The final spotlight is on Gun Media's Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp, which seems like an odd title coming from the people that brought you Breach & Clear. The thing is, the folks at Gun Media are huge horror fans and that love is feeding directly in Summer Camp.
Summer Camp is third-person survival horror title taking place at Camp Forest Green. We don't know much about the game's details, because the developer is keeping things behind closed doors, but we do know it's designed to be an asymmetric multiplayer experience. That means Summer Camp pits 6 to 8 players against each other as either teen camp counselors or the killer, not unlike Turtle Rock's Evolve.
From the teaser trailer (shown below), it's clear that Summer Camp eats and breathes 1980's horror tropes. The entire thing mimics the low-budget, VHS-style feel we all remember from back in the day. The game also benefits from the veterans of that era: Jason himself, Kane Hodder, is handling the motion capture, composer Henry Manfredini is on the soundtrack, and special effects legend Tom Savini is the game's executive producer and cinematographer. Those are pretty big names in the genre and they're lending their expertise to this project.
Summer Camp co-creators Wes Keltner and Ronnie Hobbs sat down with me for a phone chat about the game. Well, about the stuff they're willing to talk about right now. (E3 is coming!)
The slasher genre has been pretty dead for a decade. Why are you doing Summer Camp now?
Hobbs: The slasher genre never actually went away, it just kind of went underground in the early 2000s. For video games, I think the longer something doesn't exist, the more you want it. Especially when that thing that doesn't exist is something you grew up on. Both Wes and I grew up watching slasher films. It dominated our childhood along with video games. You keep waiting and waiting for something, but it never gets made. That was our primary motivation. 'Why doesn't this exist? Can we do it?' We felt we could.
Keltner: With the landscape of gaming as a whole, it seemed like the right time. Especially for asymmetrical multiplayer. We were seeing some titles released that fit that. It's actually a game that Ronnie and I have been talking about for at least ten years. Either the tech wasn't quite there or the concept of a multiplayer-only thing. Would gamers even connect with that and want it? I think we're seeing more and more games that are like that. Even if they're not asymmetric, they're just multiplayer-focused; seeing those take off and do well, we think now is the time.
Your first trailer leaned heavily on the 80s slasher visuals. What's the exact tone you want the game to have?
Hobbs: We wanted to come out right away and let people know this was a homage to 80's slasher films. I think we achieved that. You watch that trailer and you know right away that it looks 80's. We knew what we were talking about when we designed every aspect of it. Our tone will still be dark and serious, but like any good slasher movie, there's a sense of not taking yourself too seriously.
Keltner: Self-aware is what I think a lot of those slasher films were. If you take some of the largest film franchises, they were all pretty self-aware of their own brand and tone. What I was pretty militant on around here was I didn't want a modern take on a slasher experience. I wanted everything to have the look and the feel that personifies that 1978 to 1989 time frame, which is when slasher films were king. And 'king' is an understatement. Slasher movies around '83-'84 were making more money than blockbuster movies were.
I wanted to go back to that time frame. Not only the tone, but the actual film aesthetic. A lot of those films had low-budgets, crappy technology in terms of their cameras, limited lighting if they could even afford it; all that played into what the end result was. On top of that, most of those films saw their money from VHS. When you're transferring from film grade down to VHS copy, the quality took a hit. That added to the effect, it added to the atmosphere. We want to capture all that for our title.
What makes great horror?
Hobbs: The first thing for me is unpredictability. The player has to feel uncomfortable. If the player is comfortable, they won't be scared. Silent Hill approaches it in a different way than Resident Evil. Resident Evil makes you feel uncomfortable with jump scares and big behemoth monsters. Did you play Amnesia: The Dark Descent?
Hobbs: Anytime you open a door or solve a puzzle, there's random element to the game creating monsters or not. Every time you go to open a door, you're worried that they're going to hear you. Even though they're scripted moments, they seem unscripted. If the player knows it's about to happen, then you start to anticipate it and it becomes more comfortable.
Atmosphere is the second one. My favorite quote about horror movies is 'The only thing scarier than something is nothing.' That's completely Silent Hill. If you go overboard in the blood and gore, you start to skew towards an action game, which is what Resident Evil has done recently. There's a reason Fatal Frame and Silent Hill hang around forever, while other games have faded off into oblivion. They do a great job of not showing what could harm you. The flipside of that is you have to have positive reinforcement.
The last thing is characters. There's a reason Pyramid Head and James are remembered. And there's a reason you forget the main characters in the Suffering for example.
Keltner: There's nothing that we can do from a design perspective, mechanics or otherwise, that will ever be scarier than the player's imagination. If you give them the tools to connect the dots, the line that they draw will be far scarier than if I laid that line out for them. That's crucial to any horror experience. Less is more.
What films or other media heavily influenced the style you're putting into Summer Camp?
Hobbs: I think one thing we figured out as we started making this project and bringing other people onboard: horror means something different to everybody. Wes likes different horror movies than I do. We all have an upbringing that's different from the person next to you. The first horror movies I saw were not the typical slashers. The kid down the street would get these import Italian horror films, the Giallo-brand of horror. Like Blood and Black Lace, Twitch of the Death Nerve, and Suspiria. They were so crazy and exotic that you had to import them, because they wouldn't allow you to rent them. I saw those before I saw any American slashers. Slashers from all over the world.
Keltner: You mentioned Twitch of the Death Nerve, there's a kill scene in there that was replicated in one of the Friday the 13th films. If you watch them side-by-side, frame-by-frame, it's almost identical. We paid homage to that in one of the pieces of concept art we released. Ronnie has a more import, arthouse approach and I came on board when it was more of the Hollywood, polished franchise approach. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween; those types of films. That was my childhood. More self-aware, more campy in nature. It was how creative were the kills that got people back into the box office to see those movies. That's ripe for gameplay mechanics.
Hobbs: Jason got people in to see the kills. Whereas the Italian ones before that chased you out of the theatre because it was all psychological. You were horrified at what you were seeing and you wanted to leave. But you wanted to see how Jason was going to kill some teenagers. Completely different approaches.
The serial killer in question is usually bigger than those he or she kills. What are you putting into creating a new horror icon?
Hobbs: That's why we hired Tom Savini. His role in the project is creating that. A lot of that falls in his wheelhouse. We're keeping that close to our chest until he's done.
Kane Hodder, Tom Savini, and Harry Manfredini are horror legends. How did you go about bringing them into the Summer Camp project?
Keltner: Ronnie and I know a little bit about horror, Ronnie probably more than I do, but I knew if you surround yourself with smart people, you're going to accomplish your goals much faster. I knew that the horror audience respected those three individuals and the knowledge that they're going to bring to this project is far greater than what Ronnie and I and the rest of the team could do by ourselves. Gameplay mechanics, we got that on lock down. It's the finer points to horror. The tips and tricks that Tom Savini has created over the years. Practical effects. He was the guy. He defined the 80's and early 90's in terms of horror. Anyone can do a jump scare. It's some of the finer points and experienced hand that Tom brings.
Now Kane, he was the one that brought personality to Jason. He was the one that pushed that unrelenting force. Kane is also a stunt coordinator, so he's got a really good eye for what's required to really sell that type of brutality and fear. He and Tom, hand-in-hand, will be doing these motion capture sessions. Kane will not only be suited up for the motion capture, but the rest of the stuntmen that he's bringing in. We're not just using motion capture actors, we have to use stuntmen because of how brutal these scenes will be. A normal actor can't take that much physical abuse, but stunt guys can. If we're going to motion capture someone being picked up and throw through a cabin window, Kane knows how to do that and sell it the right way.
Lastly with Harry Manfredini, he has a 128 some odd film credits to his name. He's created the sound for the Friday the 13th series. He's the only one of all the composers I did research on, when I listened to his stuff, it was unique. It had this 80's feel to it. I told him about the project and he immediately got it. He started sharing stuff with us that was absolutely on brand for what we wanted to accomplish.
What do you think is behind this proliferation of slasher games?
Keltner: You can call it some zeitgeist of collective consciousness. In the industry, there tend to be trends that sort of just happen. It happens in Hollywood, it happens in books and television. Things like the superhero trend in film and television. Why is it all of a sudden that slashers have started to show up in gaming? I think one of the reasons is a similar story to the one Ronnie and I had: it's something that made up our youth and we're now in positions that allow us to bring that experience to life. There's some of that. There's probably other factors you can point at, like Evolve launching and people loving the asymmetric experience. It's difficult to make that prediction.
How do you plan to differentiate yourself in a field that's becoming crowded?
Hobbs: Our main goal is to stay true to the source material. You can't fake horror. A game is scary or it's not. Right away, we want to stay true to the slasher genre. We hope our gameplay design is the thing that pushes us away from our competitors, which we'll talk about more later. Stay true to the source material, do it right, and make sure you know your shit. The rest will take care of itself.