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!”
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).
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.
See scared girl with bloody bandages — and missing arm.
Go into scared girl’s head.
Explore dungeons through girl’s perspective — on a rigid first-person grid (in pseudo 2D).
Enter battle when walking into black spirit thins.
Enemies surround you in battle.
Hold-touch the screen to charge a touch-slash.
Parry enemy attacks by swiping along their attack-arms.
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.
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.
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.