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!