Is it My Genre? — Creature in the Well

Transcript of video: Creature in the Well — Is it my Genre?:

A game’s trailer should show the player if it’s their thing, their unique blend of genres. The only way to know if it captures that unique blend is to play the game deeply.

So after I play through a game I roll back through the trailer. I walk through the individual bits of how they capture the game’s unique genre elements. In the end you might find out if a game is your genre.

Welcome to Is It My Genre? — Episode 5: Creature in the Well

Creature In the Well is this brilliant, amazing game that has a trailer that just knocks everything out of the park. Most importantly it just nails genre. Let’s check it out!

Adam Volker in-trailer: Hello, I’m Adam Volker, a creative director at Flight School Studio. We are making a game called Creature In the Well, a small indie title you may not have heard of.

This particular trailer is really special because Creature In the Well had a lot of trailers — but this is the one that best effectively captures the genre. It does it through what I would call a metamodern kind of illumination into the game-making process.

This unique approach is about connecting with the game’s creators

It’s about the people who are making the game — but it’s about you as the player (and them trying to connect with you).

Adam Volker: In Creature In the Well you pay as Bot C, the last remaining engineer of the robot collective. Your goal is to save the town of Mirage from an unrelenting sandstorm by re-powering an ancient weather machine that has been dormant for centuries thanks to an ominous creature.

So he just explained the goal, the framework, the underlying structure of the game. It helps you to really understand what the game is in a way that you couldn’t in any other way.

Adam Volker: The game plays as a top down adventure hack-and-slash but it’s core mechanics are inspired by pinball, Breakout and other ball-related games. It’s weird, I know. Let me explain. 

An overview helps you understand the genre explicitly

This part is really important because he explains first what the overarching framework of the goal is.

Then he explains what the core moment-to-moment kind of interactions with the game are — what the core mechanics of the game are. Then he’s like “…it’s a lot to take in.”

So we are going to explain that and that’s where things are heading next.

Adam Volker: In the game you explore sprawling dungeons room-by-room. Visualize each of them as a small circuit board. The puzzles challenge the player’s ability to catch, charge and shoot the ball quickly and accurately. Each time you hit a bumper with orbs you collect energy which is shown in the top left corner of the screen.

There’s one key UI moment that clarifies the overarching objective

I want to highlight especially this part where he calls attention to the top left corner of the screen and kind of darkens everything so you can see that you are ultimately working towards this goal in the top left corner.

Adam Volker: You will use this energy to unlock doors and upgrade your character to further progress the game.

Adam clarifies the player’s emotional experience

You are not going to emotionally fully connect with all of what he’s saying but you are understanding the emotional feel of what you are working towards in the game. This is establishing the framework and the core overarching ambitions of the player, which is crazy-effective at helping you understand what the experience is going to feel like as you play it.

Adam Volker: Creature In the Well contains eight handcrafted bespoke,  super duper unique dungeons, each with their own theme and visual style.

One key trailer takeaway: showcase variety and scope

He steps away for a moment from the overarching genre and establishes the variety and the scope of the whole game. He says there are eight dungeons with a unique visual style and that they are handcrafted. They are not roguelike. There is a beginning and an end. When I played through the game I loved how I felt like I had a really substantive meaty game experience in five hours.

Adam Volker: No one has touched the machine in ages so the creature has had a lot of time to tinker and set traps for you to overcome. Some are action focused, challenging your reflexes. While others test your logic and puzzle solving abilities.

He touches here on the core genres’ action and puzzle-solving

This is important because he breaks-away to understand what is going on emotionally for the experience. You know that you are going to be tested in your response time and in your puzzle-solving.

Adam Volker: Sometimes even, the creature will attempt to stop you itself.

You only need to tease the idea of boss fights

This part is important because he is teasing, he doesn’t overtly express the nature of the boss fights but he does tease that there are really special boss fights at the end of each dungeon.

Adam Volker: Creature In the Well is full of secrets. Everything that you find gives you a glimpse into what happened to the machine. There are twelve cosmetic caves and sixteen different weapons, split into chargers and strikers. My personal favorite is the axe. It splits a single ball into multiple, allowing you to hit your targets more easily. 

I love how he mentions the game has secrets

Just having that brief addressing-of-secrets tells you so much about what kind of game you are getting into.

There is no other way to do that in trailers other than to say “hey there’s lots of secrets in here” But the way that he says it and the way that he delivers that information feels very very natural.

It’s amazing when you can highlight and establish what special items you are going to be collecting throughout the game to give you a sense of fleshing out what tools I am going to be using in the game.

Then he calls out two special items and what they do and how they work. It’s not just “hey we’ve got a feature set here and we are talking about all the things that are our game.

Here’s a sense of the scope of what you are getting into

Adam Volker: The hammer slows down time allowing to get your volleys timed just right. The dual blades equip you with an aim assist to line up the long distant shots flawlessly.

Exactly.

Adam Volker: In between your dungeoning you can visit the town of Mirage, the dusty desert outpost town at the heart of Creature In the Well. You will meet it’s kind spirited citizens like Danielle: a dragon, crocodile blacksmith that forged all the weapons and tools you find throughout the game.

Key pacing tip: Spend a moment of time out of the game’s core dungeon

It helps to really sense where you are going to be in the game, not just in the dungeons but having a moment of reprieve.

Adam Volker: If you bring her old cores from the dungeons she can upgrade your weapons and help you level up. 

Again progression. Again genre.

Adam Volker: Back inside the mountain you will find Roger, a humble janitor, aspiring to be a scientist. It in fact was Roger’s great great great grandfrogger who built the machine in the first place, go figure. 

Cute stuff contrasts the heavy stuff

If you have something cute in your game like that that offsets the rest of everything else, that intense action, that’s just great.

Adam Volker: Hopefully this clears up what we mean when we say made up words like pinbrawler or pinball-hack-and-slash.

Note Adam’s genre clarifications

It’s amazing when he clarifies that this is what the core genre of the game is when he says pinbrawler and pinball hack and slash. Those are just blanket terms to overwhelm you with information and quick distillation of what the experience is like. This trailer clarifies all of that with showing and telling and bringing great light to the whole thing.

Adam Volker: Thanks for spending some time with us to talk about the game Creature In the Well. I cannot wait for you all to get your hands on it.

Takeaway: authenticity is key to this trailer approach

I love so many things about this game trailer. The number one thing about it is that it tackles the game play video trailer in a way that feels authentic. It feels sincere. It feels like  you come away understanding what is the scope, what is the spirit, what am I going to feel playing this game? I love a lot about it but that’s it for today.

That’s it for Is It My Genre? I’m M Joshua. You can find my work mjoshua.com and thanks for watching Is It My Genre? Bye Bye.

Blasphemous Trailer Analysis — Is it My Genre?

Transcript of video: Blasphemous — Is it my Genre?:

A game’s trailer should show the player if it’s their thing, their unique blend of genres. The only way to know if it captures that unique blend is to play the game deeply.

So after I play through a game I roll back through the trailer. I walk through the individual bits of how they capture the game’s unique genre elements. In the end you might find out if a game is your genre.

Welcome to Is It My Genre? — Episode 4: Blasphemous

Metroidvanias are kind of the most clearly defined video game genre that we have. You kind of know you are going to be getting some kind of combination of Castlevania, well, specifically Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid or Super Metroid in this particular case. There is so much that can be said about the genre at large. I am going to talk about my favorite game in the genre that I have played this year, which is Blasphemous. 

Let’s check it out! (Blasphemous – Announcement Trailer | PS4):

Notice the editing on these shots, running right, changing the scene, still running right. It’s the same registry. It’s this great eye trace. Notice the parries, the blocks and the retaliation from the parries. The dash attack is really great.  The finisher moves are a little extra. I really really like the boss battles. They are not the hardest thing in the world. They are not Dark Souls hard…That move right there is so important to defining it as a Metroidvania. Again there’s really crafty finishers and variety. That’s actually really really important special sauce to the game. Wait for it, wait for it… There it is.

It’s a precise kind of Metroidvania:

There’s a lot of things about this trailer that really work well to showcase what’s special about the game. Again some of the other trailers do things a little bit better in some ways — but this one I feel is the best summary of what makes the game exceptionally special. What I personally resonated with the most was to showcase the outstanding characteristics of this precise kind of Metroidvania. We are going to roll back through and process some of those elements. 

The first and foremost thing, I’m not going to go the whole way through the whole trailer. The opening shot was fine. The opening cut scene elements, again were fine. The part that’s really great here is when it gets to this point here: “Explore a forsaken land… ” This is definitive of the Metroidvania genre.

You need to make sure that there is some really good exploration…

Meaning, that you are going to find things that you didn’t know were there. You are going to explore a map that is interconnected. They aren’t overtly stating that here. These are key characteristics of the influence of the genre: the world is cohesively interrelated and you will find special things if you are paying close attention.

They’re showing a diverse array of levels to show that there is a very diverse variety of scenes. By having the associative shots that is implying that you’re going to be using the same verbs to relate to different environments in the same way. “Brutal Pixel-Perfect Combat…

Showcase Parrying!

This is the only trailer that I have found of the game that really showcases the parry. It’s this moment right here: that is a parry where he deflects an enemies’ oncoming attack, which opens them up to vulnerability, which retaliates.

This is a pretty simple thing that exists in the Dark Souls game. It does not, fascinatingly enough exist in any Metroid or Castlevania game that I know of. It is indicative of what makes part of this game particularly special: you are looking for opportunities to deflect attacks and open to brutal executing finishers.

These finishing attacks are not super mechanically important but they are tonally important in establishing that you have a very visceral and bloody relationship with this world.

The curb stomping is a little bit much(which is the point)

But I think that is part of the style and the spirit of the game. It’s all a little bit much which is meant to be dissociating with some audiences and really reinforcing the attachment to the game to a new audience. It’s using the religious, Catholic iconography of Inquisition era Spain for not just fun but also as a family historical celebration of sorts. 

This “Customize Your Build” line is important to define.

This wasn’t discussed in the other trailers. It’s part of the reason why I wanted to include it here. Customizing and shaping how your character is loaded-out defines the framework of the game at large.

It helps you to understand what your character is doing in relationship to the overarching progression of the game. It’s also important because the way that they show it in the next few shots is by navigating the  menu, showing downward attack, and showing this precise combination as its portrayed with the fully upgraded dash. It’s part of what was fascinating to me, sticking with the game and what I love the most about figuring out there’s different ways of relating to things through the combat. It’s not just a: I’m gonna mash the X button sort of scenario.

“Unveil the Mysteries of Cvstodia”

You are making sense of the lore of the game… as you piece together things that you find, and you read the item descriptions. It’s through the long relationship of playing the game for about 20 hours that it took —t hat you will understand the lore and the mysteries and the subtle associations that happen as you go through the game.

Climax time: ratchet-up intensity!

It’s time to conclude. You are seeing a lot of the characters that you talk to and key elements and flashy flashy gets really fast. Slamming the title and then you have to wait for it, wait for it, wait for it and then show the title screen but still wait for it. That moment was actually in the original Kickstarter trailer as the penultimate moment of the trailer, the climax of the trailer.

The last thing that I want to emphasize about this game and its trailer and genre are just how cohesive it feels in the end. I know that a lot of people got into the hangups of some open pits and some insta-death scenarios — but I would encourage you to roll back through and find the critical path through the game. I think that it does some really incredible preparation in leading up to unlocking the Mysteries of Cvstodia.

~

I’m M. Joshua. I make game trailers. You can find out more about me at mjoshua.com. Great work all around to the Game Kitchen and Team 17. You made my favorite Metroidvania of the year. This has been ‘Is It My Genre?’ Thanks again, Bye Bye.

Find more episodes of ‘Is it My Genre?’ on M Joshua’s YouTube channel.

Outer Wilds — Is it My Genre?

Video Transcript:

Is it my genre? This is the question that we ask every time that we open up any game trailer or any trailer but especially indie game trailers where genre isn’t always very clear. We kind of have to figure out pretty quickly if this is going to be our thing. 

It becomes especially tricky to figure this out when you have a game like Outer Wilds. So that’s why I want to talk about that one today, especially after I have played through the whole game. I feel like I fully understand what genre the game is and could tell you if it weren’t for the fact that there would be spoilers. That’s the thing you don’t have to worry about in this video. 

I’m not going to spoil the game but I will help you to understand why it’s so hard to make a game trailer that has these kinds of problems…. That is, I don’t know, I guess the challenge of it is, “It’s so hard to talk about!” You can show things; you just can’t show everything. So today we’re going to talk about Outer Wilds and Is it my Genre?

Okay, let’s check it out.

I want to say so much about all of what is going on in this trailer but I am going to keep it focused on the genre. There is the key thing that you need to understand. What are the genre definitions of this game?

Break-down the genre definitions

You can tell a few things by watching the trailer. Number 1: it’s in first person perspective. Number 2: it’s got some maybe sort of puzzle solving and it’s in a solar system, a hand crafted solar system. Those are the genre definitions of the game, which still doesn’t fully tell you everything and the key is because you can’t. I would call this genre a Myst-Like. It’s the genre that Cyan started with the first Myst game, developed with Ribbon and all of the sequels. It’s this combination of puzzle game and first person walking. I can’t tell you what exactly you are doing because the moment that you do you are spoiling the experience. You’re revealing what’s happening underneath the hood of the engine, which is kind of like if I were to give you the treasure from solving things on your own you would never be able to own that solution unto yourself. 

That’s the first key point: Break-down the genre definitions. When you break down the genre definitions you can know what kind of game you are getting into. 

Know what the audience loathes.

Like I said, the biggest thing that you need to stay away from with this kind of game is spoilers, is any kind of solution provided to a puzzle. I am making trailers, I don’t know if I said that. One of the key things that I found when I made a game trailer for this kind of game genre is we were a little too on the nose with explaining what you are doing, how the puzzles get solved. So I had to try to make it associative so you might feel like you are solving the puzzles but you are really just seeing parts coming together. Those moments when you saw the waterfall, which is actually a sand fall and transitioning to another sandfall, the exchange between the two planets… Those kinds of associations implicatively establish what your game is trying to do. So keep those kind of ideas in mind. The other thing is Number 3:

Speak your audience’s love language.

This is, like I said all associations, applications and just not overtly stating how things work. This is really hard for this genre but it’s a universal rule for any kind of game trailer. You want to make sure you’re speaking your core player’s love language. Now that leaves you with a problem in that some people don’t know they are your core players. They don’t know that they are going to love this kind of game cause they have never played one. 

So that’s the fourth point: Don’t forget your audience, your ignorant audience. Don’t forget your new players. We’ll call them that.

Don’t forget your new players.

These are the people who have no idea what your game is and they don’t know how to make sense of whether or not this is their genre and we’re not going to get everybody. It’s so hard but if you can effectively tease, this is the important part, if you can effectively tease and say do you like what you’re seeing here or would you like to see more? I feel like that is what the Outer Wilds launch trailer does most effectively. It says, do you like the style, do you like the vibe, do you like the shots that associate with other shots?

Does this feel like your thing?

Especially this one line in here; Explore a handcrafted solar system. This line, this would grab my dad. My dad’s in his sixties. He doesn’t play games. We’ve only played like two games together. This is one that he would adore, simply because it’s space exploration and it’s intimate. So these titles, these title cards might be a little bit too overt in establishing what they are saying about the game but they rope in the unfamiliar players.

So that’s it for today. I’m M. Joshua. I hope you liked finding out whether or not Outer Wilds is your game genre — and I hope you tune in next time.

So join me next time on Is it my Genre. Bye bye.

Manifold Garden — Is it my Genre?

Transcript:

A game’s trailer should show the player if it’s their thing, their unique blend of genres. The only way to know if it captures that unique blend is to play the game deeply.

So after I play through a game I roll back through the trailer. I walk through the individual bits of how they capture the game’s unique genre elements. In the end you might find out if a game is your genre.

Welcome to Is It My Genre?

Wow, Manifold Garden might be the most incredibly well designed game that I’ve ever played. Before we get into it I do have to say that this trailer that we are going to be looking at is the release date trailer that my buddy Derek Lieu made. He also makes indie game trailers.

I’m kind of in awe of a lot of the decisions that he made going into this trailer, especially after playing through the game. It’s kind of an incredible mash-up of this very very intelligent game with a game trailer editor who’s at the top of his game. So we’re going to take a look at it. Hopefully there will be some take-aways. Before I say anything else let’s just jump into it. 

I’d love to talk about a lot of things that happen in this trailer and we are going to do that. We are going to roll back through and we are going to look at them.

Also I want to give a quick shout out for this kind of analysis video. Derek Lieu does his own. I am going to include a link in the show notes. He does an incredible stream on Fridays on Twitch. Our friend Marlon Wiebe also does trailer analysis videos that I will also link the show notes — cause you can’t have enough trailer analysis, right?

The trailer does not include the core mechanic — because it’s disorienting to viewers.

So the one thing that is really fascinating that Derek did not include in this trailer is the game’s core mechanic. Any time that you come to a wall you press R2 and the wall shifts so that where the wall was is now your floor. This kind of mechanic is very very disorienting. It’s so hard to get across in any kind of recorded media. So I feel like it’s better for building through a grounded sense of orientation than clearly jumping into that. Of course Derek does tease that a lot through the trailer which we are going to watch and go through now. Before I do, one last thought, and that’s a part of the game genre that I usually forget to talk about and that’s that in this game you cannot entirely tell from the trailer that it’s a little bit of existential horror.

It’s an existential horror game.

You are kind of like, “Where am I?, How am I?, What is even going on here?” That’s very disorienting and intimidating. That is hard to process and think about — but that is why the game’s design is so genius. That’s best illustrated in this very very very first shot.

So we are going to roll all the way back to the beginning of the trailer and look at when Derek picks up the box. He falls through the staircase, looking upwards. Then as soon as his head comes back down to the slot it activates the switch, opens the door and you walk through the doorway. Now this is so elegant for a number of reasons but most notably is the core design of the game that this is an infinitely repeating set of spaces. For example in this very very first shot you see this problem. You see across this chasm and there’s no jump, there’s no teleport. There is only falling.

There’s only falling.

The only way for you to get through the world is to fall but that spot over there is actually where he lands at the end of the shot because there is an invisible screen wrap that happens right around here. Now he is actually on the ledge that he was looking at in the beginning of the shot. This is impossible to get across conceptually because it’s a mind blowing concept. This defines the game genre so elegantly, so perfectly that it defines everything.

It says that it’s a first person game, it’s a puzzle game, it’s got infinitely repeating spaces and your role in that world matters.

This is probably the best establishing shot that I will see in a game trailer this year. The only downside to it is that it’s hard for that concept to sink in. It takes time, not a big deal. So as soon as he hits that well it opens the door and it opens to this infinite hallway. Now this is the part of the game that I want to elaborate on because you can’t pick this up unless you play the game. Even though there is infinite repeating horrors of, overwhelming possibilities, ultimately there is one possibility.

In the very center of the screen there is a doorway. You can see that doorway repeated across the sides a little bit but that is the one and single way out of this room. That’s the incredibly potent design of the game:

There is always one path forward, not infinite possibilities.

There’s just one. That’s how you make it through this game. Now this shot here is where Derek first introduces the beautiful, infinitely repeating objects. You see in the background some shadows of the exact object that you are looking at here.

That’s how the game works, that there is kind of this open infinite space but there is again one real object that you are looking at, one core path forward. Here is where he introduces the gravity, hitting a switch, opening a door and then an elegant, elegant transition. Then Derek introduces his own voice by creating an associative language from one scene to another that doesn’t exist in the game. Unlike a similar non-Euclidean game like Antichamber, when you turn the room does not change. The room is always exactly as it appears from your immediate perspective, except for the puzzle solutions are still associative.

In the editing he is saying, “It’s a cause and effect scenario.”

That might not make perfect sense but watch when he goes forward into this doorway and then turns left. He turns left and now he is in a completely unrelated room. This room is not related in game but it helps to introduce the concept of these non-Euclidean doorways that are very transparent from when you are going to be going from one scene to the next. Watch this gateway. He walks around through the gateway and goes off the ledge to a repeating staircase. This is masterful trailer design and also showcases the way you can move through the game. 

Now this shot transitions to another gravity falling moment where you are grabbing a seed. They are called seeds. Actually the game doesn’t have an overt name for them but the cubes are essentially seeds. You put that seed into a watered soil spot and it brings forth a tree, establishing the concept of the gardening in the title. You aren’t really gardening, gardening but it’s all a metaphor and a voxel puzzle. So once he plants the seed the tree of course grows  another seed. You can pick up that seed and then put it into a well which opens up the doorway.

Again, cause and effect.

The reason why when I first showed this introducing shot I said this was a genre designing shot is that when you put the cause, the seed into the well it causes the green to light up and creates that beacon that inks to another object that causes an after effect. This is the most powerful way that you can establish a puzzle genre in a trailer, by showing the cause and the effect of all those choices coming together. 

After that we have another shot. This doesn’t really establish anything about the core puzzle but it reinforces the elements of gravity and the infinite hallway setting. It’s a very very similar shot. Now this is where, I’m not going to explain too much but I will say that you put forth a new creation and that is what you are seeing here, the generation of a new world. It’s very important to the narrative and very helpful to inform the structure of the game as,

What am I working towards? What is my goal here.

That’s what that shot is about. It’s about working towards a framing goal. So you are moving forward. This actually establishes the genre of the structure of the game as opposed to say a match 3 game where you jump to a different level and pick that level from a level selection. This says no, you are end capping a chain of linking associations and something beautiful happens at more or less the chapter points. Again here is a different shot where Derek is falling and through association it links to a different shot. It goes into black fog and looks up. Now he is establishing a different mechanic in the game. Now you aren’t going to remember this mechanic as you first finish the trailer but it’s a very important concept that comes in about the second act of the game. Suddenly the seeds have a new layer of depth to them where they are redirecting waterfalls and activating hydro plant with the water.

This is not going to sink in — but it implies variety of mechanics — and variety of depth.

I think that’s actually a good segue to imply that the game’s structure is more than a short portal like the original portal being a 3-hour game where pretty much all the mechanics come across in that time frame.  Manifold Garden is much more. In my experience it was longer, about 8 hours. There is just a lot, it took me a good amount of time to make it through. Almost always I knew where to go and what to do, which is amazing in this infinite space, Towards the end the game really really pressed my mental faculties and I did not do as well and I need a little bit of help so I looked up some things. I apologize. It’s my deep shame. So we are just going to keep going, look over shame and go to this lock in shot.

This is where they introduce the Tetris pieces.

Again another mechanic later in the game. Again the idea is let’s tease the idea of these pieces moving through gravity and let’s show the cause and effect of once you use gravity to have them fall into place. It further elongates the green. Again this is a genre-defining moment, where it’s about association, locking things together and interconnectedness.

The interconnectedness is such a beautiful and compelling part of the design and it shows this genius concept working in harmony with the creative team behind William’s game and of course Derek’s editing. Here we have one more falling hallway shot that’s reinforcing the setting. This is where the trailer is at its climax.

In a trailer you want to have more or less a three-act structure where you frame the game, you rise the actions of the game, you climax to bring narrative amplification and closure to the whole thing. That’s what’s happening now is that amplification and closure. 

I am going to stop here because this shot in the climax is beautiful.

It shows the bubbling possibilities of the dark world that we don’t go into in the trailer which is good because it’s pretty special and you don’t want to spoil it. You do want to tease the sheer raw potential of the dark seeds.  There is one of those seeds being placed in a very beautiful tree. The words are being formed. Notice how the letters are actually revealing themselves. That was a very intentional and smart choice. I think that maybe William was using that before Derek came into the picture but if not it’s still reinforcing the idea of bringing a full connection across the whole thing.

The background of this shot is perfect because it’s centering. It brings your attention to the title and also reinforces the concept of the game which is the infinite repeating hallways and what you are looking at ongoing through the design of the game. Very very smart.

Then we have this beautiful cataclysmic beauty shot of the color completion, chapter completion. These moments are essential to understanding the game at large but aren’t as important in the trailer. You aren’t going to understand this moment but it’s helpful to see that there is a very beautiful eye candy reward at the end of each chapter. So that’s pretty much it.

I want to say so many more things about this game, it’s incredible design, Derek’s phenomenal work on the trailer but I am going to close it there. I am going to include a link to Derek’s work in the description underneath. This has been a trailer analysis by me. I didn’t work on this. I have nothing to do with it but I have nothing but the upmost respect for the team members that did.

It’s one of my favorite trailers that I’ve seen this year.

I hope you enjoyed my video. Come by the next time that we do “Is It My Genre”? Hopefully this has helped you understand whether or not Manifold Garden is your genre. Thanks so much. I’m Josh. Bye bye.

Is Mutazione my genre?

Transcript:

Welcome to my trailer analysis video for Mutazione! Today we are going to ask, is it my genre? Before we get there I want to bring up a piece that was created by IGN: Video games have happily outgrown their genre labels. The author says:

The games we play these days are more nuanced and varied than they’ve ever been before.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Defining genre in these days is way beyond using simple terms like: it’s a platform, or it’s a shooter. Those terms don’t work and it’s hard enough to talk about genre because the word, the idea, all of it sounds — lets just simplify for a second and just say a genre is really about: 

“Is this my thing?”

Is it something that I am going to enjoy? We like to reduce games into this bite sized hand-overable thing where we say: I think you are gonna like it because it is like this…. And that’s very very hard. It’s part of the difficulty in communicating genre in general. More importantly it’s harder when you are talking about video games. That’s where I live. That’s where I spend all of my time. I make indie game trailers and I love talking about indie game trailers and that’s what we are going to do today. We are going to talk about the launch trailer for Mutazione. It’s kind of my favorite game of the year and before I get any deeper into any of that let’s just watch the launch trailer together.

I love this phone call. I love how the music kicks in with the voice, as a replacement for the character’s voice. This shot right here…. This mystery right here…. Just a little tease of something in the water back there. This is so key, everyone is super nice. I love this hug. This is a dark turn but it goes somewhere really important. That transition…. There’s so much more. It’s kind of hard to explain. This is where it brings it all around. You could stop there but there is a little bit more that they want to tease. This is going somewhere a little tense. I think that this trailer is pretty perfect except for the walking part at the end there. (That wasn’t necessary.)

There is something special about this trailer in the way that it captures so much about what makes the game special. One of the most unspoken quieter parts about this is that it’s a quieter trailer. It’s a quieter game. 

It’s longer than most trailers. 

Most trailers you want to keep at like a minute twenty-four seconds, approximately. This one let things breathe a little bit because that’s the spirit and tone of the game is that is breathes. I typically rush through games. I kind of do critical path, maybe the side quests. But in this one I wanted to stop and see how everyone was doing. I wanted to talk to everybody. That’s pretty special about this particular kind of genre. It’s about being chill and resting and recuperating a little bit. If you are going through a hard time this is a perfect game for you. That’s hard to put into a genre label. Yeah, so let’s get into rewatching some key bits from the trailer. 

Logos… I don’t really care about those. You can skip those. The part of the trailer that really kicks things off is when you see Kai at the lighthouse. The pelican flies by and you start to hear already. I believe the term for this is J-cut, where  you start hearing what’s happening in the next scene before you are actually seeing it. That’s the phone call starting to happen now. Phone dialing is so nostalgic, romantic in this. 

What’s happening here is actually framing the narrative of the game, which is framing the genre of the actual game, which is as a story adventure game… Narrative Adventure

The closest analog you might see in some of the opening shots here with especially the moments where you see the rolling boat flying by. That might compare a little bit to Oxenfree. There is a beginning and an end here and we are going to contextualize everything you are going to be seeing within the story. That’s the first point is that:

This is a narrative adventure game.

Hey just wanted to pop in from the future.  Ha ha ha. Part of the time powers thing. So there is one key part that in the present day I am about to forget and that’s that the text that you are seeing at the bottom of the screen is telegraphing that you are reading a lot in the game.

There is no voice-over.

That sort of thing and that is a key part to note in the genre, so lots of reading. That’s all. OK. Back to your present tense Bye bye.

The next thing that’s really important is this line here: 

“Everyone’s super nice.” 

It’s really critical to understand because that is very very important. You see Tung pick her up. You see everyone around a campfire. Mu, she is amazing. She is kind of my favorite character by far. Yogi is pretty amazing too. That hug… This “Everyone is super nice” line  is so critical to the precise and unique genre of Mutazione because it’s character rich. You are really going to feel for everyone. You might even remember everyone. As a deep like, you feel very bonded to them. I am probably never going to forget Mu. You might forget the name of the Shaman that you are hugging, the dot Shaman. Like I said I just really wanted to know what everyone was doing and make sure everyone was ok. I feel like that’s pretty key to what this game is.

I am going to keep going. This part here where you see that grandpa has been pretty ill. This is a critical part in trailers. 

You need a tonal shift.

From happy, everyone is really nice, to what’s the core tension here? This is part of framework narrative 101. When grandpa is really ill that shifts your emotional tone to both being sad, grieving, that sort of thing, but also where is this going? This destabilizes the viewer, makes you wonder, ok what’s going to happen? Where’s this going? You would never guess where that is going. 

This is going to lead into the gardening again, which is where it goes in the game. There is so much that I could say about gardening but the whole game you’re forging, you are collecting these swamp foxtail seeds. You are collecting all the beautiful objects that you are finding growing all over this mutated island, to get to this next scene here which is a garden. 

There is a lot that could be said about whether or not you want to use user interface within game trailers. Here I believe  it is critical. You want to see the full seed box. You want to see that she is planting a tea plant and what that is going to do as it pops up. Now that is not going to make sense but you need to understand that…

…There is a really robust, deep mechanic to gardening.

There is not really a category for this. This isn’t anything like Stardew Valley where there is also gardening or some of the many other kinds of gardening games. The gardening here is less about you sowing and reaping. It’s far more about restoring and giving back after maybe being kind of a consumer in your life. This is about going from being someone who takes to someone who gives. 

This is a really complicated, nuanced mechanic — a  complicated, nuanced narrative element — and emotionally it’s super super rich because  you are actually developing moods for each garden. In this one you are developing a euphoria garden, which is kinda hard to explain. 

That’s actually why it’s so important for the next line you see come up in the dialogue at the bottom of the screen. “There is so much more though.” This is the specific garden. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”  Exactly! 

So this part here, Kai is working on her drum and her grandpa is excited that something is happening between them. I promise I won’t cry in describing this game. There’s so much emotion and substance to every single scene here that like I… I did cry a lot throughout the game, sometimes really happy tears, sometimes there’s some real mourning that happens. 

This is the key.:

It’s hard to explain.

This isn’t something that I would recommend saying in most game trailers. You kind of would want to evoke more without saying that things are difficult. It helps you to understand what’s happening in this next kind of chaotic mania of weird things. 

Suddenly you are seeing an island floating in the sky. 

It comes back around to the conversation with Kai and her mom and that her mom loves her. The whole thing has been framed within a narrative. That’s the most important takeaway. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like gardening. Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know that the garden is musically oriented and that you are actively doing some kind of composition. We don’t need to explain that. We don’t even need to explain that this is kind of a grieving game. This is a game about processing your losses. We don’t need to say any of those things. We simply need to wrap it around in the story and bring you back to a point where you see that this is going somewhere. 

The story is going somewhere. 

There is a greater mystery here and that’s what happens with this next shot. The shot is teasing a very late point in the game where Kai goes and confronts the core tensions of the island. That’s what this next shot is about too. It’s confronting those… This is that moment at the end of the trailer where Kai is going through that tunnel. It’s extremely dramatically important. I don’t think that comes across in that trailer because… it’s part of the hard to explain part. It’s not as important on that. 

What’s more important is the end of the phone call which closes, brings closure to the trailer’s narrative framework of the beginning of the phone call and the end of the phone call. So that you understand that this is really about an unfolding story. There is of course a little flash here at the very-very end which is kind of just a tiny little additional tension point. I don’t know that we should even really discuss that because again that’s part of the discovery that you are going to be finding in the game.

So this is the key. When describing a game like Mutazione you want to make sure that the active tensions of the story come through beautifully with beautiful music and beautiful narrative framework so that the person who is playing the game or wants to play the games decides,  

“This is for me because I like games about stories.“

If you like games about stories Mutazione is probably your thing.  If you don’t like any games that have lots and lots of emotion and processing  low points and triumphant celebrations of friendship than it’s probably not for you. I might suggest that Mutazione is the first game that I would universally recommend to everyone this year. It’s kind of my favorite but I will stop gushing. I will stop gushing. 

This has been my first — I guess this will be my first video for “Is It My Genre?” I hope you’ve appreciated some of this trailer analysis and I hope that you tune in with me next time that we do a video like this where it’s about “ Is It My Genre?” Alright, thanks so much. Bye bye.

Some Thoughts on Second Trailers

Please slap me if I ever take this for granted: just a few hours ago Nintendo and PlayStation shared my second trailer for EarthNight.

I want to talk about so many things related to this wonder-project, but I’m gonna wipe away the dream-glow. I want to get something out there that could help other game makers: key insights for making second trailers. 

The first thing I learned about making second trailers is that I always freak-out a little.

1. Stop freaking out

The first thing that enters my mind is, “How am I ever going to do something more-awesome than this game’s last trailer?”

As long as you realize this is part of the creative process, you’ll be able to power-through your existential dread. Just pick up your tools, and start drafting a plan. That gut-check is normal. What makes you a professional is that you pick your face up off the floor.

I put so much into my first Valfaris trailer — for E3’s PC Gaming Show that I didn’t know if I had anything left.

Fortunately, my editing assistant’s eyes lit-up when I told her we get to do a second Valfaris trailer. “You mean I get to gaze upon its vibrant otherworldly dreamscapes for days? HELL YEAH! We’re in, right!?!” Her adoration for the game’s beauty helped me get over myself.

This reminded me what I loved about the game.

2. Fall in love with your game again

The neon-green space-beast-flesh careens across the violet-magenta nebula.

It gets me up in the morning. It also puts a slag-hot fire in my belly. The Valfaris Release Date trailer made itself after I remembered how much I loved everything about the game.

Speaking of love and beauty, this takes me to another point. It doesn’t hurt that Valfaris was already beautiful, but every new piece of content felt like an opportunity to showcase that new hotness.

3. Show the beautiful new stuff!

Whatever you just finished building in your game, this is an opportunity to see how it stacks against all the other great stuff you created. In our first Slay the Spire trailer (Early Access), we laid the foundation of the game’s setting — before inviting you into it.

For our second Slay the Spire trailer, I wanted to jump straight to the HANDSOME new character, The Defect.

This gave an opportunity to show-off some new beautiful artwork Anailis Dorta did for the character.

The newfound visual beauty was a major component, but also the way players play it. And stream it. So we leaned into showcasing how that new player-beauty informed the game as well. While that’s a deeper shift at large, it comes back to the pure and simple signposting that “there’s something new here!”

That’s the key takeaway: focus on the new stuff!

4. Use radically different “voices”

Consider what “voice” your first trailer had, and who might speak to that game experience differently if you heard it from their perspective. In Church in the Darkness, I took that concept literally. For my first Church in the Darkness trailer, we focused on the characters.

In their own words, they tell you why they gladly joined the (totally not-a-cult) creepy church community (cult). It’s pretty chill on the intensity-meter for a tense game about infiltrating a cult and trying to get your nephew out of it.

When we started the second trailer, the game’s director, Richard Rouse III, made the (right) call to lean into different characters’ voices — to shift from the angle of curious participants, to authoritarian cult leaders.

Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie brought their A-list talent, to portray the married cult leaders in the game (which was particularly affecting as they are a real-life married couple). This framed the game in a new unsettling light, and really made the trailer feel like it’s own thing.

The key takeaway here: build your trailer audio in a radically different direction than your first trailer. In this case, we changed the voiceover. But coming back to EarthNight, we focused instead on the music.

5. Push your music in an unexplored direction

The first EarthNight – Switch Announcement needed to distinguish itself as an action game. Musically, this meant high-intensity. The beats pop and hiss with a sense that you’ve got to keep moving.

But for our brand new Release Date Trailer, Rich and the team suggested we lean into the aesthetic chill. This proved the best call to evoke a melancholic wanderlust.

This difference in musical framework introduces a different head-space for how you might enjoy the game. Perhaps the first trailer set the game up as a deep-dive game. But the second frames it as a chill daily-run game for when you’ve got ten minutes to spare on a subway ride home.

That’s not the only emotion the game maintains, but it’s one that can last with you that feels tonally different from the other trailer.  The second trailer can creates an impression for a slightly different head-space than the first trailer, and the song makes all the difference.

6. A second trailer is time to go crazyto surprise!

In our first trailer for What the Golf, we combed backward and forward, making sure every single frame of animation made the game feel legible. We put every effort forward to make sure you understood what was happening.

We didn’t lose sight of that literacy for the second trailer, the launch trailer for WHAT THE GOLF?. In fact, we did it better, and faster — in ten seconds instead of thirty.

But as soon as you feel like it’s similar, we peel back the veil to invite you into greater (and crazier) depths. It’s time to subvert expectations.

This is a key secondary goal for that second trailer: try to surprise your established fan-base. Show them the craziest bits of your game. Maybe it’s a little harder to follow, but by now, it’s just about adding confidence that they’ll find undiscovered qualities inside.

7. Relax — You can do it!

The second trailer can be a freeing creative process once you lean into it. In many ways, it kind of creates itself, especially since you now know what your game is. You know how to showcase it to new audiences, now you can build-up those subversive surprises.

All you have left is to sit back and enjoy seeing how the world reacts to this crazy beautiful new creation you’ve spent years putting together! Well, that, and finish putting your game out there.

My 2019 trailers — the third quarter

I’d love to have something profound to say at the moment about this incredibly productive season. Instead I’ll just say, take a gander:

Game: EarthNight by Cleaversoft
Audio: Chipocrite
Capture: Rich Siegel
Direction: M Joshua

Game: LevelHead by Butterscotch Shenanigans
Audio: Fat Bard
Capture & VO: Sam Coster
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Mondo Museum by Viewport & Kitfox
Audio: Viewport
Capture: Michel McBride-Charpentier
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Undermine by Thorium Entertainment & Fandom
Audio: Wesley Slover
Capture: Terrence O’Brien
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Some Distant Memory by Galvanic Games
Audio: Matthew Morgan (sound), Amos Roddy (music)
Capture: Sean Gibbons
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Church in the Darkness by Paranoid Productions & Fellow Traveller
Audio: Boyd Post
Capture: Richard Rouse III
Direction: Suzanne Wallace

Game: We Need To Go Deeper by Deli Interactive
Audio: Jacob Lives (music), Jordan Farr (audio)
Capture: Various Players
Direction: M Joshua
Motion Graphic Assistance: Danny Bass

Game: WHAT THE GOLF? by Triband
Audio: Morten Skouboe
Capture & Direction: M Joshua

Game: Valfaris by Steel Mantis and Big Sugar Games
Music: Curt Victor Bryant
Capture: Matt Cundy
Direction: M Joshua

Game: WHAT THE GOLF? by Triband
Audio: Morten Skouboe
Capture & Direction: M Joshua

My 2019 trailers — the second quarter

This quarter-year included a few milestones for me, including the first times I had trailers on an E3 showcase!

Trailer time!

Game: Unexplored 2 by Ludomotion and Big Sugar Games
Music: Matthijs Dierckx
Capture: Hendrik Visser
Direction: Joris Dormans

Unexplored 2 was my first trailer for an E3 showcase. It was also the game’s first time announcing its presence to the world. It went through a few more refiner’s fires than the average trailer, but the overwhelming positive response made it all worthwhile. 

Game: Valfaris by Steel Mantis and Big Sugar Games
Music: Curt Victor Bryant
Capture: Matt Cundy
Direction: M Joshua

This was the second game to feature a slot in the PC Gamer E3 showcase. It was later picked up and shared on Sony’s press channels just because it’s an absolute banger. There was one line on the brief we made sure to nail: “make it effortlessly metal.”

Game: VA-11 HALL-A by Sukeban Games and Ysbryd Games
Music: Garoad
Capture: Brian Kwek
Direction: M Joshua

This was the second trailer released that I cut for VA-11 HALL-A. The first one focused more on a chill tease of the cast members who frequent your bar. This one was more of a style piece that crammed as much possible from the game’s twelve hour narrative into thirty eight seconds.

Game: Slay the Spire by Mega Crit and Humble Bundle
Music: Clark Aboud
Capture: Casey Yano
Direction: M Joshua

This was the fourth trailer I cut for Slay The Spire. While not deviating much from the second trailer (PC Release) or third trailer (PS4 release), Nintendo provided stricter guidelines on how we addressed the game’s player experience. As such, we had to settle on just a quote from Northernlion instead of showing one of his runs with his comment on the game. For a more broad overview of the game, see the Early Access trailer I cut.

Game: The Lost Legends of Redwall: The Scout by Soma Games
Music: James Marantette
Capture: Sammi Griegh
Direction: M Joshua

As the third trailer I cut set inside the Lost Legends of Redwall. This version perfectly embodies everything we hoped the series would become. The cast is an ensemble. The gameplay is varied. And it has some of the punchy charm we’ve come to expect of high-caliber game creators. 

[EDIT: an Additional trailer that I missed went live in Brazil!]

Game: G.R.E.E.N: The Life Algorithm by Estacion Pi
Music: Oliver Magaña
Capture: Marcos Vázquez Martínez
Direction: Salvatore Vitale & M Joshua

This was my first trailer for a development team in Mexico. Estacion Pi wanted to make a big splash across Latin America and Brazil. So we showcased how their game stands toe to toe with other Metoridvanias — with a uniquely Mexican flair.

My 2019 trailers — from the first quarter

Dang, I forgot to share most of my trailers from twenty nineteen (so far).

Let me do that right now!

Game: YIIK by Ackk Studios & Ysbryd
Music: Andrew Allanson
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Artificer by Psilocybe & Games Operators
Music: Michael Noble
Direction: M Joshua

Game: Ostranauts by Blue Bottle Games
Music: Josh Culler
Sound: James Marantette
Direction: M Joshua

Game: We Are the Caretakers by Heart Shaped Games
Motion Design: Anthony Jones
Script: Xalavier Nelson Jr.
Direction: M Joshua & Scott Brodie

Game: VA11 HALL-A by Sukeban Games & Ysbryd
Music: Garoad
Direction: M Joshua

Previously on…

Game: Risk of Rain 2 by Hopoo & Gearbox
Music: Chris Christodoulou
Direction: M Joshua & Paul Morse

Risk of Rain 2 just launched on Steam Early Access—while I was at PAX East. They were picked up by Gearbox, who helped propel them into the top of the Steam charts. Seemed occasion enough to bust-out the trailer we cut together last August.

Speaking of trailers I cut last August, The Messenger just released on PS4! Enjoy.

Game: The Messenger by Sabotage & Devolver
Music: RainbowDragonEyes
Direction: M Joshua

 

 

Launch Trailers

Launch trailers are the easier kind of game trailer — you already know what your game is, who your audience is, and what players expect of the game. All you need to do is reinforce confidence to hit that “buy” button.

Still, there’s more to it.

Your launch trailer will champion your game for years to come. So it needs to achieve “shut up and take my money” status instead of, “…I’ll wait for the bundle.”

The split comes down to FOMO.

“You’re missing out!”

We buy games because we don’t want to miss a one-of-a-kind experience — the kind that makes us wonder what’s even possible. With every trailer I make, my gut is to draw people into “here’s what you’ve been missing out on.” It’s even better when the game already has already blown up.

Our Slay The Spire launch trailer starts in the thick of things. You don’t know who you are, why you’re here, or how card combat works. You’re on the ropes. Right where I want you.

I wanted folks to feel what they had been missing out on. This is best felt when we show streamers rocking the game at the highest difficulty. In this collage, you feel a sense of phenomenon — something that caught many of us by surprise. That surprise sensation is a luxury few launch trailers can afford, but it merely helped work-up to our best card: that emotive sense that you’ve been missing out.

Even if you know nothing of roguelike card games, and even if my gameplay footage is hard to contextualize, people leave the trailer with an unspoken sense of, “There’s more to this than the trailer could do justice.” That is not an accident. It’s a precision confidence strike that annihilates any chance for buyer’s remorse — or at least hits it 0.3% modifier. Not bad odds.

“There’s way more inside!”

I’m taken back to Star Wars’ Cantina: more worldbuilding gets done in that tiny little bar scene than anywhere else in Star Wars. The trick is the cutaway shots you don’t remember: the alien rejects flashed in two second shots inform the expanse of the galaxy at trailer-light speed. You can’t even remember how many you saw, just that there was a lot of them.

This is our move.

You want to stick within the comforts of established narrative, but cram as many flashes of related material into the margins, that nobody even realizes that you’ve shown them half your game. This just leaves an impression in the back of a viewer’s mind that there’s a whole world here.

If you have the perk of an on-board narrator, you can crack wise while you do it.

With Parkitect, it felt like I could never fit all of its toys inside a single toy box. So I made a script about how it was “300x bigger than any theme park ever.” While it’s just a roll-over joke, the real meat-qualifier is the seven shots before that  reveal theme parks inside of the real theme park. Typically, I prefer subtlety over braining viewers with “see more inside.” But I’m glad it works here as a heavy handed illustration. Haha.

Once you find a way to show there’s more meat than potatoes, it’s time to start making people feel comfy on the rug you’re about to pull out from under them.

“This feels comfortable…”

We first want to make players understand something about the game. Usually that requires we establish the genre and bring people up to speed brick by brick. But as with the Slay the Spire example, it was first important to make people feel like they’re missing out. So you can decide where to set the foundation to build on: whether that’s the very beginning, or a bit later.

In The Messenger’s launch trailer, I sought to first orient the player with the game’s most-unique mechanic—namely the air-strike-to-extra-jump “cloud stepping.” You see the technique used early, but then it’s used in advanced fashion all the way up to the end action shot. This technique is standard game design: teach, test, escalate, then test harder. This is basic gameplay trailer literacy in action.

Next, it’s time to complicate matters. Suddenly we reveal this isn’t just an 8-bit platformer, but transitions to 16-bit scenes on the fly. This portal transition can disorient if we didn’t first set the context. But because the player know what kind of game it seems to be, it’s the right time in the trailer to say, “oh but there’s more!” Once you frame things, you’re free to stack on top, and build-up further complications.

If you do this just right, you make the viewer happily disoriented.

“…This also feels really different!”

Once you’ve grounded your sense of orientation in reality, you have enough footing to swallow the weird pills. That’s best illustrated in how we did YIIK’s launch trailer.

YIIK starts with an odd feeling in a familiar town. Then it goes so far off the rails that you forget there were ever rails.

The key was for me to pour over the script looking for every human, relatable moment, and try to draw an underlying nest out of those very natural interactions. That way, when we get to talking pandas, mind dungeons, and JRPG battles with violent trash cans, we already made you feel connected to real things like Y2K panic, skateboards, and 56k dial-up modems.

Imagine if we didn’t first start with that Y2K footing. All of the surprise of getting hit by a giant asteroid at times square on New Years in the year 2000 would have zero weight. It would leave people with an unspoken “meh” instead of an audible, “WTF?!?”

Think hard about that last shot. The last emotion you land on: that’s the lasting connection folks have with your game. You want them to leave with some big feelings.

“This is my stuff!”

Your farewells should wave the freakiest freak flag that you’ve got. This rally call reminds your unique tribe of who they want to be. So don’t be ashamed of any bit of your game’s greatest eccentricities. It’s best if you just end by showing things jamming on their maximized cylinders!

I didn’t plan on landing here, but I want to draw an emphasis on how we ended with Risk of Rain’s Nintendo Switch trailer. It’s almost unreadable. Which is sorta the point.

Paul Morse recorded this gameplay footage for me, so I had to interpret his actions. I can definitively tell you that that the big circle is getting bigger, and things are getting more intense. Past that, it’s just almost too much for me to process.

We leaned into the chaos instead of opting for a cleaner UI.

Typically you want to turn off all the UI of a game. But in our Switch build, there weren’t any reasonable ways to do this. So we leaned into the on-screen clutter the same way the game itself does. If you don’t like seeing crazy numbers pop out of gargantuan beasts, this probably isn’t the game for you anyway. That’s okay. Those who see this and like big numbers flying out of beast butts, know this is totally their jam. These players were the ones who already shared their first run of the game before I got my copy — an hour after it came out.

Serious fans know what they want. So leave them feeling like they seriously matter — by showing them their favorite selves in-game.