A game’s trailer should show the player if it’s their thing, their unique blend of genres. The only way to know if it captures that unique blend is to play the game deeply.
So after I play through a game I roll back through the trailer. I walk through the individual bits of how they capture the game’s unique genre elements. In the end you might find out if a game is your genre.
Welcome to Is It My Genre?
Wow, Manifold Garden might be the most incredibly well designed game that I’ve ever played. Before we get into it I do have to say that this trailer that we are going to be looking at is the release date trailer that my buddy Derek Lieu made. He also makes indie game trailers.
I’m kind of in awe of a lot of the decisions that he made going into this trailer, especially after playing through the game. It’s kind of an incredible mash-up of this very very intelligent game with a game trailer editor who’s at the top of his game. So we’re going to take a look at it. Hopefully there will be some takeaways. Before I say anything else let’s just jump into it.
I’d love to talk about a lot of things that happen in this trailer and we are going to do that. We are going to roll back through and we are going to look at them.
Also I want to give a quick shout out for this kind of analysis video. Derek Lieu does his own. I am going to include a link in the show notes. He does an incredible stream on Fridays on Twitch. Our friend Marlon Wiebe also does trailer analysis videos that I will also link the show notes — cause you can’t have enough trailer analysis, right?
The trailer does not include the core mechanic — because it’s disorienting to viewers.
So the one thing that is really fascinating that Derek did not include in this trailer is the game’s core mechanic. Any time that you come to a wall you press R2 and the wall shifts so that where the wall was is now your floor. This kind of mechanic is very very disorienting. It’s so hard to get across in any kind of recorded media. So I feel like it’s better for building through a grounded sense of orientation than clearly jumping into that. Of course Derek does tease that a lot through the trailer which we are going to watch and go through now. Before I do, one last thought, and that’s a part of the game genre that I usually forget to talk about and that’s that in this game you cannot entirely tell from the trailer that it’s a little bit of existential horror.
It’s an existential horror game.
You are kind of like, “Where am I?, How am I?, What is even going on here?” That’s very disorienting and intimidating. That is hard to process and think about — but that is why the game’s design is so genius. That’s best illustrated in this very very very first shot.
So we are going to roll all the way back to the beginning of the trailer and look at when Derek picks up the box. He falls through the staircase, looking upwards. Then as soon as his head comes back down to the slot it activates the switch, opens the door and you walk through the doorway. Now this is so elegant for a number of reasons but most notably is the core design of the game that this is an infinitely repeating set of spaces. For example in this very very first shot you see this problem. You see across this chasm and there’s no jump, there’s no teleport. There is only falling.
There’s only falling.
The only way for you to get through the world is to fall but that spot over there is actually where he lands at the end of the shot because there is an invisible screen wrap that happens right around here. Now he is actually on the ledge that he was looking at in the beginning of the shot. This is impossible to get across conceptually because it’s a mind blowing concept. This defines the game genre so elegantly, so perfectly that it defines everything.
It says that it’s a first person game, it’s a puzzle game, it’s got infinitely repeating spaces and your role in that world matters.
This is probably the best establishing shot that I will see in a game trailer this year. The only downside to it is that it’s hard for that concept to sink in. It takes time, not a big deal. So as soon as he hits that well it opens the door and it opens to this infinite hallway. Now this is the part of the game that I want to elaborate on because you can’t pick this up unless you play the game. Even though there is infinite repeating horrors of, overwhelming possibilities, ultimately there is one possibility.
In the very center of the screen there is a doorway. You can see that doorway repeated across the sides a little bit but that is the one and single way out of this room. That’s the incredibly potent design of the game:
There is always one path forward, not infinite possibilities.
There’s just one. That’s how you make it through this game. Now this shot here is where Derek first introduces the beautiful, infinitely repeating objects. You see in the background some shadows of the exact object that you are looking at here.
That’s how the game works, that there is kind of this open infinite space but there is again one real object that you are looking at, one core path forward. Here is where he introduces the gravity, hitting a switch, opening a door and then an elegant, elegant transition. Then Derek introduces his own voice by creating an associative language from one scene to another that doesn’t exist in the game. Unlike a similar non-Euclidean game like Antichamber, when you turn the room does not change. The room is always exactly as it appears from your immediate perspective, except for the puzzle solutions are still associative.
In the editing he is saying, “It’s a cause and effect scenario.”
That might not make perfect sense but watch when he goes forward into this doorway and then turns left. He turns left and now he is in a completely unrelated room. This room is not related in game but it helps to introduce the concept of these non-Euclidean doorways that are very transparent from when you are going to be going from one scene to the next. Watch this gateway. He walks around through the gateway and goes off the ledge to a repeating staircase. This is masterful trailer design and also showcases the way you can move through the game.
Now this shot transitions to another gravity falling moment where you are grabbing a seed. They are called seeds. Actually the game doesn’t have an overt name for them but the cubes are essentially seeds. You put that seed into a watered soil spot and it brings forth a tree, establishing the concept of the gardening in the title. You aren’t really gardening, gardening but it’s all a metaphor and a voxel puzzle. So once he plants the seed the tree of course grows another seed. You can pick up that seed and then put it into a well which opens up the doorway.
Again, cause and effect.
The reason why when I first showed this introducing shot I said this was a genre designing shot is that when you put the cause, the seed into the well it causes the green to light up and creates that beacon that inks to another object that causes an after effect. This is the most powerful way that you can establish a puzzle genre in a trailer, by showing the cause and the effect of all those choices coming together.
After that we have another shot. This doesn’t really establish anything about the core puzzle but it reinforces the elements of gravity and the infinite hallway setting. It’s a very very similar shot. Now this is where, I’m not going to explain too much but I will say that you put forth a new creation and that is what you are seeing here, the generation of a new world. It’s very important to the narrative and very helpful to inform the structure of the game as,
What am I working towards? What is my goal here.
That’s what that shot is about. It’s about working towards a framing goal. So you are moving forward. This actually establishes the genre of the structure of the game as opposed to say a match 3 game where you jump to a different level and pick that level from a level selection. This says no, you are end capping a chain of linking associations and something beautiful happens at more or less the chapter points. Again here is a different shot where Derek is falling and through association it links to a different shot. It goes into black fog and looks up. Now he is establishing a different mechanic in the game. Now you aren’t going to remember this mechanic as you first finish the trailer but it’s a very important concept that comes in about the second act of the game. Suddenly the seeds have a new layer of depth to them where they are redirecting waterfalls and activating hydro plant with the water.
This is not going to sink in — but it implies variety of mechanics — and variety of depth.
I think that’s actually a good segue to imply that the game’s structure is more than a short portal like the original portal being a 3-hour game where pretty much all the mechanics come across in that time frame. Manifold Garden is much more. In my experience it was longer, about 8 hours. There is just a lot, it took me a good amount of time to make it through. Almost always I knew where to go and what to do, which is amazing in this infinite space, Towards the end the game really really pressed my mental faculties and I did not do as well and I need a little bit of help so I looked up some things. I apologize. It’s my deep shame. So we are just going to keep going, look over shame and go to this lock in shot.
This is where they introduce the Tetris pieces.
Again another mechanic later in the game. Again the idea is let’s tease the idea of these pieces moving through gravity and let’s show the cause and effect of once you use gravity to have them fall into place. It further elongates the green. Again this is a genre-defining moment, where it’s about association, locking things together and interconnectedness.
The interconnectedness is such a beautiful and compelling part of the design and it shows this genius concept working in harmony with the creative team behind William’s game and of course Derek’s editing. Here we have one more falling hallway shot that’s reinforcing the setting. This is where the trailer is at its climax.
In a trailer you want to have more or less a three-act structure where you frame the game, you rise the actions of the game, you climax to bring narrative amplification and closure to the whole thing. That’s what’s happening now is that amplification and closure.
I am going to stop here because this shot in the climax is beautiful.
It shows the bubbling possibilities of the dark world that we don’t go into in the trailer which is good because it’s pretty special and you don’t want to spoil it. You do want to tease the sheer raw potential of the dark seeds. There is one of those seeds being placed in a very beautiful tree. The words are being formed. Notice how the letters are actually revealing themselves. That was a very intentional and smart choice. I think that maybe William was using that before Derek came into the picture but if not it’s still reinforcing the idea of bringing a full connection across the whole thing.
The background of this shot is perfect because it’s centering. It brings your attention to the title and also reinforces the concept of the game which is the infinite repeating hallways and what you are looking at ongoing through the design of the game. Very very smart.
Then we have this beautiful cataclysmic beauty shot of the color completion, chapter completion. These moments are essential to understanding the game at large but aren’t as important in the trailer. You aren’t going to understand this moment but it’s helpful to see that there is a very beautiful eye candy reward at the end of each chapter. So that’s pretty much it.
I want to say so many more things about this game, it’s incredible design, Derek’s phenomenal work on the trailer but I am going to close it there. I am going to include a link to Derek’s work in the description underneath. This has been a trailer analysis by me. I didn’t work on this. I have nothing to do with it but I have nothing but the upmost respect for the team members that did.
It’s one of my favorite trailers that I’ve seen this year.
I hope you enjoyed my video. Come by the next time that we do “Is It My Genre”? Hopefully this has helped you understand whether or not Manifold Garden is your genre. Thanks so much. I’m Josh. Bye bye.
M. Joshua makes indie game trailers. Find more of his work at mjoshua.com.