It turns out my memory of Hotline Miami's trailer campaign is almost entirely different from the reality. My memory and cursory research revealed an announce teaser, followed by a couple trailers focused on the masks and weapons, then a launch trailer. I'm going to roll with the punches, and take a look at Hotline Miami's actual trailer campaign:
July 2012 - Announce Trailer
August 2012 - Can You Keep a Secret?
October 12, 2012 - Release Date "Wear Something Fancy" Trailer
October 17, 2012 - Masks Trailer
October 17, 2012 - Weapons Trailer
October 23, 2012 - Launch Trailer & Release
My friend Kert Gartner worked on the trailers for Hotline Miami, but to my eye it looks like he didn't make the first announce trailer. The announce trailer released a mere three months before the game came out. In 2012 the indie games market was less saturated, so this might account for the short length of time from announce to release.
What told me Kert didn't make this trailer are the lack of close up shots, the lack of dynamic graphics (everything here is from in-game), and the pace doesn't get my blood pumping. This is almost a feat unto itself because Hotline Miami is nothing if not a heart racing game. I think if this trailer released today, there could be some interest but I don't feel like it hit the ground running.
The "Can You Keep a Secret?" trailer followed a month after to announce its presence at Gamescom. This is a much more dynamic trailer, and uses the game to present the text in a meta-style that is in keeping with how the game's story plays with the 4th wall. In addition to the Gamescom announcement, this feels like a redo of the first trailer; it's much more fun to watch, and based on the comments, it seems like it was well received.
I started this series on trailer campaigns to talk about maintaining audience attention after the initial tease, but this is a case where I think the second trailer might've increased attention on the game. There's no way for me to know for sure, but I think this trailer would've snapped me to attention if I saw it after the announce; it does a much better job of establishing a feel and tone.
Two months later the Release Date "Wear Something Fancy" trailer came out, just under two weeks before release. Again, it's interesting to see how compressed this campaign was. Nowadays release dates tends to come out a month or more before release to build hype.
This trailer is heavy on ATMOSPHERE. There are a few gameplay clips, but the live-action portion is the focus. This sort of trailer is very rare in the indie space, so it would definitely grab my attention. Hotline Miami is a game that easily communicates visually, so at this point showing more footage wouldn't necessarily get people extra hyped.
This trailer says "This is what you will FEEL" when you play the game. The second trailer evoked the blood pumping feel, this one gives you the messed up, dark, and disturbing sense of dread. Seen in isolation I think the audience would either be repulsed or incredibly intrigued to learn more; this does a good job of grabbing attention.
I asked Kert about the release of the next trailers, but the details are a little fuzzy. Regardless, the "Masks" and "Weapons" trailers came out in very close succession, if not simultaneously. I don't think I've seen two full trailers released in such close proximity before, but they're both very well done and fun to watch.
The masks trailer shows a gameplay system, and hints at the story question: "Why does the player wear a mask?" The weapons trailer is a straightforward but well executed trailer showing a few of the myriad weapons you can use in the game.
These are bullet-point trailers (no pun intended) that list off features in a game. This is a typical way to make game trailers, and thus not always the most interesting. These risk losing audience attention when released one after another because they ostensibly show the same gameplay with some tweaks. A lot of text call outs in a trailer can feel like a hard sell, and when someone gives you a hard sell, I think we can't help but wonder if there's something lacking that they're compensating for.
Fortunately, these trailer works well because of the energy, music and style of the motion graphics; they're polished as all heck! The aesthetic of the graphics tie them all together. A cohesive look and feel for every element in the trailer helps you avoid the feeling that the gameplay is constantly being interrupted by a marketing person screaming "LOOK AT THIS! ISN'T IT COOOOOOOL???"
Had these released several weeks or months apart I think the audience would get antsy or bored because they're so similar, but since these were released so close together, the effect is more like: "Hey, there's more to see RIGHT NOW!"
The launch trailer doesn't have any gameplay at all! It's another live-action trailer that shows the before/after of a man going on a mission, then coming back with his mask and baseball bat all bloodied up. This once again focuses on feel and tone. It's somewhat risky in that someone coming in cold to this trailer could be confused as to what they just watched, but it released in such close proximity to the gameplay trailers, maybe that wasn't a concern.
In terms of audience attention, the novelty of live-action trailers for an indie game might've held the audience, but at this point, if the game is out they can just run to buy the game. The gameplay trailers already well established what the game is, so they're either in or they're out.
Nowadays, I don't think a trailer campaign this dense makes sense. An important thing to consider are the news outlets writing stories about games. They have to pick and choose their stories, and they're not going to want to write another article about a game unless there's something unique.
It makes sense for some games to take some lessons from this campaign in terms of content, if not release schedule. Some games genuinely have enough content to support this number of trailers, but good execution of the trailers is needed to keep the audience entertained.
Next up is another dense trailer campaign at an entirely different scale for Deus Ex: Human Revolution!