The announce trailer for the upcoming game Ape Out is one of the most brilliant game trailers I've ever seen. Not only can you watch it as a video on YouTube, but you can download and play it on Steam. It's a PLAYABLE trailer!
Ape Out is an action game about an ape escaping imprisonment at some sort of facility. The game is viewed from a top-down perspective like Hotline Miami, and in it you fight guards of various types in your struggle to get out.
The art is highly stylized with muted backgrounds and brightly colored silhouetted characters. The music is a reactive jazz score of drums and percussion. I always say good art and music puts your trailer ahead of the pack, and this proves it in spades.
The trailer starts with some very bold title graphics accompanied by energetic drums and cymbals which gradually come to a stop on an overhead shot of the ape in a cell.
Then a SMASH CUT to the APE OUT title card as the ape smashes a guard into the wall in a pile of blood and limbs.
Then it cuts to the ape fighting a few more guards. When the last one is killed there's a title card for: "A game by Gabe Cuzzillo." Typically I'm against credits at the beginning of a trailer because unless it's a well known developer or publisher, it won't do anything for the audience except take up their time. But here the credits are integrated so well they feel very much a part of the whole trailer. Their sudden appearance and bold design make a very big impression.
The shots gradually increase in intensity. We learn the ape can grab enemies, there are exploding enemies, the ape can remove metal doors to use as a shield and offensive weapon, they can use guards as a shield and weapon, and there are flamethrowers.
The final shot creates a great sense of anticipation and momentum because it's a very long hallway where the ape has no choice by to move forward. The color palette also shifts so the ape is now white; this gives it stark contrast to the previous shots. Bongo drums kick in, and when the ape crosses the threshold, it's surrounded by guards. Before anything more can happen, it smash cuts to "APE OUT SUMMER 2017" followed by a call to action to play the trailer.
I've played the trailer several times over since its release because sadly the game didn't come out Summer 2017, but it's still great fun. When you play the trailer, you find out the YouTube version is essentially a perfect playthrough. You have a bit of leeway to finishing a scene, but as soon as you die, the scene finishes and moves onto the next one. This means the trailer is never much longer than a minute to play.
Ape Out is published by Devolver Digital; I contacted my friend Kert Gartner who makes just about all their trailers. Kert says he cleaned up the video a bit, but the concept was mostly by Nigel Lowrie of Devolver Digital and the game's developer Gabe Cuzzillo.
Nigel and Gabe graciously answered a few of my questions. Nigel wanted a playable trailer for a game for a while, but Gabe was the first developer with the time and interest to do it. Nigel said Ape Out is great to look at, but the game really clicks when you play it, so he thought it would be a great surprise to have a flashy trailer only to reveal it was playable! He said:
"Trailers are mostly made of short cuts of gameplay and that wouldn't necessarily work for most games. Ape Out is fast, frantic, and moves from one crazy situation to the next so it seemed like it might work with this WarioWare-esque presentation of gameplay."
If you're not familiar with the WarioWare games, they're a series of microgames which last only seconds each, and they're thrown at you one after another. The challenge is to figure out what you need to do, and then do it. The pace of the game gradually increases so it gets quite frantic. I thought of these games immediately when playing the Ape Out trailer.
Gabe told me the scenes he made for trailer were mostly defined by what he had in the game at the time, and the aesthetic focused on escalation, so he did his best to increase the intensity as the trailer progressed. I asked if any trailers inspired him; while he says none of these directly influenced him, at the time he was watching the trailers for Eyes Wide Shut and The Master. Except for the striking text in Eyes Wide Shut's trailer, I don't see any parallels, but it's always interesting to see how a little of something can turn into something else!
Game demos are very rare nowadays; this is likely because of studies on how demos hurt game sales much more than they help. I'm curious if demos in this WarioWare format would be more effective than traditional game demos? The brilliance of this playable trailer is it really leaves me wanting more because it's SO short and enticing. Traditional game demos were much meatier and full featured. I think most longtime video game players have stories about being young and feeling quite satisfied playing a game demo over and over again.
Something like this trailer takes a lot of customization, and the "cutting" technique presents technical hurdles most games may not be up to the task of achieving. Other than this trailer, the only other games to use this sort of presentation are Thirty Flights of Loving and Virginia. This trailer made me wonder about the future of video game trailers, and question my own aptitude as a trailer editor. This is precisely the sort of reaction I get when I watch a good and memorable game trailer.