The Adventure Pals is a long in development action platformer game made by Massive Monster and published by Armor Games that originally started as a Flash game, and was remade many times over. For a look at its history you can watch this developer diary. I took one look at the game and instantly fell in love with its squishy, juicy art and its crunchy sound effects. I LOVE games with amazing sound design because it makes me want to press the buttons over and over. Everything in the game shines, squishes and wiggles around in a delightful manner.
At the beginning of the project I talked to Jay and Julian about what I liked about the game, and asked them what it is players at events liked most about it. Most people enjoyed the giraffe and the local couch co-op, so I made sure those elements made it into the trailer. The irony is that despite its wonderful presentation, I had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to make this trailer. You'd think that having fantastic audio and visual presentation would make it so much easier to work on, right?
Even if I didn't make the original trailer, I like to make sure that my trailers will fit alongside them, and provide something new; I don't want the audience to think that they're not seeing anything new when they watch a new trailer for the same game, because I feel like it won't re-excite them. Sometimes when I'm stuck on direction I'll watch the original trailer, and try to think of what aspect of the game that trailer didn't cover that I could show in mine.
The first trailer for Adventure Pals was made by Trailer Squad. After talking to the Adventure Pals team I found out that the direction for that trailer was actually inspired by my BattleBlock Theater trailer! There's a LOT of stuff in Adventure Pals, so I could easily see the thinking behind that trailer.
The thing that I wanted to showcase was the game's feel because it just feels great to play, listen to and look at. I love the control, the jumping, the snappiness of the giraffe grappling, how platforms appear after being activated etc. I knew this from the get go, but putting the trailer together took me a while to do.
I started by playing through the entire game. I didn't 100% it (I'm still missing a lot of the cupcakes) but I got through every level, which resulted in 5-6 hours of footage. I sat on this footage for too long; it was very intimidating seeing it all on the timeline. Instead of diving into the footage right away, I worked on the music.
There's a lot of great music in the game; that's something else I really wanted to put front row center in my trailer. I found 4-5 really good music cues that felt like good intro, middle and ending sections. The hard part was picking not only the best sounding ones, but the pieces that I could cut together. One of the few guidelines I got from the team was that they wanted to show a bunch of the underwater levels from the game. This forced me to use one section of music from the underwater levels, which ended up feeling like a good change of pace (constraints are helpful!)
I decided early on that the beginning of the trailer would be a "cold open" of sorts where I would just show a bunch of gameplay before the trailer really "starts." I originally thought I would do it with no music at all, but it felt kind of flat, so I found a section of music that helped me cut the section together. The tempo of that music was entirely different from the cue I was transitioning into, so I sped it up slightly in Adobe Audition to make it a smoother transition.
After that I tried to think of the direction for the trailer. My first idea was to have a lot of title cards and feature the squishy art alongside them. This way I could show the sheer variety of stuff in the game. I cut together an outline with title cards, and sent it off. Even in this state, people were generally on board with what I had, but called out the music transitions specifically. I wasn't worried about them because I knew that when paired with visuals (and some whoosh sound effects) the music transitions would feel motivated, and thus smoother.
After making this rough version I still hadn't dug into my 5-6 hours of footage. It just sat there like a massive pile of work that I had to do before I could get started. Finally I hunkered down, queued up some podcasts and went through it all finding the little moments in the game that I liked.
The things I looked for were fun and unique platforming moments, interesting enemy encounters, puzzles, aesthetically pleasing level design, and "combo" moments that I thought might be able to sync up to the music. I wanted a list of "ingredients" that I could pull from when I was ready to start cutting. It took a day or more for the first pass; when I was done I had about an hour of footage. I knew this was still way too much, so I went through that footage again and pared it down to about 16 minutes.
After this I started cutting. Almost as soon as I put down the first shots from my selects I knew that I had to throw out most of the text I had in my initial outline; it was way too much. I knew I wanted to show a lot of the game, and there was no way I could have the gameplay and the text be the focus all the time, so I trimmed it down to just a few key highlights for the transitions and end montage.
There's a LOT in the game to showcase, but I knew I couldn't show it all. So I focused on the combat, enemies and the platforming. At the most basic level, the trailer had to say: "You beat up stuff, jump and stuff." After I had my selects, I made a text document that rated each action in the game based on "intensity." For example, wall jumping would be low, but wall jumping off exploding blocks would be high. Using this I roughly decided which shots would be saved for the end, and which would be at the beginning. I didn't always adhere to it, but giving myself some restrictions helped a lot.
I wanted to fit in so much that I quickly realized the shots would have to be very short, so I chose shots for maximum readability. For example, I have a shot of the player getting eaten by a hot dog (pun intended) and then trying to fight out from the inside. There are a handful of spots in the game where you encounter this enemy type, but many of them had busier backgrounds, so I chose the least busy of them all. This is how I chose between shots that had the same action; if one had busier backgrounds, I'd choose the other version.
Once I decided what actions to put where, I did my best to make sure as much was in sync with the music as possible. This meant either finding moments where jumps/hits fit the beat, jump cutting, or just timing my button presses right when playing in game. For example, the timing of the wall jumps and hitting the hot dog. There are some sections where I cheated by putting in sound effects manually, but I don't think people will care that much :P
Some other elements I had to put in were cutscenes animated in Flash. YEARS ago I had some experience with Macromedia Director, but when I look at Flash's timeline I feel mostly lost. I managed to shift the timing of some backgrounds for the opening shots, flip some elements and change the timing of when the giraffe sticks out its tongue on the title screen. In the game cutscenes, they're facing the left, but I flipped them to face the right because it just feels better for me when character move left to right in trailers.
Last thing I did were the graphics. Before GDC I did a very quick pass on the graphics using just one set of level art so that the team would have something they could show people there, but after GDC I knew I'd go back in and make it all look nice and shiny. It took about a day of putting together Photoshop files for each title graphic, manually placing level art, tiles, and gathering particle elements etc.
Then with the layout ready, I imported the files into After Effects where I pre-comped elements that would exist on the same plane, and used Multiplane to offset them in 3D space. I also animated each piece of art with the puppet tool to mimic the squishiness of the game. This took another day of work for all the graphics. Transitioning out of and back into gameplay took a lot of finessing. Julian then took Photoshop files of the text from each graphic and touched them up to match the Adventure Pals logo.
That's pretty much it! I'm super happy with how this came out; I think that I captured the art and sound in a way true to what I find so satisfying about the game. I'm really pleased with how the graphics came out too, because I knew I had big shoes to fill in order to have them match the game. Thanks to everyone on the team for their help and encouragement; I hope the game finds its audience and is very successful. It's available on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox one and Nintendo Switch!