The release trailer for the game Astroneer is the most impressive game trailer I've watched in a very long time. I first watched it last week during my weekly game trailer critique stream on Twitch (Every Friday at 10am Pacific!). The trailer (made in-house by Riley Gravatt, Spencer Kern, Gene Blakefield, and Joe Tirado of System Era Softworks) does a masterful job of:
Telling an affecting story
Showing the gameplay
Exciting the audience
Before the meat of the trailer, there's a mini-teaser which shows a variety of fun and exciting shot of gameplay where the characters are building, exploring, setting off a rocket and dancing. It ends on the title card "Astroneer Available Now."
I haven't experimented much with these mini-teasers which are typically rather disconnected from the body of the trailer. For better or for worse they increase viewer retention (I could certainly do without seeing them before movie trailers on on YouTube). For a more detailed look on this subject I recommend reading this deep dive by Haley Uyrus where she compares audience retention graphs for Sunless Skies' multiple trailers.
After the mini-teaser, a fleet of spaceships wipe across the title, and fly towards a red planet. One of the ships experiences engine trouble, and goes off course to a blue planet. The astronaut inside is frantic, and crash lands. The astronaut emerges from their crashed ship, sees the red planet in the sky, makes a sad noise, and then steels themselves with a determined head nod.
This is a great set up to the story. We know the astronaut wants to make their way to the red planet, and throughout the trailer there are several shots where the red planet is clearly visible in the sky while the astronaut performs a task. This means the audience never loses sight of the astronaut's goal.
Starting with some delightful music we see the astronaut manipulate the terrain, explore, collect plant resources, and build machines. Everything animates nicely, and is delightfully colorful. The astronaut carries a drill they built, and we see the red planet in the background again. The camera flies down into a cavern. This is not only a nice transition, but it tells the audience you can go underground in the game. In the cavern we see the astronaut has attached the drill to a vehicle they use to mine crystal and explore.
The music builds as the astronaut returns to the surface, and starts building something; this both tells the story and expands upon the idea of building in the game. Time speeds up, and days pass as the astronaut builds up a base. The music flourishes as wires are connected, and a rocket is built. The astronaut attaches the engine, and during their climb up the rocket's ladder, they get another glimpse of the red planet. They make another determined head nod, and the rocket lifts off!
The rousing music continues as the rocket heads towards the red planet; the music builds and builds until they land. The music drops, and sounds melancholy as the astronaut emerges to find a seemingly abandoned base construction. They drop to their knees, and make another sad noise. But on a musical rise, another astronaut pats them on the shoulder. The music comes roaring triumphantly back as we see the astronaut's friends cheering!
The trailer goes into a montage showing: multiple players riding vehicles together, driving construction vehicles, building together, exploring together, and playing soccer using their buggies. They also admire space fireflies, bounce around on native plant life, and generally have what looks like a very fun time. The trailer ends on something a few shots of what look like some sort of alien technology, but before we get a good look, the trailer cuts to the end title. There's even a custom end screen for YouTube where one of the astronauts subtly directs you towards the "Buy Now" button.
I don't typically play games like Astroneer, but the trailer sure made me want to immediately gush about everything it does well. Without a single word, the trailer shows us all of this about the game:
You're an astronaut exploring worlds
You can play alone or with friends
You build upon and manipulate the terrain
You mine materials from the planets
You build machines to travel about and go to other worlds
The game is fun, joyous and beautiful
Before I knew for sure it was made in-house by the developers, I could tell this trailer was a lot of work which involved a lot of storyboarding, custom animation, camera work, sound and music. The appeal of the animation, art and sounds of the game doesn't hurt either. I don't think a lot of game developers have the time and/or resources to make a custom trailer like this, but the hard work certainly shows.
Though the game has no story mode, it was a great idea to create one for the trailer to fully capture the gameplay, feelings, and experience of playing the game. Astroneer was an Early Access title, which means people had their hands on early versions of the game for years before the full 1.0 release. The developer could've just as easily made a trailer highlighting new features, but they made this wonderful story to put the audience in the shoes of an astronaut, and show them what they could experience if they play the game. I wanted to be the astronaut!
This is the rare trailer which excites me and shows the storytelling potential of video games. I don't know that I would've come up with an idea like this had I been hired to help make the trailer, but I find it inspiring to watch, and hopefully you do too!