Is Manifold Garden My Genre?


Wow, Manifold Garden might be the most incredibly well designed game that I’ve ever played. Hi, I’m M.Joshua. I make game trailers and I also just started this series called “Is It My Genre”?

“Is this my thing?”

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 segway 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?


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.

My 2018 Trailers

1. Deadbolt — PS4 Launch

2. Tiny Bubbles — Launch Trailer 

3. Disc Drivin’ 2

4. The Messenger — Gameplay Trailer

5. Tech Support Error Unknown — Announcement

Note: New logo branding added by Iceberg Interactive

6. YIIK — Toby Fox “Into the Mind” Music Video Teaser (script & direction)

Note: Edit & additional direction by Brian Kwek, (only viewable on Steam)

7. Mama Hawk 

8. Art Club Challenge — Teaser

9. Dead in Vinland

10. Risk of Rain

11. Darkest Dungeon Color of Madness

12. Devader — Ivasion of the Krin

13. Risk of Rain 2 — Teaser

14. King Under the Mountain

15. Tricky Towers — Switch Reveal

16. Art Club Challenge — Launch 

17. Tricky Towers — Switch Launch 

18. Lost Legends of Redwall: The Scout — Act 1 Trailer

19. Joggernauts 

20. YIIK — Date Reveal 

21. Rapture Rejects – PAX West Gameplay Trailer (script & direction)

Note: Edit & additional direction by Vanessa Williams

22. Battle Princess — Launch

Note: Additional direction by Lina Obritsch

23. Aground – Early Access 

24. Deadbolt — Nintendo Switch

25. Parkitect — Launch

26. Lost Legends of Redwall: Escape the Gloomer

27. Church in the Darkness — Story

Parkitect Launch Trailer

Game: Parkitect by Texel Raptor
Voiceover: Michael Dobson
Music: A Shell in the Pit
Direction: M Joshua

Wow! This was a wonder to work on! Marlon Wiebe’s trailers for the game set a high bar when the game came to Early Access several years ago. So honoring his approach was key—while building on the old jokes with a new script (featuring voice legend, Michael Dobson)! Michael’s delivery on the script pushed it just barely over the top: muffin-topped it, I would say. I make no apologies for that metaphor, as that charming British wit served up delicious plates of subtlety that let the gameplay flavor waft through the air before it even hits your mouth; err hands.

Anyway. As it says, “What are you waiting for, smartypants? Go build & manage your own theme parks with Parkitect today!”

Parkitect on Steam