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Dylan Jones, Blogger

August 20, 2014

8 Min Read

Your game’s trailer can be the final piece of the puzzle, or the hole that ruins everything. Discoverability for your game will always be the hardest box to check off. many regard it as the second most important product of the entire development, certainly more than the demo or any other materials.

- First, make a game that drops a jaw.
This is your bread and butter, it’s hard to cover this up with a trailer.

- Then, record footage that drops your jaw.
Try not to record footage on a deadline, or alternatively give yourself more time than you need, as you’ll end up using it all. I’ve heard stories from developers who spend days finding that perfect emergent moment to highlight for just a few seconds. Every time you think you’ve recorded enough clips, remember the thousands who will instantly judge every frame of your trailer. The best way to do this on Windows is with a pro version of fraps for ~40 USD. Fraps is also on OSX, and while there are also free built in tools like Quicktime, the recent leader to capture footage on OSX is Screenflow for ~100 USD. In the past, developers exclusively building for mobile platforms either needed expensive equipment or had to compromise on quality. During desktop emulation one could use the above software and fake the accelerometer, or try using jailbroken apps for on-device capturing, but now the beta (and new version) of Yosemite and iOS8 will let you record your device’s screen.

- Boil it all down into a jaw dropping trailer.
We’ll briefly cover flow and cutting structure later, but first we must establish our workbench. Lower budgets or quick video updates can use iMovie (might consider the alternative ‘iMovie HD’ which was “refreshed” to what it is now for people who had never used a computer, because ‘iMovie HD’ was stealing from the Final Cut audience) or Windows Movie Maker (*shudder*). But for better HD control and basic transparent compositing you’ll want to invest some money and time into Final Cut (OSX) or After Effects (Windows and OSX). Don’t forget about your free trial and classes at Lynda to ease into it. Although After Effects has it’s shortcomings, it’s my top pick with it’s unlimited potential for titles, easy(ish) compositing and 3D if you want it. After some fundamentals, you can tap into the riches of tutorials on VideoCo-Pilot on how to make custom compositions that best fit the theme of your game. Soon you’ll be tweaking other assets on VideoHive to further the atmosphere of your games trailer. Plan some time to adapt with After Effect’s poor interface for dealing with audio and copious render wait times on consumer machines. If you stick with it, After Effects (or the more expensive Nuke) will allow you to create literally anything your mind can come up with.

Plan out all the features and clips you need to include. Much like your game, you want your trailer to match the music and rise and fall in terms of intensity. It’s always worth taking a step back to ask yourself what you’re making as well. If you’re creating a teaser styled video, keep it under 30 seconds. The general rule of thumb for trailers is around 90 seconds, but I try to keep videos under the minute mark. This not only keeps your trailer as tight as possible, but includes the psychological bonus of viewers seeing a video length with a 0 in front (like 0:58, etc) which I think ever-so-slightly decreases the chances of it being skimmed through. Update and DLC trailers might get away with stretching it to the 2 minute mark with established fans. Know which traits you possess and what best fits your propaganda.

We recently launched Battle Group 2 onto Steam and iOS. After the production dust settled, I had a week (also only using a laptop) to create the trailer. The gameplay is simple arcade missile command ‘click to fire’, and while the trailer is far from perfect, it has received flattering comments from the dev community. We’ll use it below as an example to briefly dissect one possible effective flow for a game trailer.

*note: the best thing about this trailer is the audio whipped out by the ever-so-talented Mick Gordon.

Flow? #1 Introduction attention grab
The first 3 seconds of your trailer need to instantly pull the viewer into the world you’ve created. Consider editing it like you’re skipping to the climax and focus / action of your trailer to avoid long intro logos at the start. –Because, this first impression is your only window to instill trust in the viewer, proving to them they don’t need to skip around and you won’t ever waste their time. In the above, we literally pull the viewer into the earth to focus on a high stakes-conflict.
(*surprised at the difference from the video? note quality imagery and sound are vital!)

#2 Establish trailer narrative
Captivating trailers create miniature narratives within the trailer. This could be as simple as the global constraints of a puzzle game’s overarching story or as detailed as an actual game level with character conflict. In the above, we instantly use imagery of priorly established ‘good ships’ being destroyed with a voice over plea for help to give context to the challenges ahead.

#3 Educate the player
After we’ve grabbed their attention and established some narrative to keep viewers engaged, we can start to educate them. The core of the trailer is showing the gameplay and the features players can expect. Gameplay clips should match whatever pacing and audience you have, but as the priority should show what payers will be spending their time doing in the best way possible. We did fast cuts of gameplay and power-ups to sell the simple action that aligns with styles that Hollywood and Battlefield fans have come to expect. This is where the action should be shown, it’s not a place for giant text explaining what’s already on the screen. Better yet, proclaim a call to action to include the player in this story, remind players it’s about them and that they have shoes to fill here. Our “we need you” leading into a boss fight with general gameplay and powerups aid in educating.
*darn, excuse the only gif that doesn’t loop well!

#4 Wrap it up / hero shot The viewer was drawn in and you showed them what they came for. Wrap it up with a compelling shot leaving a good final taste in their mouth for when they lie awake at night. The classic example is some epic boss after the credits or a swarm tease. I chose to scoop the player back up with a zoom out, subtly leaving the conflict unfinished (more X targets on the earth, etc) and thus closing this mini-narrative, leading into…
#5 Logo and info
You’ve done it, they’re convince they need your game! Now tell them where they can throw their money and find more information. Try to keep this as simple as possible (which is also timeless as it doesn’t exclude certain platforms or other ways to date the trailer) with the game logo and website. Remember, increasing amounts of players will watch it on a mobile screen so keep text sparse and readable.

That’s a brief overview of one possible flow for a trailer. These are just guides, try to break all the rules you come across!

- Avoid humor unless you’re genuinely funny like Tim Rogers. If you don’t nail it, trailers with jokes tend to come across as awkward and quickly lead to pressing the back button.
- Make it easy for viewers. Its true Vimeo has much better compression than youtube. However, the overwhelming amount of gamers who are plugged into youtube and are comfortable sharing on the platform make it the best distribution channel for reach. Keep your trailer in one place and one account to boost views and audience confidence. Unfortunately, when a player sees a game trailer with only 156 views, they lose trust the game will be supported if they have issues or want more content. [And if anyone comes up with a solution to keep Steam from fragmenting trailer views, let me know!]
- Talented voice over can make a world of difference in terms of professionalism and can be surprisingly affordable for a quick trailer. We could not be happier with the incredibly gifted Elspeth Eastman who leads the player through the trailer and in-game campaign. If you show a mobile device in your trailer, stylize it to your game or get decent images.
- The best advice my father ever gave me was ”When in doubt, leave it out”.
- Or just hire Kert Gartner, as he makes my jaw drop all the time.  

Have something to add? Want to ask a question? Comment, or reach out to me on twitter @tDJ and find me at theDylanJones.com.

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