Being offensive is sometimes a wonderful asset in the world of games. Tormentor X Punisher throws all the gore, vulgarity, and explosive sound that it can muster in your direction, and then frames the trailer around the framing ambition of the game: the score.ere’s my commentary on the gameplay trailer, and how that relates to the core experience (latter half of the video):
Special thanks to Joonas Turner and Roland Smedberg for their ferocious trailer!
Can Cuphead’s trailer hype be reproduced by others? I think so. Let’s explore how.
I’m M. Joshua. And I started this whole things because I just love trailers. When I’m not making indie trailers, I’m playing games — and thinking about how their trailers should go.
Cuphead is out today!
You know why it grabbed your attention: that subversive Early-1930s animation art style. It got you on the hook right way. But here’s the thing, that’s not why the game’s successful. Hear me out. But first? Let’s watch the game’s first trailer, which first debuted in 2013, four years ago:
That’s it. That’s all, and it’s not saying a lot.
Weirdly, it starts with this tell, don’t show approach, that doesn’t really give you much information about what the game is actually like to play. But it tries to tell you instead of showing it : “run and gun fighting game hybrid” and it overtly states its stylistic inspiration. Then it shows the controls before jumping into the most basic gameplay, barely hinting at the “run and gun.” This is boring. And it shows everything you shouldn’t do with your trailer.
The funniest part? “Coming 2014” Haha. Clearly they changed their plans. And it’s a good thing they did.
They revised their plans to develop more of an audience before launch.
1. Style isn’t enough — You need to stoke player interest.
So Studio MDHR did some deals with the devil (err Microsoft), pushed back their launch date “a little bit”, and at 2014’s E3, they stole the show with this piece:
That’s it. Just 29 seconds — that’s oozing with style — at the world’s biggest gaming venue (E3). And of course, ending on the subtitle: “Don’t deal with the devil.”
That’s point number 2:
2. Yes, deal with the devil — Look for a publisher with a world-stage
This is pretty easy to do if you have already built the groundwork of your distinct style. Remember Studio MDHR already had this style in the can before anybody heard of the game, but nobody cared until they sold their game’s soul (for probably like 70% of the game’s revenue).
Now, we’re all thinking, “I want to see more.” 29 seconds just isn’t enough. We had to wait a year until the next E3, in 2015:
There they go: give the people what they want: much more gameplay. And it kept people satisfied… for a while.
3. Give people a pacifier — A teaser trailer to retain interest
Then, we didn’t hear much from Studio MDHR for two years.
Not until E3 2017.
There’s two things I want to point out in this trailer. First? This barker text, reminiscent of 1930s carnival barkers: “A special announcement for a thrilling game…” This is more style than necessary information. But the part here, “…the likes of which has never been seen before?” Oh man. You could study this concept for a long time. And it’s always been there from the start.
But it’s grown.
4. Be a REFINED kind of distinct — Grow into a MASTERFUL “never seen before”
While the game really thrives on this style that’s fresh and new, they’ve refined it on the world stage and really pushed for an APPEALING quality. The distinctness. The style? It’s not enough. They had to hone the sales pitch, to really make sure it’s resonating with people in the right way.
5. They took their time building an audience.
So that’s it. That’s how Cuphead did it. Obviously they found their one of a kind style first. But then what they did with it is what turned it into a hype cycle. So after the style is set?
Find a way to Stoke player interest
Devil-deal: Get a Publisher with a world stage
Stick a pacifier in your audience’s mouth: Tease interest
REFINE that “one of a kind style”
Take your time building your audience
So keep that in mind building-up your game’s marketing approach through trailers, so that you see it’s a grand strategy thing and never a one-off tactic.
I may follow-up with a quick play shesh on Cuphead, if I’m not so terrible at the game that it’s painful to watch. Thanks again. I’m M. Joshua. Til the next time we look at some indie game trailers. Bye bye!
Howdy, travelers! Steamworld Dig 2 sat at the top of my list of anticipated Nintendo Switch releases. And BOY, if it doesn’t make good on my hopes!
While the launch trailer for the game took me by surprise (with a tiny bit less of the legendary finesse that I’ve come to expect from Julius Guldbog and Tombias Nilsson), it captures everything essential about the game. This trailer serves as perhaps the best illustration of how to make an extremely strong trailer — humbly representing the experience.
After a brief trailer reflection, I jump into the game’s core loop — and get carried away. IT’S JUST SUCH A FUN GAME, GUYS! Stick around as long as you like.
Mystic Melee sits right inside the sweet zone of my ideal 4-player brawlers: it’s got physics-driven air maneuvers that invite tons of experimentation — while being easy to play.
So how does the trailer fare?
Just after a brief introduction, I watch the trailer — for the first time. This was one of the rare times I bought a game before watching the trailer. Then I dive into the game, offering a sampling of the experience itself.
You’ll get some of my real reactions as well as some (hopefully) useful takeaways for making trailers that also sit in similar (local-multi, 2D platformer) genres.
Massive thanks to the Serenity Forge team for bringing this to my attention, and to Ben Hopkins for making a game with such exceptional precision!
The First Tree snagged me with its trailer and concept, even though I don’t know that I fully got it. So I recorded my impressions on the launch trailer, talked about its takeaways, and then stepped into the first several minutes of the game, to process how the trailer and the game frame each other.
Hopefully, this will be a new series from me? Lots of fun to produce. Lots worth talking about. Enjoy!
NEO Scavenger mobile trailer may be the trailer I’m most proud of producing [scripting and editing]. That said… most advice I’d offer from the project is terrible! Seriously, it’s awful. But it worked for us. So, hopefully you at least you find it funny?
So, here it is — Six Terrible Tips from our NEO Scavenger trailer:
1. Encourage the developer do his own (half-naked) cosplay
NEO Scavenger starts with you wearing nothing but a hospital gown (and a necklace). Then you venture out into the cold and unforgiving world — alone. So when the game’s creator, Daniel Fedor, said “hey I wanna act all of this half-naked hospital-robe-wearing stuff out in real life.” I said, “Of course! Let’s do it!”
For added fun, think about what it would look like to cosplay for your own game’s trailer. Like I said, it’s probably a bad idea. Though it might be a useful practice If you’re showing your game at an actual trade show like PAX?
Terrible advice number two: show… Wait, no.
2. Tell, don’t show (live action)
Here’s the thing: NEO Scavenger is… hard to make sense of at first glance. Heck! Even after a good number of glances, you might still be lost. The game really plays up that “tell, don’t show” angle, especially in combat where it’s mostly about what happens in your imagination (and not on screen).
This was where we identified the perfect way to employ Dan’s half-naked cosplay: acting-out a scenario from the game!
NEO Scavenger takes place in a “slightly” crappier version of our world. Plus it was winter when we started this. So a simple backyard in late Winter looks like it’s survived an apocalypse. Dan was close with a cinematography team, Digital Cyclops — who was amazing, by the way. And even more conveniently, Dalias Blake showed up.
Dude’s a master of looking intimidating.
But yeah, seriously. “Show, don’t tell” is the right way to go with a game trailer 99% of the time. Except for when your game is literally the opposite. We did the live acting thing because it was the best way to put unfamiliar audiences into the mindset of the game.
3. Crowd-source your script
So, this might be the worst advice yet. Never ask your players, “what should I say in the trailer?” You’re gonna get a whole lot of useless garbage that you’ll have to wade through. Glad we didn’t do that. Well, we sorta did.
If you ask “What precise experience in this game captures this full emotion?” And you really curate the question? You might be able to focus people towards one sentence responses — you might get something usable. You might even find something perfect!Now we actually had players to ask. We had over a hundred responses. So, that’s a lot for me to pick from. But seriously, crowd-sourcing your script is usually such a bad idea.
Now I’m gonna stop right here and show you the trailer. Then we’ll get to the last few pieces of terrible advice. Cool? Let’s check it out.
Cool. Final pieces of bad advice?
4. Shove players’ words into onscreen actors’ mouths.
Nobody likes it when you put words in their mouth, but we did it anyway. You couldn’t see our actor’s mouths because they were (like characters in the game) wearing rags that covered their mouths as rudimentary air filters. So,we made sure our actors acted like they were talking, with the plan of putting another actor’s voice on them. We did this, because it was important to me that the players of the game really gave voice to the experience. But because players aren’t typically voice actors, I went for the uber players: those who love the game, but also create their own content.
I’m not 100% sure that the we did this perfectly. But I am sure that it was the right call. Because when you share player’s voices, you can actually capture their passion for the game. These guys, Nelson and Phil — they really really love NEO Scavenger. So I was like, “Yes! I’m-I’m going to use you guys because you really really get it!” Usually people can tell if somebody’s just hired help. But passion transcends.
If you dare try this kind of approach? Go for it, but go for the passionate.
5. String random players’ experiences into a singular story
This is the weirdest one: we took all these player testimonies, the half-naked cosplay, voice actors, and glimpses of gameplay, and we brought it all together — in a way that’s… clearly not for everybody.
The best trailers are just one clear story. It starts, it ends. You feel like you’re along for the ride. This is a universal truth. You can keep that in your pocket. But we had like over a hundred stories. And we wanted to link it into a single one.
That took first writing a modular script — designed with targeted emergence. This modular script had one goal: extract the stories, and assemble it into one single story.
Like I said, you gotta be super specific to make any of this work. This was really just planning — that mostly worked because NEO Scavenger just kind of automatically naturally generates these kinds of stories, and because of the pre-existing audience.
6. Leave viewers with a sick taste in their mouth
NEO Scavenger’s tone is so weird! Like normally? You want people to feel smart, powerful, capable of doing anything! And excited when they end the trailer. Maybe itching for a fight! Instead, we figured it was better to make people feel icky!
You’re welcome to copy the idea if you think it might work for you. But because we wanted to hit the distinctives of the game, and what made it what it is, we ended on the creep-factor.
If you’re looking for something actually usable here, I’d say that’s it: focus on your game’s distinct one-of-a-kind feeling.
Also, it’s worth noting that we lightened-up the whole “bleak as hell” thing. At least a tiny bit.
So yeah, this is all terrible advice because it’s really specific to NEO Scavenger.
So once again, those tips are:
Encourage the developer to do his own half-naked cosplay
Tell, don’t show (Live Action)
Crowd-source your script
Shove players’ words into (on screen) actors’ mouths
String random player experiences into a singular story
Leave players with a sick taste in their mouth
So yeah, all of this is terrible terrible advice. Don’t do these things unless you’re sure it’s going to work for your game. It’s terrible mostly because it’s so specific to NEO Scavenger, but I want to leave you with…
A real useful takeaway
Consider your game deeply. How people play it, how they talk about it, what they dream about after playing it before bed time. Then craft your game’s trailer around these experiences.
I’m M. Joshua. Find me at mjoshua.com. And feel free to subscribe, for the next time we look at some Game Trailer Takeaways.
Here’s five trailer takeaways from ‘Blasphemous‘ — especially for those making a Kickstarter video game trailer:
Blasphemous just launched [on Kickstarter] not even two weeks ago and it’s already tripled its goal. So it is definitely successful. And even though the trailer might be off-putting to some (okay actually, most) — I still think it’s damn-near perfect. Now, bear with me. You might not dig this trailer and that’s totally alright — there’s some absolutely key takeaways in here for game marketing. So, hang in there.
Now here five key takeaways for anybody who’s making a Kickstarter trailer:
1. Disgust everybody—EXCEPT your target audience Rally your tribe around what makes you you. Don’t be afraid if that puts anybody off.
Blasphemous knows exactly who it’s after: the kind of folks who see black-metal twisted imagery and go, “Hell, yeah!” Maybe they like Dark Souls, but would like more gore. Gory and twisted things don’t work for everybody, but for those that it does work for, it says to them, “Hey, this this game is just for us!” That’s the thing that makes them click “back this project.”
2. Show mechanical substance
The action in your Kickstarter game is by-definition not complete. But when we see it in motion, we can have grace for it if the audio-visual feedback isn’t quite there yet. As long as it looks cool and there’s some solid tension in there, we’re with you.
Sharp editing — where each player action is linked in separate scenes — that doesn’t hurt, either.
3. Establish your unique setting
We all know in this descending shot is that this is a weird-dark world with graveyards and bloodshed. And just like that, Blasphemous sets itself apart apart from the rest of herd. With kickstarter trailers, your world should draw us in more than anything else. Nobody knows anything about your game. Nobody knows anything about your world.
Suck us in!
4.Distinct musical composition Notice this song, how there’s this juxtaposition of two kinds of metal at once: the slow droning of Doom and the incessant Black Metal march. There’s even moments where this ultra-gloomy jam gets straight-up triumphant! Nobody else has this kind of music in their game. You can tell the composer created something new and unusual just to match the vibe.
If you can afford an original composer? At the very least, people are going to buy your soundtrack!
5. Land on your theme’s PUNCH
Whatever your game is really about? Be that twisted bloodshed, or rainbow-laden-peacemaking. Stick hard to that tension. And make it the most-important thing that we see the last thing.
Once again, those Kickstarter trailer takeaways are:
Disgust everybody—EXCEPT your target audience
Show mechanical substance
Establish your unique setting
Distinct musical composition
Land on your theme’s PUNCH
I’m M. Joshua. Find my trailer work at mjoshua.com [which has nothing to do with this trailer]. And? Feel free to subscribe — for the next time we look at a damn-near-perfect game trailer.
Here are some takeaways for your own announcement trailers — especially if you’re making a tactics game.
1. TACTICS? Show the interactions in SUPER-SPEED Anybody who plays tactics games knows most of the game is sitting there thinking about what to do. Don’t show that! But do show the fast-breaking action. Make us feel these hits connect — as fast as possible!
2. Frame the player’s role If your game’s objective isn’t clear. Try telling them. You can always pare-back if it’s too hammy. See how the city is under attack by kaiju and the big robots arrive with the, “Protect the city?” This establishes the objective for the player. A little bit of context is all the viewer needs to see themselves in the game.
3. Establish street cred — while establishing new gameplay
If you’ve got experience, show it, but highlight your new hotness.
4. Use some swirly-twirly camera focus!
It’s your job to make sure folks only see what you want them to see. When your game has a really-busy heads-up display, you gotta snag the camera control, zoom-in, get in there, keep the camera moving along. Drive their eyes.
5. UNIQUE FRIGGIN’ GAMEPLAY
I don’t know any other tactics games that involve time travel, at least not off the top of my head. This line right here: “If you really can go back in time, do it now?” That’s fancy! Highlight, underline, ALL-CAPS that stuff! Be unique.
Once again, those key takeaways are:
TACTICS? Show the interactions in SUPER-SPEED
Frame the player’s role
Establish street cred — while establishing new gameplay
Use some Swirly-twirly camera focus
UNIQUE FRIGGIN’ GAMEPLAY
I’m M. Joshua. Find me at mjoshua.com. And? Feel free to subscribe — for the next time we look at a damn-near-perfect trailer.
Here’s some takeaways, from Flinthook’s trailer, for your own game’s trailer:
1. Use #BRANDCOLORS™
Notice these Flinthook™ color bars! We haven’t even started the trailer yet! And already the game is subconsciously establishing its unique voice.
Here’s a quick test: can somebody look at any screenshot from your game and instantly tell that it’s your game?
2. Try a sweet one-shot opener! Notice how in the first fifteen seconds we’re treated to everything we need to know about the game: the genre, Flinthook’s unique-take on the genre: specifically, the sweet hook-shot! And, killing enemies to bag the loot! If you can show everything that your game does in one shot? Do it right away!
3. Use a bit of “outside” voice You’re biased and your opinion doesn’t matter. What others say about you, though? Yeah, use it if you got it. The more variety and big names here, the better.
4. UNIQUE FRIGGIN’ GAMEPLAY (This is important)
Nobody else out there has sweet hookshot action like Flinthook. I mean — it’s in the name: flint-hook. But what’s most important is that this one-of-a-kind hookshot action is front-row-center. The trailer opens on hooking. And the trailer ends on hooking.
Make sure you tattoo this on your forehead: your unique gameplay is how you stand out against the SEA OF STEAM RELEASES.
5. Sneak some player motivations in there.
Notice when the trailer says, “Become the greatest space pirate,” and then shows some action. Then it’s all “Plunder randomly-built spaceships.” This is great too: I love how this line addresses the roguelike structure of the game.
These little statements say so much about why you wanna play the game. And they speak to you kind-of on a subconscious level.
Once again, those key takeaways are:
Try a sweet one-shot opener!
Use a bit of “outside” voice
UNIQUE FRIGGIN’ GAMEPLAY
Sneak some player motivations in there.
I’m M. Joshua. Find me at mjoshua.com, where I’m available for trailer consultations and trailer projects. And? Feel free to subscribe — for the next time we look at a damn-near-perfect game trailer.
Here’s the second episode in my game trailer takeaway series, ‘Damn-Near-Perfect’:
[Transcript] So, Bokida — Heartfelt Reunion: it’s out today! I did the trailer — working with Rice Cooker Republic. So I can’t objectively speak to its quality, but I can say we tried to make it Damn-Near-Perfect. Now, I started this series only planning on talking about others’ work. But, hey! It’s timely, so let’s check it out.
So we learned a ton on this, and I think we’ve got some useful takeaways for those of you making your own game’s trailer: 1. Hard-to-explain game? Let style drive. Bokida is…a puzzle sandbox, open world, exploration game where you are trying to reunite two stars with block-building—and powerful momentum mechanics.
Forget about all that. Let’s just run with style!
What’s your game’s weirdest most-style-distinct element? Yeah. Focus on that. But don’t forget to explain the game (with that style). 2. Ground things in a human voice. The first thing that we experience in life are human voices and human faces. So in lieu of one of those, use the other. Make your game feel human, and relatable. After all, your trailer is trying to build a relationship with the player. And like I said, if your game doesn’t have a voice, use a face. It doesn’t have to be a real face; could be a character face. 3. Focus on the player’s verbs and motivations Please, for the love of all that is gameplay, show me what I’m doing in the game! Even if it’s a little hard to follow, I need to know that the game lets me do something interesting. So, focus on your player verbs. And if possible, help me understand why I’m doing any of those things!
Player motivation is the single biggest factor to picking up your game. They might not know exactly why they really want to play your game, but you better know that. And you better connect those dots in the trailer.
4. FPS-Cam: Keep it clean, but include the player movement First-person trailers are nasty for the creator—I just gotta be honest with you. And getting gameplay footage that looks clean takes too many retries. So you need some clean, smooth trucking shots—typically made in the game’s debug mode.
So, not real gameplay.
But here’s the thing: I need to know what it’s like to move around in your game. So you better show me some first-person gameplay movement, so that I can see myself in the game. It’s just gonna take a few dozen tries to get right.
5. Build a story around a theme We spun this trailer around the theme, “To reveal beauty” — which is what the word BOKIDA means. So for your trailer, you gotta figure it out: what’s your game’s theme? Take time, and really answer that question: “What’s your game’s theme?” Then when making decisions, you can always ask, “does this moment support that theme?”
Once again, those key takeaways are:
Hard-to-explain game? Let style drive.
Ground things in human voice.
Focus on PLAYER verbs and motivations
FPS-Cam: Keep it clean, but include player movement
Build a story around a theme
I’m M. Joshua. Find my trailer work at mjoshua.com, where I’m available for trailer work and consultations. And? Feel free to subscribe — for the next time we look at a damn-near-perfect trailer.