Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game Interview: 3v7 Gameplay, Friday the 13th Lessons, and the Competition (Exclusive)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space achieved cult hit status long ago, and with the new Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game moving towards its closed beta and eventual release, the iconic IP is poised to make a big return in the asymmetrical horror game genre. That's a category of games that's become quite crowded now since executive director Randy Greenback worked on Friday the 13th: The Game to help kickstart the genre, so we spoke to Greenback recently to see how Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game looks to stand out among others.

In addition to Greenback's answers about things like the game's unusual 3v7 format, competitors, and the game's tone, you'll also see some exclusive artwork from the game featuring Killer Klown weaponry like boxing gloves, mallets, and a tracking ray, too.

You've talked about what worked in Friday the 13th: The Game, and we can see some of those elements (like proximity chat) incorporated into the Killer Klowns game. Aside from putting too much pressure on the killer, what didn't work in F13th that you'd like to move away from here?

Oh! You know what, I wouldn't say it's really a conversation of "what didn't work" as much as Friday was the first one to get out there and do a lot of really innovative things at once. It brought a beloved classic horror franchise to life after many years of sitting dormant, one you could run around in and be personally afraid of. It was intimate, scary, at times hilarious and culminated in a bonding experience for many people. Those human connections that developed are probably the thing I'm most proud of, and the things that attract me most to the process as a game designer working on multiplayer games. Being first on Friday was a huge privilege; we learned a lot. In taking on Killer Klowns, we've brought the best of that with us… hopefully leveled much of it up, and included a lot of exciting new elements.

For example, we are looking to double or triple down on the possibility of emergent gameplay. I really like to think of this as players "writing their own story" in our game and playing the last 20 minutes of a horror film with friends. To do that, we have spent a lot of time refining a rich variety of locations (indoor, outdoor, alien and human) on the map, with a fair amount of randomly generated locations to keep the experience fresh. The Klowns invade and land at different locations which changes the flow of the match on the map and keeps the human players looking for the circus tent spaceship at the beginning of the game.

In addition, we don't want to interrupt the flow of a player as they get into the game. In a lot of titles (including F13) when you are killed you are forced to go into a spectator mode and stay there for the rest of the match. Why? It doesn't have to be that way. In Friday the 13th we had the chance to come back as Tommy Jarvis, but we wanted to take it a step further. In Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Game spectating will happen a lot less frequently, so it offers a more uninterrupted fun experience for players. When you're playing as a human, for example, and you die, you actually can choose to respawn as one of the Human NPCs that are still alive on the map. But there is still a challenge even here, as you might start as a Cop with a couple of weapons and then become an unarmed Teen who's better at sneaking. So it can switch things up on you in unexpected ways, play out a second/third/fourth story in the match, but at least you get to keep playing as opposed to waiting on the sidelines.

Then there are the expected things, but I know that we've taken even these things to a new level. I have to be careful not to get out ahead of the marketing team here, but we are really excited about what we are doing with customization and our perk systems. You know the team is doing something right in a big way when you're working on something and you yourself want the custom items and the awards. Other than that, we've done a LOT of easter egging for horror fans, a WHOLE LOT. There's going to be a ton to discuss in-game and out. There are going to be secrets to hunt for, ones we think our community are going to really respond to. It's exciting to think about people hunting them down and figuring them out.

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What tone does Killer Klowns look to strike in a sea of competitors?

Something we talk about a lot internally is that horror and humor are two sides of the same coin. One of the things that really draws players to horror titles is that crazy feeling of zeal they have…the "Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!" when something scary is about to get them. A lot of games do this really well, and they have humor, but they aren't necessarily trying to be funny. We are. Killer Klowns From Outer Space is Scary, Silly and Surreal. It's an over-the-top combination of horror and comedy – which makes our tone entirely unique compared to what's currently out there. The IP is very physical, sometimes slapstick even, and it gets back to the roots of horror and comedy through that lens.

A good example is that things can be all fun and games while you are playing, until you get to a crazy moment that makes you realize why we are getting this M rating. Our Kills/Fatalities start out relatively harmless as the Klowns start doing a goofy trick to entertain its human victim, but these quickly crescendo into crazy deaths that you wouldn't expect – of course complete with blood, gore and confetti.

We don't just chainsaw or stab victims in Killer Klowns…instead, you might be eaten alive by a flock of crazy balloon animals or kicked off the side of a mountain by a giant Klown shoe which sends you flying over the city just to crater into the central park landing on another very surprised human who then just met an even crazier fate. Death's embrace the wild side of the film and the world we are creating in game – giving players dynamic, emergent moments while they play. It's safe to say that we definitely have lots of surprises in store.

The 3v7 format is an interesting one compared to other options. Did you experiment with other formats (2v8, 1v9?) or was 3v7 the way to go from the beginning?

Okay, I want to give you the real and full answer here, but it's a little long, so strap in. Everyone knows Friday the 13th was 1v7, and we were very happy with what we achieved through that asymmetrical slant at the time. However, in designing Killer Klowns we wanted to improve the player experience and build off the learnings from the last project. Having only 1 killer puts a lot, if not too much pressure and responsibility, on the single player who is assigned to be the killer. We took baby steps and tried keeping the same total number of players and prototyped a 2v6 experience with a duo of killers.

This small change paid off and the prototype delivered some really great improvements to the general balancing! Because the two killers had help from each other, they were more relaxed and had more fun because of the shared responsibility of hunting, killing and essentially driving the intensity of the match. If one of them was struggling to kill the humans, it was ok because they had a friend helping them. So the pressure to drive the match was more distributed and not centered on a single player. By trying this 2v6 breakdown, we also discovered that the killers were not only collaborating, but also communicating to one another and sharing tips on how to hunt the humans! This was really encouraging and valuable, because it meant that players were getting better at the game way faster and becoming more effective killers and thus creating a more fun challenge for the survivors. We could see how the knowledge could spread via organic methods within the matches and our matchmaking. That was exciting. The results were very encouraging and we decided to double-down, trying 3v5 next.

Our gamble paid off and this 3 killer approach worked even better! Now we had a trio of killers, a real villainous team. This 3v5 structure meant that even when one Klown was focused on teaching something to a more inexperienced peer or sharing a new tip, there was a 3rd Klown player hunting down the humans or laying down traps whilst those two Klowns were busy talking to one another. This also helped to more evenly distribute the mentorship duties because now there could be another klown who could teach you something. So the role of mentor just alternated to whoever you were close to at the moment you needed help or who had a specific technique they've mastered that they wanted to share with you.

We also discovered that this 3v5 structure helped to provide a much more thrilling experience for all players, because having three killers created more unpredictability and emergent gameplay opportunities than any other asymmetrical horror games which are limited to only a single killer.

At that point we were very happy with how the killer experience felt, it was unique and all of our own with 3 equally powerful killers forming a formidable team. However, when we started putting the 3v5 in the context of the map sizes that we wanted to have, which had to be large and more varied than the ones in F13, we felt that the game didn't have enough human players to sustain a thrilling experience. Because If you have the 3 Klowns focused on different potential victims, this would only leave 2 humans left to pursue escape- or rescue opportunities or trying to accomplish one of the quests that add pressure to the killer team. So a 3v5 structure allowed the Klown team to feel too safe and didn't provide enough challenge to sustain a counter pressure. Thankfully the fine folks at Teravision Games were able to work their magic and push their way through this and we were able to get back the 7 humans while still keeping our 3 killers.

This new 3v7 structure provided the best of all worlds, because now even if the 3 killers are busy trying to hunt down 3 potential victims, it meant that there were still 4 humans left somewhere on the map operating against the Klowns. They could be working on saving others, advancing on objectives and basically just building up the pressure on the Klown team. This increased counterbalance helped to make the game a lot more fun and interesting for everyone playing and created far more opportunities for craazzy gameplay moments. It created a really unique experience that we all feel helps to push the asymmetrical horror genre in interesting new directions and ups the ante in the way that we originally set out to do. It's one of the things that we are the most excited about sharing with players and we can't wait to see all of the crazy gameplay moments that they will create with friends when the game launches.

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Announced so far are five human classes, five Klown classes, and unique attributes/skills depending on the chosen class. Once you add in objectives, PvPvE, and other systems, how do you ride the line of giving players multiple systems to master without overwhelming those who just want to play a Killer Klowns game?

You can hop right into the game and start playing it with only a surface level understanding of the gameplay. However, the games in this genre have to be designed for the long haul, so there has to be a lot of discovery to be had as players formulate their gameplay style and tactics which NEED to change as the community at large learns more and more. That's the long term fun. Reacting to new emerging tactics and skill growth in other players who you are playing against will keep you coming back for more because fun unexpected things can happen. Take chess for instance where there are lots of rules to learn and strategies that can emerge which can keep players engaged for a lifetime. We want to create a zany multiplayer chess match that can be crazy fun, with both subtle and audacious elements woven in to create a beguiling depth. However, balancing between wild outcomes, deep gameplay that stays fresh over a long period of time but has a pick up and play feel can be tough for sure. We do need to be accessible to the audience that just wants to live out the Killer Klown 80s fantasy, and we are doing that. However, we're also finding ways to let pro players dig in and enjoy the complexities which are under the hood as well. It's a Klowny balancing act and a fun game design challenge.

Similarly, how do you approach balance in a game like this where the 3v7 setup naturally lends itself to being imbalanced? What's your philosophy on buffs, nerfs, and how quickly adjustments will happen?

We have plans for multiple beta tests and will use these to their fullest potential to understand how the community wants to play the game. Our announcement was received extremely positively at Gamescom and we now have hundreds of thousands of signups to play the game early. This is great news to a development team's ears, but it also drives the need to plan intently and get to work on ensuring we can 'see' the balancing issues as they arise.

The first step is in developing tools that help the team in gathering player feedback and gameplay data so we can make more informed decisions on main match objectives, secondary objectives, and Klown ability balancing, amongst a myriad of other things. Our focus is on keeping the game fun and crazy while still also having a feeling of being fair. We then need to establish processes to query the data and ask the right questions. This takes experience and past insights to fuel a "gut feeling" to give a starting point for tracking down balancing problems while analyzing data. Then once we pin things down, we can react and make quick decisions for the adjustments. The team works together from that point to change up values in the game and then we test our assumptions before pushing it live. We're refining the process and will keep doing so up until launch and obviously well beyond.

PvPvE is already a more unique approach for a game like this, but were there any explorations into single-player content via missions or related activities?

We've definitely talked about what "could" happen if we wanted to do single player content down the road, but the big focus lies on nailing the replayable and "co-op-petitive" multiplayer game mode that we're building and ensuring we have all the hooks in so that it can evolve with the community over the course of many planned seasons of content. This is the core of the Klown experience and where our attention is at the moment. However, if we do tackle single player in the game in the future, the focus will be on something that can be replayed over and over again, with the playtime there unlocking more content to use online in the multiplayer experience.

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You've mentioned exploring future content for the Killer Klowns game to expand the universe – how are you navigating that delicate process of crafting new Killer Klowns content while still remaining true to the source material?

We learned from the masters of the Klowniverse… and we took LOTS of notes! The IP is pretty liberating to work with, but there are rules to follow to keep things grounded in a Klowny way. Klowns love the element of surprise and the chaotic confusion they bring to the table. They leverage this well and turn it into klown karnage, like choosing to kick off invasions on April Fool's day for instance. Invading on April 1st ensures that no one will trust reports of their human cotton candy cocoon harvesting (as seen in the film) and wacky fatalities. We ran this idea past the brothers, and they were all for making it canon in the game.

The team is having a blast building new locations in new timeframes for past and future Klown invasions, but also new KlownTech™ weapons, abilities and perks that we're bringing to change up how each Klown class plays as the game grows. However we always follow the ground rules laid out by the Chiodo Brothers and consult with them to make sure that our new original content fits into the larger Klowniverse vision. Everything needs to capture the right Klown feel, so it needs to have the right amount of surprise and silliness before it turns dark and surreal. It needs to have the balance of fun versus violent, and rarely start out feeling mean spirited or violent for the sake of it, but sure as hell ending there.

It's been said that the game will have "seasons." Can players expect a season pass system then? Why or why not?

Yeah, we do have seasons planned and there will be lots of content unlocks to earn in each season for character customization. The unlocks will pertain to that season's map theme, with some wild stuff as well to earn through play for both the Klown and Human sides. That's what Klowns are all about; unexpected craziness. So the season maps and unlockable content will be in that vein. We will be revealing a lot more information about our future plans for the game soon, but for now we can say that we're aiming to do something different with evolving gameplay through updates, and we're focusing on allowing players to access new season game content by simply playing the game they bought.

Do you think the F13th game deserves credit for helping kick off the licensed-multiplayer-horror game craze? Similarly, do you think the genre is becoming too crowded, or is it still in its early stages?

Definitely, it should! Friday the 13th: The Game provided the blueprint for how an asymmetric multiplayer horror game focused on a single IP could be done, and then how it could be built up over the course of a bunch of post launch updates and content drops. It proved in a massive way that the horror gaming audience was there and clamoring to see their favorite films re-imagined in the context of multiplayer games that they could live out with others. We learned from those efforts bringing F13 to market. We studied what worked well with players over the course of the last 6 years since the 2016 Christmas Beta dropped for that game, and what keeps players playing till this very day. The team at Teravision Games, and all of my cohorts at Good Shepherd have jumped in on the mission to build Killer Klowns into a game that the next generation of asym multiplayer horror games will follow.

I think that this is like any new genre. There is an initial race to bring other titles to players to capitalize on interest, and in those which try to do something unique, the boundaries of the genre are pushed. This is a great thing for horror in general and the genre as a whole. I think that for the most part the majority of devs working in this realm have done a great job of adding at least one innovation point in their titles to help keep things fresh and fun. Unfortunately I can't say that this is true for every game though. We don't want to be a clone of anything, but we aim to shake the playing field up and are toying with a lot of the central pillars that make these games what they are. We're also designing the game to have staying power via exciting content additions, meaningful gameplay changes, new fatalities, and crazy Klown weaponry.

I saw another article frame the Killer Klowns game as a potential "Dead by Daylight Rival." Do you think that's a fair assessment that Dead by Daylight is the game to "beat" in this field?

Dead by Daylight is a key competitor for sure, and through its focus on multiple IP's in each season, it's grown to be the genre king. Its weakness though is that it's bound to the same core rulesets and gameplay for each of the new IP that it adds. As much as this approach attracts fans of the source content, it also pushes people away since it's never a truly authentic implementation of it. Their framework supersedes the IP additions and they map the new characters to their core gameplay/game mode, which can be odd. Why does every killer have to put victims on hooks if they don't do that in the films? As a horror fan, and not even a purist, it's jarring. That's not to say that it's not a good game that people enjoy, it's just choosing to be a more competitive and less authentic experience. There are plenty of fans that want that, and then there are fans that want their favorite franchises to offer them an experience that's closer to what they've seen in the films.

The teams at Good Shepherd, Teravision Games and MGM were more in line with taking a single IP and reviving it in the purest way possible. We couldn't and wouldn't have wanted to do this without the Chiodo brothers and John Massari being involved. We want the core fans of Killer Klowns to be proud to rep the game and feel like we served it all well, and that meant that at the end of the day the game needed to honor the original creator's creation. We want to take a deeper dive into how gameplay will get better over time, how it will shift and change how players play and interact with each other. We are looking at Killer Klowns and its surreal aesthetic, its deep under-explored universe, as a way to authentically evolve our gameplay over the course of each season. We all believe in that approach and are fighting hard to deliver as one big team.

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Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game does not yet have a release date but is planned for an early 2023 release. Signups are open now for a closed beta.