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.
I started a new video series today: What makes this trailer Damn-Near-Perfect? Here’s the first episode:
Dead Cells is out today! And I’m there. Why? Because the reveal trailer is damn-near-perfect. Let’s check it out.
There’s some takeaways from this trailer — that you can reproduce if you’re trying to make one for your own game.
1. First? Establish genre! If they don’t’ like action games, or “rogue-vanias”, they’re not gonna like this game, and that’s okay, but you’ve got to get there as soon as possible. Qualify your audience.
2. Show your GREATEST HITS! Dead Cells is a safe place — for you to hit things as hard as you possibly want! You gotta show the chunky-delicious fallout of your interactions! When players see this, they’re like, “Oh, okay! I wanna make these decisions in a game, myself!”
3. Emotional range, PLZ!
This moment with the scene changed to the ramparts — You’ve got to get to the emotional highs and lows. Give your audience some relief from tension. Then, get back to the tension! But make sure that you show the full breadth of emotional range through the journey of your game. Also, how did they fit a moment of rest in a thirty-second trailer?!?
4. Slow down to get a hurried-up trailer!
Thirty seconds in, and the trailer is done. How did they do that? The irony is that it takes a lot of time, to make a really short trailer. If you can take your time? Do it! It’s worth it.
5. Land on the emotional destination
Let’s just back up for a second (0:19). Where you land — what emotion you leave the trailer with — that’s how people are going to remember your game.
In this case, that’s TENSION!
Once again, those key takeaways are:
First: establish genre
Show your Greatest Hits
Emotional Range, PLZ!
Slow down to get that sweet hurried pace
Land on your emotional destination (TENSION!)
I’m M. Joshua. Feel free to subscribe — for the next time we look at a damn-near-perfect trailer.
I could play What Remains of Edith Finch a thirdtime right now (I loved it so much that I make all my friends play when they come in my door), but I think the game’s trailers struggled — as first person narrative trailers do —to show what makes the game great.
This trailer introduces the heroine, provides context to the setting, has spot-on editing, top-tier camera work, and perfect auditory composition. But I want to talk about the one thing left unanswered.
“What do I do in this game?”
Sometimes you pick things up.
(This is where the magic happens.)
As you pick up certain memoirs, you trigger a role-shift into that person’s shoes — at the most-permanent part of that person’s life: their death.
The PSX trailer (and the launch trailer) do a great job of framing this memento mori idea, but they chose not to show the player engaging these memoir moments. I mean, I get it. It’s a hard choice: do we show the player’s first-person gameplay (with all the drunk-wonkiness of movement — and time-constraints of gameplay animations), or do we wrest camera control and show the game’s beautiful setting instead?
By choosing setting, they got beautiful footage, but sacrificed the player’s voice (player-cam). I respect this decision. But I’d like to consider the player-cam option. Would this work? While I can’t guarantee that, I can guarantee they would have had a ginormous hot-sticky mess on their hands (though a potentially delicious one).
First-person camera movement is a hot-sticky bastard.
Player-cam movement shows the player’s role in a first-person game, but the tiniest little slip-up reads like it’s recorded by a teenager on their fourth Monster Energy drink.
Pro-tip: never use a mouse to try to capture first-person gameplay. It doesn’t end well. PS4 and Xbox One controllers work well for getting smooth camera movement, but it still takes countless retries to get just right.
It’s an enormous pain. But I think it might be worth it.
I tried some camera-movement-centric techniques for Anamorphine’s trailer.
We needed to show relationship dynamics in Anamorphine using just the player camera. Our reliance on player-camera movement meant it also took more hours worth of retries than anybody would expect from a thirty second trailer. We also were forced into this decision. Since the game doesn’t have any human voices, we had to show a “human voice” somewhere, so we opted for camera movement (and Beatrix Moersch’s phenomenally-brilliant sound design). The subtle bob of player movement further-captured the human-like movement we were after. And in the end, we captured just what made Anamorphine: it’s about moving towards, moving away-from, and processing a relationship with somebody special.
Consider the hybrid approach: smooth-cam + player-cam.
Watch any mainstream FPS trailer. Count the actual-gameplay shots. If it’s really good, it might have one player gameplay shot. And most of the time it’s just a gun shooting down iron sights to minimize any remote semblance of shakiness. While I’d call this a hybrid-approach, I still don’t get on a horse until I see how it actually rides.
Show me at-least some actual player-controlled movement!
We tried a real hybrid approach (smooth-cam + player-cam) for the the trailer of Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion. See if you can spot the moments that are (A) player-cam or (B) smooth-cam.
How many did you count? Every shot in the trailer was gameplay — honest, natural, un-debugged gameplay, but it doesn’t count to the viewer as “gameplay” until they can see the player’s voice — when the camera moves.
We used these teensy camera movements to hint at the player’s role, up until the real bullhorn moment at 0:31. The player takes control in a single camera tilt—that practically screams (by comparison to the smoother shots before it). Then we’re off to the races: the real player verbs that illustrate explicit gameplay.
Let me back-up a moment. A lot of work went into that one “small” tilt moment (it took me about 50 tries or more to get that two second clip just right). While I’m proud of the effects, it’s a tad disheartening to realize how many dozens of takes (and many hours of work) go into each of these shots. Still, the player-cam-effect offers a necessary window — players might see themselves in those shots.
Let’s look back at What Remains of Edith Finch for a second. I’d love to say that player-cam footage is the solution to the communication problems the game faced. But that’s not the whole story, the whole story needs to be told just as it is: through a grander narrative than the momentary stuff.
A framing device might be the single-most powerful tool for first-person narrative game trailers.
ForThat Dragon, Cancer, we also committed to using a player-cam to frame everything, but more-importantly, we frame the game’s grand concept through a framing device: a baby toy called a See ‘N Say.
In a chapter titled, “I’m sorry guys, it’s not good,” spin the See ‘n Say toy to hear the thoughts of everybody in the room. Pull the picture with the fuzzy-bearded man with glasses to hear what the dad, Ryan, thinks about the doctor’s declaration. Spin the See ‘n Say on the brown-haired woman to hear what the mom, Amy, thinks. You also can hear similar thoughts from both medical caretakers in the room. We realized this toy could frame the whole game: pull the cord, hear a line from that parent. So that’s what we did in the trailer.
Interestingly enough, What Remains of Edith Finch also uses a framing device in their trailers. But because we don’t see the player interacting with this framing device directly (the house), the concept is lost.
It would have further complicated the trailer production should they have taken this approach. I’d actually love to speak again with Ian Dallas (Creative Director at Giant Sparrow) to see if they tried a more-literal gameplay approach that tried to employ the framing narrative. I’d love to hear about their trailer decisions to forego showing player-cam and framing-device interaction.
In the end, maybe it just failed to work.
First-person game trailers require give-and-take, but remember the trailer’s goal.
You have to answer, “What do I do in this game?.”
Edith Finch’s trailers are fantastically produced, but since they they left too much to mystery, we can’t see how you play it. At the very least, they should have taken the hybrid approach: showing beautiful pre-composed shots (like they do), but also some of the player walking in the house (player-cam shots). In addition, we needed to see two memorial interactions (one to establish the action, a second to stress its importance). These moments would help players see themselves in the game, and better bridge that “what do I do” gap.
I get it, every genre comes with difficult trailer decisions: first-person games may be one of the hardest to show, because so much of what happens exists between your ears. Very few first-person trailers are enjoyable to watch when they’re entirely player-cam. And when they are, the work-load is exhaustive. Still, I hope this article helps you strike a balance — as you sort-out the most-ideal technique for your game.
Last week, David O’Reilly released the trailer for his game, Everything. True to the title, the trailer tries to encapsulate all that the game has to offer in a single stretch — that’s ten minutes long.
Ten minutes is a lifetime in trailer-terms, but something about it works.
Up until seven minutes into the trailer (or ‘film’ as the game’s creator calls it), the shot is uninterrupted. Cuts start at the 7:35 mark, but before that, it’s absorbing — immersive.
There’s something about this peculiar choice, to show nearly eight minutes of uninterrupted gameplay… It goes against every convention for common game trailers — as developers are wanting shorter and shorter trailers — for shorter attention spans.
While I didn’t linger around for the whole 10 minutes of Everything’s trailer, I did see the coherent thread — which made me want the game.
Continuity is necessary for immersion.
I think this is the third or fourth edit for Everything’s trailer. The original trailer seems to show up at 7:53. Watch that.
Notice the beautiful editing, the lovely cuts, the composed scenes. It’s alluring and radiant, but completely betrays the spirit of the game if that’s all you see. I’m so glad David decided it wasn’t enough for the narration to talk about continuity — they had to show it — in long-form clarity. Somebody kiss the person who said, “let’s just shoot an overlong-thread of continuous gameplay!”
Play Virginia (steam link) or 30 Flights of Loving (steam link) if you’re looking for a fascinating case-study on harsh cuts from one scene to the next. For me, this mode of scene separation created an fascinating combination of closure and anxiety — I was left with a feeling of “what just happened?” instead of “I feel like I have enough tools to make sense of this.”
“Making sense of things” should always be a trailer’s highest ambition. This gets insanely difficult when you’re trying to nail a sense of mystery, but “just enough sense” is the sweet-spot.
Man-oh-man is this more easily said than done.
I tried cutting some one-shot trailers.
When Germán Cruz reached out to me for a trailer for 64.0 (steam link), I immediately saw an opportunity to ape the idea of Terry Cavanagh’s one-shot Super Hexagon trailer (which holds-up well ). Because 64.0 isn’t as visually dynamic as Super Hexagon, we had to edit scenes to make things ‘one-shot.’
Feel free to try to spot my edits as you watch:
If I did my job right, you shouldn’t be able to see any edits, but game devs are a sharp bunch. So I expect to get a few “ah-ha’s.” 🙂
Time is out of your control.
The biggest advantage for 64.0 is that its name refers to the length of a successful run: 64 seconds. Sounds like perfect length for a trailer, right? Right. Unfortunately, this didn’t force me to think about how little control I had over time.
When we tried using a similar approach on the online tabletop RPG, Conclave (steam link), we went way-over the typical trailer length.
Our three minutes may seem a bit long, but we still had to fight to make it that short. I’m convinced that the developers (Nick Branstator, Derek Bruneau) and I did the absolute best we could, but there’s a decision one has to make when they make a one-shot game trailer:
Are you willing to sacrifice control over time?
I’m veering towards one-shot sequences.
One-shot trailers work really well — on rare occasion, but the concept of the practice is essential for addressing other trailers.
In our Early Access trailer for Dimension Drive (steam link), David Jimenez, Alejandro Santiago, and I focused on key “one-shot” sequences where we tried to apply this one-shot philosophy. I still had to rely on a lot of cuts to make the scenes fit, but I think the narrative thread is clear:
Look at the first 26 seconds. You’ll see that we were able to encapsulate the game’s philosophy in a single segment. Later in this trailer, we go for a bit of the standard action-montages that most trailers use, but the interest is always in creating a singular thread that links the story and action together.
The biggest takeaway I hope to offer is that when you cut the trailer for your game, look for continuous threads. Use smaller one-shot sequences to frame the action — or (if you’re feeling lucky), make a full trailer with just one-shot.
Grey hair is under-appreciated in game dev discussion, so I super-loved Rand Miller’s wise responses to questions about success and suffering. He talks about what it meant for Myst to be the “most successful PC game of the 90s.” Talking to Michael Staniszwski about Bound was one of the most illuminating chats I’ve had. Start there if you like charming Polish accents, game philosophy, and want to understand the tension between demoscene “games” and traditional games. Parenting while in game development is something we’re all wrestling with more and more. So I can’t heartily-enough recommend Amy and Ryan Green’s interview, where we talk about life/crunch balance and their game, That Dragon, Cancer.
Most of those are Gamechurch podcasts that I did with my co-host Drew Dixon. Others were with Thomas Henshell (Archmage Rises). In addition, Drew and I interviewed experts like Kert Gartner (a fellow trailer producer) and Science Mike (a science & religion guy). Drew and I also hosted a few more discussions on themes like grace in games,PAX West, and what games Jesus loves (a tongue-in-cheek discussion).
I look forward to continuing these kinds of interviews in 2017 — and can’t wait to share our most recent interview with Thumper designer/programmer, Marc Flury.
Friends started messaging me after they saw my MAGFest pics last week. They wanted to know: “Is MAGFest worth investing in? Is it like a smaller PAX?”
The 2-hour drive makes it worth it for me, since I can make it a single-day getaway that doesn’t involve any hotels or massive prep. But I’ve got to be up front with you, getting the most out of a massive conference like this depends on what you’re looking for: there’s tons of awesome things to do at MAGFest, but for me, I have one goal — meeting game devs. For that, the event is a tremendous value (especially at only $80 a ticket).
The venue is massive: with a dedicated island-like area on the Potomac’s National Bay, Gaylord National Resort is so huge that it’s open indoor atrium is the size of a village. It’s not unreasonable to just gawk at how nice and huge everything is.
With size, however, it’s also reasonable to get a little lost, fortunately, the staff is very helpful for finding the reception and getting where I needed to go, which was the expo hall where they were showing indie games — conveniently stationed between the sprawling merch hall, the massive arcade, and the less-massive pachinko machine arcade (but still quite impressive that they had that!).
I wouldn’t have MAGFest on my radar if it weren’t for Quadradtron Games, for whom I did my second-ever trailer (for Threshold). Their partners, Zenas Bellace and Christian Plummer told me it’s become their favorite venue, so I was sure to make them my first stop. Unfortunately, Christian was rendered unconscious by some malevolent food, so I was only able to meet-up with Zenas. Still, I’m excited that I could see how their local multi game, Super Rock Blasters, was shaping up into something very attractive to look at.
I loved being able to catch up with Ben from PXLPLZ games and checking out his booth for Robo Puzzle Smash. The dude is always full of cheer, and his puzzle fighting game is wildly unique. I can’t wait to share it with my wife, who always destroys me at Dr. Mario.
Two experiences stood-out to me: the first is meeting Chris and Dustin from Ghost Crab Games, playing their unique local multiplayer game, Hastilude. I loved how the game made sure that each character you played felt unique, and how there was simple to learn controls, but difficult-to-master depths, which only became apparent when we tried the survival mode. Each character can fall off of their mount (the first of two hits), but then they can jump in another player’s mount to recover that hit point, but then their style of movement is designated by the mount they’re in. So you can have a widely varied play experience even within the same life. It’s a rich game, that I can’t wait to share with the game group that meets at my house.
Second, I loved meeting Matt Conn of Midboss, the creator of Read Only Memories 2064 and the GaymerX convention. I didn’t realize who he was at the time, only that he sprinkled cracked pepper on the back of my hand as I stood there, confused but amused. This he did as he told me about his friends game, A Purrato Tail, a game about potato cats. Next, Matt told me about the framework behind Read Only Memories, as I was familiar from my friend Daniel’s Gamechurch article on the game, but I had not played the game. I knew that it was about fifty years in the future when LGBTQ rights have well-since been secured and the social issues turned more towards trans-humanism and technological integration, but I didn’t know what it was like to play or what the 2064 version was about (it’s a fully-voiced update). After talking to Matt, I had to sit down with his game, even if Visual Novel style games are not my jam. It was a pleasant experience, but there was something much more memorable about meeting Matt himself — that went beyond the cracked-pepper.
After checking out “all” of the rad indie games, I realized there were many games I shamefully missed. Tragically, I missed a few games that have some instant win factor. Most notably, BattleSloths. I mean, c’mon! It’s about sloths that battle! And I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with some of the quieter and more meditative games. But I did get a few minutes in the arcade, where I got to try some extremely rare games like Taiko Drum Master and Sega Golden Gun — big highlights for me.
If you’re thinking about MAGFest for showing-off your indie game, it seems like an unparalleled value, especially since indie games are given more priority to shine than something like PAX.
It’s strange; seeing things in categories — realizing how many I just can’t quite share yet — or won’t get to at all. Still, it’s nice to realize that I’m not insane for feeling like I did more than that which can be seen.
MASSIVE THANKS to everybody who’s chosen to work with me. I couldn’t be more proud of our work together. None of this would be possible without amazing devs and their incredible games. Thank you, sincerely.
As for 2017 and the current queue of projects: I’m actually sad that I’m going on Christmas vacation and won’t be jamming hard on projects. I love my job. And I love what we get to create together.