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.

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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.

Indie trailer lessons from the Nintendo Switch announcement

You already saw this First Look trailer. You already know whether or not the Nintendo Switch will have a place in your life. But do you know why you have this already figured out in your mind? I would suggest it’s because of how this trailer is produced and edited.

Can you remember any of the faces of the people playing the Switch in this trailer? I can’t. But I can remember their emotional reactions or their looks of concentration, and I felt connected to the experiences they were having.

I could see myself in their shoes. 

This is game-trailer gold.

You may have had a different experience with this trailer, but I, for one am really excited to discover the price-point on this device — there’s a chance I’ll be there day one. The key is that I felt like I was having these same experiences with the Nintendo Switch as I watched. That may be because I love playing games on the go and with others, so the mileage may vary. But here’s the key: When you show people in an experience that they can insert themselves into, you grab your game’s audience.

It also helps to hand your game off to players and see what they do with it.

How do players prefer to play your game?

When you’re showing your game at a PAX or Gamescom event, you control the setup and you control the experience — it’s not authentic to how player actually play your game. This can be very hard and scary — since you have no idea what players are going to to when they get their hands on your game. But try this out: just give a few regular players (not developers) your game. Then see what they do with it.

What do players do with your game when you give it to them? This leads to a whole litany of questions from that experience:

  • How do they sit?
  • At a desk?
  • On the couch?
  • On a plane?
  • Do they share it with their non-gaming family members?
  • Is any of that special?
  • What surprises occur?

You’re going to be surprised. That may be because of how foolish their play experiences seem to how you intend. Or they may come up with something you never thought of. When I shared That Dragon Cancer with my game group, we had fourteen people cram into my living room. We found ourselves passing the controller from scene to scene — meaning everybody got to play and feel connected to the experience. We didn’t plan that; it just happened naturally — and it worked perfectly. These kinds of discoveries only happen when games are given a proper chance to be put in players’ hands.

the-moment

These player-surprises can make your marketing material story. Who wanted to play Skyrim on an airplane? I don’t know, but give that person a medal. That created one of the most powerful selling points on the system — and I could easily play the game on my laptop in a flight right now, but the idea of playing it with a controller on a personal sized screen that sits in front of me (and not overheating my lap)? That’s attractive.

Put your game in player’s hands.

See what they do with it. Make note of the surprises. It doesn’t have to be an open alpha event — just a few friends are fine. This will tell you so much about what actual player experiences are like — and most importantly: how to show your game.

Local multiplayer and co-op games have the biggest advantage in this department — it’s why Nintendo Switch’s strongest trailer moments relate to player interaction. But there’s still benefit to trying this out if your game is, say an RTS or a hidden object puzzle game. There’s this thing about heartfelt player reactions that tell a story even greater than that which is grasped on-screen.

Consider showing your players in your trailer.

The most powerful tool in comedy is the human face. Since they’re the first thing we learn to connect with after we’re born, it’s amazing that there’s so few faces in trailers. We connect with emotions by seeing them on somebody else’s face.  I would argue it’s the standout feature in this Move or Die trailer. And again — you don’t remember any of the actual faces, but you remember their emotions.

Your connection with your players can come through those sincere reactions of player’s faces. And when they’re not sincere, players recognize that immediately. The tricks to capturing honesty is an art unto itself — we’ll get to that in a future post. For now I’ll leave you with a reflection:

Did you connect with a moment in the Nintendo Switch trailer?