Cutting a trailer for the first time is very intimidating, but production music made specifically for trailers is a fantastic way to learn the typical 3-act structure of a trailer.Read More
This is another game being published by Surprise Attack Games who I worked with on Orwell: Ignorance is Strength.
The Stillness of the Wind is a full game based on the small game Where the Goats Are which you can play for free on Itch.io. From playing the free Itch.io game I was instantly intrigued by what I could possibly do for the expanded game.
Where the Goats Are is a short game where you play Tikvah, a woman who lives on a small farm with chickens and goats, making cheese and occasionally receiving letters from her family who have all moved away. I suggest you just play it, because it's easy to get into spoilers quickly.
For the Announce Teaser we wanted to make something very simple. While the game is expanded from the original, it wouldn't be too hard to quickly show the various player verbs in the game. Also, just showing a montage of what you do would largely miss the entire point of the game. The atmosphere, pace and feel of the game were far more important to convey.
I actually sent my first pitch while at GDC, so I didn't have a lot of time between meetings etc. I decided to just show a very small slice of the game. Since it's a very quiet game, I wanted the teaser to have that feel. My two ideas were either to use some trailer text to give some hints to the story or just use the pacing and editing to show some of the game, and then hint at the greater story. As is often the case with these pitches, I ended up doing a hybrid of the two.
There's only one cut in the entire teaser! So with no cuts, that meant I became more of a director than an editor (though the two are often very closely related). The game build I had was played with mouse only; I'm not sure if there will be controller support when it's released. I knew I wanted Talma to water her plant, milk a goat, then receive a letter from the man who comes by. Simple, right? Simple, but not easy.
This teaser needed to be as short as possible, so I wanted all the actions to be performed one after another, because this would (hopefully) make my one cut in the teaser more impactful.
Once I knew what I wanted, I asked Coyan the developer for a special build. I needed a container of water already full of water (in the game you need to fill it at the well) beside the front door entrance, a bucket next to the door for milking the goat, and for the goat to be in the front of the house.
The other options I asked for were the ability to turn off the cursor, some alternate camera angles, the ability to trigger when the man arrived, some animations for receiving a letter from him and reading it, and the ability to affect the speed of the day/night cycle. Thankfully, Coyan was able to provide me with all of these things!
Most of the work went into the one shot, and then polishing it up for the teaser. A number of things had to go right in that one shot for it to look good.
The goat had to be in the right position in the front yard because too far to the left, to the right and Talma would've had to walk too far, wasting precious time. Also, there's only one angle where the man would be visible while she's milking the goat (and I didn't have a freecam).
I had to use the point-and-click controls well enough so that Talma didn't pause for TOO long in one place so that it looked unnatural. In some unused takes she would do things like bump against the goat robotically or clip through objects. I also tried to hide the cursor as much as possible in order to minimize digital removal I had to do later.
I had to properly time when to press the hotkey to activate the man to show up such that I had a little bit of time to milk, but not too much and not too little.
On the last shot I had to match the lighting of the first shot, make sure the man wasn't awkwardly walking somewhere he shouldn't be (sometimes he would reset), and speed up the day/night cycle just enough so that it transitioned to night, but not TOO fast, and also the transition didn't happen until a little after the camera went to the full wide shot.
If you've ever seen what a live TV director's job is like, this felt kind of like that, though without the stress of directing people or doing it live. So basically it's nothing like that at all, but it definitely flexed a different muscle in order to do it.
Originally I didn't want to have any text on screen at all, but Surprise Attack and Coyan felt like the audience might tune out if there wasn't anything happening, so we added in some movie-style credits and a little bit of text.
The end result is that there's a little bit happening during every single moment in the teaser. I tried to balance Talma's actions with the sound effects, the music cues and the titles. I'm always saying that things should constantly be happening in a trailer, and the same goes for this one. The only difference is that it's all very quiet, and happens in only two shots. So it's still a "dense" trailer, but in the quietest way possible.
The last bits of polish were removing the cursor in the parts of the capture where I had to have it on so that I could see what the heck I was doing. Had this been a more edited teaser it would've been easy to keep it off, but since everything had to be so precisely timed, I needed to have it on. This meant hours and hours spent removing the cursor in After Effects and Photoshop. If I had more experience I probably could've done it more efficiently, but I seldom have to do it, so I just did it in the ways I knew possible. I listened to a lot of podcasts in the process.
Hopefully what I managed to pull off is show you that this is a quiet game, but with something else to it that you're intrigued enough to check it out when it comes out. When making it I also made plans for the launch trailer, because when doing a full campaign I never want to have overlap. I thought a lot about what I wrote in this post about teaser trailers.
This teaser was a set of new challenges, but I think that I achieved what I set out to do. Special thanks to Coyan for quickly providing the new builds with my requests and Marla at Surprise Attack Games for her help with the script and feedback. Hopefully you're interested enough to keep the game on your radar!
The trailer for Coffee and Cigarettes manages to be entertaining and engaging without using the typical three-act structure of a movie trailer. How do you make a trailer for an anthology of short stories?Read More
My behind-the-scenes blogging of my trailer work continues in 2018!
1. Subnautica - Launch Trailer
I got this gig via Ryan Clark from Brace Yourself Games which was doubly flattering because I've never worked with Ryan before. This is one of the biggest games I've ever worked on as an individual freelancer. I had some major missteps at the beginning of the project, but it all worked out.
2. Dead Cells - Console Announce Trailer
Motion Twin re-hired me a little last minute to make this trailer for their console release. Dead Cells is so much fun to play, the music is always epic, and they have great debug tools so I couldn't say no.
4. Octogeddon - Launch Trailer
George had a very clear idea for this trailer over a year before the game was finished, so it was up to me to take his vision, and make it nice and shiny.
5. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength - Launch Trailer
This trailer was pretty much put together entirely based on the voiceover. The tricky part was to keep it engaging when the whole game is full of UI and reading. The editing was pretty straightforward since the voiceover was pretty locked down. There were some sections that I removed either because of redundancy or I just didn't think they were relevant to the trailer's narrative.
Picking visuals for this was pretty much just finding moments in the game that matched what was being said on screen as best as possible, and using a lot of zooms and pans to keep the images moving. I did my best to keep shots a short as possible because when there's text on screen and it lingers for anything longer than a moment, I feel like the audience will think they're expected to read it. Whenever possible I kept text to a minimum like during the call surveillance shot.
Originally we started the trailer with the questionnaire that starts the game, but we decided it was slowing things down too much, so we skipped straight to the voiceover. For the majority of the footage I captured at 4K to reduce any blurriness that might occur from upscaling 1080p footage.
6. Way of the Passive Fist - Launch Trailer
I immediately fell in love with this game when I saw it at PlayStation Experience 2017, and handed them a business card in hopes they'd contact me to make a trailer, which I'm happy to say they did! This was one of those rare trailers where the idea for how to make it came to mind almost right away, it was just a matter of executing it.
7. Thimbleweed Park - Ransome DLC
This was just a quick little trailer to make. Ron sent me a lot of footage of Ransome swearing, and some title cards to structure the trailer around. I sorted the swears based on whether Ransome was insulting someone, using "fuck" as an intensifier, saying "fuck you", or using it to describe nouns. I treated it like a supercut, and re-organized the swears in a way that sounded pleasing to me. It'd been a while since I edited any supercuts, so it was fun to play around with.
8. Pode - Teaser
I've been following the development of Pode for a long time, and I got to play it for the first time at The MIX at PAX West 2017. I made it through the entire demo and handed them a business card, and they responded to me! This trailer was pretty simple to execute, but it definitely helped that I had outside forces controlling the scope of it.
9. The Adventure Pals - Launch Trailer
I got this gig by giving my business card to a member of the team after I played the demo at The MIX at PAX West 2017!
I've followed the development of this game for at least a couple years now. The first time I saw a screenshot for it, I fell in love with its minimalist style and adorable character design. I think I barely even knew what it was, but the glowing orb and rock holding hands was too cute for me to resist.
Pode is a puzzle platformer (with option for local co-op) made by the Norwegian team Henchman & Goon; the game is inspired by Norway's art and culture. Glo is a fallen star, and Bulder is a rock helping Glo get back home by climbing a mountain. They use their unique powers to get through the different levels.
I didn't have a lot of time to work on this one, and there are quite a few levels in the game. Typically when all the levels are hand crafted, I want to capture everything and then create the trailer based on the best bits that I can find like I did for The Adventure Pals. But something of a life saver was the fact that not all the levels were polished up enough to be in the trailer, so the team restricted me to a handful of levels they wanted to showcase.
All I knew going in was that the first part of the trailer was going to be a fully animated story scene, and then I'd have to do the gameplay section. I didn't have a final music track while working. So I concentrated on making the gameplay very clear so that the audience could understand what's going on. I also just wanted to show Bulder and Glo holding hands because THEY'RE SO CUTE!!!
I made a list of actions Glo and Bulder take in the different levels and rated them based on complexity, so that I didn't start off too complicated. So in the first shots they're just jumping on each other or using their powers individually, then build upon each shot. So in one shot Glo is growing plants, the next shot they're growing plants, which allows Bulder to climb up etc. Then I tried to show some back and forth with the co-op play.
When the edits get more montage-y I tried to cut on action. So for example, I'd cut before a character hit the ground, and then had something in the next shot activate right away. The second to last shot is the teleport which is the power with most steps, so I tried to make it very clear.
For this job I couldn't really ask for additional debug tools because they were working on the game in time for GDC. The only thing I was able to get was a toggle for button prompts, which was important because the game is cross platform. There was however one scene they wanted to capture where the button prompts couldn't be deactivated, so I had to change what level I used the teleport power in.
In the last week before it was due, I had some temporary music that I was editing to, but it was swapped out later with music from the composer which matched up to my cuts beautifully! I received the cutscene animation pretty late in the process; I trimmed it here and there so that it didn't drag too much. I wish that there could've been some sound design in it, but the music carried it wonderfully.
This ended up being pretty simple, but I'm happy with how it turned out. I really love this game, and hope that a lot of people play it when it comes out!
The Adventure Pals is a long in development action platformer game made by Massive Monster and published by Armor Games that originally started as a Flash game, and was remade many times over. For a look at its history you can watch this developer diary. I took one look at the game and instantly fell in love with its squishy, juicy art and its crunchy sound effects. I LOVE games with amazing sound design because it makes me want to press the buttons over and over. Everything in the game shines, squishes and wiggles around in a delightful manner.
At the beginning of the project I talked to Jay and Julian about what I liked about the game, and asked them what it is players at events liked most about it. Most people enjoyed the giraffe and the local couch co-op, so I made sure those elements made it into the trailer. The irony is that despite its wonderful presentation, I had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to make this trailer. You'd think that having fantastic audio and visual presentation would make it so much easier to work on, right?
Even if I didn't make the original trailer, I like to make sure that my trailers will fit alongside them, and provide something new; I don't want the audience to think that they're not seeing anything new when they watch a new trailer for the same game, because I feel like it won't re-excite them. Sometimes when I'm stuck on direction I'll watch the original trailer, and try to think of what aspect of the game that trailer didn't cover that I could show in mine.
The first trailer for Adventure Pals was made by Trailer Squad. After talking to the Adventure Pals team I found out that the direction for that trailer was actually inspired by my BattleBlock Theater trailer! There's a LOT of stuff in Adventure Pals, so I could easily see the thinking behind that trailer.
The thing that I wanted to showcase was the game's feel because it just feels great to play, listen to and look at. I love the control, the jumping, the snappiness of the giraffe grappling, how platforms appear after being activated etc. I knew this from the get go, but putting the trailer together took me a while to do.
I started by playing through the entire game. I didn't 100% it (I'm still missing a lot of the cupcakes) but I got through every level, which resulted in 5-6 hours of footage. I sat on this footage for too long; it was very intimidating seeing it all on the timeline. Instead of diving into the footage right away, I worked on the music.
There's a lot of great music in the game; that's something else I really wanted to put front row center in my trailer. I found 4-5 really good music cues that felt like good intro, middle and ending sections. The hard part was picking not only the best sounding ones, but the pieces that I could cut together. One of the few guidelines I got from the team was that they wanted to show a bunch of the underwater levels from the game. This forced me to use one section of music from the underwater levels, which ended up feeling like a good change of pace (constraints are helpful!)
I decided early on that the beginning of the trailer would be a "cold open" of sorts where I would just show a bunch of gameplay before the trailer really "starts." I originally thought I would do it with no music at all, but it felt kind of flat, so I found a section of music that helped me cut the section together. The tempo of that music was entirely different from the cue I was transitioning into, so I sped it up slightly in Adobe Audition to make it a smoother transition.
After that I tried to think of the direction for the trailer. My first idea was to have a lot of title cards and feature the squishy art alongside them. This way I could show the sheer variety of stuff in the game. I cut together an outline with title cards, and sent it off. Even in this state, people were generally on board with what I had, but called out the music transitions specifically. I wasn't worried about them because I knew that when paired with visuals (and some whoosh sound effects) the music transitions would feel motivated, and thus smoother.
After making this rough version I still hadn't dug into my 5-6 hours of footage. It just sat there like a massive pile of work that I had to do before I could get started. Finally I hunkered down, queued up some podcasts and went through it all finding the little moments in the game that I liked.
The things I looked for were fun and unique platforming moments, interesting enemy encounters, puzzles, aesthetically pleasing level design, and "combo" moments that I thought might be able to sync up to the music. I wanted a list of "ingredients" that I could pull from when I was ready to start cutting. It took a day or more for the first pass; when I was done I had about an hour of footage. I knew this was still way too much, so I went through that footage again and pared it down to about 16 minutes.
After this I started cutting. Almost as soon as I put down the first shots from my selects I knew that I had to throw out most of the text I had in my initial outline; it was way too much. I knew I wanted to show a lot of the game, and there was no way I could have the gameplay and the text be the focus all the time, so I trimmed it down to just a few key highlights for the transitions and end montage.
There's a LOT in the game to showcase, but I knew I couldn't show it all. So I focused on the combat, enemies and the platforming. At the most basic level, the trailer had to say: "You beat up stuff, jump and stuff." After I had my selects, I made a text document that rated each action in the game based on "intensity." For example, wall jumping would be low, but wall jumping off exploding blocks would be high. Using this I roughly decided which shots would be saved for the end, and which would be at the beginning. I didn't always adhere to it, but giving myself some restrictions helped a lot.
I wanted to fit in so much that I quickly realized the shots would have to be very short, so I chose shots for maximum readability. For example, I have a shot of the player getting eaten by a hot dog (pun intended) and then trying to fight out from the inside. There are a handful of spots in the game where you encounter this enemy type, but many of them had busier backgrounds, so I chose the least busy of them all. This is how I chose between shots that had the same action; if one had busier backgrounds, I'd choose the other version.
Once I decided what actions to put where, I did my best to make sure as much was in sync with the music as possible. This meant either finding moments where jumps/hits fit the beat, jump cutting, or just timing my button presses right when playing in game. For example, the timing of the wall jumps and hitting the hot dog. There are some sections where I cheated by putting in sound effects manually, but I don't think people will care that much :P
Some other elements I had to put in were cutscenes animated in Flash. YEARS ago I had some experience with Macromedia Director, but when I look at Flash's timeline I feel mostly lost. I managed to shift the timing of some backgrounds for the opening shots, flip some elements and change the timing of when the giraffe sticks out its tongue on the title screen. In the game cutscenes, they're facing the left, but I flipped them to face the right because it just feels better for me when character move left to right in trailers.
Last thing I did were the graphics. Before GDC I did a very quick pass on the graphics using just one set of level art so that the team would have something they could show people there, but after GDC I knew I'd go back in and make it all look nice and shiny. It took about a day of putting together Photoshop files for each title graphic, manually placing level art, tiles, and gathering particle elements etc.
Then with the layout ready, I imported the files into After Effects where I pre-comped elements that would exist on the same plane, and used Multiplane to offset them in 3D space. I also animated each piece of art with the puppet tool to mimic the squishiness of the game. This took another day of work for all the graphics. Transitioning out of and back into gameplay took a lot of finessing. Julian then took Photoshop files of the text from each graphic and touched them up to match the Adventure Pals logo.
That's pretty much it! I'm super happy with how this came out; I think that I captured the art and sound in a way true to what I find so satisfying about the game. I'm really pleased with how the graphics came out too, because I knew I had big shoes to fill in order to have them match the game. Thanks to everyone on the team for their help and encouragement; I hope the game finds its audience and is very successful. It's available on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox one and Nintendo Switch!
The final launch trailer for Octogeddon! George first mentioned the concept for this trailer almost a year ago when I first met up with him at GDC. I barely feel like I deserve credit for putting this one together since he came up with the concept, gave me the song and a rough version, and I just made it all nice and shiny.
Early last year I gave some editing suggestions to tweak the timing of the opening cutscene. The final isn't precisely what I put in my version, but the very slow slicing of the tentacle is one that made it in.
When George told me his concept for the trailer I immediately pictured the suiting up sequence from Army of Darkness. I sent him an early draft with a bunch of animal sound effects, but no visuals to help him picture what I was talking about.
The final version ended up sort of similar in approach, just without the trademark Sam Raimi zooms. Rich Werner, the artist had to custom animate those little segments. After a test or two we realized that the SWF files from Flash rendered better in-game than quicklimes exported straight out of Flash, so he created SWFs with pure blue backgrounds so that I could key it out in After Effects and overlay it on top of the gameplay. It wasn't quite so simple as that because there was still a little bit of blue in some of the art, so I had to combine a non-keyed version with the keyed one.
Another part of the trailer we wrestled with slightly was how soon to get out of the cutscene and into the gameplay. Originally, nearly the full cutscene played out including the Octopus getting the idea of destroying the Statue of Liberty to exact its revenge. I thought it would be better to skip straight from the Octopus' rage to the song, but George wanted to mull it over, so I gave him both versions; he ended up going with the shorter version.
Capture for me was pretty simple on this because George had some very specific tentacle and location combinations in mind, this let me skip straight to the appropriate levels to get what I needed. The debug tools let me easily customize my octopus and also spawn whatever enemy types that I wanted. As with all capture I do, we tried to keep the on screen information clear and uncluttered.
For the final montage we worried less about readability, and more about just showing off stuff to inundate the audience with the possibilities. They didn't need to see that there's a T-Rex or a Dragon head; they just needed a sense of the scope.
Another campaign wrapped up! Octogeddon is very simple to control, but a lot of fun to play. It's now out on Steam!
This request came in with very little lead time to finish it, but I couldn't say no because I love playing Dead Cells, the music is always epic, and the debug tools make capture very easy.
This trailer had less direction since I wasn't showing any particular new levels, enemies, weapons or bosses in the game. So instead I just went for variety. I took stock of the enemies I didn't show in the previous trailer I cut, the weapons with unique animations, magic and levels, and then started playing to find some good moments that I could then refine into shots.
With gameplay trailers where I don't focus on narrative I tend to stick to my style of matching gameplay to the music beats because it's what I find most fun to watch. Just try tapping your fingers to the beat to see the parts of the music that I did my best to sync up to. For the most part I synced it by playing at a certain speed, but occasionally I flub the sound effects like when the player is kicking the Beholder at 0:28.
The opening before the music kicks in took some finessing before I got it right. Initially it was pretty bland with just a lot of running and traversal. When I know that the music is leading to somewhere, my first tendency is to cut slow so that it makes a big impact when the music kicks in. But the team wasn't feeling my intro, so I spiced it up with some quick cuts, close ups and white flashes.
Most everything else was me trying to Mickey Mouse the combat to the music and show variety. For example, the shot of running up to using the lightning is meant to mimic the music kicking in. That shot took several takes because the enemies were running back and forth, and I really wanted to kill them all in one bolt. Sometimes I would get one or two, but the third would be too far away etc.
The shot of using the shovel was a happy accident because the higher level shovel shot off a bomb that went into an enemy that happened to be nearby. The grapple hook ends up doing nothing, but I was happy enough with the shot that I kept it in.
Fighting the axe throwing enemy took a LOT of takes because I wanted it to look super smooth where I attacked and killed it, then dodged the axe. Initially I tried jumping over it at the end, but later realized that rolling was faster. This might be too quick for people to realize how smooth it was, but I'll know what went into it ;)
For a lot of the shots I had to fine tune how much damage I inflicted on enemies because I wanted to kill them with a very specific amount of hits. The wall jumping shot took a lot of takes because I wanted to jump at a specific speed, and kill the enemy as soon as I got to the top.
This was a pretty quick trailer to cut, but it was a lot of fun. I can't wait to have Dead Cells on my Switch!
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This was a challenging project where I had one of my first real big missteps in the creative process. Luckily I had enough time to recover from it, and the trailer didn't suffer for it but I'm not happy about how I started this project off.
I never played Subnautica before getting this gig; all I knew at the time was that it was a very popular scary underwater game in Steam Early Access. I don't typically work on survival-genre games, but the game is so beautiful that I couldn't say no. I didn't know just how big a task I was signing up for.
At the start, I watched the previous trailers for Subnautica to get a sense of the game. I had a long conversation about the trailer's direction with Charlie Cleveland the head of Unknown Worlds. Previous trailers focused heavily on gameplay, but he wanted to highlight the single player story campaign to distinguish it from other survival games. Most survival games I'm aware of have no single player story (hence my general lack of interest) so this excited me. He gave me a rundown of the entire story, and then I asked for materials.
My first mistake was that I didn't play the game for a significant amount of time before starting work on the trailer. Because of this I had no idea how the story was told in the game. So when I requested files that included voiceover from the games' characters, I had no idea that they're mostly audio logs from events prior to the game, and are never depicted on screen in any way. I was intimidated by the size and scope of the game, so I thought going through raw dialogue files would be more efficient than playing this massive game. This mistake set me down a path I would've known was not worth walking down, had I done my due diligence.
I wasted a lot of time combing through the dialogue files, and constructing a video outline for the trailer that could not be told via the game's visuals. Even worse, the vibe of the video outline was that of a bombastic Hollywood trailer, which is the complete opposite of the feel of the game; this is another thing I would've known just from a few hours of playing the game.
This contains audio log spoilers
I spent the better part of a week making that outline, and only some dialogue remains in the final cut. After presenting it to the team, they immediately said that it wasn't reflective of the game, and they were absolutely right.
This response was completely my fault; it was on me to get it right the next time. So I dove in deep with Subnautica; I watched a LOT of YouTube tutorials about how to get started in the game, the numerous game mechanics, and just what you do in the game. From this I started my own game where I played the game in "Freedom" mode which removes hunger and thirst mechanics, but still leaves all the exploration, resource gathering, crafting and discovery.
I played enough to understand the core gameplay loop, then used debug console cheats to skip ahead to parts of the game that require hours upon hours of play to unlock. With this new knowledge I started my video outline all over again. One helpful thing I did during the previous cut was to subclip and transcribe all the dialogue into separate bins; this let me find what I needed very quickly.
I threw out all almost all the character dialogue because there was no way to visually support it, but a few lines I held onto because they could potentially work as a last line at the end of the trailer. I ended up strictly using the PDA AI voiceover because by it's mostly game world exposition.
Next I went through all of the music again to figure out which cues would be more fitting to the tone of the game. There were quite a few very high energy cues that I mostly threw out except for a few that might work for a short and snappy intro sequence. For the main body of the trailer I wanted ethereal, ominous, epic music that gave a sense of awe and wonder.
I decided I wouldn't tell much of the game's story at all. Cutting visuals to the character audio logs would require a massive amount of cheating, to the point that it would misrepresent the game. Also, if I showed visuals from the actual in-game story, I would very quickly get into spoilers. I ended up making a trailer that gave an overview of what you do in the game, with a very brief tease of the greater story.
The escape pod sequence is the first thing that happens in the game; it was featured in previous trailers, but I still wanted to use it so this trailer could exist in a vacuum. I wanted to spice it up a bit to set it apart from previous trailers, so I cheated some footage of gameplay to make it look like the player is running out of the exploding ship before escaping in a life pod.
For the main body of the trailer I made a list of all the biomes in the game, all the tools you use, and all the vehicles that you pilot; I needed to figure out what I would show, and what I would omit, because there's simply too much in the game to show in the trailer.
The best and worst part of this project was simply how big it was. I just had to do the legwork of exploring every biome enough to know whether I would show it in the trailer, how to show it off best, and why to show it. I explored every wreck, used every tool and researched the different creatures and resources.
I wanted to be true to the game as possible. For example, it's possible with cheat codes to go anywhere in the game without dying, but certain regions are at depths that require special vehicles, so I wrote down what biomes were at what depths, and what vehicles could go to those depths to make sure my capture was accurate.
The one thing I was very worried about was showing off the base building mechanics. I'm simply not someone who plays games where you build bases, forts or really anything; it's not something that I engage with in video games. I asked Unknown Worlds if they had any save game files with impressive looking bases, but surprisingly they didn't.
Unknown Worlds sent out word to the community via Discord and Twitter that they wanted impressive bases to feature in the launch trailer. I ended up with a little over half a dozen submissions, and the final cut used capture from three. Special thanks to: ComicalSkate, Games For Days and Sans the Skelebro for making the trailer even better than I could've hoped to in the time that I had!
The basic structure of the trailer stayed the same from my second video outline to the final cut:
- Cold open of ship exploding, and protagonist escaping.
- Contrast the bombast with a serene sequence that's in keeping with the tone of the game.
- Gradually introduce game mechanics reflective of the core gameplay loop.
- Show off the most impressive looking parts of the game
- Tease the greater story.
We also wanted to incorporate some quotes into the trailer, so I cut in some placeholder cards for spots where I thought they could work.
As soon as I had a video outline with this approach I sent it to the team who agreed that this was a much better direction. After I sent my first version with capture it was just a lot of iteration and refinement via notes from the team. Special shoutout to art director Cory Strader who worked with me closely to make sure the game looked as good as possible!
Some examples of changes I made to the capture:
- Incorporating more footage from brightly lit biomes; my first cut leaned more heavily on dark regions, but the majority of the game is spent in bright areas.
- Recapturing the reefback to give a better sense of scale via small fish and the environment.
- Enhancing basic swimming shots with actions like using tools.
- Shortening the intro to get get to gameplay sooner.
- Recapturing scenes during a time of day with more flattering light
- Avoiding animation glitches
- Recapturing so that aquatic life are featured more prominently in the frame.
There were also some debates about quotes, and how many to use. I was a little skeptical about having all the quotes coming from streamers and YouTubers, especially ones I'd never heard of, but if YouTube comments are at all a good measure, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
This was a challenging project, but I'm very proud of the final trailer, and the team members at Unknown Worlds were also very excited about the trailer. One of the most satisfying parts of my job is seeing a team get re-invested in their work after seeing my trailer for their game!
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I got this gig by handing Household Games a business card at PlayStation Experience 2016!
Way of the Passive Fist is a side-scrolling brawler heavily inspired by 90s arcade games like Final Fight and Turtles in Time. The twist is that instead of directly attacking your enemies, you parry their attacks until they're too tired to fight, and then you nudge them over (just like when Homer Simpson was a boxer). You can also build up a combo meter which will let you unleash a few super attack moves.
There are a variety of enemies, and palette swaps of each one, all of which have different rhythms to their attacks; it almost plays like a rhythm game. It starts getting tricky when you're fighting multiple enemies and have to remember the timing of each character.
I've long loved games in which you can parry attacks, e.g. Bushido Blade, Virtua Fighter, the Souls series, Assassin's Creed, Arkham Asylum, and a lot more. In many of those games, parrying is incredibly difficult with a very narrow margin of error; this game makes it easier and fun! Household Games' Jason Canam was delighted to hear me describe Way of the Passive Fist like this, because the game was made precisely for people like me enjoy parrying, but want a more forgiving difficulty curve. The game is also heavily inspired by EVO Moment 37 and the parrying system in Street Fighter III.
After PSX 2016, Jason contacted me in April 2017, well in advance of when they needed the trailer. I later met him and other members of the team at PAX and PSX in 2017. At PAX I talked to Orie Falconer, their sound designer & composer; he was eager to make some original music for the trailer. The infectious enthusiasm of the team got me even more excited to work on the game.
I first received a build of the game in mid December 2017, and proceeded to devour it. The game took me several hours to finish, but I couldn't stop playing. I'm a huge kung fu movie fan, and some of my favorite moments are when a master perfectly blocks an onslaught of attacks with one hand; this is exactly what I wanted to convey in the trailer. As is often the case, I came up with the concept for this trailer during my morning kung fu practice in a nearby park.
My pitch was: start with a lot of parries, show a tired enemy, cut out the audio, play the sound of the nudge, ramp up into an exciting montage, show the variety of the game, and climax with the player parrying attacks from all angles as the background and enemies swap out. The intro was designed to put the main mechanic of the game front and center so there'd be no misunderstanding what the core of the game is.
I pitched the idea to Jason, and he loved it. Orie had already been working on some very energetic music, which he sent to me. I quickly sent my own rough edit of the music that fit my concept. I requested some tweaks:
- Start with a lot of big beats in the beginning
- Reverb out the music after the first beats
- Leave the middle as is
- Ramp up the energy leading to the title card
He quickly turned this around, and it was perfect! He also gave me a 60 second version and an 80 second version.
There are a lot of enemies in the game's ten chapters, but the moves and sound effects were what drove the edit, everything else was cosmetic. Rather than waste time capturing footage from all the chapters and picking shots after breaking it all down, I captured perfect parries of each enemy type and the different player moves. Actually Jason graciously did that first round of capture; I knew it would be faster for him to do with his muscle memory of the game.
These differently timed parries served as my base ingredients in the edit. My hope was that the natural timing of certain combos would perfectly match the beats of the music; this edit would essentially be a sound edit.
I roughly blocked out what each section of the trailer would include:
- Intro parries
- Stopdown nudge moment
- Series of attacks & nudges
- More attacks
- Boss characters
- Unmoving parrying montage
The music Orie composed had a nice variety of distinct sections, so I matched up my outline to where I thought everything would best fit. Within each section, I cut in attacks and actions I thought sounded good when paired with the music and looked good cut together. This approach worked great, it meant that almost from the very beginning, the trailer sounded like a finished trailer, which made it even more fun to work on.
In the game, each attack is preceded by an enemy grunt of some sort which is essential to the game design, but not necessary for the trailer. I requested raw game sound effects from Orie so I could cut in the sounds for the most important actions in each shot, and leave out what might make the sound mix too noisy.
I presented this cut to the team; they loved it even in its rough form. The next step was to make every shot well composed and easy for the audience to read. I always worry about readability in my game trailers, especially when it's cut very fast. This trailer was a very quickly cut 60 seconds.
In my first rough cut, the intro parries rapidly cut between characters, but I realized it might be too overwhelming. I lucked out because the attacks of the robot enemies in the game fit the music PERFECTLY. This let me start the trailer with one long shot that could give the audience enough time to understand what was going on. Then with the basic parry mechanic established, I could do a montage that hopefully would be digestible with the context of the first shot.
In my build of the game I was only able to skip to each chapter, and I didn't have any sort of cheat to automatically defeat enemies. This meant that to save time I had to make a detailed shot list, because if I realized later I needed something from the end of Chapter 1, I would have to replay the entire Chapter. This would've taken a considerable amount of time even with expert play and turning all the difficulty settings down.
At this point in the process I had already done some rough capture of nearly the whole game; from that capture I made a sequence to catalog almost all the backgrounds. From this I decided what backgrounds would be in each shot for the trailer. The trailer would be cut so fast that I wanted to make sure the transitions between cuts were as smooth as possible.
Some things that guided my decision making were: busy-ness of each background, color juxtapositions within the shot and from adjacent shots, and the order of the chapters in the game. I also decided what enemies would appear in each shot; I wanted to show as wide a variety of enemy types as possible. I gave myself some wiggle room, because sometimes I chose background and enemy type combinations that didn't actually occur in the game.
After making this chronological shot list, I made an alternate version organized by chapter so I could capture everything in one pass. The most granular shot descriptions contained:
- Chapter number
- Sub area within the chapter
- Enemy type
- Action taken against the enemy
- Direction the player faces
For example: Chapter 7, Forest background, Crescent knife thrower, knife catch/throw, left.
It took about a day to make the shot list, and about the same amount or less time to capture. Since most of the shots were very short, I didn't have to worry much about multiple actions in a given take; the game has a generous checkpoint system that allowed me to redo a section very quickly. I also rigged up my TV with my makeshift 3x3 grid made of string and tape; this let me center the player as well as possible so I could seamlessly cut between the shots.
I then cut in all of this new capture, and for sections like the end montage I aligned the player sprites, so that the clips would cut together seamlessly (I had to zoom in a bit because the player position was never 100% consistent).
And that's pretty much it! Jason had some very light feedback on the capture, but otherwise my first full version was nearly everything in the final cut. The title graphic I made in After Effects using the help of Multiplane, and some light puppet tool on the boss characters to add a little visual interest.
I had an exceptionally fun time making this trailer; it's not often that I connect with a game so much AND get to make a trailer for it. You'd think I was sick of playing the game, but just writing about it makes me want to play more.
The game comes out March 6th on Steam, Xbox One and PlayStation 4!
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