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!