The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is another asymmetric horror game based on a popular film series, but Gun Interactive is trying to push the genre forward by introducing a team of killers instead of just one. Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri recently sat down to speak to Creative Director Ronnie Hobbs and Executive Producer Ismael Vicens about the game, how the team is approaching replayability, its extensive researching process, sneaky bulls, and more.
Michael Leri: This game is three-on-four and usually these sorts of asymmetrical horror games pit the killer versus three or four survivors or soldiers. What do you think that differentiation brings to the table here?
Ronnie Hobbs: Like you mentioned, a lot of asymmetrical titles are one versus many. And with the Friday 13th that definitely was the right call because it’s just Jason, right? But for Texas Chain Saw Massacre, we obviously wanted to be authentic to the franchise and as you know, it’s not just Leatherface. He can’t exist on his own, so we wanted to bring in the family and that’s really what separated Texas Chain Saw from a lot of other horror films.
So when you compare how that translates to gameplay, you have these one-on-one battles where you’re tracking your target and you’re looking for them and all of a sudden, another character comes into your view. And now it’s two-on-one or another family member comes and it’s now two-on-two. But there’s a lot of these one-on-one moments that just transition into strategy and team play. So for the family side, there is definitely a lot of strategy involved in trying to trap and lure people out things like that and working together because there hasn’t been a game with three killers in it before. So it’s up to the killers to work together and use those numbers to their advantage.
And these types of games, when they’re done well, are usually full of different options and ways a match can play out. Can you speak to some of the different ways these matches can end and how that contributes to replayability?
Ismael Vicens: There’s the classic driveway escape and that’s gated by that cattle grid, that rear escape, which has a lot of obstacles. There’s also some ones that are more puzzle or inventory based like the fuse box escape that’s really dangerous, but has a really good payoff in that you have to find a piece and actually solve a little puzzle if you can find it in the game and then it opens something back in the basement, which means you have to dive all the way back to the basement to do it after traversing through the whole house.
But it’s one that often the family doesn’t expect because they’re up guarding the ground floor or the grounds of the house. And then there’s one where you can open a different exit based on this water valve. And one of the things that we thought was really important was to make sure that the number of escapes, both the ways to get out of the basement as well as the potential escapes from the map, have to outnumber the family because what’s to stop family from camping if there are only a couple? And the most important way to do that is to make sure that the family is overloaded in what they have to do because the victims have more places to go than the family can camp, sit on, or guard.
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So the family has to stay on their toes and work together in order to stop this from happening. And so you can get a nice mixture even with the map having very tightly constrained spaces. Sometimes victims are gonna be able to get to an escape solo or sometimes they’re gonna work together. And we think the potential for those interruptions, that scattering of the victims, and the possibilities of what they can do makes it so that every match is gonna play differently because those moments where family and victim come together are gonna upset every plan. Maybe you’ve been working on getting out the back, but this team is really controlling that part of the map. So you’ll have to try and see if you can get back towards the front of the house where maybe there’s gonna be some more escape options for you. So we think that team of family being able to patrol and disrupt the plans of victims. It’s not like steady progress towards just one escape or anything like that. It’s more like you’ve got improvise constantly throughout the match.
So are those items, like the fuse box, all in different spots every time, or are they in spots players can depend on?
Vicens: Yeah. Some of those will be in specific areas in the house, but it’s not the same from match to match, so you don’t always know which place it’s gonna be at and that’s gonna completely change everything. So much of what happens in Texas Chain Saw that’s different than a lot of the other asymmetrical games is that it’s not always predictable and your strategies are gonna have to be complete improvisation based on where you got chased or where you were able to evade and elude the family. Like now you’ve ended up in this part of the house, so suddenly you’re like, “Well, I’m not in an area of the house where I can get to that inventory item. So instead I’m gonna have to focus on this exit.”
Hobbs: You get scattered and your plan doesn’t unfold the way you want it to because of the three killers. So many times we’ve had awesome experiences where we think we’re about to escape in the backyard and we know the family is in the front yard because we hear our other teammate telling us. And he’ll be like, “I’ll lead them away, but make sure you guys open the back.” Well, sure enough, just when we think that we’re opening the back and then we’re being very quiet, Grandpa will scan and pick us up or the other family member will sneak away, come to the backyard, and then we’re pinned down. It’s hard to play against other people because they’re thinking the same as you. Like when you play as the family, you are learning nuances and ways to play and trick the victims, so that when you switch over to the victims, now you’re really playing against yourself and the way that you would play as a family member.
So the fact that there are three killers always thinking all the time and changing their plans and funneling you in different directions, you have to constantly adapt on the fly or you die. So that helps our games as far as longevity. Of course we have the meta game system and the perk trees and ways for you to adjust your characters to the way you play. But at the heart of it, it’s three killers throwing a wrench in the works unlike Jason where you knew he was at because you would hear people saying, “Oh, Jason’s over here.”
Vicens: Exactly. And when they say, “Oh, Jason is over at this cabin,” then you know you can progress where you are at least for a moment because, while he could use powers to get there quickly, it’s still just him. Whereas with the family, two of them may be chasing your friends down in the driveway, but you don’t know where that third one is.
The house pretty dense in one of the maps, but then also you were all probably going off the floor plan of the one in the first movie. What are the pros and cons of being limited by a real location like that?
Hobbs: If you remember back to the film, they only show three rooms basically in the hallway and grandpa’s little room upstairs, but for the most part, you don’t actually get to see the rest of the house. So we knew we couldn’t just have a game that takes place in those three rooms. On the flip side, we can’t make a gigantic map either at the same time because the family isn’t superhuman. They’re human and their abilities are based from that human experience. They’re not like Jason where they can disappear and reappear and he can cover lots of ground. The family has to walk and run.
So at the end of the day, we really had to create a much smaller but more dense map just to make it believable for the franchise. We didn’t want The Cook disappearing and reappearing across the map. We didn’t want Leatherface doing the same thing and cheating, so to speak. Those were really the main driving forces: What’s right for the franchise and how does the family get around and hunt you if they can’t use supernatural abilities? And on the flip side, the victims need a lot of ways to escape. So that’s why you see a lot of vents or crawlspaces and passageways so that they can avoid the family. It was cool. We went to Texas seven or eight times and took thousands of photos. We went to the original house, obviously, which is now a cafe. We took high-res pictures of everything from the wood to the paneling to every single thing in the source material that’s still there in Texas. We’ve been there to check out the house and it was pretty awesome.
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Vicens: The house is actually one of those ones where they would buy the plan in the catalog back in the early 1900s. And so we tracked down the designer and that catalog and we made sure that we reflected that layout as best we could within the game and taking what leeways we could, but we made sure the materials that are in there, the foliage that you see outside, those flowers — those are really the flowers that would be blooming in Texas in that area at that time of year. Even the birds that are chirping outside when you’re playing [are accurate]. We researched the specific birds that migrate to Texas at that time of year and made sure those chirps you hear belong to the type of bird that would be there at that time of year, as well.
We strive for authenticity as much as possible. We do understand that this is a game, so obviously we add some of the little areas you can crawl through the walls and everything like that, but that helps people navigate that place. And it makes the map claustrophobic, but also surprisingly maneuverable. So it makes it feel bigger in some ways in that you can constantly be moving in different ways through the same spaces.
Hobbs: It was also really cool for us to create the other parts of the house that people have never seen before. Where do they sleep? What’s The Hitchhiker’s bedroom look like? What’s The Cook’s bedroom like? Does Leatherface even have a bedroom? And of course we have the underground basement area that you didn’t see in the films, but we needed to trap you away under the earth. If it was just those three rooms, you’d escape in two seconds. So we looked at the franchise and said it has to be a realistic house.
All our maps have to have iconic locations, but they’re not very big. So we have to expand upon that and fill in the gaps and create the things that people haven’t seen before. And then we have to find a way to create this underground basement and make it believable. And it’s really cool for us because you start in the basement and it’s black and it has lots of shadows and places to hide. And then you get to the ground floor and you’re in the house, and it’s partially lit and just some shadows. Then you go outside, it’s daylight and then you feel more exposed. So you’re slowly breaking your way out of Hell in the map layout.
This game is full of small details that the team has spoken about before, like the extensive photogrammetry and the local flora that’s also replicated in the game. But is there one specific detail in the game you’re really partial to?
Vicens: Ronnie would back me up on this, but for us, every detail like that matters. We go frame by frame [through the movie]. Just a couple weeks ago, I was once again going frame by frame through the movie and I spotted a light switch that you can only see for about four frames in the movie. And so I shot a message over to our artists and said, “Hey, here’s a screenshot. You can only see it in four frames of the movie, but that means it’s in the movie. We need to add this light switch.” We feel proud about the fact that every detail matters to us.
Hobbs: It’s funny that Ish brought up that little tiny detail because this game is full of those things. And he’s absolutely right. No one would ever, ever noticed that. Maybe like one out of a million people who have seen the movie a hundred times, right? Even the bigger picture of the skies are photos that we took in Texas, like the dirt, the rocks, the grass, those blue flowers are bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas. They only bloom for like two or three weeks. The red flowers are the Indian paintbrush and they’re only there for a certain amount of time. So we were lucky enough to go to Texas seven or eight times and rent an SUV and drive around to hundreds of towns and all the different regions in Texas and just take in the environment so that this game would feel like it was made in Texas.
That was a big deal for us. One of my favorite pictures in the game is one of the sunsets, and that’s a photo that I remember taking with Matt [Szep], one of our social guys here. I remember that sunset and now it’s in the game and I can tell you, we were sitting there looking at it in awe and now it’s in the game. So those things are very important to us. When you look up, we want you to feel like you’re in Texas. When you look down, when you hide in the grass, the trees, all those things on a broader scale are very important to us. And that obviously also applies to the tiny, tiny details, like Ish mentioned, lights switches, wood grain, and the rust that you see, that’s actual rust that Ish took a photo of off of some old car.
There’s obviously a lot of other horror games asymmetrical horror games. Why do you think asymmetrical horror is so popular and then why did you guys choose to make an asymmetrical horror game over maybe something like a single-player adventure?
Hobbs: I’m gonna date myself here, but a lot of people don’t realize that asymmetrical games have been around for a long time. Like if you go back to like 1999 or 2000 with like Alien vs. Predator, which was the first asymmetrical game that I played that stuck with me. And it wasn’t even labeled as “asymmetrical” at the time. No one really knew what it was, but you could play the Alien, the marine, or the Predator. And that blew me away and felt ahead of its time. And then it kind of went away and no one copied it. And then sure enough, here comes like Spies versus Mercs in Splinter Cell and it took the industry by storm, but yet no one copied it and it kind of went away. So asymmetrical has come and gone over the years and then games like Evolve and like Left 4 Dead kind of brought it back.
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And then we announced Summer Camp on Halloween of 2014 and Summer Camp eventually turned into Friday the 13th. But when we announced Summer Camp, there was nothing like it at all. And by the time we released Friday the 13th, there were so many games on the market and that’s when we said to ourselves that this is a great idea because a lot of people are willing to throw their hat in this ring. This may be the time for asymmetrical to actually make a comeback and stay. And it has. So now you see everything from like Friday the 13th to Dead by Daylight to Evil Dead.
But the reason we wanted to do that is because we felt those inspirations from like AvP and all those other games we played growing up, but also because we felt Friday the 13th would be a better multiplayer experience than it would be a single-player adventure. We wanted you to play with your friends. We wanted you to live and die with your friends as if you were in a horror film. And for Texas, we definitely wanted that again because we wanted people to play as the family and to play as Leatherface and explore these environments and walk around the house and really feel like they’re a part of the family or feel like they’re trying to escape the family. So once again, it just made sense for the franchise as opposed to like a single-player experience where maybe you’re just running from Leatherface or the family or something.
Vicens: One of the reasons I think that genre has gotten has blown up so much is because Friday the 13th and a couple games came out that were awesome, but the multiplayer scene has coalesced around a few competitive shooters for the big scene, right? And then there are those large live-service games, which are about either competition or these big events and everything like that. But what games like ours and asymmetric horror games do is that they allow people to have that feeling of going to the movies have this experience. You can’t really play our game and say there’s a competitive element, but what you’ve done is you’ve had this personal experience that almost feels like you’ve been through this movie. You’ve gotten scared.
You’ve maybe had some laughs. You’ve had a really good time with your friends. You do it for a few hours and you didn’t worry as much about like, “What was my kill/death ratio? How did I do with my team?” You’re still making progress with the meta game, but a lot of that is just progressing and enhancing your playstyle. It’s not some fancy, competitive ladder thing that you’re gonna do at all. And I think people love that escape, right? Maybe they’re gonna go and play those shooters for a bit and really compete, but then they want to come to one of these games and have a good time. And horror is such a perfect outlet for doing that because it gives you that opportunity to both scream and laugh in the same 15 minutes.
Hobbs: It’s funny Ish mentioned that it’s not really a competitive thing in these games that we make and you can actually die and still have fun in this game and we do all the time. You can lose as a team and you can get one kill as a family member, but the other three victims can escape and you don’t really feel mad. Like you have your own little personal experiences that you’re getting your XP, you’re doing these things, and you’re gaining something every time you play. Even though you lost, you’re still gaining something and along the way, people are laughing and yelling and screaming. So it’s really hard to be frustrated coming out of these games that we like to make with Friday the 13th or Texas Chain Saw.
How do you think this game will be able to stand out amongst its peers? What does it do differently to you?
Hobbs: It’s going to sound generic because we’ve already mentioned it, but it’s the three killers. No one is doing that. It’s a very difficult thing to do, to get pacing down so that the victims don’t die within two minutes. Each of the family members has their own role to play so there’s lots of variety. We have a super deep meta game system that allows you to change the characters and tweak them slightly so you’re always learning and trying new builds and new ways to play. And when you get tired of the family, you can switch over to the victims. We have a lot of variety in there, but the more you play, the more you’ll see that everything you think you know about asymmetrical multiplayer is thrown out the window with the multiple killers. So that’s our big way to move the genre forward.
Vicens: Another important thing that the title does that you don’t see in a lot of these games like this is because we had to have the family, not just a team, but a family as the killers, we had to write them and infuse them with that personality because they are not silent killers. These are people in the movie that fans of the film quote all the time. They love the characters and their personalities. So we put that in the game and these lines where they’re muttering under their breath about how they have to always clean up their messes. Like if they see each other, they might hen peck at one another a little bit. And so because of that, we actually infuse a lot of writing personality and story onto the killer side and we had to match that with the victims. So it’s not just random teens that are being slaughtered for some reason. Instead, there’s a story. And the victims are gonna talk to each other by name every once in a while. When they see a body of their friend, they’re gonna say, “Oh no, it’s this person.” And they care.
There’s a reason why they’re there and we try and build that up, so that way each match is kind of this version of that story playing out with an actual narrative that came before, and then what you’re doing is actually telling them that little story of what happens. And I think having that amount of character and personalization of these people personality in the game, that’s actually pretty different. And I think it’s gonna let people actually attach to these characters for a lot of different reasons.
Can you guys speak more about going to Texas and getting reference photos? You spoke of running into wildlife during your trip.
Vicens: We were at the abandoned house and I’m not gonna admit that we were trespassing in any way whatsoever, but we were taking these awesome photos and we turned around and suddenly this bull was just there like eight feet from us. And Ronnie has spent more time in Texas. Matt and I are not Texans in any way and Ronnie was like, “Don’t move.” And so we just freeze and he gently like walks over and shuts this gate that we’d stupidly left open. We thought the land was abandoned. We didn’t know there was anything there. It was all clear when we got there. He just gently shuts this gate and this bull is just chilling out, watching us. And we’re just thinking like, “Man, we are probably about to die because this thing was as tall as Ronnie and Ronnie is not a short dude.”
Hobbs: Yeah, that thing was 800 pounds. I mean, massive and he was just chilling. He could have like easily killed us.
Vicens: They didn’t have any electrical-based gates at this property at all, but they just had this really rusted metal fence, which is why we thought it was abandoned. This place did not look active.
Hobbs: After we saw the bull and closed the gate, we started looking around and noticing a lot of tire tracks and then we realized that it wasn’t abandoned. Someone actually runs this farm and we thought we should get the hell out of here. We also saw a big cat. I forget which cat it was, but we were exploring and taking photos and Matt was like, “I just saw a mountain lion,” or something, but it was like an ocelot or something. It was massive. It was gonna eat Matt and kill him.
Vicens: These two guys forgot to even get these things called snake guards, which are basically like armor for your shins and calves. And so these two guys forget theirs and I’m the only idiot wearing them, so anytime we were in an area with brush, they were like, “All right, Ish go scout ahead. See if you hear the rattlesnakes.” [laughs]
Hobbs: Yeah. You can even hear them rattling.
Vicens: Just to get the photos.
Hobbs: The last time Matt and I were there we went to Old Country Road 172 , which is closed off. It’s where the house used to be. It’s the only part of that area that hasn’t been bulldozed yet and turned into like a shopping mall. But if you know where it is, you can jump a fence. You can go on there and you can just chill right on the road where Leatherface did his dance right there where the house was. There’s usually one bull and a few cows in there. And they don’t really bother you, but we don’t get close. You stay away and they stay away and you’re cool. But they were gone this time. And Matt and I turn around and three of them are coming up from behind us. They had moved and we didn’t know it. They were just like walking up to us and I was like, “Matt, we’re dead, bro. This is it, man. Don’t move.”