Saturday, March 3, 2018

It's All In The Trailer

Always been a tricky job, making trailers. Drumming up interest without giving too much away.  Heard a lot of complaints lately, movie trailers following the whole plot, telling all the best jokes, using scenes that aren't even in the film. Awkward balance to strike; too much, not enough.

Still, easy compared to making trailers for video games. Those tend to split into two types: mini-movies with production values orders of magnitude above anything in the game or "gameplay footage" that looks like, well, like someone playing a video game. Worst case scenario: the assets of the latter used to make the former.

The standard can be very high. The pre-launch trailers for DCUO were impressive at the time, although watching them again now they seem... clunky. Still, 1.3 million views on YouTube...

I suppose you might expect a developer like Sony Online Entertainment, backed by the resources of one of the world's largest entertainment megacorps, to rise to the occasion. Then, at at the other end of the resource spectrum, we find Standing Stone Games...

That jaw-droppingly terrible promo provoked more pity than outrage but at least it got some kind of response. Standing Stone tried to fix some of the PR damage they'd done, issuing a follow-up that was... not wholly embarrassing. To cross that minimal threshold they had to use a lot of long shots and no combat at all.

This is one of the big problems for MMORPGs, particularly older ones. What you get to do in the game is often repetitive and prosaic. Epic boss fights, spell effects going off like explosions in a firework factory, look thrilling; hours of attritional grinding, questing and busy-work that get you to that point? Not so much.

Many marketing teams approach the problem obliquely. Keep the trailers very short. Use a lot of title cards. Edit so the whole thing looks like it was filmed in a hall of mirrors, lit by strobe lights during a lightning storm. If it all moves fast enough, the theory seems to go, people will see what they want to see. That's always going to be better than letting them see what they're really going to get.

ArenaNet largely follow that logic. GW2 trailers tend to be brief, enigmatic and uninformative. Guaranteed to spawn a lengthy discussion in the Lore section of the forums, over-invested fans arguing their obsession from one blurred background shot a millisecond long. Other than that, cast a cursory glance then move on.

Not so with the current trailer "A Bug In The System". It may be the best ANet have ever produced. I've watched it five times so far and it still gives me thrills.

The last time I can remember GW2 taking this many risks and having this much fun doing it was Marjory Delequa's noir pastiche intro all the way back in June 2013, although that was actually an in-game cut-scene, not a trailer. It had encouraging confidence but none of the polish or punch of Bug.

If Bug ended half-way through it would still be one of the better trailers the game's "enjoyed" in the last six years. It's the unexpected mood switch that takes the whole thing to another level. The transition from cheeky Bond pastiche to foreboding horror is chilling and much of the emotional heavy lifting in the second act comes from the soundtrack; particularly that song.

I have still never finished the original Personal Story on any character, so in my case the inspired revisionary use of the heroic anthem that celebrates final victory over the elder dragon Zhaitan found no nostalgia buttons to press. It sent shivers down my spine all the same. I can only imagine how it must have affected those who recognized it and understood just how deeply their fondest memories were being played with and perverted.

Whether the Living Story episode itself can live up to the promise and threat of this exemplary trailer we'll find out on Tuesday. I imagine it'll turn out much like every other episode - a lot of talking, a tediously lengthy boss fight and plenty of busy work to make it seem like there's something to do for the next three months.

That's as it may be. The difference this time around is that at least my anticipation and excitement has been pumped enough to create the possibility of disappointment. If there's nothing more thrilling in the update than the trailer itself, well, at least we got a good trailer!

Take your wins where you find them, I say.


  1. As much as I love LoTRO, holy cow was that trailer terrible. Would it be too much to ask for fly throughs of the new zones to be interspersed with impressive looking screenshots of boss battles and quotes detailing some of the game features? Some dude standing by himself putting up a banner is not really going to generate a lot of hype . . .

    Even the second trailer is only remotely good in comparison to the first one. In isolation it's also pretty amaturish. Using same clip of a bunch of riders in the distance is jarring by the third time you see it.

    1. Yes, I think even the "improved" trailer would have been poorly received it hadn't been for what came before it. It hardly sets the pulse racing. It's odd because if LotRO has a strength other than the strength of the IP itself it's the gorgeous landscape visuals. Even at its advanced age you can take some breathtaking screenshots and video in Turbine's Middle Earth. Maybe it's just Mordor - it's supposed to be hideous after all...

  2. Holy -transmission garbled-. That new GW2 trailer! It reminds me so very much on TSW when it still was good! Awesome!

    1. I saw a couple of people make that comparison in the YouTube comments or the forum. That's a glowing compliment.

    2. Just went over the comments on the YouTube video you linked. I noticed nothing like my comment there.

      But i also agree, comparing it to the best times of TSW is very high praise. It very much links to Issue 7, a Dream to Kill, which also carries the James Bond theme, combined with the deep creepy and a dark song. (Sleepless lullaby from Bright September.) It touches all the same cords and is extremely well done at the same time.

    3. Yeah, that's why I was vague - I saw the comparison made somewhere but I can't remember where - I browsed several threads in different places...

  3. I really hope they'll finally become at least this creative with videos. Prior trailers were too vague and disjointed, maybe it created more things to discuss for engaged fanbase, but for outside viewer they told nothing. Like really: compare WoW patch 7.3 trailer ( with One Path Ends ( The first is on point: couple of "epic" lines followed by list of every feature of the patch. The second is jumbled mess of random attacking mobs, store outfits, exactly five seconds of Orr and random lines narrated by Livia. It seems that bothering to say that Orr in the trailer is a new map and that there's also new fractal is too hard.

    1. They seem to have someone new in charge of Marketing - he's been starting forum threads and engaging in discussion. I don't know if Marketing is responsible for the trailers but they may have some say over what goes into them. GW2 marketing has been lackluster for years - it was overdue for a shake-up.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide