In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Friday The 13th is an awful movie franchise, but it’s one I have fond memories of due to misplaced childhood nostalgia. The only ones worth watching are the original and Part VI: Jason Lives. Oh, and that one with Cory Feldman at the tail-end of his childhood stardom. Some would say it’s below the likes of Halloween (which it is), but then Friday The 13th never had Busta Rhymes bust some moves on Jason Voorhees in the sequels; so it’s a moot point I guess.
Either way, I used to enjoy watching them as a kid because I wasn’t an elitist movie snob back then. I could appreciate the trash without being ironic to friends, thus disguising my admiration behind a veil of faked indifference. Of course, as a child, you don’t really get scared by slasher movies. Instead, you get sadomasochistic thoughts like, ‘hey, wouldn’t be cool to be chased around by a serial killer?’ Several scenes involving young, shrieking children only stoked the fires of that bizarre thought and camping trips were full of disappointment when at no point during the night did any of us wake to the sight of a glinting blade tearing through the thin membrane that was the tent’s fabric.
The closest I ever came to fulfilling this morbid experience was on my Amstrad CPC 464 and a borrowed copy of Domark’s Friday The 13th: The Computer Game. As much as anybody will try and tell you that survival horror started with Alone in the Dark, they probably never encountered the non-NES version of Friday The 13th. I have real fond memories of being scared witless by this game in the late 80’s and the image of my younger brother screaming with tears rolling down his face as the Amstrad emitted in-human, blood curdling screams from its in-built mono speaker.
The game doesn’t have a real plot other than a re-enactment of a lost movie in the franchise. You play one of four faceless characters, who are required to track down Jason in Camp Crystal Lake, before he hacks his way through several other campers and comes after you in a final showdown. Once you kill him, you play another camp worker and the whole thing just repeats until you get bored and switch the damn thing off.
I guess that sums up the entire movie franchise it was based on when I think about it.
The whole game is set in a ‘grid’ of twenty-something screens (each a specific location) and once you reach one end of the map, passing through the edge will take you to the opposite side of the map; so if you keep going up, you’ll eventually reappear in the bottom, like that bit in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind only with a serial killer. You can’t escape basically, which made the abandoned tractor on one screen just annoying to look at.
Just give me the keys! I don’t give a toss about saving these STD-carrying losers!
Each screen, or even several, is specific location like a woodland, church, graveyard, cabins, etc. With all of the buildings, you can go inside and search for better weapons in your quest to take Jason down...for the twenty millionth time. For such a small game, there’s a lot to look at with limited technology, even if it is really crude at times. Each area has its own musical score too; though be prepared for one of the worst musical renditions of ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ that has ever been committed to tape.
But what makes Crystal Lake feel weirdly alive is that, besides your protagonist and Jason, there are eight other campers wandering about the map. Despite the fact that they don’t interact with you and they seem completely desensitised to murder (they walk past dead campers like it was nothing) as they randomly go about their business, their presence gives the game life in an otherwise graphically dead game. The game requires you to save as many campers as you can, but there’s no consequence if you just decide to let them die since the real goal is defeating Jason.
Only this version of Jason likes to dress up as one of the campers. Every few minutes, he’ll drop his disguise (he just turns into a character dressed in black...hey, this is pre-console stuff, alright!) and his theme music kicks in as he stalks the camp and finally uses a bizarrely huge axe on a bouffant haired teen. Once they’re dead, he changes back and wanders around as one of the others again, until he decides that he hasn’t killed in the last thirty seconds and stalks another clueless idiot. You can even kill the campers yourself to speed up the process, which is a nice homicidal twist.
Sometimes you can be lucky, catching him in the act of changing his appearance and kill him. If you’re not lucky, then you’ll just hear his victim’s strangled, Moog-like scream and stumble upon their body. Alternatively, you can be a douche by watching the murder take place and scratch your butt while it happens (which usually happens on the third or fourth playthrough). Either way, you’re going to hear those death screams a lot and quite randomly too. Even at low volume, the piercing shriek was enough to set you on edge. You know just out of the blu---
Anyway, despite the apparent graphical ugliness, which is scary in itself, the jumps really come from the crooked renditions of classical pieces being rudely interrupted by that same death scream. It’s a jump tactic that works well considering its repeated plays, since the noise is so off-putting and random that your ears never really attune to it; probably because you’re trying hard to forget about the flat, minor chords being parped out of a 64K computer’s mono speaker.
To stop Jason you need a weapon and there are plenty lying around. Obviously, since Health and Safety rules had probably been made redundant after Jason’s third or sixth killing spree. By staying at the camp, you were practically signing your own death warrant anyway. The weapons range from chainsaws and throwing axes to dinner knives and forks. Some are close range and others are long range projectiles, all with their own levels of damage. In the end, you’ll need something with distance, since Jason has that axe that’s bigger than him and has more hit points than your useless character. So you run around, taking pot-shots until one of you is dead. Once you attack him, you’re locked in battle, which is kind of funny when you see other campers walking obliviously into your battle between good and evil.
The game does try to let you gather up campers with a ‘sanctuary’ item. There’s a randomly placed cross on the map and if you put it down in a church, barn or cabin, you can touch the campers and they’ll head to your safe spot. I never really understood why Jason would be afraid of a cross and not even the game knows why because it’s ultimately redundant - Jason can go to the sanctuary spot and hack up the remaining survivors as part of some glitch. Oh and fighting Jason in enclosed spaces is just asking for a swift beheading. You really need to be out in the open or at least use the ‘wall glitch’ where you stab him behind a from behind a horizontal wall and he can’t strike back.
Of course, there’s a time limit to all this, represented by a hockey mask being fully drawn. When you’re the last person alive, Jason comes after you and your sanity meter goes haywire. Or at least, your character’s hair on the meter does. What does this mean? Well, I have no idea. It doesn’t do anything really. I guess it was a scare tactic like the pant shitting scary picture of a guy with a machete through the back of his head that pops up randomly, accompanied by that terrifying scream that would send my brother running out of the room and hide downstairs in a puddle of his own urine.
Happy days, I guess. Not for him though.
This game and that episode of The X Files where the creepy face on the moon was attacking astronauts have scarred him for life. Especially the latter, where I did my best imitation of the face in the clip below and he ran all the way down the street to find my mum, who was gossiping at a friend’s house.
All in all, Friday The 13th: The Computer Game was always a curious oddity for the home computer era. It didn’t really fit in with the shoot-em-up’s, nor did it settle in with text adventure crowd. It was, to me at least, the first truly terrifying game ever made and looking on some of the elements involved, it’s not that far removed from the survival horror games that started to appear on the PSone ten years later. It would be nice if there was some revisionist his---