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Neo Cab is an "emotional survival game" set in the not-too-distant-future border city of Los Ojos. It's very much inspired by tech's effect on people, Silicon Valley, the gig economy, and a slew of other topical issues. In the game you play as Lina who is a Neo Cab driver, the last human driver in a city full of automatic robot cars run by the Capra Corporation. Lina wears a special bracelet which indicates her emotional state; your dialogue options are directly opened up or limited by your emotional state.
I originally started on this project to make an announce trailer for the game's reveal around GDC 2018; that version ended up getting scrapped, but rather than let all that work be lost, I’ll show you what we did, and how it would’ve worked to introduce the game.
Neo Cab's dialogue isn't voice acted, so I knew text would have to be incorporated into the video somehow. My first concept was a moody teaser with text dialogue fading in and out of the scenes. I sent Patrick two references: Wong Kar-Wai's BMW film "The Follow" and the opening cutscene of Final Fantasy VIII.
For this approach I selected dialogue that showcased a variety of stories and people Lina encounters in the game; dialogue that is understandable without context. I made a few versions of this, one with very "trailer-y" narrator text, and another which was Lina's internal monologue, which is what we decided was best. Putting a lot of text in a trailer can be tricky, but it was our only option to convey the story since we didn't want to misrepresent the game by including voice acting. Adding voice acting, auditioning, writing and recording also adds on a significant amount of work and cost.
I requested the raw scripts for the game, which I received as Ink files, because the game is being made using Ink by Inkle Studios (the creators of 80 Days). I painstakingly read all the dialogue to find the bits for the trailer’s story. Here’s an early concept draft I made:
Through all of this I worked closely with multiple members of the team; here's a rundown of what everyone contributed to the trailer (they all probably did even more than I can list here):
Patrick Ewing, Creative Director - Collaborated on direction, implemented debug options, set up custom shots.
Felix Kramer, Producer - Made sure stuff got done, and was feasible within the schedule.
Vincent Perea, Art Director - Polished up art, lighting, composition etc.
Paula Rogers, Story editor - Rewrote my dialogue selects/edit to better tell the story, keep everything consistent and in-world.
Laura Sly, Technical Artist - Created custom animations and UI graphics.
Krista Sanders, Designer - Designed and animated title graphics and character dialogue graphics.
Joseph Burke, Composer - Composed music.
All this to say there were a LOT of people working on this trailer, and it was my job to give it all structure, pacing and clarity.
Close to GDC we realized there wasn't enough time get the visuals polished enough for the trailer. Instead, they released screenshots, and did private demos with press outlets.
Here’s the last version I made for this announce trailer. You can see how teaser-y this version is, and the music is totally different from the E3 trailer. The story beats and ideas are very broad because the goal was to establish: setting, theme and tone. This would’ve nicely set the scene for press interviews and give the audience something to remember the game by.
After GDC, work resumed for an E3 debut at the PC Gaming Show! The direction changed entirely. At that point, there were already articles for the basic premise of Neo Cab, so the simpler tease we originally planned wouldn't provide enough new information to be interesting within that context; we needed to get into story specifics to keep up the pace of information revealed about the game.
The new plan was to focus on the story of Lina's friend Savy, who is missing at the beginning of the game. The story of Neo Cab involves a lot of characters, but this storyline is the one central throughline in the game. When Chance Agency brought me back into the project they had a few outlines they wrote with Paula.
The new story treatments started with one passenger, Allie, who Lina picks up at the beginning. I could tell right away the story treatments were all too long, but I synthesized them into an outline that came out pretty close to the final. We changed my end scene to something a little less spoiler-y but ended up much more exciting!
This trailer would be more of a snapshot of the actual game loop. Show Lina picking up different passengers, while texting Savy in between gigs. Then it would climax with the "OHHHHH SHIIIIII" reveal of Savy being a wanted fugitive which would end the trailer with a mini montage/rise to end on a high note. Then after the climax Lina is contacted by Savy.
This was a much juicier trailer to make, and the added time meant a wider variety of shots could be designed and polished up. We also gradually simplified the middle portion of the trailer. We originally had some random passengers talk to Lina, but changed it to a montage because we were limited by the amount of time we had for the PC gaming show, and we didn't want to overload the audience with story threads and text.
The opening shot was a fairly late development, but I LOVE how big and bright it makes the city. It also establishes the robotic Capra cars, which make several appearances. The opening lines are to establish Lina as a rare human driver in a corporate run city, and the fact she's trying to find her friend. My build of the game had the ability to activate Lina and passenger emotes so I wouldn't have to wait for an expression to pop up. For example, I needed Lina to look down and to the right in order to lead the audience to her sending text messages.
The Neo Cab map with passengers was custom made by Laura specifically for the trailer since the in-game map wasn't done yet. This familiar image is there to establish the job Lina does (which is emphasized by her line overlaying the image)
The montage that follows is to give a sense of what you do in the game; you pick up passengers and receive ratings. With little time to show them, there wasn't much story that could be told without dialogue, but through the editing I told one mini story of the couple where the girl leaves the guy behind. That moment is inspired by this scene from The Simpsons where young Homer tries to unsuccessfully join a party.
After the montage is the final intense story climax which shows a lot of custom made stuff by the team, like Savy's face plastering every digital surface in the surrounding area, Capra cars driving around, Lina getting pulled over, and a shot at the end of a Capra car careening towards Lina for the final exciting boom before the title!
This trailer went through a lot of small iterations on the script and visuals, but aside from the GDC/E3 versions there wasn't ever a time when the core of it had to shift dramatically. It ended up even more exciting than I originally thought it might. Joseph's music did an amazing job setting the tone, and the visuals really came together well.
This project ended up being very similar to the E3 trailer I made for Firewatch since this was another game in early development when I started. I love working with a team of people whose individual strengths combine to make one cool thing. It's simultaneously humbling to see my shortcomings, but flattering to see how my unique skills contribute to the end product!
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Agent A is an escape room game with 60s spy movie aesthetic where you're chasing down rival spy Ruby La Rouge through her secret mansion. The game is coming to PC and consoles in 2019; chapters 4 of 5 are currently available on iOS and Android. I don't have a particular affinity for escape room games, but I played a few of the original Flash games on Newgrounds and the "Mom Hid My Game" series.
Before I played the game, my knee-jerk reaction was: "Escape room games don't have a lot of movement and animation; I don't know how interesting a trailer I can make." I changed my mind after I ended up devouring the game's first four chapters over the course of a few days. It's not often I find myself enjoying a game so much I need to stop playing to tell a client I'm interested.
In addition to its strong 60s spy movie aesthetic, it has a delightful amount of items, levers, secret codes, buttons, switches, valves, and things to interact with. It gets a lot of mileage out of its art design and music. Those aesthetics and the game itself got me very interested.
As always, I get excited to work on any game with spoken dialogue. Most of the dialogue is from Ruby La Rouge taunting you, but there's a little bit of exposition from the Chief of your spy organization. This provided the perfect framing for the trailer. Mark from Yak & Co sent me the music from the game as well as some custom compositions from their previous trailers. I stitched together a few sections to build the framework for the trailer.
In addition to the escape room mechanics, the most important things I had to depict were the scope of the grander narrative, art, and humor. In the game, Agent A exists only as text dialogue when they interact with the world, but I knew I didn't want to put any of the text in the trailer, because it wouldn't work when juxtaposed with the fully voiced characters.
To show the scope of the world, I shuffled around the order of the cutscenes. In the game, the explosion on the cruise ship happens at the beginning of the game, but I thought putting it at the end of the trailer would makes it look like the stakes were getting raised. In my early draft, I put the explosion in chronological order, and the trailer's dramatic energy struggled to build up through the end.
The humor was trickier to showcase without the benefit of Agent A's commentary, but I landed upon a funny little moment in the game where after several chapters of roundabout ways to unlock doors to retrieve keys you see one hanging from a hook in plain sight behind an unlocked cabinet. As soon as you open it, the shelf breaks and the key falls into some volatile chemicals.
In the game the shelf breaks almost immediately, but I didn't think it would work as is for the trailer. The reason is, the montage before the gag is cut very quickly and reaches a crescendo, but the shelf breaking as it does in game might be easy to miss; I needed the audience to clearly see the key. I increased the length of time between the events, and added some sound design to spice it up a bit since it's otherwise a very static frame. I even did my own recording of a key dropping into a cup of water because I thought it would make the moment clearer. I also added some sizzling and bubble sounds to indicate it's a dangerous chemical.
For the gameplay, I cut in as many recognizably puzzle-y looking devices into the opening as possible to make the game genre clear. I think devices, dials, and symbols are familiar visual language for "Puzzle game." Part of the reason I did this was because I knew the opening was very cutscene and exposition heavy; these gameplay clips were my way of placating the people who want to see gameplay as soon as possible. My hope is the people who understood what they see will stick around for more.
For most of the gameplay I didn't show the inventory, but there are some situations where camera moves prevented me from hiding it, but I think it's okay to have in a few spots to further illustrate what you do in the game. Escape room games don't have constantly moving things on screen like in other games, so I wanted to show interaction and movement as much as possible whether it was levers, keys being dragged into holes or camera moves.
My other concern was to avoid puzzle solution spoilers. There are some clues and items that could be construed as solutions, so I had to find the balance between showing an interaction without revealing the answers. So for example, at 0:48 I show a grid of buttons, but pressed random ones instead of the solution buttons. I wanted to show buttons being pressed and things unlocking to get that game loop idea into the audience's head. In a few cases I showed the result of a partial solution as a tease to the audience. For example, one out of four locks opening on a big red button. Hopefully they'll see those and think: "I have to find out what happens when you open the whole thing!!!"
For debug options, I had the ability to hide the pause button, inventory and on screen interaction animations (there was a little circle that popped up where you touched the screen). There was also a mode to unlock all the doors, fill the inventory, and also a button to automatically solve the puzzle of the current screen.
I really like how this trailer came out. The art, sound and music made it a very pleasant editing experience. I also enjoyed adding in some of my own foley which let me scratch my sound designer itch. The game is coming to consoles in 2019, as well as the final chapter; I can't wait to finish the game!
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I got this gig because Jonathan Erhardt of Cosmoscope saw my GDC talk about game capture! I first saw Morphies Law a couple years ago via their alpha teaser; I recognized it right away. How many other body mass transferring games out there can you think of?
I don't typically do trailers for multiplayer games because they can be very labor intensive if you want to get good footage. At Hammer Creative I worked on a game called Dirty Bomb which involved the capture team calling in help to get some shots of multiple players moving with very specific blocking. We were all talking via the office phone line, and in the game there was a lot of shooting bullets at the ground to show people their marks. It took a really long time to coordinate the blocking, execute it, do multiple takes etc.
I knew I didn't have the capability to do this sort of thing, but when I found out there was an offline mode with bots I knew I could do it with just a handful of shots requiring other people. I also couldn't resist the unique hook of the game.
I had several conversations with Cosmoscope to figure out what needed to be communicated about the game. Here were the primary ideas:
Shoot body parts to grow your own
Parts that are bigger mean chosen powers are stronger.
There are pluses and minuses to being big or small
Local and online multiplayer
There were also some very "game-y" mechanics they wanted to include too, such as:
Gyro Aiming Controls
60 frames per second
I was okay with showing custom weapons and Morphies because they're easy to show visually, but I initially questioned the need to mention gyro aiming controls and 60fps, but those two came from Cosmoscope's understanding of the Nintendo Switch multiplayer community. Apparently Splatoon's excellent gyro aiming controls mean that any multiplayer game released on Switch inevitably gets asked if it has gyro aiming controls; it's a thing. 60fps is also a concern, but I didn't see much harm in putting it in especially since it added a little gag to the trailer by saying "60ish frames per second."
With these goals in mind, I made a rough shot list and organized it into shots I could capture on my own using bots, and shots that required a private multiplayer session with Cosmoscope.
Shots I captured by myself included:
Over-the-shoulder shots of Morphies shooting
Morphies running (with different body shapes)
Morphies using their abilities
Camera flying around the maps either empty or with bots
There weren't as many multiplayer shots, but they still took 3-4 sessions to capture them all. These shots included:
Shots of Morphies standing still in formation
Morphies standing and shooting each other
Morphies chasing each other in specific areas
Groups of Morphies shooting one enemy
I also made a list of debug options necessary to get the shots I wanted. For example, in the game the Morphies never face towards the camera; their torso and legs move independently from each other. This meant I could never have them run towards camera, perpendicular or diagonal to the camera. Game trailers where you're always looking at the characters' backs would be quite boring indeed. So an option was added to toggle torso attachment to the limbs. I also got an option to offset the camera's position relative to the player.
Because of resource limitations I didn't get all the debug options I would've liked, so it wasn't an ideal capture scenario. For example, the freecam gave me some problems because in certain cases it still had collision, which meant I couldn't pass through walls, large fans would blow me away, and spikes would kill me. Also, the camera was very difficult to bring to a complete stop. Imagine if you had a dying helium balloon that you're trying to nudge into an exact position.
Story doesn't play heavily into the game, but I asked them what their backstory for the game's setup was. I also riffed off of this trailer they released a year prior. This trailer has all the important game design information, but there's a LOT of text in it. I took this script and reduced it to as few words as possible so it would be easy to digest. Best case scenario, the words I chose could be used as messaging for the game because it would communicate the ideas clearly and succinctly.
This was a tremendously busy time for me, so I enlisted help from my friend William J. Meyer to make the graphics for the trailer. I previously worked with William at Eyestorm Productions on Clash Royale spots. I wanted to use the graphics as another means to explain the game's mechanics. To illustrated the mechanics, the words got "shot" and then change their proportions accordingly. William ended up making a LOT of graphics, but I also ended up cutting a lot of animation out because of time or because multiple graphics with the same animation started to feel repetitive.
Cosmoscope also wanted voiceover for the trailer, which would lessen the burden for the text, but also was another element that took time to get set up. I contacted Brent Allen Hagel from Trailer Voice Artists who had recently followed me on Twitter. For the Day of the Dead theme I wanted a Mexican female voiceover artist. He hooked me up with Issa Lopez who I directed over the phone. I've mostly piggybacked voice direction sessions at previous jobs, so I nervously read a ton of "do and do not" articles about directing voice actors; it's still something I need more practice doing.
I spent a while figuring out how to come up with the "robot voice" sound. I watched a LOT of YouTube videos and learned a lot of not so great sounding effects, and how to make GLaDOS' voice effect, but none of them sounded very good. Cosmoscope mentioned they liked the sound of Wall-E's voice. This turned out to be a very unique type of processing that was difficult to find a solution for without hundreds of dollars in audio software.
I ended up using the method from this video on the Voice Granulator effect. I don't fully understand the process, but by dragging a line with my cursor over the software's grid, I affected both the pitch and speed the audio file played at. So if I dragged the line very low, the pitch was low, if I dragged it fast, it played fast. With some practice, I got it working! I made several "takes" of each line, and picked my favorites.
After hearing it, Cosmoscope ended up wanting a male voice instead of female. Since the processing obscured the voice so much, I took a shot recording my own voice instead of trying to find another actor. They ended up liking it, so the finished trailer has my voice in it :P
This trailer took a lot of finessing to get things just right. Sometimes we also had to deal with glitches or bugs that had to be fixed after we saw them in capture. This was my first time hiring a motion graphics artist, and an important lesson I learned was to aggregate client feedback to make things simpler. Early on I made the mistake of sending feedback as soon as it was received, which led to a lot of fragments in multiple emails. In the future I'll wait a little bit to make sure I have everything before passing it along. It's funny, because as an editor this is exactly the approach I prefer, but when it came my turn I didn't think about it until I realized what I was doing.
There's a LOT being said in this trailer, so it was very important for each shot to have just one idea so it didn't get lost in a confusion of shots. It was a lot of work combining all these elements, but I think it worked out. I'm still not a big fan of making trailers with a lot of call outs, because I think they can get kind of rote, but I think the novelty of the game's design earned us the right to be a little formulaic at the end. Also, the custom composed music played no small part in making it as exciting as possible!
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Nick Pearce is the creative director of Modern Storyteller; he created one of the most successful and ambitious Skyrim mods ever. This is the standalone version of the game with all new art, setting, characters and a lot more. When Nick contacted me I took a look at the trailers for the original mod, and due to my love of first person narrative games, pretty much said yes right away.
The primary goal for this trailer was to make something to appeal to a new audience, and fans of the original. The mod was downloaded by about 1.6 million people, and Nick wanted them to know this was a fully featured game, and not a re-skin of the mod. I kept this in the back of my mind, but I honestly didn't worry about it too much because of how far away the release was.
A teaser that says too much risks informing the audience enough to make a decision not to purchase the game, but one that does its job will keep them hanging on enough to pay attention. All we needed to do was entice people enough to follow the game either by adding it to their Steam Wishlist, subscribing to a newsletter or following the game on Twitter.
The trailer's story structure started with the voiceover, which is an amalgam of lines taken from two characters. I decided early on I wouldn't show any characters speaking on screen because a voiceover that alternated between voices would've been confusing. I put the script together as soon as I could so Nick could cast and record it.
They key points of the script were the setting of the game, the idea of a time portal, the central conceit of everyone dying from one person's transgression, the idea of time repeating, and what the player has to investigate to save the day. When the voiceover script was roughly finalized it was a matter of finding visuals to accompany each moment.
This was my first gig since my GDC talk about game capture, which meant I had some of the best camera tools I've had thus far on a game! The game's programmer, Alex Goss, implemented a freecam with controls that let me change the speed of the "walk" and look, the amount of smoothing, and the dead zones. At certain settings this meant the camera would gradually start and stop just like I wanted!
I also found an unexpected feature that I used for the section of the trailer around 0:41. In my special build, the freecam was activated by pressing the "=" key. When I pressed it, the camera would move from the player's current position to the freecam's position and vice versa. This meant the camera would move very quickly from one position to the other with motion blur and everything!
The trailer opens in a hallway of gold statues. In the game, the statues turn to face you when you're not looking. I really liked this unique effect, so I thought it would be a good cold open. I did a LOT of takes, but it was very difficult to get the camera centered on the statue after the final swish pan. In execution this shot was very similar to the opening of the Firewatch E3 trailer, but I wanted the camera to be very smooth at the beginning, which meant using a controller instead of keyboard and mouse.
The final shot is actually two takes stitched together. The first is me walking down the hall, turning to look at the statue, turning away and then suddenly turning back. The first shot ends mid-swish pan. The second shot is just me turning to the statue and zooming in. Breaking it down meant fewer points of failure in one long choreographed shot, and with a quick dissolve on the swish pan, it looks seamless.
The title card "A re-imagining of the award winning mod" is the only graphic in the trailer, but it was very important to Nick to have this messaging in there. The graphic is made from a Photoshop document of the game's title screen with some After Effects enhancement. I couldn't believe that the look was created by a lot of well done layer styles! I also color graded the shot to darken the background so the text would stand out, but the log in front stayed bright.
The shot of the statue/falling into the hole took several takes because there's a rotating trapdoor that I wanted to fall backwards through, but I also wanted to look at the statue as I fell, so I had to quickly run forward, but then back up before the front of the platform caved in.
The "window into the past" shot had several takes where I rotated around the entire portal while rotating smoothly and trying not to clip through the walls. Of course, in the end I only used the smallest bit of that rotation. The debug camera helped make the transition from rotating to moving forward very easy!
The "Everyone will die" section was the most complicated shot to capture. Nick put in a debug option where through a series of console commands I could spawn a character that would play a specific animation, and then turn to gold. I could change how long it took before the animation executed, and when the gold change happened. It took a lot of tweaking to get it just right because I wanted the characters in specific positions to make the composition look good.
Most everything else was pretty straight forward to capture. The shot "save these people" was composed by Nick in my build and I just had to choose how to film it. The shot of the player's hands turning to gold required some custom lighting by Nick, but I chose the backdrop of the light beam because it looks very pretty.
Based on the comments the trailer received, it looks like there are a lot of very enthusiastic fans of the original mod who are more than happy to purchase this game when it comes out. I know that isn't the most accurate metric, but it is certainly encouraging, so I'm very pleased with how it all turned out!
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Bravery Network is an online turn-based fighting game with similarities to Pokemon. I love its aesthetic of 3D backgrounds mixed with 2.5D sprite animation. The game is in development by Gloam Collective.
They already had a draft of the trailer when they approached me, but knew it needed to be fixed up. The original draft was just under a minute long. My first critique was that it took too long to get to the gameplay. The intro was about 20 seconds long and consisted of logos, some text, and a lot of establishing shots; this is way too long for very little to be happening on screen.
I have mixed feelings about logos. As an editor I enjoy using them to separate a cold open from the intro, but I also believe they shouldn't be in the trailer if there isn't any name recognition.
My other concern were the questions I had after I finished watching it. It's not bad for the audience to have questions after watching a trailer, but they should fundamentally know what it is they saw, and want to find more information. I didn't know if it was a fighting game, single player, multiplayer, and what exactly the player does in the game.
I talked with Chris and Min-Taylor to uncover what the audience should understand from the trailer, and these are the essentials:
Online multiplayer game
Turn based combat
Pokemon style choose-who-fights combat
Colorful cast of characters
They solved the first problem by adding "Online" to the title. Early on, I had an idea to add Player avatars or usernames to the top of the screen, because that's familiar visual language for online games. We ditched that because there wouldn't have been a way for the audience to know if the avatars and names were part of the in-world fiction or real human players.
To make the turn-based combat clearer I suggested showing gameplay UI similar to Pokemon or Final Fantasy; people familiar with the genre would recognize that. I also suggested damage and status numbers pop out of the characters, because that's typically another strong visual indicator of a turn-based game.
The original draft had a small character selection sequence towards the end of the trailer, but I thought it was necessary to show that up front to introduce that idea early; a new shot with cursor selecting players was added, and timed to the music.
The cast of characters are featured throughout, but during the introduction I thought that some quick insert shots between the arena shots would liven it up. Gloam Collective created some small character vignettes to fill out the introduction. We originally had more shots, but cut out about half of them because they weren't on screen for long enough to be read properly.
The game was in very early development, so every shot was made by hand in Unity. This meant there was no capture for me to perform or cut with; everything had to be custom made. To get started I took the original teaser, and increased or decreased the length of the shots as necessary. I also mocked up some moments in After Effects so Min could use them as reference.
To accommodate my new cut, the composer did a pass on the music, and remixed it. As Min finished up shots I swapped them out in my cut, and we were done!
I often question the value of what I do when I'm hired on for projects where my hands aren't on the project as much, but I remind myself that they came to me for my years of experience making and thinking about trailers. A lot of trailer editing feels very simple in execution (e.g. providing context for ideas before showing them) but it can be difficult to be impartial when you're so close to the work.
Especially when time is of the essence, I know that when someone asks me a question about a trailer I typically have a response either at that exact moment or after a bit of thinking. I think about this a lot when I'm purchasing products or services. If the money spent is less than it might cost me to figure out on my own (and the quality is better too), then it'll be worth it.
I hope this teaser gets people interested in the game, and I'm looking forward to seeing more!
Anamorphine is a surreal first person game about a man named Tyler taking a journey through his mind as he deals with the depression of his wife Elena, and his own struggles with it. In the game you explore his mind by walking through his distorted memories represented by abstract landscapes, and the places he experienced with his wife.
I was immediately drawn to this project because I love first person exploration games, and I knew this would be a challenge unlike any other!
Artifact 5 initially contacted me for a trailer they needed in Spring 2017, but I couldn't do it because of prior commitments. Josh Cauller ended up making that trailer. Later in the year around August, they got back to me and asked me to pitch a concept for the trailer. I would typically say no to making a pitch video, but my interest in the project won me over. To make the process as fast as possible, I cut with screenshots I took from the game instead of full capture.
Since the game works without any dialogue or text I wanted the trailer to work purely visually as much as it could. My idea for the structure was to start with the "inciting incident" which is a bike accident. Then I would intercut between the events leading up to the accident, and Tyler's depression after it.
The demo I had at the time was only a small portion of the game, but it was enough to cut together the contrasting images. Samantha described the full events of the game to me, so when I sent my pitch video I explained which parts of the trailer would include latter game events.
They liked my concept, and hired me!
When I started full production on the trailer I went back to my concept, and filled in the shot ideas I had with full capture, and made selects for the other visually striking parts of the game (there are a lot!). My initial pitch was fairly light on showing the more surreal parts of the game like its use of transitions, and scenes where real life objects co-exist in places they shouldn't. For the final version I made sure to show as many cool visual effects as I could without getting too spoilery.
This isn’t the typical game where I can naturally build upon new mechanics or weapons, so I instead tried to make the shots more and more surreal as the trailer went on. Glass bottles assembling around a door frame and then creating a portal was about as surreal as I was willing to get, so it’s one of the last shots. I also ended up using the cello assembly as something of a framing device to guide the audience through. My thinking was if the audience saw the cello partially getting assembled, they’d stick around to see it get finished (hopefully it worked).
I also realized I would need some story text to orient the viewer because they don't have the benefit of exploring, and thinking deeply about what it is they're looking at. So I pored over all the official Anamorphine press kits, blog posts and anything written about the game to come up with: "How do you build a future? Without being consumed by the past?" I thought that nicely summed up the crux of the game's themes.
I knew Anamorphine would be a very niche game due to how it plays and its subject matter, but I didn't worry about "selling" it to a broad audience. First person exploration games are niche, but there is an audience for them. I decided an attempt to make the trailer more broad with a hard sell would alienate both audiences because fans of the genre would feel put off, and people who aren't fans would think we're trying to pull a fast one on them. So, I just did my best to show what the game is, and what its strengths are.
A particularly difficult part of this project was the music which is mostly comprised of cello and string instruments along with dynamic dream-like music that ebbs and flows. Fortunately I didn't end up having to worry about it too much because the game's composer and sound designer Beatrix Moersch ended up doing the final pass on music once my cut was locked.
Execution of capture was fairly straight forward for most of it. There were debug console commands that let me adjust look and walk speed as well as a freecam so I could "crouch" and fly around where necessary. The numbers I had to enter to adjust sensitivity didn't always make sense to me, but I made it work.
The most difficult shots were ones that required precise timing like Elena walking to the bicycle present, and the tracking shot from behind. The cello "assembly" shots were also difficult because of how the camera had to move and look at the same time.
For the early shot where the game jump cut transitions from the present to the past, I put blue painter's tape on my TV to line them up well enough to make it look relatively seamless.
I also made some simple graphics that were motion tracked into the scene. These are pretty cliche as far as trailer graphics go, but I thought they fit with the aesthetic of the game. I also used the plugin RealGlow which allowed me to match the glow of the game rather well. The latter portion of the trailer incorporated some press quotes to add pedigree to the game.
This was a big change of pace from games I usually work on, but I had a bunch of fun making it!
I got this gig when Derek Yu DMed me on Twitter! He said they originally intended to hire me for the announce trailer, but ran out of time and ended up doing it internally. He later remembered to contact me for the gameplay trailer after I tagged him on my recommendation for his Spelunky book.
I'm going to gush a little here; this was the rare gig where I immediately start pinching myself because Spelunky is one of my favorite games. Veteran players will scoff at these numbers, but between my Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and Steam account I've played well over 200 hours. When I used Spelunky as an example in my GDC talk about game capture, I allowed a small part of me to indulge in the fantasy of working on a trailer for Spelunky 2.
Sufficient to say this was a dream gig!
I got my first build of the game in late June, but production didn't start in earnest until August. Derek sent me the game; I played in my spare time to get a feel for it, and started a list of what to put into the trailer. The game controls the same as the original, so all my muscle memory transferred over with no problems.
The original launch trailer Kert Gartner made for Spelunky HD is a branching trailer with a narrator speaking in verse; I knew this wasn't something I would be able to do without writing help, nor was I sure it should be done again. Instead I focused on what the experience of playing Spelunky meant to me.
Spelunky is known as a very hard game. It's a very precise, deliberate, and unpredictable game, but the suddenness of death makes it very funny. What encompasses Spelunky to me is when one unexpected thing on your hundredth or thousandth run causes a chain reaction ending in your death.
One mandate from Derek was to highlight the characters, because as of Spelunky 2 they all have names! In the game they're still functionally the same, but this montage of the characters provided a basic structure for the trailer. In addition to the characters, he wanted to show the story introduction, and mention the online multiplayer!
These key points are how I arrived at this structure:
Open with an exciting long take of gameplay that ends in a sudden death.
Story introduction of Ana landing on the moon
Brief gameplay of Ana
Introduce online multiplayer
Character specific montages
I made an outline version with placeholder text, rough timings, and music notes so Eirik Suhrkecould start making music for the trailer. I wouldn't be able to do final capture until August because Derek and Blitworks were working on the game for its debut at PAX West, but in the meantime I could play it, and plan out my shots. Since Spelunky's levels are randomly generated, the most I could block out per shot were the character, setting, actions, items and enemies. The level layouts were by luck of the draw.
I was most worried about capturing the opening sequence. I decided on a long extended sequence because I knew Spelunky fans would be chomping at the bit to see any gameplay; I knew they'd have no patience for a cutscene introduction. I didn't want the death at the end to look like I killed myself deliberately; I wanted it to look like a typical accidental Spelunky death that I just happened to capture. I initially assumed I'd stumble upon a moment like this simply by playing the game a lot. I used Nvidia Shadowplay's "Replay" feature which constantly records gameplay, but doesn't save a video file until you press a hotkey; you can set the interval of time you want it to buffer from 30 seconds up to a few minutes. This allowed me to save hard drive space, but never miss a moment.
My first approach to get the intro was to play in the first area of the game somewhat recklessly, but after many attempts I didn't get anything interesting, or the shot was too long because the actions I captured were spread out too far. I shifted gears and started each run with a jetpack/shotgun combination. In Spelunky HD that combination is pretty much the strongest loadout a player can have; I thought it would be funnier to show a powerful character die in a silly way. For a while I stayed in the first area of the game, but later changed the setting to the more hazardous and spacious volcano region.
One snag I hit in the volcano levels were falling platforms that impeded my progress through the level; these stay in place until something touches them on top, then after a couple seconds they fall. There are certain areas where they’d add 1-2 seconds of standing still, and breaking the momentum. I previously read Derek's book about the design of Spelunky which is nicely summarized in this video by Mark Brown so I took this knowledge to dig into the game's files to customize the level layout for the sections that might block my path. I replaced a few symbols in the files, and those falling platforms were gone! This didn't end up being necessary for the level in the final capture, but it was fun to customize the game to have a better chance of a good shot.
I played and played until I found a level which allowed me to take a lot of interesting actions in a quick and exciting manner. Some of the actions I chose to do in this opening were inspired by accidental things I did in other plays, like killing a caveman and stealing his mount. I can't put a precise number to how many hours I spent to capture the opening, but it was quite a lot. Fortunately there was a debug option to reload that level that allowed me to play it over and over again to get the perfect take.
This is the rare trailer where I didn't worry about teaching the game to the audience at all. Spelunky already communicates very well visually because it's about hitting and jumping on things, but more importantly I wanted to cater to the people out there I knew were dying to know what is new in Spelunky 2 after waiting nearly a year to see gameplay footage. No sense in being coy when you have an audience waiting for the opportunity to pick the trailer apart, and share it with their friends.
After playing quite a bit, I made an inventory of the new things in the game. Via the debug menus I had literal lists of the power up items, level biomes and some of the enemies. So I ranked them from most mundane to most exciting, and also cleared with Derek what was okay to show and what wasn't. I then decided how to form the waves of the montage. I didn't want the trailer to start with the most mundane and end with the most exciting; I wanted to it to rise and fall in excitement from beginning to end.
I thought of each section of the trailer like a mini teaser unto itself. For example, I didn't want all the clips in one section to be from one biome. To entice the audience to keep watching, I made sure the last clip in each section was set in a different biome. For example, the first montage ends in the jungle, but the beginning of the second montage one goes back to the first area. Hopefully the audience will think: "Wait, where'd the jungle go? Go back to the jungle!"
It wouldn't be as interesting had I structured the trailer mini-montages as:
This point by point structure wouldn't set the expectation that something new was coming, but by putting in one shot per montage in a new biome I feel like it had a better chance of hooking the audience. Essentially, I waved something shiny in front of their face, then yanked it back just as quick. Would that new area get shown again? They have to watch in order to find out.
In addition to new enemies and power ups there are some fundamental things about Spelunky 2 that make it different from the original that a new audience might not understand the implications of, but I knew Spelunky players would watch and think: "Wait, WHAT??? Go back to that, what just happened??" Namely liquid physics and equipment that offer new mobility options.
The next step was to make a cut with some first pass capture that showed what I wanted in each shot, just not captured well in terms of composition, performance or timing. From when I started to when I performed final capture some features like the moles were added in, so I incorporated them into the final cut.
For the coop scenes my friend Mark (who is also a HUGE Spelunky fan) happily helped me out over a few weekend afternoons. There was a debug option added later which hid the flag that is visible when playing in local multiplayer.
Once I figured out what was in each shot it was simply a matter of loading and reloading the levels until I ran into a level layout that I found clear, aesthetically pleasing, and gave me enough room to perform the actions I wanted. Derek showed me how to modify the probability of certain enemies showing up so I could save time. Some shots like Ana getting chased by the rolling enemy and the shopkeeper climbing the ladder I captured by sheer luck.
The shot of Margaret jumping on robots, the turkey riding caveman, then riding the turkey into the explosions in particular took a LOT of takes. I had some cheats to spawn those enemies, but jumping from one to the other, then to the turkey and jumping over the robots and "Yoshi jumping" off the turkey so it would explode AND to have the cooked turkey clearly visible was very difficult. In the end I made it a bit easier on myself by cutting together two separate takes.
Margaret being swept away by the water is another that took a while. I originally had a take that I really liked, but the swimming animation wasn't visible so I reloaded until I found a pool big enough with spikes below. I ended up bombing away the terrain below the pool to make the drop bigger because I really wanted to see the water flow.
The teleporter backpack shot with Colin is there explicitly because my friend Mark said the speed running community would go crazy over that because it means the ability to teleport while holding an item. I'm terrible at using the teleport, so I just did take after take, and hoped I didn't teleport into a wall and die. Derek contributed one bit of capture where Colin gets swarmed by monkeys. In that version they steal a bomb which then explodes and he falls on spikes, but sadly there wasn't enough time to show all of that.
After finishing the build for PAX, Derek made the character illustrations, and I used the game textures to make backgrounds for the graphics. I originally experimented with a look from this Video Copilot tutorial, but it contrasted too much next to the hand drawn art of the game. Instead I roughened the edges of the text a bit and added some paper textures. I made some light text animation, added in particles and they were good to go!
The trailer was well received, and gave plenty for die hard fans to dig into frame by frame. Towards the end I worried the trailer is too fast to follow, but I'm pretty confident the most important parts of the shot are clear, and everything else in the shots are details people can see by rewatching it. There are even a handful of features in the game I didn't realize were in there despite me going in frame by frame to make a list of what new features are in the trailer.
I met Derek and Erik at PAX West, and had a lot of fun talking about the game and the trailer. I don't know when the game will be out in 2019, but I can't wait to play the finished version!
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