To celebrate the fourth consecutive month of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre being at the pinnacle of the asymmetrical horror charts, I thought I’d venture out to pick the brains of three of its faithful founders, Wes Keltner (President), Ronnie Hobbs (Creative Director), and Ismael Vicens (Executive Producer), of Gun Interactive. It seems appropriate, to touch base on the game’s ongoing success, what with Texas’ upcoming content add-on featuring special effects icon Greg Nicotero just around the corner. Plus, with the Halloween season looming on the calendar, I figured, what better way to see in the festivities than to talk shop and all things horror with three like-minded gore fanatics?
To take it back just a smidgen, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a seven-player asymmetrical survival-horror multiplayer game, and as such, a love letter to the cult-classic movie franchise of the same title. It’s been out, what, a few months — and already it has gone on to become one of the most sought-after online horror games on the market. But let’s move on from all that introductory jargon, and get down to the meat of the IP. What did Wes, Ronnie, and Ismael have to say about the game’s success, and what was it that drew them to build on the series’ legacy by adding an asymmetrical blueprint to the mix? Let’s dive right in.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is arguably one of the most successful American horror franchises ever created. Tell us, what was it like returning to the roots of the 1974 cult-classic series?
Ismael: For us, our love for the franchise has always been about the 1974 original. It just hits in a very specific way that's completely unique both within the greater franchise as well as within American and horror cinema. We have a lot of reverence for what Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel created. It's an iconic film that goes beyond being tied to just the horror genre, so there was a great deal of intimidation and trepidation in adapting it to a video game.
Right away, we realized that we weren't just going to take what's there and put it in a video game, we had to import the feeling, the tone, the greater sense of place. That's one of the hardest things to do; visuals alone weren't going to accomplish what we needed. We had to tie together the audio, the authenticity of the landscapes, the lighting and effects that get across the inhospitality of the location, and somehow infuse an almost overwhelming sense of dread. In the meantime, we had to balance that against the representation of the characters of the Family, which walk the razor's edge between satire and monstrous.
That balancing act proved to us the genius of that movie, and really inspired us to rise to the challenge of pushing pushing pushing to get things exactly right. The mixture that makes up The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is really delicate – lean too far in any direction with any element and it would be off.
And why Texas Chain Saw Massacre, exactly? Is this a franchise that Gun Interactive has wanted to delve into for some time?
Ronnie: Obviously as fans of the franchise, we had our eye on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for many years, dating back to when we first started working in the industry all those years ago. After the success of Friday the 13th, we felt it was the perfect opportunity to finally explore the property and bring it to the video game market. It’s personally one of my favorite horror films ever made, so to be trusted with this franchise has meant a lot to me, as well as the rest of the team here at Gun Interactive. As a kid I actually bought the original Atari version the day it came out way back in 1983, so it's pretty cool to come full circle and be able to modernize the franchise for today’s video game audience. Kid me would definitely be proud.
As for why, we really wanted to push the asymmetrical multiplayer genre forward with the multiple killers, 3v4 gameplay, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the perfect opportunity to do just that. The Slaughter Family itself is this crazy, dysfunctional blend of horror and comedy, ripe with tons of character and personality that we knew would make for not only great characters, but exciting and unique gameplay.
So tell us, what inspired the asymmetrical blueprint? Clearly there’s a lot of interest in this particular area of survival-horror, but what drove you to explore it?
Ismael: Horror is almost by definition asymmetric. Whether it's monsters, slashers, or the supernatural, horror generally deals with the plight of an everyday human up against something other, something dangerous, terrifying, and overwhelming. As lovers of horror, it's really the only way to approach the genre. If we're going to put someone in the shoes of that everyday human, that balance has to be against them. The odds need to feel stacked against them so that they can experience the dread of the looming threat, the thrill of the close call, and either the incredible release of escape or the terror when caught.
On the flip side, it was really interesting for us to create the threat of the Slaughter Family. They're human, but they're definitely not your average family. So we wanted to make sure to design them with limitations while also making sure their abilities worked together to make them into that almost insurmountable force that you can get with preternatural killers.
We understand that you guys have recently teamed up with special effects legend Greg Nicotero — what can we expect from this newly formed partnership?
Wes: I’ve always wanted to work with Greg. As a fan of his work and how he went from practical effects into directing, I was always inspired by that. That type of grit and determination is something everyone at Gun seems to have in them. So when I went to Greg with this idea of making a new Leatherface, I felt pretty confident that we would hit it off. And we truly did. It was kids in a candy store. You put Greg and myself in a room with the task of creating a new monster, or really anything associated with horror, and we’re giddy. It was a blast to work alongside someone that creative and inspiring. “Nicotero Leatherface” dropped October 24th, and sales are very strong. As for anything else you can expect…you’ll have to wait and see.
Moving on from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, how did the two of you fall in love with the world of horror? Are there any particular movies, books, or video games that helped fuel the fire beneath the latest project?
Wes: I fell in love at a young age. I was probably around 8 or 9 when I watched my first horror film. I don’t know if there was one particular film that turned me into a fan or not. I remember the impact of seeing Jaws for the first time. It was the 80’s and I had a waterbed. My friend, I slept on the floor for a week. LOL! But I quickly found myself drawn to Jason, Michael, and Freddy. As a kid I liked Jason probably the most, but into my teen and early twenties I started gravitating towards Michael Myers and the first two Halloween films. I didn’t even see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre until my senior year of high school. I didn’t really see the big deal the first time I watched it. It took a few times for me to start to see what was truly special about it. As for games, the usual suspects grabbed me. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Clocktower to name a few. When I was in 8th grade our family got our first PC. It came with games loaded on it like Lemmings, some educational games and this little game called The 7th Guest. That was probably my first “horror game”.
Ismael: Growing up, I started on horror with the written word. If my elementary school library had kid friendly horror, or a collection of ghost stories, it was overdue and I was the culprit. As I got older I moved right along into reading the latest from Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, F. Paul Wilson and others. At the same time, I discovered late night horror movies on TV and I was quickly hooked. From there, my love for horror just became an intrinsic part of who I am.
For me, one of the areas of horror that really inspires how I approach working on horror games is time I've spent interacting with and working alongside the haunted attraction industry. There's a lot of overlap in how you approach designing haunts and the scares within and how you tackle designing a video game. Most importantly, both are very interactive – there's no passive scares like in linear media. Both the person being scared and the people doing the scaring (in this case the design and features you've built in) are participating in the experience, and the pacing can change drastically on the fly.
While on the subject of horror games, if you could suggest just three to play this forthcoming Halloween, what would they be, and why?
Wes: Of course I’m going to say play our game! So besides The Texas Chain Saw Massacre I would suggest Alan Wake 2. The first is very good, and it’s looking like this installment might be better. I’d also suggest going back and playing some older horror games like Amnesia and the recent remakes of Resident Evil are incredible.
Ismael: If someone really wants to experience the full breadth of gaming horror, I'll obviously recommend The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's got the best aspects of enjoying horror – dread, screams, and sometimes laughter. But if I had to recommend three other titles, here they are —
Bramble: The Mountain King was a really interesting game that came out this year. Based on Scandinavian folklore, it alternates between the truly fantastic, and the deeply horrific. On top of that, like TCSM, it's a game that shows how horror can be absolutely beautiful while also scaring the pants off of you.
Horror lovers should also check out the Rusty Lake games. There are a ton of these, and they're all wonderful little bite sized pieces of weirdness. This is a very prolific team, and every time they drop something new I'm immediately interested in seeing how it expands and complicates the world they've created. This feels like a cheat because there are a lot of them, so I'd recommend just picking one and starting from there – they're all self contained. But don't be surprised if you end up binging them.
And finally, I'm going to recommend Alan Wake II even though it isn't out. The reason? Simple – the first one is an amazing title, and Remedy's track record is solid. Control was amazing, and is absolutely a game with horror undertones running throughout, so Remedy's return to Alan Wake is incredibly exciting.
If you don’t mind me asking, what’s next for Gun Interactive? Can we expect to see any more of Texas Chain Saw in 2024? If so, are there any dates that we should be jotting down in our calendars?
Ismael: We're fully focused on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre right now – what can we do to better support our players, how can we enrich and improve the experience, and how do we expand what's there. One thing we do not want to do, however, is share any specific dates. The reason for that is simple – we don't want to flag a date, then pull the rug out from under our players' feet at the last second. It’s easy to get into trouble with public roadmaps. When we tell people a date, we want it to be ironclad and meaningful, because it's a matter of trust. With any multiplayer game, you have to work day and night to build that trust with your users, and then work just as hard to maintain it. And you do that by sticking to the commitments you make to them. So if we're announcing a date you know we're doing that because we've got something ready to go – it's been developed, tested, polished, tested some more, passed through certification, and is ready to be downloaded on the date we announce.
Speaking of upcoming projects, you guys have tapped into both Friday the 13th and Texas Chain Saw Massacre now. Do you have any plans to explore another horror franchise in the future?
Wes: I would love to touch the Halloween franchise. I’ve said this countless times. I think we could do a lot with my boy Michael. I also have an affinity for Giallo films, but I haven’t really figured out the best way to translate what makes those films interesting, into a game. Also, The Thing is on my wishlist. We could do a lot with that formula.
Ismael: If you ask ten people at Gun what their favorite horror franchise is, there's a good chance you're going to get ten different answers. That blend is perfect – it means we're all bringing different insights to what we work on, but it also demonstrates the love for the genre here. Fortunately, we're in a position where we've demonstrated our chops and gotten recognition for the way we approach work on an IP – with white gloves, and attention to authenticity. That means we're privileged enough that we have people approaching us to see if we want to work together.
We're not going to choose something because it's popular, or because we think we can jury rig some design around the property. We need to be inspired by the property, and we need to see if we can craft something that is fully bespoke, designed and thought up one hundred percent with that IP in mind. While we're constantly striving to improve our sense of design and we take inspiration from a million different places, it all starts with the franchise, and whatever vision drove the original.
Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
Ismael: The reception to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has gone beyond our hopes for the project, and we're incredibly grateful that fans have grabbed on to our game. More than that, we love that so many players have been introduced to this film through our game, and are now experiencing it for the first time. Having a hand in nudging people towards the films and characters we've loved for decades is a fantastic feeling, and demonstrates the power of video games to broaden people's exposure to films and ideas they may otherwise never have encountered.
Ultimately, a multiplayer game is a shared experience between developer and player. Unlike a single player experience where the developer can tightly limit what a player can do, and can make sure the guardrails are up to force a player to largely adhere to their tone and vision, a multiplayer game becomes a sort of conversation between the people making it and the people playing it. I can tell you right now that that conversation has been amazing. Players really get what we were aiming for, and watching them play has been an utter delight. We're looking forward to keeping it going and making sure it stays interesting.
Amazing. Thanks for your time, guys!
So, what’s your take? Will you be revving up the chainsaw in Gun Interactive’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre this Halloween? Let us know your thoughts over on our socials here.