I got this gig from Marlon Wiebe, and a nice recommendation from Jake Rodkin of Campo Santo; thanks everyone for hooking me up! Dave Gilbert also thought I'd be a good fit based on my Thimbleweed Park and Firewatch trailers.
I've known about Wadjet Eye for a while, but admittedly I've only played a couple of their games. I love point and click adventure games, so there's really no good excuse. Dave cut the trailers for all his previous games, but communicating Unavowed's unique design was giving him headaches, so he sought out help.
Other than the urban fantasy story of a secret society of protecting the world from supernatural forces, the hook for Unavowed is its Bioware RPG-like character system. In the game you can choose the gender of your protagonist, as well as an origin that gives you different dialogue choices/abilities when playing the game. On top of THAT, you have multiple party members to choose from when going on the missions. This affects the dialogue, puzzles, and NPC banter that happens when you're walking around. Just thinking of the amount of variations makes my head spin.
It was very important to Dave that the teaser communicate some of this system. I knew right away that we really really didn't want to use trailer-y title cards like: "CHOOSE YOUR ORIGIN!" In my opinion, that style/tone is better for gameplay focused games, not narrative games. It's important for the tone of the trailer to fit the game, and also the desires of the target audience.
After playing the game, I instantly honed in on the subway car scene where you pick your party members. This part of the game most explicitly shows the player making a choice between characters. The unnatural look of the characters standing up and swapping places instantly screams "VIDEO GAME!" without actually screaming "GAMEPLAY TRAILER!" With this scene alone (hopefully) solving the gameplay hook problem, I just needed some character dialogue or voiceover that fit with it.
So began the rigorous process of going through the dialogue scripts for the entire game ^_^; I've mentioned this process before for the Thimbleweed Park trailer and my blog post about breaking down dialogue. There's no fast way to do it; the key is to have an instinct for what constitutes good "trailer dialogue," and knowing how to organize it.
None of the dialogue for the game was recorded yet, so it was important to hammer out the trailer's script first. There are a lot of characters in the game; I sorted the scripts by file size so that I could start with the characters with the fewest number of lines, and quickly work through them (when doing very tedious tasks, I like to set up mini milestones so that it feels like I'm progressing.) Of course, the last scripts ended up having all the best lines because they were from the main characters, but at least it's all organized if/when needed for a future trailer!
I knew that there's eventually going to be a launch trailer, so the story I put together for this teaser is a high level view instead of a plot-oriented one. This meant introducing the world, the characters, and a very basic idea of the antagonist. The first script was mostly the same as the final, but we went through some versions with help from Emily Morganti who's a writer and PR consultant that works with Wadjet Eye and many other game developers.
Emily's main concern with early drafts was that one particular section focusing on the protagonist felt out of place in a teaser that was otherwise giving a top level view of the story. So I found some different lines to be more consistent with the rest of the trailer's story. Emily also noted that my capture favored the female protagonist, so I recaptured a few shots to balance them out.
Dave's main critique was he wanted more of the money shots. Usually it's the other way around where the trailer editor gravitates towards the money shots, and has to dial it back. I might have internalized the audience desire to avoid spoilers a bit too much, which made me more timid in my shot selection. Some cutscene shots were added later in the process, which added a lot of visual interest!
To make for a most interesting trailer in a point and click adventure game, include as much animation and as many establishing shots that you have. What you want to avoid is simply showing characters walking around (which is what most of the shots tend to be). That said, good voiceover will make the trailer much more watchable.
After we finalized the script, Dave sent it to Sungwon Cho to record his voiceover; he totally nailed it! I had to adjust my cuts here and there where his reading was slower than my terrible scratch VO, but nothing that was terribly difficult to do.
I've been experimenting with improving the sound mixing of my trailers; for this trailer I used some compression on the voiceover, which instantly made it pop. I did a double take when I first heard it, because I instantly recognized the feeling I've had in the past hearing my mix compared to one from a sound mixer. Note to self: Compression is one thing the sound mixer does to make it all sound way better.
I also applied some compression to the music. This brought the entire sound level up, which meant I had room to boost the sound effects. I still have much more to learn about sound mixing, but I'm happy that just a couple new techniques helped this trailer sound that much better.
The graphics were fairly simple because they were just a custom Widget Eye logo Dave sent to me, and the title card over a Photoshop background from the game's poster. I just added some rain particles, and a glow to the date and URL. This wasn't the most interesting use of this plugin, but for the glow I used Real Glow which you can get on AEScripts.com.
The most complicated part was actually the subway shot. The game build I had didn't have too many debug tool options; I could only skip to certain sections, and hide the dialogue choices. The problem was that in the game, when you mouseover a character in that scene, they turn red. Also, the cursor is visible all throughout the scene. Further complicating matters is the tunnel seen through the subway window.
What I wanted to do was have the characters stand up/down without any visible HUD elements, and according to my very specific timing. The final comp was a patchwork of masks to isolate characters, hide the cursor, and all manner of thing that probably could've been done more efficiently, but I got the shot; hopefully people understand what it's trying to communicate.
Hopefully I succeeded in solving this problem of seamlessly explaining the unique hook of this game. One problem that I hope we can address in the future is the choice of gender and origin for the protagonist. In the game, those choices are made via dialogue trees, so there wasn't an elegant way to show them. I'm excited to see what point and click adventure game fans think of this one!