About a month ago, I was chatting on Skype with Wes Keltner and Ronnie Hobbs from Gun Media, co-creators of a multiplayer horror game called Summer Camp.
There wasn't much known about the game, other than that it was being billed as an "homage to 1980s slasher films." When I started to pry, the two got cagey; then they started to chuckle when I asked about the setting.
"I'm going to pull the rug out from under you here," said Hobbs. "We're actually not Summer Camp. We're Friday the 13th."
"So to answer the question," said Keltner, "the setting is Camp Crystal Lake."
The story of a new Friday the 13th video game, aiming to be out by Halloween next year, began to look more complicated than the blood soaked saga it's based on (which has included fake-outs, doppelgangers and voyages into New York as well as outer space). For the last year, there were three similar games in the running for the gory glory.
The story begins last fall when James Matthew Wearing, an audio/video engineer at Square Enix, launched a successful Kickstarter page for his own horror project, Last Year.
After garnering the good kind of attention from horror fans over the sleek mock-ups, it then got the bad kind. Sean Cunningham, creator of the Friday the 13th films, threatened legal action over what truly appeared to Jason Voorhees stalking the concept art and overshadowing the cover mock-up.
Soon after, Cunningham's company, Crystal Lake Entertainment, hinted that it had been developing its own video game, meaning that, just like in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, there was more than one masked killer running around.
Around the same time, Gun Media announced Summer Camp, which had an uncannily similar concept to Last Year. In both games, a team of plucky teens tries to survive the assault of one killer.
Gun Media didn't expect its game to become the official one. It had sought out special effects legend Tom Savini, Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini, and actual Jason Kane Hodder to work on the project independently, to make sure the game was as authentic as possible. When news came out on IGN that the company was putting together such a faithful tribute, something unexpected happened.
"That's when my phone rang," said Keltner, "and it was Sean Cunningham." The director asked a lot of questions about how the game would work. "We got into a deep conversation, and he basically said we have Tom, Kane and Harry, we have this great vision, and the only thing that's missing here is 'me and the license,'" Keltner said.
Keltner explained to him that funds were limited and couldn't afford the beloved title, so Cunningham gifted it to them.
"That took us by surprise," said Keltner. "He told us, 'no, you don't understand, we're not going to charge you for this. You're already doing this right. I believe in what it is that you're doing. Let's hit the ground running together.' We were incredibly humbled by that. After the proverbial champagne corks hit the floor, we were like, holy shit, the biggest responsibility that's been dropped on our shoulders, and we're not going to take that lightly."
Their team no longer has to shy around it. Recently, Gun Media announced the switcheroo, that Summer Camp is now Friday the 13th, with a Kickstarter page that's now raised $551,797 at the time of writing out of a $700,000 goal with 16 days to go. Tom Savini will be designing one or two new Jasons (there will be multiple to choose from, each with a special ability) and drafting all new memorable murders that he's been dreaming up for the last three decades. The team said that the infamous sleeping bag kill and Crispin Glover's machete to the face were favourites, so I'd guess we'll see nods to them.
Wearing, who says Last Year is still in development, has thrown jabs over Twitter since the reveal, since his game was knicked for being too similar, and theirs was rewarded. (Yet another game with a similar concept, minus the lurching masked murderers, called Dead Realm has been having a successful run in Steam's Early Access with no such disturbance.)
Keltner is very honoured to have such a beloved franchise in his hands, and can't wait to see players fall into the same pitfalls they've criticized as clichés for years. People will think they're cool, collected operators until Jason appears, which the developers have found causes people to scramble. Being in a larger group also creates more noise, which the person playing as Jason can hear. Though it's probably more comforting than being alone at Camp Crystal Lake.
All in Your Head is a series that takes a scientific look at all things spooky and scary. Follow along here.