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Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game keeps the cult film’s zaniness intact

Survivors hide from a Klown in Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Game.
IllFonic Publishing

The beauty of the movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space is the way the title tells you exactly what you are going to get. A small town has been invaded by aliens, who happen to look like Clowns. And you’d best believe they will be killing. Now, that elegant premise is getting its own asymmetrical horror video game.

I went hands-on with the upcoming multiplayer adaptation of this 1980’s horror-comedy from the Chiodo Brothers at PAX East. During my demo, I spoke with some of the team behind it to find out what it takes to adapt a cult classic like Killer Klowns. It’s a story that begins with being in the right place at the right time, merging movie practical effect magic with gaming expertise, and finally answering one of life’s great questions: What does clown blood look like?

Back from outer space

I arrive at the Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game demo to meet with Jared Gerritzen, chief creative officer at Illfonic. We are joined by Jordan Mathewson, the design director on the project. A long line stretches around the booth as PAX goers, some in Killer Klown cosplay, eagerly wait their turn to play. I can’t help but wonder how this crazy project came to be. 

If it were any other IP, I don’t think that we would have done it.

“It’s a really weird story,” Gerritzen tells Digital Trends. “Killer Klowns was announced at Gamescom two years ago, and we met the devs (Teravision) that night. We bro’d up and drank together; we offered to play it and check it out and give them feedback. All of these things started to align, and we ended up going, ‘Hey, let us publish it. Let us be the co-devs.’” 

The partnership made sense, given Illfonic’s experience in the asymmetrical multiplayer game genre. It’s already done several, including Friday the 13: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds, and had all the backend tech and practical knowledge that comes with that. 

But why Killer Klowns?

“Because it’s Killer Klowns!” Gerritzen says. “If it were any other IP, I don’t think that we would have done it. Killer Klowns is so absurd, and it’s so silly.” 

A survivor aims a gun at a clown in Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
IllFonic Publishing

The Killer Klowns movie, unlike something along the lines Friday the 13th, leans heavily into comedy. I ask how they incorporate that into their design. According to Gerritzen, it’s the over-the-top kills and following the lead of the Chiodo Brothers — Charles, Stephen, and Edward — who made the 1988 film. 

They’ve been a part of so many great films, and they know it better than anyone else,” Gerritzen says. “They brought up the blood and viscera, and adding glitter, or some confetti. And I was like, “Holy shit!” because we’ve made blood. Sometimes it glows, but it’s all the same. And now that kill works, the confetti sound pops, and it’s hilarious. That’s Killer Klowns. “

Mathewson credits the guidance from the Chiodos to help get things right, like how the Klowns should look and feel. They should be fun and silly, but they are killing people. Turning people into cotton candy, for example, is a funny concept, but turns dark when you realize it’s suffocating the victims inside. The way the levity and horror are both woven together is what makes it enjoyable.

Cream of the crop

In my first try at the demo, I’d take on the role of a Klown. A friend and fellow writer would try to survive as a human. As we loaded into a map modeled like an ’80s amusement park, we did the only sensible thing you can do when you see a buddy of yours on the other team: immediately beat the hell out of each other. 

I was Shorty, a diminutive Klown equipped with a ray gun that slowly traps humans in a cotton candy cocoon and boxing gloves for good, old-fashioned fisticuffs. The ray gun filled a transformation meter, but it’s slow, so I opted to apply the sweet science instead. I quickly discovered two things. Unlike Illfonic’s other titles, human players can more than hold their own in a fight. I was dropped to the ground in a hurry. I’d also learn that humans can’t kill Klowns without piercing weapons like knives or guns to destroy their nose. I quickly got back to my feet, and delivered a knockdown of my own. 

A klown is carrying a large cocoon of cottton candy to put into a machine in Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Illfonic

A button prompt with the word “Klownality” appeared on my screen. Naturally, I pressed it to see what that meant, and to my delight, a death cutscene à la Mortal Kombat began. In it, the Klown enveloped the human in a barrage of cream pies, with a large cherry placed upon the lifeless pile of custard at the end for added insult to fatal injury. Round one to me. 

“That’s something that we pulled from Predator, for sure,” Gerritzen says, “ripping the spine out.”

He explains how they tried to make elaborate moments like that during Illfonic’s Predator game, but other players would just come over and start shooting the Predator. The Chiodos shared their vision of incorporating elaborate death scenes, but they would need to figure out how.  The solution, according to Gerritzen, was Klownalities. Both players are brought out of the play space so that no one who sees what is happening can do anything about it, which opens the door for just about any sort of absurd finishers they want.

There will be a number of these Klownalities at launch, with more to come in future updates. Gerritzen expects the community will have opinions of their own about what sort of finishers they want to see, and is enthusiastic about the animators having the extra time to “go a little crazy” with it after it launches .  Additional maps and characters are also part of that future road map.

“It’s really important that we continually feed that on top of the work we’ve done to create a system and a design that can be replayed countless times without getting old,” Mathewson says.

The hunt is on

In the demo, the Klowns are making steady progress — about half the humans have either been killed or turned into cotton candy cocoons. The remaining people are doing a decent job of hiding. One person, however, tries to sprint a little too nearby, and a circular noise indicator gives away their position. A fellow Klown and I give chase, and the combined fire of our ray guns quickly turn the person into cotton candy. I hoist the cocoon over my shoulder and head for a nearby Lackey Generator. These create NPC minions called lackeys, which can help find humans and also reduces the cooldown of abilities. Another Klown indicates he’s found more humans, so I jump straight to him. 

The humans have an advantage in speed and agility, but this person is holed up in a food stall. We enter through the lone door, and a shotgun blast to the face of my comrade takes him out. I keep my distance, and successfully cocoon the player with my gun. The final survivor has fallen — the Klowns are victorious. 

What does clown blood look like?

The team at Illfonic has plenty of experience working on movie properties, but the access and partnership to the Chiodo brothers stood out in an industry that often requires multiple layers of approvals from many different stakeholders. As an example, Gerritzen tells me, I texted Edward [Chiodo] last week asking, ‘What does clown blood look like?’ And we’re on a call 15 minutes later, and I’ve got all three of them and they’re giving their feedback.”

The trust is two-way, with the Chiodos just as open to listening to Illfonics’ expertise in game design. Their visions are aligned, but I can’t help but wonder how the practical effects from the movie reconcile with the digital world of a video game. 

A clown aims a gun at survivors in Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game.
IllFonic Publishing

Well, that’s a tough one,” Gerritzen says, “None of the original molds are around anymore.” He talks about how the condition of props like that from the 1980s deteriorates over time, so the usual method of doing scans was out. Instead, the art team had to work primarily off of photos and, thankfully, the Teravision crew had already done a lot of work to get those assets ready. The Chiodos were there throughout the process to give their stamp of approval. From there, it was a matter of finding the right balance between polished digital art and looking like a practical effect.

“If we were to somehow make it look more practical, the gamers that don’t know about it would say it looks like shit,” Gerritzen says. “It’s that razor’s edge that we’re constantly on.”

Fighting for your life

In my second round, I’m a human. The match begins in the same familiar amusement park. I crouch to minimize the noise I make, and duck into a small restaurant to stay out of sight. I creep into the kitchen, and find a knife stashed in the refrigerator. Weird place for a knife, but there are Klowns from space trying to kill me, so who am I to complain? I sneak out the back, grab a brick, and spy a fellow survivor squaring up with a Klown for a fistfight. I quickly run over, introduce my brick to the clown’s head, and pop its nose with my knife. The Klown evaporates in an explosion of green, and I run for cover. 

Survivors face off against a clown in Killer Knowls From Outer Space: The Game.
IllFonic Publishing

I take refuge in a nearby parking lot. There, I spy a gas can. This is one of several items that can unlock an escape route. I grab it and begin the long trek to the docks, where a boat is waiting to be refueled in order to ferry me to safety. Up ahead, I can see that the same Klown I had just dispatched has returned. This time, he’s carrying one of the other humans, fully wrapped up in a cocoon. 

I sprint over, ready to act the hero, but the effort drains most of the stamina I need for the fight. After one exhausted swing of a pipe wrench, I need to catch my breath. The Klown slowly sets down his cargo, calmly aims his cotton candy gun at me, and fires. Across from me I see the pink light from the ray gun reflected in my friend’s glasses, and a smirk crosses his face as I’m enveloped in the sugary cocoon.

Damn it. 

I’m hung from the Lackey Generator, and slowly succumb to suffocation. Rather than watch the rest of the match in spectator mode, however, I can continue to participate in a way that could help my team. A timer is counting down, and when it reaches zero, I get to give a random object to a survivor (or keep it, in hopes that they bring me back via the Resurrection Machine). These drops include healing food, melee weapons, or ammunition. I can speed up the timer by participating in a series of carnival games, like pixel art basketball or a memory game.

I pour my effort into supplying the other survivors with as many weapons as I can, but to no avail. They hunt down the last human in short order. The screen fades to back. A newspaper reports seven people missing. The Klowns have won again.

The game within the game

Playing as a human is intentionally tense and chaotic. You don’t know what the exit is, you don’t know what your objective is.” Gerritzen says. “If a Klown comes and I’ve got the right pocket setup, I can take that Klown out. But it’s only for a minute. It’s kind of like a power play. And then those Klowns come back after me with a vengeance.”

The added element of three monsters, rather than one, completely changes the dynamic. Every Klown has unique abilities, and not knowing what the Klown chasing you can do adds to that uncertain threat. It’s tough to stay alive, which is why the minigame system is so important. 

“How do we give someone something to do when they’re dead?” Mathewson asks. “We’ve all played games where it’s permadeath, where you’re down and you just sit there and wait. Sometimes you rematch and cycle through. We really wanted to keep people engaged and and a part of it, stocking up your own inventory, but also adding the ability to give other people stuff so that you could influence the match. And we’ve had so many tests that it just works so well”

A Klow has disguides itself as a pizza box and is walking down a path in Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Illfonic

According to Gerritzen, this was an idea they tried, then quickly implemented it for a Gamescom demo build. Playing it every day for several days locked in that it was the right direction to go — and a future fixture in asymmetrical multiplayers games and a part of any game they work on going forward. 

“There’s that Hail Mary moment where you’re just sprinting and sprinting and then you start slowing down, and then bing! Here’s a soda can,” Gerritzen says. “And it was this thing that we didn’t know what was going to happen with it. It was just literally us knowing asymmetrical so well.

“We’re extremely proud of this new thing that everyone’s gonna steal.”

Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game releases on June 4, 2024  for PlayStation 5, Steam, and Xbox Series consoles.

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Justin Koreis
Justin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of video games and technology. He loves writing about games, especially…
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