Six terrible tips from our NEO Scavenger mobile trailer

[Transcript:]

NEO Scavenger mobile trailer may be the trailer I’m most proud of producing [scripting and editing]. That said… most advice I’d offer from the project is terribleSeriously, it’s awful. But it worked for us. So, hopefully you at least you find it funny?

So, here it is — Six Terrible Tips from our NEO Scavenger trailer:

1. Encourage the developer do his own (half-naked) cosplay

NEO Scavenger starts with you wearing nothing but a hospital gown (and a necklace). Then you venture out into the cold and unforgiving world — alone. So when the game’s creator, Daniel Fedor, said “hey I wanna act all of this half-naked hospital-robe-wearing stuff out in real life.” I said, “Of course! Let’s do it!” 

For added fun, think about what it would look like to cosplay for your own game’s trailer. Like I said, it’s probably a bad idea. Though it might be a useful practice If you’re showing your game at an actual trade show like PAX?

Terrible advice number two: show… Wait, no.

2. Tell, don’t show  (live action)

Here’s the thing: NEO Scavenger is… hard to make sense of at first glance. Heck! Even after a good number of glances, you might still be lost. The game really plays up that “tell, don’t show” angle, especially in combat where it’s mostly about what happens in your imagination (and not on screen).

This was where we identified the perfect way to employ Dan’s half-naked cosplay: acting-out a scenario from the game!

NEO Scavenger takes place in a “slightly” crappier version of our world. Plus it was winter when we started this. So a simple backyard in late Winter looks like it’s survived an apocalypse.  Dan was close with a cinematography team, Digital Cyclops — who was amazing, by the way. And even more conveniently, Dalias Blake showed up.

Dude’s a master of looking intimidating.

screenshot-2017-07-20

But yeah, seriously. “Show, don’t tell” is the right way to go with a game trailer 99% of the time. Except for when your game is literally the opposite. We did the live acting thing because it was the best way to put unfamiliar audiences into the mindset of the game.

3. Crowd-source your script

So, this might be the worst advice yet. Never ask your players, “what should I say in the trailer?” You’re gonna get a whole lot of useless garbage that you’ll have to wade through. Glad we didn’t do that. Well, we sorta did. 

If you ask “What precise experience in this game captures this full emotion?” And you really curate the question? You might be able to focus people towards one sentence responses — you might get something usable. You might even find something perfect! Now we actually had players to ask. We had over a hundred responses. So, that’s a lot for me to pick from. But seriously, crowd-sourcing your script is usually such a bad idea.

Now I’m gonna stop right here and show you the trailer. Then we’ll get to the last few pieces of terrible advice. Cool? Let’s check it out.

Cool. Final pieces of bad advice?

4. Shove players’ words into onscreen actors’ mouths.

Nobody likes it when you put words in their mouth, but we did it anyway. You couldn’t see our actor’s mouths because they were (like characters in the game) wearing rags that covered their mouths as rudimentary air filters. So,we made sure our actors acted like they were talking, with the plan of putting another actor’s voice on them.  We did this, because it was important to me that the players of the game really gave voice to the experience. But because players aren’t typically voice actors, I went for the uber players: those who love the game, but also create their own content.

I’m not 100% sure that the we did this perfectly. But I am sure that it was the right call. Because when you share player’s voices, you can actually capture their passion for the game. These guys, Nelson and Phil — they really really love NEO Scavenger. So I was like, “Yes! I’m-I’m going to use you guys because you really really get it!” Usually people can tell if somebody’s just hired help. But passion transcends.

If you dare try this kind of approach? Go for it, but go for the passionate.

5. String random players’ experiences into a singular story

This is the weirdest one: we took all these player testimonies, the half-naked cosplay, voice actors, and glimpses of gameplay, and we brought it all together — in a way that’s… clearly not for everybody

The best trailers are just one clear story. It starts, it ends. You feel like you’re along for the ride. This is a universal truth. You can keep that in your pocket. But we had like over a hundred stories. And we wanted to link it into a single one.

That took first writing a modular script — designed with targeted emergence. This modular script had one goal: extract the stories, and assemble it into one single story.

Like I said, you gotta be super specific to make any of this work. This was really just planning — that mostly worked because NEO Scavenger just kind of automatically naturally generates these kinds of stories, and because of the pre-existing audience.

6. Leave viewers with a sick taste in their mouth

NEO Scavenger’s tone is so weird! Like normally? You want people to feel smart, powerful, capable of doing anything! And excited when they end the trailer. Maybe itching for a fight! Instead, we figured it was better to make people feel icky!

You’re welcome to copy the idea if you think it might work for you. But because we wanted to hit the distinctives of the game, and what made it what it is, we ended on the creep-factor.

If you’re looking for something actually usable here, I’d say that’s it: focus on your game’s distinct one-of-a-kind feeling.

Also, it’s worth noting that we lightened-up the whole “bleak as hell” thing. At least a tiny bit.

So yeah, this is all terrible advice because it’s really specific to NEO Scavenger.

So once again, those tips are:

  1. Encourage the developer to do his own half-naked cosplay
  2. Tell, don’t show (Live Action)
  3. Crowd-source your script
  4. Shove players’ words into (on screen) actors’ mouths
  5. String random player experiences into a singular story
  6. Leave players with a sick taste in their mouth

So yeah, all of this is terrible terrible advice. Don’t do these things unless you’re sure it’s going to work for your game. It’s terrible mostly because it’s so specific to NEO Scavenger, but I want to leave you with…

real useful takeaway

Consider your game deeply. How people play it, how they talk about it, what they dream about after playing it before bed time. Then craft your game’s trailer around these experiences.

~

I’m M. Joshua. Find me at mjoshua.com. And feel free to subscribe, for the next time we look at some Game Trailer Takeaways.

Video: 5 Kickstarter trailer takeaways from Blasphemous

Here’s five trailer takeaways from ‘Blasphemous‘ — especially for those making a Kickstarter video game trailer:

[Transcript:]

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.

Let’s check it out.

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.

thumbnail_blasphemous

Once again, those Kickstarter trailer takeaways are:

  1. Disgust everybody—EXCEPT your target audience
  2. Show mechanical substance
  3. Establish your unique setting
  4. Distinct musical composition
  5. 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.

Video: What makes the ‘Into the Breach’ trailer Damn Near Perfect?

Here’s five takeaways from the ‘Into the Breach’ announcement trailer — especially for those working with turn-based tactics games:

[Transcript:]

Into The Breach — it might be a little while until this game comes out. But I’m chomping at the bit. Why? It’s trailer is Damn-Near-Perfect.

Let’s check it out.

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.

THUMBNAIL_Breach

Once again, those key takeaways are:

  1. TACTICS? Show the interactions in SUPER-SPEED
  2. Frame the player’s role
  3. Establish street cred — while establishing new gameplay
  4. Use some Swirly-twirly camera focus
  5. 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.

Video: What makes Flinthook’s trailer Damn Near Perfect?

Here’s five takeaways from Flinthook’s ‘Damn-Near-Perfect’ gameplay trailer:

[Transcript:]

Flinthook! It’s wooing gamers (and game devs) everywhere! Why? Well, it can’t hurt that the gameplay trailer is damn-near-perfect.

Let’s check it out.

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.

THUMBNAIL_Flinthook3

Once again, those key takeaways are:

  1. Use #BRANDCOLORS™
  2. Try a sweet one-shot opener!
  3. Use a bit of “outside” voice
  4. UNIQUE FRIGGIN’ GAMEPLAY
  5. Sneak some player motivations in there.

I’m M. Joshua. Find me at mjoshua.comwhere 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.

What makes Dead Cells’ reveal trailer Damn-Near-Perfect?

I started a new video series today: What makes this trailer Damn-Near-Perfect? Here’s the first episode:

[Transcript:]

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.

Next?

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!

Screenshot 2017-05-10 16.38.23

Once again, those key takeaways are:

  1. First: establish genre
  2. Show your Greatest Hits
  3. Emotional Range, PLZ!
  4. Slow down to get that sweet hurried pace
  5. 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.

Thoughts on first-person-narrative game trailers

I could play What Remains of Edith Finch a third time 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?”

You walk.

You look.

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.

edie's room

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.

For That 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.

Thoughts on one-shot game trailers

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.

Lessons from the Severed trailer: race across the literacy gap

Severed’s trailer achieves masterful literacy in record time — it says 15 things about Severed within 28 seconds:

  1. Drinkbox Studios: makers of Guacamelee.
  2. (Notice a similar colorful Guacamelee style.)
  3. (Sinister music.)
  4. Meet scared girl.
  5. Evil dragons!
  6. Arm got chopped off.
  7. Family lost.
  8. See scared girl with bloody bandages — and missing arm.
  9. Go into scared girl’s head.
  10. Explore dungeons through girl’s perspective — on a rigid first-person grid (in pseudo 2D).
  11. Enter battle when walking into black spirit thins.
  12. Enemies surround you in battle.
  13. Hold-touch the screen to charge a touch-slash.
  14. Parry enemy attacks by swiping along their attack-arms.
  15. Slash the enemy enough and they turn into a bloody mess (Yay!).

This trailer makes the explanation of some of the most difficult-to-explain gameplay seem as easy as spreading butter. The director of this trailer, Marlon Wiebe captured so much about Severed because of a process of that he detailed in his trailer blog. In short, this was not the first trailer that Marlon made for Severed, and he sought to right some wrong impressions made from the previous trailer he made.

screenshot-2016-10-04-10-18-14

Marlon said:

After working with the guys at Drinkbox Studios on the previous trailer, they came back to me with a few things that people didn’t realize about the game after watching the trailer then playing the demo.

The key takeaway is to implement an iterative approach to solving a trailer’s gameplay communication problems. Drinkbox noticed players thought you tapped to attack in the game instead of the actual slicing. So Marlon tried an Apple-style circle, only to find that didn’t work right; instead he modeled a hand, gave it a screen-indicating drop shadow, and started with a sped-up charge-attack to draw eye-focus before turning into a slash.

severed-combat

These are all creative problem solutions that took some discovery and trial-and-error. Iteration, essentially. A first-time trailer for a hard-to-explain game will run into a bunch of challenges and problems. When you take time for discovery, you can communicates a game’s complex ideas in record time. Smart-and-steady wins the race.

Also, if you haven’t had a chance to try Severed on Vita or iOS, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s probably my favorite game I’ve ever played on my phone. And it’s just come out on Wii U and 3DS.

Source: Severed PSX 2015, Marlon Wiebe

 

Indie trailer lessons from The Witcher 3’s trailer campaign (the multi-trailer approach)

Almost none of The Witcher 3’s trailers are particularly exceptional: they don’t capture the player’s journey — or what makes The Witcher 3 unique. I can say this with confidence after completing the sixty-hour story, watching most of its 46 trailers, and deep-diving the unexpected ways the game deals with love. Despite the weakness of the game’s trailers, they do one thing incredibly right: they secure a HUGE player-base — one strong enough to help developer CD Projekt Red to become worth $1 billion.

How did these trailers help secure so many players?

Iteration.

These 46 trailers and dev diaries work because they compound in unison — multiplying as a string of touch points, forcing viewers to inevitably ask, “should I buy this?” Sure, that huge number of trailers is possible from a studio with CD Projekt Red’s cashflow.

Indies can use this multi-trailer approach too — even with a tiny budget.

You have to first ask, “How many stories can I tell about our game?” Every detail about your game has the potential for more exposure. Quick snapshots can go a long way. Remember that The Witcher 3’s trailers weren’t great at informing the gameplay experience, but stuck to core branding and just showed more of the world. They trusted that under-informing video impressions would be enough to whet an appetite. And boy did that deliver.

Keep your project in front of players — that’s the key lesson here. By the time somebody sees The Witcher 3: Game of the Year edition’s trailer, they’ve likely seen at least one of the other forty five trailers. And once a product is familiar, it’s that much easier for players to hit that “buy” button.

Some indies have tried this multi-trailer approach successfully. Take Broforce for instance. That game was in Early Access for two years: warranting update trailers out the wazoo — which kept that game in front of players. That’s invaluable. The Broforce team kept pumping-out the update trailers post-release too, which again, kept the attention flowing.

Multiple trailers won’t work for everyone. Especially if you don’t have any time or money to spare for them. But for those who are able to keep pumping out content, the multiplied exposure can be very worthwhile.

Practical multi-trailer tips:

If you’re gonna step-out and try this approach, you’re gonna need some wisdom, planning, and smart re-purposing of assets to craft a unified brand around your game. This kind of process takes a lot time, but these tricks can save you a few dozen hours:

1. Map your plan of messaging and delivery.

This isn’t a mandatory detail, but it will definitely help you to develop a core strategy to stagger your trailers evenly (say, once a month) to keep from an over-abundance or an under-abundance of market saturation.

2. Craft reusable trailer assets.

For the first time around, refine your title graphics to be appealing-enough for later reuse. This allows new footage to be be slotted-in while establishing your core brand as high-quality.

3. Determine a core and consistent voice.

Notice the “Hell Yeah, Bro” voiceover in the Broforce campaign. You don’t have to do something so overt, but each trailer should feel like it’s clearly connected to all of the others.

4. Cut fast and loose.

Don’t worry about getting the edit perfect straight out of the gate. Let velocity be your friend. Don’t worry about having the perfect messaging. Your messaging is “lots of content” and updates, which shows you care.

5. Try new things (like dev diaries and experimental “weird” trailers).

Show and team members being themselves can be a great way to break-up the expectations on what your game is. Focus on what makes your team unique, while interspersing shots from the other trailer cuts. Or try something completely different and maybe a little crazy. Nobody got kicked out of the indie game space for being too weird.

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Let me know if any of that helps your game. I’d love to hear from devs who have tried this multi-trailer approach and hear how it worked.

Lessons from the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided launch trailer

Mankind Divided subjected me to systemic prejudice countless times over my two play-throughs, yet its release trailer focuses on empowerment — showcasing all the superpowers you can use to conquer foes (which are limited in-game). This isn’t false-advertising, this is broad-shouldered video game advertising at its smartest. Square Enix knows players want “do what you want” simulators — regardless of whether or not they have themes of social injustice.

Power sells games.

Listen closely. The voiceover points to this power-focus: “If you try and rip the world apart, someone will always put it back together… You can kill freedom. But you can’t kill progress.” You are that someone and that progress is a super-charged robot fist — with a dozen beat-up-oppressor abilities.

You have to make players feel powerful and in-control. As such, Deus Ex games are in a bit of a bind: as stealth games where hiding and hacking are often preferable to all-out power-punching elbow-katana cyborg battles. But this is where we can learn from Mankind Divided’s lack of restraint and subtlety in the trailer: it harps on the power-usage. Then it builds towards the P.E.P.S.arm-gun-blast conclusion. It ends leaving viewers feeling like they can do anything (as Adam Jensen).

There’s a lot of challenges and problems to this. I could belabor Lord of the Rings’ “lust for power” theme or address how weird it is to cast a white guy (working for the most powerful people in the world) as a “victim” of social oppression. But that’s the game’s responsibility to handle with tact and nuance. The trailer’s job is to get players in the door — to make the would-be players feel the power to do as they will. 

This “do-as-you-will” emphasis makes people feel like kings. And it’s why they pick up the controller to begin with.