Friday the 13th is back

An asymmetrical multiplayer game aims to resurrect '80s horror scares.

In the forthcoming Friday the 13th game, you might find out something interesting about yourself. You've watched all those horror movies. You can't believe the stupidity of the victims being slaughtered one by one. But are you really smarter than a frightened teenager in a slasher flick?

Because the makers of the game, who are launching a Kickstarter campaign today, reckon you're probably just as clueless as a camp counselor wandering off into the woods.

Like that cretinous jock. You know, the one who stands around boasting that nobody dares mess with him, just before a machete cleaves his head in two. Or the randy couple that decides, what the heck, let's enjoy a quickie right next to this creepy swamp. Or the dozy stoner who sparks up a fat doobie in the dead of night: his last.

This is a game in which you get dropped into an unfolding slasher movie. So in a sense (all together now) this time it's personal.

Listen to this story in the episode of Minimap, Polygon's daily news podcast, below.

  • It's a third-person asymmetrical hide-and-seek game. Think Evolve except the monster is the one doing the chasing.
  • You get to be Jason, the murderous maniac who hunts down holidaying kids and carves them up. Jason is significantly overpowered.
  • Or you get to be any one of up to seven teenage campers trying not to be murdered by Jason. The teenagers have limited abilities but they can turn to cooperation, which can often be a hindrance.
  • The game is set in Camp Crystal Lake, the same location as the early movies. The maps include random drops of stuff like weapons, escape vehicles and telephones. These are always the things you want to get to if you are trying to escape from a crazed murderer, while also being the things you want to hide near if you are a crazed murderer.
  • There's no time limit. You either have to murder all the teenagers or you have to be a teenager who escapes from the lake by boat, car or by finding and fixing a telephone and calling in the cops.
  • Everyone in the game is an actual human being. There are no bots. Human beings are devious and human beings are dumb, especially when we are scared. This frightened-silly dumbness is the engine that drives Friday the 13th.

Scared stupid

Members of developer Gun Media are in the habit of playing Friday the 13th at their offices in Lexington, Kentucky. It's given them insights into likely player behavior, the biggest takeaway being that people tend to get stupider as the threat of death draws closer.

"It’s interesting to see how people react," says Producer Ronnie Hobbs. "That’s part of the reason we chose asymmetrical online-only gameplay. We wanted humans playing, not AI characters. If you have seven people who are all humans, they all make human mistakes."

Hobbs says there have been plenty of screams during testing, as well as friends abandoning one another once Jason shows up.

"Somewhere along the way, Jason shows up and changes your plan in an instant."

"There’s a famous quote," he says. "'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.' That’s true in our game. Everyone’s like, 'I’ll go find a weapon, and then I’ll go find that car part, and I’ll get up with my friend on the other side of the map.' But that never works out.

"Somewhere along the way, Jason shows up and changes your plan in an instant. You run. Your plan’s out the door, just like in the films."

The game is being designed to make sure there are no easy ways to stay alive. If you try to just keep running, Jason will catch you. If you try to hide in a barn, Jason will find you. Everyone has a different idea about keeping their skin.

"You’ll see guys who don’t like to play stealth," says Hobbs. "They’ll take off sprinting as soon as the map opens up. Unfortunately, when you do that, it makes a lot of sound and Jason can hear you. He just morphs to you and chops your head off. That’s only in our prototype. We’re still balancing how quickly he can see you. But that’s one example."

Of course, the main challenge is to make sure that Jason is really, really scary, and not just a dude wandering around the woods in a hockey mask.

"The counselors are never comfortable," says Hobbs. "That plays into things like Slender Man or Resident Evil or Evil Within. We want you to be on your toes at all times."


Summer camp romance

Friday the 13th was previously known as Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp, which was introduced last fall via an '80s-style horror trailer. It was clearly an homage to Friday the 13th, without actually using any Jason-esque assets.

At the same time, the owner of Friday the 13th's game rights was looking for a partner. Sean Cunningham was the director and producer of the original Friday the 13th, which was released in 1980. He held the rights.

"We get to rely on real players to craft the outcome of the story."

Cunningham heard about Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp and approached Gun Media. "Sean came to us in early 2015," states the game's Kickstarter page. "Sean immediately noticed the passion we had for Friday the 13th, and after several incredible meetings over the next few months … Sean surprised us by offering the Friday the 13th video game license. It was literally a dream come true for a group of lifelong fans."

"We've been talking about Friday the 13th games for years but there was never a good idea," says Cunningham ."As luck would have it we pulled it together and here we are." He will be consulting on the game, which will go ahead with or without a successfully expansive Kickstarter campaign.

"I believe it's the level of active participation honestly," Cunningham tells Polygon, when asked how the game will capture the atmosphere of the movies. "We get to rely on real players to craft the outcome of the story with their own decisions. This should result in more mistakes and generate better moment-to-moment gameplay. That alone will allow the game to mimic the films more closely."

There are other Friday the 13th movie hands working on the game. Tom Savini created the original Jason Voorhees and is helping to design some of the kills in the game. "My contribution is to help create the deaths," he says in the game's Kickstarter video. "To creatively kill teenagers in the woods with household implements. It's a living, but somebody has to do it," he jokes. "But it's also to come up with a new look for Jason, which is exciting because I haven't had to think about Jason like that for 35 years."

"We have a rough prototype that’s not ready to show the public."

Kane Hodder played Jason in some of the later movies in the series and is providing motion capture for the game. "I always felt like it was a huge honor to put that hockey mask on," says the actor and stuntman. "I'll always feel it. I wanted to do whatever I could to do justice to the game and the character."

Harry Manfredini wrote the much admired original score and is scoring the music for the game.

Right now, there's not much to see of the game. According to Hobbs, the developers have spent their time so far on making a working prototype rather than on polishing visuals. Gun Media itself started out consulting for other publishers before branching out into full development. Its best known game is mobile shooter hit Breach and Clear.

"We have a rough prototype that’s not ready to show the public because we concentrated on feature sets and making sure Jason and the counselors play well together," he says. "We’re gray-boxing a lot of things and not really polishing anything." The Kickstarter is aiming to raise $700,000, which will be spent on stretch goals like a potential single-player campaign and extra maps.


Who dies first?

Between 1980 and 1993 there were nine Friday the 13th movies, with three more since 2001. The most recent was a 2009 reboot, which was not received well. Then again, this is not a series that has particularly appealed to critics.

It's not just the movies, either. There have been only two games, both of which were released in the 1980s to critical derision.

But Friday the 13th retains a lot of fans and holds an important place in the pantheon of slasher films. For better or for worse, it displays just about all the tropes of the genre. Gun Media plans to unleash these tropes even if they sometimes seem anachronistic and cheesy.

"AI is a very expensive task, far more than most people imagine."

The counselors will be familiar archetypes including a nerdy boy, a machismo jock, a flirty girl and a girl next door, generally the one person who survives. These will have character class capabilities, so the nerd can fix broken vehicles faster, while the jock is slightly more powerful in a melee attack. The girl next door gets a slight survival boost against Jason.

"We’re sticking to the types of characters seen in the movies," says Hobbs. "Fans want to see them and play them. We’ll have the flirty girl character. But it’s not necessarily a disparaging characterization. It’s just a trope from the movies. We’ll have the intelligent, nerdy guy, too. That’s not a shot against smart people. He was just in the movies so we’re going to stick with that."

Due to licensing complications, the game will not use images from victims and survivors used in the movies.

Unlike in Evolve, there are no plans for AI substitutes. "AI is a very expensive task, far more than most people imagine," says Hobbs. "The worst thing we can do is have AI that’s just standing in a corner or getting in the way. So we’ll just start the match with a minimum of maybe four people. We’re working on that internally, trying to figure out what the right number is."

Map size is also something that the team is trying to perfect. During Friday the 13th's development, the core map has decreased in size. "We started our prototype with the mindset that this had to be a huge map," says Hobbs. "But you weren’t seeing the other counselors enough. You could go 10 minutes without seeing someone, so we had to dial that back. But it’s still going to be pretty big. A lot of wilderness, some cabins sprinkled in, so we have a mix of interior and exterior gameplay."


Here's Jason

Jason is the star of the show, and many of the game's backers are likely to be looking forward to getting their chance to don hockey mask and set out into the woods.

Jason did not appear in the first movie — his vengeful mom was the killer — and did not begin to wear the hockey mask until the third movie. However, he will appear in the famous mask right from the start of the game.

Players can unlock his earlier disguise — a sack with a hole in it — by leveling up. Various weapons from the movies are also unlockable through extended play.

"Jason has to be overpowered. He’s Jason. That’s part of the fun."

Jason's powers are formidable. It's not clear, at this point, how they are being restricted and balanced.

"Jason has to be overpowered," says Hobbs. "He’s Jason. That’s part of the fun. At the same time, Jason can’t just kill everyone in two minutes. Then the game’s over and it’s no fun for the counselors."

Apart from starting the game with a weapon, and being physically much stronger than the counselors, he can instantly travel to anywhere on the map.

"In the movies, Jason’s everywhere at once, or he seems to be," says Hobbs. "You run from him and all of a sudden he’s in front of you. He’ll have a limited ability to move around the map, but we’ll get more into that later."

Councillors who decide that there is safety in numbers are playing a dangerous game. "One of his other abilities will be to hear sounds," says Hobbs. "The more noise you make, the more he can track you. That’s the flip side of playing in large groups. You’ll make more noise. But you’re safer." The safety comes with knowing that you might not be the one who gets killed when he shows up. Also, being alone, even in video games, is inherently scarier.

Jason also has x-ray vision and he can sense blood. If you've been injured, watch out. "You can’t hide from Jason for very long," says Hobbs.

"When they get scared, people make mistakes."

There's also a fear meter, so that players who witness friends being hacked to death pay a penalty when it comes to performing difficult tasks, like inserting a key into a car's ignition. Jason is tuned into this fear meter, which also has a high effect on players who are alone for long periods. Thus, just hiding away is not always a good plan.

But Jason is up against the ingenuity of the councilors, working in concert. It only takes one to connect the phone, or get the car working for the killer to fail in his mission.

This works both ways. Players are not especially invested in helping anyone else survive. When there's a mad dude in the woods carrying a machete, it's everyone for themselves.

"People get pissed at each other," says Hobbs. "It creates a kind of one versus one versus one versus Jason situation. And when they get scared, people make mistakes."

Friday the 13th is coming out next fall on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. Babykayak