Neo Cab - E3 2018 Trailer

I got this gig because I was contacted directly by Patrick Ewing, who worked with Campo Santo to make Firewatch! After leaving Campo Santo, Patrick founded his own studio Chance Agency.

Neo Cab is an "emotional survival game" set in the not-too-distant-future border city of Los Ojos. It's very much inspired by tech's effect on people, Silicon Valley, the gig economy, and a slew of other topical issues. In the game you play as Lina who is a Neo Cab driver, the last human driver in a city full of automatic robot cars run by the Capra Corporation. Lina wears a special bracelet which indicates her emotional state; your dialogue options are directly opened up or limited by your emotional state.  

I originally started on this project to make an announce trailer for the game's reveal around GDC 2018; that version ended up getting scrapped, but rather than let all that work be lost, I’ll show you what we did, and how it would’ve worked to introduce the game.

Neo Cab's dialogue isn't voice acted, so I knew text would have to be incorporated into the video somehow. My first concept was a moody teaser with text dialogue fading in and out of the scenes. I sent Patrick two references: Wong Kar-Wai's BMW film "The Follow" and the opening cutscene of Final Fantasy VIII.

 I watched this cutscene so many times, it was easy to recall as an inspiration

I watched this cutscene so many times, it was easy to recall as an inspiration

For this approach I selected dialogue that showcased a variety of stories and people Lina encounters in the game; dialogue that is understandable without context. I made a few versions of this, one with very "trailer-y" narrator text, and another which was Lina's internal monologue, which is what we decided was best. Putting a lot of text in a trailer can be tricky, but it was our only option to convey the story since we didn't want to misrepresent the game by including voice acting. Adding voice acting, auditioning, writing and recording also adds on a significant amount of work and cost. 

I requested the raw scripts for the game, which I received as Ink files, because the game is being made using Ink by Inkle Studios (the creators of 80 Days). I painstakingly read all the dialogue to find the bits for the trailer’s story. Here’s an early concept draft I made:

Even in this rough state I toyed with ideas like separating Lina’s dialogue from the passengers’ via the type treatment. In this version the character model for Savy appears even though at this point in production she was just a “tutorial passenger.”

Through all of this I worked closely with multiple members of the team; here's a rundown of what everyone contributed to the trailer (they all probably did even more than I can list here):

Patrick Ewing, Creative Director - Collaborated on direction, implemented debug options, set up custom shots.

Felix Kramer, Producer - Made sure stuff got done, and was feasible within the schedule.

Vincent Perea, Art Director - Polished up art, lighting, composition etc.

Paula Rogers, Story editor - Rewrote my dialogue selects/edit to better tell the story, keep everything consistent and in-world. 

Laura Sly, Technical Artist - Created custom animations and UI graphics.

Krista Sanders, Designer - Designed and animated title graphics and character dialogue graphics.

Joseph Burke, Composer - Composed music.

All this to say there were a LOT of people working on this trailer, and it was my job to give it all structure, pacing and clarity.

Close to GDC we realized there wasn't enough time get the visuals polished enough for the trailer. Instead, they released screenshots, and did private demos with press outlets.

Here’s the last version I made for this announce trailer. You can see how teaser-y this version is, and the music is totally different from the E3 trailer. The story beats and ideas are very broad because the goal was to establish: setting, theme and tone. This would’ve nicely set the scene for press interviews and give the audience something to remember the game by.

Last version of this teaser before we decided we didn’t have time to polish it up enough for GDC.

After GDC, work resumed for an E3 debut at the PC Gaming Show! The direction changed entirely. At that point, there were already articles for the basic premise of Neo Cab, so the simpler tease we originally planned wouldn't provide enough new information to be interesting within that context; we needed to get into story specifics to keep up the pace of information revealed about the game.

The new plan was to focus on the story of Lina's friend Savy, who is missing at the beginning of the game. The story of Neo Cab involves a lot of characters, but this storyline is the one central throughline in the game. When Chance Agency brought me back into the project they had a few outlines they wrote with Paula. 

The new story treatments started with one passenger, Allie, who Lina picks up at the beginning. I could tell right away the story treatments were all too long, but I synthesized them into an outline that came out pretty close to the final. We changed my end scene to something a little less spoiler-y but ended up much more exciting!

This trailer would be more of a snapshot of the actual game loop. Show Lina picking up different passengers, while texting Savy in between gigs. Then it would climax with the "OHHHHH SHIIIIII" reveal of Savy being a wanted fugitive which would end the trailer with a mini montage/rise to end on a high note. Then after the climax Lina is contacted by Savy.

This was a much juicier trailer to make, and the added time meant a wider variety of shots could be designed and polished up. We also gradually simplified the middle portion of the trailer. We originally had some random passengers talk to Lina, but changed it to a montage because we were limited by the amount of time we had for the PC gaming show, and we didn't want to overload the audience with story threads and text. 

The opening shot was a fairly late development, but I LOVE how big and bright it makes the city. It also establishes the robotic Capra cars, which make several appearances. The opening lines are to establish Lina as a rare human driver in a corporate run city, and the fact she's trying to find her friend. My build of the game had the ability to activate Lina and passenger emotes so I wouldn't have to wait for an expression to pop up. For example, I needed Lina to look down and to the right in order to lead the audience to her sending text messages. 

 This is a custom made shot. The Capra car visual works together with the dialogue, thus emphasizing the story beat.

This is a custom made shot. The Capra car visual works together with the dialogue, thus emphasizing the story beat.

The Neo Cab map with passengers was custom made by Laura specifically for the trailer since the in-game map wasn't done yet. This familiar image is there to establish the job Lina does (which is emphasized by her line overlaying the image)

The montage that follows is to give a sense of what you do in the game; you pick up passengers and receive ratings. With little time to show them, there wasn't much story that could be told without dialogue, but through the editing I told one mini story of the couple where the girl leaves the guy behind. That moment is inspired by this scene from The Simpsons where young Homer tries to unsuccessfully join a party.

Everything is a remix!

After the montage is the final intense story climax which shows a lot of custom made stuff by the team, like Savy's face plastering every digital surface in the surrounding area, Capra cars driving around, Lina getting pulled over, and a shot at the end of a Capra car careening towards Lina for the final exciting boom before the title!

This trailer went through a lot of small iterations on the script and visuals, but aside from the GDC/E3 versions there wasn't ever a time when the core of it had to shift dramatically. It ended up even more exciting than I originally thought it might. Joseph's music did an amazing job setting the tone, and the visuals really came together well. 

This project ended up being very similar to the E3 trailer I made for Firewatch since this was another game in early development when I started. I love working with a team of people whose individual strengths combine to make one cool thing. It's simultaneously humbling to see my shortcomings, but flattering to see how my unique skills contribute to the end product!

A Year of Making Indie Game Trailers - 2018

My behind-the-scenes blogging of my trailer work continues in 2018! 

1. Subnautica - Launch Trailer

I got this gig via Ryan Clark from Brace Yourself Games which was doubly flattering because I've never worked with Ryan before. This is one of the biggest games I've ever worked on as an individual freelancer. I had some major missteps at the beginning of the project, but it all worked out.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


2. Dead Cells - Console Announce Trailer

Motion Twin re-hired me a little last minute to make this trailer for their console release. Dead Cells is so much fun to play, the music is always epic, and they have great debug tools so I couldn't say no.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


4. Octogeddon - Launch Trailer

George had a very clear idea for this trailer over a year before the game was finished, so it was up to me to take his vision, and make it nice and shiny.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


5. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength - Launch Trailer

This trailer was pretty much put together entirely based on the voiceover. The tricky part was to keep it engaging when the whole game is full of UI and reading. The editing was pretty straightforward since the voiceover was pretty locked down. There were some sections that I removed either because of redundancy or I just didn't think they were relevant to the trailer's narrative. 

Picking visuals for this was pretty much just finding moments in the game that matched what was being said on screen as best as possible, and using a lot of zooms and pans to keep the images moving. I did my best to keep shots a short as possible because when there's text on screen and it lingers for anything longer than a moment, I feel like the audience will think they're expected to read it. Whenever possible I kept text to a minimum like during the call surveillance shot.

Originally we started the trailer with the questionnaire that starts the game, but we decided it was slowing things down too much, so we skipped straight to the voiceover. For the majority of the footage I captured at 4K to reduce any blurriness that might occur from upscaling 1080p footage.


6. Way of the Passive Fist - Launch Trailer

I immediately fell in love with this game when I saw it at PlayStation Experience 2017, and handed them a business card in hopes they'd contact me to make a trailer, which I'm happy to say they did! This was one of those rare trailers where the idea for how to make it came to mind almost right away, it was just a matter of executing it.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


7. Thimbleweed Park - Ransome DLC

This was just a quick little trailer to make. Ron sent me a lot of footage of Ransome swearing, and some title cards to structure the trailer around. I sorted the swears based on whether Ransome was insulting someone, using "fuck" as an intensifier, saying "fuck you", or using it to describe nouns. I treated it like a supercut, and re-organized the swears in a way that sounded pleasing to me. It'd been a while since I edited any supercuts, so it was fun to play around with.


8. Pode - Teaser

I've been following the development of Pode for a long time, and I got to play it for the first time at The MIX at PAX West 2017. I made it through the entire demo and handed them a business card, and they responded to me! This trailer was pretty simple to execute, but it definitely helped that I had outside forces controlling the scope of it.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


9. The Adventure Pals - Launch Trailer

I got this gig via Ben Wasser from Glumberland. Thanks Ben!

The Adventure Pals is an action platformer game that is juicy/crunchy as all heck. Ironically it was very difficult to figure out what this trailer would look like.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


10. The Stillness of the Wind - Announce Trailer

This is another game being published by Surprise Attack Games who I worked with on Orwell: Ignorance is Strength.

The Stillness of the Wind is a full game based on the small game Where the Goats Are which you can play for free on Itch.io. From playing the free Itch.io game I was instantly intrigued by what I could possibly do for the expanded game. 

Read more about the making of this trailer!


11. Tacoma - PS4 Launch Trailer

This is the third trailer I've made for Tacoma. Making a second or third trailer is always a mix of feelings because being forced to find new ways to tell a story is challenging, but at the same time having constraints can be freeing since you can narrow your focus.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


12. The Forgotten City - Announce Trailer

The Forgotten City is a game based on the ambitious award willing Skyrim mod by Nick Pearce who found me from my work on Firewatch. This trailer debuted at the PC Gaming Show at E3 2018!

Read more about the making of this trailer!


13. Neo Cab - Announce Trailer

I got this gig because its lead Patrick Ewing was a programmer on Firewatch. Neo Cab is an emotional survival cyberpunk game set in the near future where you’re the last human driver on the road. This games trailer also debuted at the PC Gaming Show!

Read more about the making of this trailer!


14. Bravery Network Online - Announce Trailer

Bravery Network is a turn based online multiplayer game similar to Pokemon being made by Gloam Collective, and published by Untitled Publisher, a new indie game publisher co-created by Chris Dwyer with whom I worked on A Boy and His Blob, and the console release of Gone Home. This also showed at the PC Gaming Show!

Read more about the making of this trailer!


15. Ooblets - E3 2018 Trailer

My third trailer for Ooblets, this time feature DANCE BATTLES! You might notice a pattern here, but this also debuted at the PC Gaming Show. That was a busy couple of months O_O

Read more about the making of this trailer!


16. The American Dream - Launch Trailer

I got this gig via a referral from Kert Gartner all the way back in April 2017. I talked a lot to the team about some early trailers, but this is the first one I made for them. The American Dream is a VR satirical look at gun culture in America.


17. Dead Cells - Launch Trailer

My final trailer for Dead Cells as they reached version 1.0!


18. Anamorphine - Launch Trailer

I got this gig via a referral from Nels Anderson who worked on Firewatch. Anamorphine is a surreal first person exploration game dealing with depression.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


19. Morphies Law - Launch Trailer

I got this gig after Cosmoscope saw my GDC talk about game capture! I’d seen this game many years ago, so I recognized it immediately when it came into my inbox. It’s a team based multiplayer game where when you shoot the limbs of other players, the mass of those limbs gets transferred to your own.

Read more about the making of this trailer!


20. Guacamelee! 2 - Launch Trailer

The final launch for Guacamelee! 2. A no nonsense, crunchy gameplay trailer.


21. Spelunky 2 - Gameplay Trailer

I got this directly from Derek Yu via Twitter! Spelunky 2 is the sequel to Spelunky, and it’s way more Spelunky. I like Spelunky.

Read more about the making of this trailer!