I couldn’t say no to Rapture Rejects, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to write, direct, and edit it myself. So I teamed up with Vanessa Williams, who handled all the editorial heavy lifting while I stood over the construction site and called shots. Her rapid-fire work carried over beautifully: embodying just what it feels like to play this eccentric take on Battle Royale.
YIIK captures all the tensions of Y2K panic, something I’ll forever associate with MTV in 1999, just because that’s how I spent my time back then. Brian Kwek at Ysbryd wanted a quick trailer for the game, but unfortunately I was too busy to edit, so I wrote him a quick script instead: Let’s take that song from the game that Undertale’s creator did, and make it feel like a music video?
Redwall’s library of books approach the status of literary classics, and for good reason. Their tales of bravery and honor paint a world that’s deeply relatable, but equally tragic. As we sought to capture the tensions of this first episode (or Act), I stuck close to the biggest Redwall staples: feasting, camaraderie, and standing up to tyrannical despots.
I love how The Messenger deceives you into thinking it’s just a simple retro-inspired game, and then pulls the wool off your eyes, that you didn’t even know was there. The most important thing to me in this trailer is that we really sold that moment of, “There’s more to it than you realize.”
The Messenger hits Steam and Nintendo Switch on August 30th.
About twice as much work goes into shot selection for a teaser. Even more when you’re dealing with a roguelike. The first thing to do after laying down the sound for your teaser: go for readability. This first pass will ensure that viewers can read what they’re seeing, but it will lack a keen sense of danger. The second and third rounds of captured footage are required to elaborate on that danger, so the enemies on screen feel like they’re going to kill you at any moment. We achieved this through low-sensitivity player camera, and making sure the player verbs linked between shots.
Paul is always a treat to work with. Risk of Rain 2 is something really special. If you’re at PAX West, stop by the Risk of Rain 2 booth (#859) at the Indie Megabooth.
That had to come through in our Kickstarter trailer. I sat down with creator, Ross Turner to figure out how to capture that “Feel Like a King” spirit: he wanted to do that through showcasing the new farming & food systems. I agreed. Nothing feels more regal than telling your people to farm for you — making them think you’re feeding them by making them do all the heavy lifting.
I can’t take credit. There’s something quietly majestic to building a settlement over time — seeing it become something uniquely your own. Jordan Chin’s sound design did much of the heavy psychological lifting. His musical composition puts you in the “Your Majesty” mood. His sound effects make your subconscious trust these folks to obey your royal decrees. This game will generate volumes of rad player stories.
King Under the Mountain is a sure thing. Still, it has 17 days left to work on those stretch goals! Back it on Kickstarter!
Darkest Dungeon stands at the precipice of my most-adored RPGs. The Color of Madness expands the original excursion: DLC inviting you to embark on a new Endless quest, rewarding players with many horrifying secrets. To craft the trailer for this new endeavor was a dream.
Or perhaps… the best kind of waking nightmare?
Creative reign was unfathomable to me — even after receiving Wayne June’s narration, active art files, and Stuart Chatwood’s new musical compositions. My drafts served as springboards — a dozen iterations that received flesh from Chris Bourassa’s direction of creativity. Jeff Tangsoc of Power Up Audio performed a master-pass on the auditory layer that made every vibration feel alive!
Your game should connect with players on an emotional level. This is the only way players can feel your game before picking up the controller.
Since most games don’t have human faces for emotional readability, you have to get creative at bridging that emotional gap. I mean, just after birth we start reading other people’s faces. But we spend our whole lives learning to really read emotions. It’s a long road until we grow to feel what others feel, but this is emotional intelligence in a nutshell. And if you get really good at it, you may even become a good listener.
Crafting your game’s trailer requires that you become as good of a listener as you can be: discerning each interaction’s precise emotions. Fortunately, developing emotional intelligence for your game is not as hard as it sounds: it’s just a skill forged over time — and iteration.
Let’s get into the trailer emotion toolkit.
Create an “emotion” column in your trailer’s script.
First you need to establish your game’s emotional vocabulary. Record some various gameplay. Or maybe just look at those GIFs you’re posting to Twitter that showcase key moments. Ask, “What’s the emotion here?” Write it down. Name the emotion. Maybe it’s, “Winking Fear of Death,” “Lips-Pursed Empowerment,” or “Holy Balls! What Am I Even Looking At?” It’s just a matter of thinking about the emotional intent of that scene. You might be wrong or inaccurate (we all read emotions differently), but starting with our first impression assumptions builds a place we can iterate on.
The most-helpful question for your trailer is, “What do I want players to feel… at this moment?”
Your trailer’s script works as a rubric: a lexicon of the full range of emotions you want to convey and contrast well-before you lay anything down in your working timeline. Slap all this information into a column on your game trailer script. This will be your springboard rolling forward.
Nobody cares about your facts — only how you make them feel.
I know game devs have a tendency towards the programmatic language of “features” instead of a game’s emotional benefits, but try to get past the features’ functionality.
Think about their heart-impact instead: “What will this feature make people feel?” Try to make them feel that. I mean, sometimes you have to state the facts. But discerning the heart of the feature will affect how it reads in the trailer. Like take what we did for Tricky Towers tournament update. We wanted to say “new tournament mode,” but this is how part of it came across in our trailer:
Granted, we had the advantage of player footage here, but it was our best tool for establishing the new tournament feature.
Say you get this: you’re feeling exactly what the players should feel for each of your features. You’ve already started mentally mapping the highs and lows of ‘how to craft a trailer’s emotional journey.’ It sounds like you’re actually ready to start showcasing with the most emotionally powerful moments from your game (we can tone it down if it’s too much). Let’s make them feel something.
Open on the most emotion-rich interaction. And iterate.
The bridge collapses at the end of the first shot in our Poly Bridge trailer. My toddler’s reaction to this breakdown moment? “OH NOOO!!!” That’s what we were going for, as it immediately leads to starting a new build from scratch. That sense of loss and retry is what we found endears engineer-type players the most to the game (and keeps them tinkering hundreds of levels in). But we tried at least a dozen different shots before we settled on this moment:
You can’t tell people how to feel, but you iterate on your emotional hypothesis until you get that ideal reaction. Keep trying intense shots until they feel like they land. Your opening is usually the hardest part of the trailer — and will be something you improve up until the trailer’s ready.
Request touchy-feely reactions.
The best feedback you can request is precise guttural reactions. If you’re asking what other game devs think, remember that audience tends to be more systems-analytical and seem more like pulling teeth asking just for emotive insight. Instead, try asking games-unfamiliar audiences. Kids, family members.
Ask them what each shot makes them feel inside.
Once you have everybody’s emotional feedback, you can embellish on those emotions, or tweak the way your trailer reads in those defining moments. This is where the dials get micro-adjusted and long-hours of refinement come into play. You don’t have to communicate emotions with words anymore. You should be reading (and adjusting) your shot moments based on pure emotive feel at this point.
Close on the sharpest gut-punch — of your game’s core hook.
I typically ask devs, “What’s your most WTF moment?” Because that tends to be loud, outstanding, and memorable. But if it can call-back to the very special sauce about your game. That thing nobody else has done before? Oh man! That super crazy gun, or the way you can futz with time. Maybe it’s not a mechanic; but a theme. A narrative reveal. A call-back to the characters who does something really shocking?
Whatever is truly loud and special about your game, sock it to them. And if it doesn’t land at first, iterate.
Remember the Power Rangers Effect.
Power Rangers turned playgrounds into seemingly drunken brawls because kids thought they learned real moves. It made them feel like karate masters.
This is the same psychological phenomenon you want to establish in others: make them think they know what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter if viewers don’t actually learn anything about your game.
As long as you make them feel it in their bones, you’re winning.
M. Joshua makes indie game trailers. Find more of his work at mjoshua.com.
Tiny Bubbles does something impossible: it provides tactical-puzzling depth—as it puts a giggling smile on my toddler’s face. We captured some of that “deep, but approachable” dynamic in our PAX West trailer, but we needed to lean further into the “deep” for the Steam audience.
Kristoffer Larson again provided his AAA soundtrack talent, ensuring that every scene swam with auditory life. Tiny Bubbles’ lead developer, Stu and I worked-out the best scenes from his fancy new Infinity Mode. And we leaned-into the “assault to the senses” visual flourish that we established in our first trailer together.
Dead in Vinland is about as system-rich as a game get: the blend of survival, RPG management, exploration, and tactics all come together in a harmonious package.
The key here was framing things on the fierce Welsh heroine, Blodeuwedd, and getting into the psyche of a protective mother who will do anything to protect her family. We wanted to capture her tension—but also the sheer “WTF” moments that the game has to offer (which it does, a-plenty). The biggest trick was figuring out the right blend of those elements. So we went back and forth several rounds, finding the precise synergies of shots and concepts. It grew my muscles for “parsing a giant RPG for those ideal trailer shots.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I had a lot of fun trying to wrap my mind around this deep game, and translating it into the trailer. Massive thanks to Marlon Wiebe for the referral on this project; connecting me with Playdius &CCCP. These guys were a pleasure to work with; developing key debug tools to help me hop around their 30-hr epic.
Get the brilliant possibility space that is, Dead in Vinland on Humble, GOG, Steam, or Origin (10% off until April 19).