Earlier this week, Polygon reported on Friday the 13th, an asymmetrical multiplayer game from Gun Media in which a murderer stalks fleeing teenagers. Players can take on the role of either the killer or one of the hapless kids.
It's not the only game seeking to bring '80s-style woodland frights to gamers. Last Year is a personal, part-time project from Square Enix video and audio engineer James Wearing that's due to be released next fall, around the same time as Friday the 13th. The Kickstarter-backed game also places the player as either killer or prey in a game of deadly hide and seek.
In recent months Wearing has been quiet about the game's progress, prompting some negative speculation among backers that the project might be in trouble. When contacted by Polygon, Wearing admitted that development has taken a backseat to fund-raising, adding that he is now focused on getting the game finished.
In the days since he spoke to Polygon, there's been some bad blood between Wearing and Gun Media over which company was first to present their games which, at face value, look broadly similar. On Tuesday, Wearing tweeted, "@F13thFranchise Cool features. #ididthatlastyear," to an official Friday the 13th Twitter feed, prompting Gun Media to issue a response to Polygon.
"We announced Slasher Vol.1 Summer Camp [the original name for Friday the 13th] on Oct. 31st, 2014. Last Year announced their Kickstarter campaign on November 2, 2014," stated a Gun Media representative.
For Last Year, controversy is no stranger.
Last Year was the focus of an article on Cliqist, a website devoted to crowdfunded games, arguing that the project raised "red flags" including an allegation of "a curious jump in backers, a number of whom were of mysterious origin." Wearing says that the article is "silly and attention seeking."
His game is heavily influenced by slasher movies of the 1980s and most especially the Friday the 13th series. It's set in a summer camp called "Silver Lake," while Friday the 13th takes place at Crystal Lake.
Wearing's Kickstarter campaign was interrupted by a copyright violation notice from Crystal Lake Entertainment, Inc. (Friday the 13th creator Sean Cunningham's company). He took down certain images from his Kickstarter page which Cunningham's lawyers claimed showed a character who looked too similar to Friday the 13th's hockey-mask wearing psychopath Jason Voorhees.
At the time, Cunningham was talking about his plans to release a Friday the 13th video game, which was officially announced on Tuesday.
This week, Wearing tweeted a reference to this old dispute to the official Friday the 13th Twitter Feed. "But didn't you also send your lawyers after me and try to shut down my Kickstarter?"
Gun Media responded to this message in a statement. "The original Last Year KickStarter campaign explicitly used the Friday the 13th trademarks/copyrights, which they acknowledged and removed. The requested changes came from the rights holders who obviously have a very successful franchise of films, television series, and now video game to protect. They subsequently communicated with the Last Year group to remove the infringing elements. Everything was quite amicable from what we understand, given the circumstances."
Prior to the social media message, Wearing told Polygon, "There was a lot of back and forth with their lawyer. I was saying, look, some of these things you can't copyright. Some things I understand could be a little too close. We found a compromise where I changed a few things and they let a couple other things slide. Finally it was resolved. The page went back up and everything was cool."
He's obviously still angry about the copyright situation. "One of my illustration pieces had a character wearing a hockey mask," he wrote in an email sent to Polygon last night. "I totally respect the right for people to protect their overall brand but does this mean they completely own the idea of anybody ever wearing a hockey mask? In Grand Theft Auto 5 you can wear a hockey mask and go on a murderous rampage. Where do we draw the line?"
Then there's the long period of time between updates sent to backers. A few days before the latest fracas, Polygon contacted Wearing to find out how the game is coming along. Following our interview, he updated his Kickstarter page with a reassuring message, and publicity for a recently launched website for the game. In the message he apologized to backers for "a lack of news."
"My bandwidth is focused on building the company out," he said in a phone interview, adding that Square Enix knows about his project and has given him the green light to work on it in his spare time. "The second round of funding has taken up all the bandwidth.
"In addition, there's making the game itself. We started working on the prototype. With me as the one-man army, up until now, it's been stretched pretty thin. I understand the skittishness, people's hesitations. 'Oh, no, we haven't heard about it. This is just like all those other Kickstarters.' But for good reasons. We've been putting the pieces of the company in place that need to be there so we can make the game."
When asked whether it might have been useful to keep backers appraised of the situation, Wearing said, "I want to push updates that feel justified by good information. I want to make sure each post has meat, good updates, good content, good information, updates on the game, new artwork, something to justify an update.
"If I just say, 'everything's well, see you later,' that almost makes it look worse. That is something we're going to do, probably try and get some community manager help so we have more of that connection with people. Just so that our bandwidth isn't stretched too thin."
He said that the investment from the CMF, in addition to some personal savings, is allowing him to expand his team and to begin work on the game in earnest. "We have an environment, characters, basic interactions. There's nothing to show quite yet. But we've been able to start now that we have our second funding.
"We have a talented lead programmer who's signed on to the project, someone with major blockbuster credits. We'll announce his name in time. We have other amazing artists joining full time, again people that we can't announce yet.
"We've been putting the pieces of the company in place so we can make the game."
The initial release in 2016 will be a "limited scope, vertical slice" of the final game, he said. "For us, the important thing is keeping our scope in check, so there's no feature creep. We're staying focused on making sure we deliver a solid vertical slice of the game that gets people interested. Once we release that, new updates, new characters, new environments, stuff like that will follow."
As for the release of a rival horror game, he said Last Year will seek to do something different. "We're working on making sure all of our mechanics, all of our features, are going to be as interesting and unique as possible, so we differentiate ourselves from any competition. A year from now, what will we have that's different?"
Last Year is scheduled to come out on PC in the fall of 2016.