is trolling me.’” Cunningham, the creator of FRIDAY THE 13TH and owner of its related intellectual property, had a proposition for Keltner and company.
“He said, ‘You already have Kane Hodder, Tom Savini and Harry Manfredini on board, but you’re missing two things: Me and the FRIDAY THE 13TH license,’” Keltner said.
You Gotta Have Jason…
With the rights in place, Kickstarter money flowing in, and the core gameplay solid, the Gun got to work making the most iconic FRIDAY THE 13TH game possible, and you can’t do that without Kane Hodder.
While lots of dudes have donned Jason’s hockey mask (or burlap sack), Hodder played Jason Voorhees in more movies than anyone else: he took on the role in installments 7 though 10. More than any other actor, Hodder’s hulking, slow-moving portrayal of Jason is connected with the character in the popular imagination. According to Keltner, Hodder brings film-level intensity to motion capture, and working with him was sometimes terrifying.
“His whole body changes. He goes from just standing there, nonchalant, to becoming Jason. It’s intimidating as shit,” Keltner says, “There were some scenes where, even though it was motion capture, he still put the mask on. He pulled the mask, from Part 7, out of his bag, and put it on.”
Hodder was so committed to the motion capture, he tore muscles during a session — you might have seen the gruesome pictures of the injury on the Internet a few weeks ago.
Keltner told us how it went down: he says that the scene called for Jason to reach into a car and rip out an unlucky camper. “So we had actors in a car-like object, and Kane had to walk up and punch through the glass and grab an actor and pull them through he window of a car and into a choke-hold. Kane did all that with one arm. We had to do three takes to makes sure he got it just right. So that’s how he ripped his triceps.”
The final member of the original FRIDAY crew brought onboard for the game: Harry Manfredini. His music defines the franchise; it’s so powerful and memorable, you can walk up to just about anyone and whisper “Ch-ch-ch-ha-HA-HA” in their ear and you’ll get a reaction. Each player in the game will hear a separate Manfredini score, based on his or her actions and situation, and look for Jason’s terrifying theme to be used as a huge element in the soundtrack.
It’s the Little Things That Count
Overly gruesome kills, moody music, and unique gameplay would likely be enough to make the game great, but FRIDAY’s creators hope that their commitment to subtle elements pushes the FRIDAY THE 13TH game over the edge.
“We’re really making sure we nail the little details the right way,” Keltner says. “Like, hardcore fans will be walking through a cabin and say ‘Holy shit, that’s the exact lamp from the Packanack Lodge in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2!’ We want you to feel like you’re in that world.”
Jason in Manhattan and Space
While the movie series ventured into Space, Manhattan, and even Hell, all the levels of the game take place around Camp Crystal Lake and in the surrounding woods. Keltner says, ideally, he’d like to include a few more maps.
“Both a space level and Manhattan level were in our Kickstarter stretch goals,” Keltner said. “ We didn’t hit those in our original kickstarter, but we have a ‘slasher backer’ program still going, so if enough people continue to hear about our game and want to preorder it, you never know…” Check out the Kickstarter here.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE GAME is scheduled for release in Fall 2016 for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.