Friday the 13th: The Game Interview - Brutality by Design
For the developers of Friday the 13th: The Game, brutality, blood, and gore became a full-time job the moment they earned the rights to the famed horror movie franchise. It was their passion for slashers and an unwavering commitment to these genre-defining elements that propelled the crowdfunded project to where it is now, and from the very beginning, they made it abundantly clear that it was not up for discussion.
License to Kill
Friday the 13th: The Game’s roots go all the way back to 2014 when the Gun Media and Illfonic teams announced the third-person survival game, Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp. Their plan was to create a video game installment series based on 80’s slasher flicks such as The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, and of course, Friday the 13th.
With the support of award-winning special effects artist Tom Savini and famous horror film composer Harry Manfredini, the project soon caught the attention of Sean S. Cunningham – the creator of Friday the 13th. Shortly following this chance encounter, the two teams would go on to earn the rights and rebrand their project as Friday the 13th: The Game.
How did you end up gaining support from the likes of Sean Cunningham, Tom Savini, Tom McLoughlin, and Harry Manfredini on Friday the 13th: The Game?
Ronnie Hobbs: Much to our surprise, Harry, Tom, and Kane loved the Summer Camp idea and jumped on board after co-creator Wes Keltner reached out to them. It was quite shocking to even receive a response from them, much less have them join the project. So you can imagine what it was like for us when Sean approached us offering the Friday the 13th rights. We had been designing and laying the groundwork for an F13-inspired game for several years, and it turns out Sean and his team were in the same mindset. It truly was a perfect storm of events that lead to us creating this game.
Rated M for Machete
There’s something admirable about a small development team that tackles one of the highest grossing and longest running horror movie franchises of all time. Gun Media and Illfonic took this responsibility seriously and even went as far as to decide against partnering with a publisher. It was all about uncompromising authenticity and for a game based on a movie franchise filled with mature themes such violence, nudity, and gore, it was important for them to have full creative control.
We got our first taste of this with the kill-focused trailer revealed at PAX West in late 2016. Media outlet headlines described the trailer as gore-filled and brutal. IGN even posted it with a warning citing extreme violence. The trailer immediately went viral and reactions included just about everything from sheer excitement to complete disgust.
Have you received an overwhelming amount of backlash regarding the gore and brutality featured in your game? I remember the response to the Pax West trailer which highlighted a variety of Jason kill sequences. Was this ever a big concern of yours? How do you feel about censorship in video games?
Ronnie Hobbs: Yes, to an extent, but I wouldn't say it's been overwhelming. We've certainly received our fair share of sternly written letters and very angry messages. I think we've been called every name in the book, but that's to be expected. Some people just have a difficult time watching Jason brutally manhandle these Camp Counselors, so their instant reaction is to jump online and complain about it.
We typically just read the messages and move on, because at the end of the day we have a responsibility to the fans, ourselves, and the rights holders to create an authentic Friday the 13th experience. Some random person with an opinion was never going to change that philosophy. As for censorship in games, I certainly think you can cross the line as an artist, but I don't think we are anywhere near that. In general. I'm not a big fan of outside sources dictating what an artist creates.
It wasn’t long before another Jason kill trailer was revealed by the team during a panel at PAX East in March of this year. Fans of the game were all over it and this time, the contents of the video were more brutal than the last. In that same month, Gun Media and Illfonic would finally receive their ESRB rating for Friday the 13th: The Game.
At the end of March, you announced that F13: The Game received an M rating from ESRB. Was this something that you were expecting or did you think it would be much better/worse? Do you agree that this is an appropriate rating?
Wes Keltner: To be honest, we weren’t sure. We reached out to the ESRB early on in the development cycle. We had deep discussions with them on how the cinematic kills in our game work. Since they were hand-crafted by Tom Savini, we already knew we were pushing the envelope. Sure, there are games that are equal or perhaps even gorier, but it’s about context, not just blood on the screen. You have counselors running for their life and once Jason catches them, well...you can guess the rest. That’s what we were worried about; context.
The more details we gave the ESRB, the more they informed us that we were a little “in the gray” on our rating. Therefore when the time came to submit to the ESRB, they spent a little more time really kicking the tires so-to-speak. We were right there on the edge between an M rating and an AO rating. And that’s where we wanted to be...right on the edge of the machete.
Gun Media and Illfonic’s meticulous balance between a Mature and Adults Only rating isn’t unheard of. In fact, developers that create games with mature content can easily find themselves treading the line between the two. That said, an AO rating in this day might not immediately spell failure anymore if games like Hatred are anything to go by.
Brutality by Design
Although Jason’s brutal kills are a big part of the game’s appeal, Friday the 13th: The Game isn’t about senseless violence. When asked about the development process, designer Robbie Hobbs and producer Randy Greenback went into detail about the amount of effort spent on creating the various counselors and Jason iterations for the game. The goal was to be accurate in their representations while keeping the game balanced and challenging.
What was the process behind choosing and designing the different Jason variations? We know they were inspired by specific iterations within the movies but what kind of creative license did you take to ensure that you brought them to life in the game?
Ronnie Hobbs: The main idea was to get as many versions of Jason into the game as time permitted, but while also making sure each model was as accurate to the films as possible. We then took those models and balanced them against a set number of gameplay parameters. Meaning, all Jason models have the same abilities, and no one version is drastically better than the others.
In order to create gameplay variety, we then added the "Strength and Weakness" system, which allowed us to tweak each version of Jason just slightly as related to their respective film. For example, J8 (Jason Takes Manhattan) has the fire axe so he can chop through doors faster, J3 (Friday the 13th Part 3) has a stronger grip due to his bulkier physique, and J6 (Friday the 13th Part 6) starts the match with throwing knives due to a famous scene from that film. It may seem simple, but a lot of balancing was required for this system.
On Kickstarter, we actually got to see some of the abilities, strengths, and weaknesses for some camp counselors and Jason variations. What was the process when it came to deciding on these stats? Is the outcome of the game heavily dependent on teamwork with each camp counselor playing to their strengths to outsmart Jason?
Randy Greenback: Really, we let the movies be the guides for us, and that worked out very well. We had to abstract out some stats, but everything is driven by the events in the movies and Jason's behaviors in them. As for teamwork, the outcome of the games "can" be heavily team-based, but I've seen games where a lone counselor who doesn't work with anyone else comes out as the sole survivor.
I think that's what's great about our game, the gameplay has lots of emergent elements and can be very social. People play so differently, make wild choices, or even make crazy mistakes, and it all just turns into more stories they can share afterward. I personally think this is the sign of a great online game and one that is perfectly suited for streaming as well.
With the Friday the 13th: The Game release right around the corner, fans are itching to get a taste of the game they’ve been waiting to play for years. Starting on Friday, you’ll be able to jump into the online multiplayer and finally experience what it feels like to go head to head with or play as Jason Voorhees, himself. We hope you enjoy a challenge because the developers have reassured us that Friday the 13th: The Game is no walk through the campgrounds. Instead, prepare to run, hide, and fight for your life just as you would if you were in the final throes of your favorite slasher film.
With the Friday the 13th: The Game beta, there were concerns from some players that you made Jason too difficult to survive against. I remember the team mentioning that this was by design because you didn’t want the game to be too easy. Does that still hold true as you enter the final phases of the game?
Randy Greenback: That's still true actually. It's a precarious balance though. While we want the game to be difficult, we do not want it to turn into a "Death-Fest" too quickly for our counselors. Counselors should always have a chance to survive, however slim. It's really up to them to make smart decisions, to know when to engage with Jason, to know when to run.
We give players the tools to feel like they are playing in the final 1/3 part of a horror movie, that's the feel we want. We have multiple Jason characters with different stats to help provide that. The team will be balancing and tweaking the difficulty as we listen to the community reactions post-launch to maintain the cinematic feel and tension we want to provide for players.
Recently, you released a video that gave us a preview into the Pamela Tapes. Can you tell us what inspired you to add these to the game and what role they’re going to play?
Wes Keltner: Pamela is an integral part of the F13 canon. Betsy Palmer’s performance in the first film struck a chord with us. She was only on-screen for what, the last two reels? But the downward spiral into insanity was great. How she became unhinged and began talking to Jason and then speaking for Jason in that creepy voice; we wanted more of that.
What has been your favorite part about developing the game thus far? What was the most difficult/stressful part?
Randy Greenback: I think the most memorable moments for me had to have been the early conceptual discussions on gameplay and the very first playtests of the prototype. The excitement was raw and the decisions we were making were so important to get to the game we got today. Besides that, it was the mocap sessions with Kane Hodder and our counselors. Getting to stream them through Periscope and let the fans watch live was truly a treat and let us deliver on our wants to be transparent with the process.
What are some titles that you think are great examples of horror in video games? What about them do you enjoy?
Ronnie Hobbs: I'm an old-school horror fan. I still believe Silent Hill 2 is the best horror game ever created, with Fatal Frame 2 and Siren close by. Silent Hill 2 introduced a human element to the genre that hadn't been experienced before. It was disturbing on a psychological level. From sound design, to story, to art, everything about that game was ahead of its time. I remember being too scared to move forward at times, simply because my brain had already created an image that in truth was more terrifying than what actually lied ahead. It's like the famous scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - what happened to Kirk after the door slams is more disturbing than what the audience was shown. The best horror films and games have a way of using your own mind against you, SH2 did exactly that.
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