Game Trailers as Tutorials - Part 3

Part 1 of this series was about taking the simple approach to making a game trailer that functions like a tutorial, Part 2 was about adding a narrative filter to the tutorial via a diegetic narrator, and Part 3 is well, just making your trailer a tutorial.

Previously, I briefly mentioned Grand Theft Auto trailers. While GTA games have their fair share of story trailers, they also have a lot of trailers that just describe the new updates and features. I find these trailers incredibly dull. If not for the fidelity and production value of the games, it would be even less appealing.

These GTA trailers are the best example of trailers selling a game as a product, and for these sorts of modes, a non-diegetic narrator is the easiest approach. The problem is, if you're not already somewhat interested in GTA V, this isn't going to do much to sell you on it. Former Apple CEO John Sculley described what Steve Jobs did as selling an experience, not a product. I think this is a good idea to keep in the back of your mind, even if there are things that sometimes need to just be said up front in a product description-like way.

Here are some nice examples of trailers that say: "This is a video game, and this is how you play it." Up first is the wonderful trailer for Tom Francis' game Heat Signature.

The trailer owes no small debt to its narrator, the delightful Alex Ashby (who also narrates the equally delightful Something True Podcast). The script of the trailer describes exactly what you do in the game, but its humor and execution are what really makes it entertaining rather than dry.

"You play a contractor living in a remote nebula taking on missions to break into spaceships. Breaking into spaceships is a ridiculous job that will certainly get you killed."

Games with complex systems can be very difficult to communicate, so it makes sense to give the trailer an extra helping hand of a voiceover explanation. That sounds like a dull approach, but the pattern here of a lesson followed by snarky commentary works splendidly; there's no way the audience finishes watching this without knowing what the game is about, while also having a smile on their face.

In general, I've found that the further away your camera is from the game characters, the more work you have to do to make the trailer engaging.

In general, I've found that the further away your camera is from the game characters, the more work you have to do to make the trailer engaging.

"Show, don't tell" is the mantra of filmmaking, but the lesson here is "If you're going to tell, do it REALLY WELL."

Another reason I think this was the chosen approach for this game is that while Heat Signature has deep interacting systems, it's visually difficult to parse what is going on due to the top down perspective, and the quick and snappy nature of the animations. The only thing I would do to improve upon this trailer is cut out a lot of the visual clutter of the game's UI, and tweak the editing and some of the game capture to make the funny bits even funnier. 

Another good example of this informational approach is the trailer for Fantastic Contraption.

One of the developers of the game, Colin Northway, tells the audience what it is you do in the game. Like he says, the game is simple, but the voiceover explanation helps out a great deal. This trailer has the double workload of communicating to the audience how the game is played, and also what it's like to play a VR game, so it makes sense to give it that extra bit of explanation.

After the opening narration gives the context for the game, the rest of the trailer is free to show off, knowing that the audience has the proper context to digest all the images. Without that context, the entire thing might just be abstract and confusing. But as it is, it looks bright, fun and appealing.

This straightforward way of telling the audience about the game will only work with certain games, and this is still just ONE way of making a game trailer. Hopefully this three part series gave you an idea of the variety of ways you can approach a game trailer. The tricky part is deciding which method is best for a particular game. And this is only if you want to make the trailer have tutorial-like elements. There are still a myriad of other ways to make a game trailer that I'll discuss in the future. I started with this tutorial-like method because it's one of the things that distinguish game trailers from movie trailers.

In the end, regardless of the direction of the trailer, the most important thing is execution. You can easily take these lessons and make bad trailers. All of these trailers depend on a certain combination of good editing, writing, game capture, sound design, motion graphics, animation, and voiceover. It's up to you or your trailer editor to figure out what your particular game needs.


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