What makes a Great Game Trailer?

  • From the Easy Allies E3 2016 Awards came a heated discussion about what makes the best game trailer.
    Does a CG trailer properly represent a game? Does a game trailer need ingame footage?
    At the end of this post, I will share what I think is the best trailer with my thoughts on why it is so.

    Now let's start with GT/EZA's E3 2015 winner for Trailer of the Show: Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

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    I'll link their deliberations on why it is Trailer of the Show, so I'll give a short summary.

    What makes a good trailer is that it achieves its purpose. FF7:Re exists because fans want it. This trailer is meant for fans. Within the trailer, it is teasing, building anticipation, using music, dialogue, visual cues, credits to give fans hope to its final celebration when "Remake" appears. I especially like how that heartbeat, or drum beat, hits at every scene cut, matching so well with the flow of the trailer. They didn't need to show gameplay because that's not its purpose. Square-Enix created a story in the form of a CG trailer for this, and it was completely the right thing to do. This trailer left us wanting the game.

    Brandon Jones, Kyle Bosman, and Daniel Bloodworth gave this trailer a perfect score, and here is their words:
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    Now, it's funny that Bosman mentions "Huber will be happy" that Jones gave it a perfect score, which has never happened before, because Huber has a policy of not giving merits to CG trailers since it is deceptive (according to the pre-E3 podcast). Huber appreciates the recent Zelda trailer, so let's take a look.

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    It's purpose appears to be showing off new gameplay features, environments, and monsters to build general hype, but it isn't what is being shown that is the problem, it is the editing and scene selection. The trailer took a whole minute to show environments with repeated scenery that didn't need to be drawn out. Then it proceeds to show gameplay features, some new and some old, which a lot of it are just wildy selected and put together apart from that one horse scene. After, the music awkwardly builds up despite still showing simple mechanics, then it hits a climax, fast cutting of this castle being shrouded in darkness (which would have worked better if shown during the entire build up with the music), and then back to gameplay on a bridge with higher tempo. You see Link battling monsters, but the scenes don't feel that epic to match the tone of the music. At the end, they take 25 seconds to show the title.

    To me, it really felt like someone was given a soundtrack and gameplay clips, and they just threw it all together without any narrative or story in mind. The scenes and music certainly didn't fit well throughout, and there are scenes that feel like it's not worth showing or were repetitive. I've seen the past Zelda videos of this iteration, and there are epic moments there that they could have used (unless those were fake and removed from the game). There was especially one nagging moment in the trailer that really took me out of any kind of moment it was trying to set, the part where it hit the climax. It had this strange pause in music and jump to black like someone had made an editing error, and that really killed it for me. With all this in mind, it is a bad trailer for all its poor cuts, mismatching music tone, and lack of excitement.

    Back to the point of CG trailers, I agree and disagree with Huber. I agree that CG trailers can be deceptive, and ingame footage better represents the game, but gameplay trailers can equally be deceptive like the load of Ubisoft's trailers with fake voicecomm. I disagree with Huber that CG trailers don't represent the game. There are good examples of CG trailers that gives viewers a good idea of what the game is about. Here are two examples:

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    Now you may find it strange that I would pick the first League of Legends trailer out of the better quality ones, especially when some of them are made by Blur, but this one has a particular purpose that it fulfills. What this trailer wanted to do was to convey its differences from its spiritual predecessor, DotA Allstars. Two new mechanics that stand out in the midst of all the action are Summoner Spells and the Brush. Ryze uses the Ghost summoner spell to go through the fallen tower and Ashe fires an arrow from the brush. The rest of the trailer did well to represent the game itself, which defines the moba genre, but these are the two key, defining features that sets LoL apart from DotA. Mixed in with great editing with matching music, it's a really great trailer. Onto the second example:

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    A trailer from good ol' Blur Studios. Now I will tell you that most of the action in this trailer aren't in the game. There's no climbing on gunships, shooting its pilot, having planes physically destroy and make holes in bases. That doesn't happen, but that doesn't matter either. Planetside's reputation is its massive battles with a massive amount of players. In Planetside 1, you could have 300 players in your field of vision battling over one base with hundreds of vehicles and artillery. Planetside 2 upped that number by A LOT. That's what this trailer is about, to represent the massive scale of war in Planetside 2. Additionally, it had a few key dialogue to reveal its lore (soldiers in Planetside are eternally revived and can't die) and how the third faction, the Vanu Sovereignty, use scumbag subterfuge to win wars.

    These two CG trailers aren't direct representation of their game, but they do represent game features, mechanics, and the tone of the game. I would definitely say that these two trailers did a better job at representing the game than the Zelda trailer.

    Now, I know there are bad CG trailers, and I won't post it, but Dead Island's first CG trailer is probably the best example of how a CG trailer can be deceptive and disingenuous. Look it up if you want.

    Finally, the trailer I consider to be the best trailer of all time, at least up to now: E3 2000 Metal Gear Solid 2

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    A masterpiece mixing action, theatre, and gameplay in a 9 minute long trailer. This trailer was a story trailer, a gameplay trailer, and a tech trailer. In the year 2000, the tech shown in this game was unheard of: shadows from multiple light sources, AI guard behaviors, rain particle effects, limb hit detection, destructible objects. People's jaw dropped when watching all of the gameplay and technology. That wasn't it though. Kojima's masterful editing, camera work, scene selection made it feel like an action movie like The Rock (Great Movie). His storytelling is evident throughout this trailer, and since its a sequel to MGS1, he gave fans a taste of a plot twist and kept us wanting more like any good trailer.

    Sure, some people will criticize its length, but I think it needed all this time to deliver all of its purposes of storytelling, gameplay, and tech dsiplay. When I saw this trailer, I watched it for days, non-stop, even collected the Metal Gear Solid 2 E3 2000 Documentary DVD. This trailer blew me away, as well as everyone at E3 who just sat there watching the trailer, and I will never forget those moments of awe.

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    So what do you think makes a good trailer? What do you think is the best trailer?

  • It probably goes without saying but the number one thing a trailer needs to do is sell me on the idea of whatever the trailer is made for. This is probably an odd choice, but of every trailer at E3 in 2015 this is the one that has stuck with me to this day:

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    This trailer puts me in a good mood every time I watch it, and it makes me want to build roller coasters and run a theme park. It's simple but it's extremely effective at getting exactly what it wants out of the viewer.

  • Gameplay, Stylish editing and an appropriate soundtrack

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  • Global Moderator

    Its hard!

    It comes down to the pacing, what questions in raises, what type of game it tries to show off etc.

    I do believe that the Mass Effect 2 trailer with the real trailer music is one of the best trailers in term of pace and feeling.

    HOWEVER, I Love the Battlefield: Bad Company trailers due to their sheer humour and how they "mock" other games/media.

  • Depends on the game, and depends on which trailer it is. I feel like Persona 5 has struck a good balance of gameplay, story, and atmosphere thus far.

    Trailer 1

    Trailer 4

  • I think a good trailer shows strong fundamentals (mood, pacing, music, etc) but I think a great trailer knows how to play up to viewer's anticipation/anxiety and rewards them for their attention.

    To me, the BotW trailer is 3 stars. It shows lots of gameplay and the potential of what's to come (look how big that world looks!). But its also very textbook and suffers from cuts that are too long and feel like filler. All of the padding feels forced, like, Nintendo is saying, "Look! See all this stuff? It's cool!" And I agree, it is cool. Really cool! But all this trailer kind of does is dump everything in front of you and says, "Please be excited!". All you can do is nod and smile, but can't help but feel a little let down.

    On the other hand, the FFVII trailer builds up all that tension and emotion. It knows what you want but holds it out just out of reach, teasing you to come closer. It's dangling that shiny red strawberry in front you and you're so hungry but it keeps pulling it away. You keep following and following and just as the saliva from your mouth starts to drip over, it feeds you that delicious fruit. It's just a strawberry mind you, but all that anticipation makes it the sweetest, juiciest strawberry you've ever had... a 5 star trailer for sure.

    The MGS2 trailer is similar, but its more like a trail of little candies with a slice of cake at the end.

    I've mentioned trailers for mainly sequels because they have the advantage of being anticipated, obviously. But new trailers for new IPs like No Man's Sky and Horizon use mystery to build that anticipation and rely on our need for answers to build excitement/hype.

    But enough of my ramblings, I'm off to find some strawberries...

  • I like trailers that are more than the game, while keeping a faithful representation of the game.

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    In this one they use an in-game track, with in-game text, in order to tell a story and give you a large tease at a lot of the game, without revealing too much. Not only that, but it's using a lot of art assets completely separate of the game (but very much based on the game) in conjuction with the assets of the game itself in the manner that you would expect to see them in the game.

    It makes it all entertaining to watch even if you've already completed the game, in fact it may be even more entertaining to watch due to the appreciation of plot elements and characters.

    I still might rank that P5 trailer above it though, where they're skating on the highway. Perfection.

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    The debut trailer for Orbital Shock Drop Troopers - instantly leaps to mind.

    In the first instance, it came out of nowhere, so there was definitely a sense of the unknown as it played.

    The way it worked on confusion, turned day to night, to rainy streets and the reveal of our hero - this time not a multi-billion dollar fighter jet of a soldier, but just a man.

    The gorgeous jazz noir of Marty O'Donnell's score, veering into something very venerable and human, then bursting into gallant and suggesting such adventure with that daaa DAN DAAA at the end. brilliant.

  • To me it depends on what it's trying to achieve. I don't mind CGI trailers if they are able to set the tone, introduce characters, do some world building. I'd consider memorable trailer as great, since it's about marketing and then the game is on my mind.

  • Wanted post this in celebration of No Man's Sky going Gold.

    One of those best trailers I have ever seen was the No Man's Sky E3 2014 gameplay trailer. Usually we should differentiate a trailer that has edit cuts from the videos that are playthroughs of a game, but this video was definitely a trailer.

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    Sean Murray had said that this trailer was recorded by him while he was just randomly playing through a game, capturing some footage for a trailer. He had his headphones on, listening to his favourite band, 65daysofstatic, and managed to sync his actions to the tone of the music. Quite frankly, he had a miracle happen to him. This trailer had it all with zero cuts in it.

    It is important for a trailer to leave you wanting more, and boy did this trailer made everyone want more, so much that Sean was pretty annoyed at revealing too much before the game came out. I honestly felt sorry for him because I understand why all of it should be a mystery. The feeling of space exploration, the vast unknown, is captured in this trailer. Alien life, alien plants, hostile creatures, ships launching into space and landing again, it is the sci-fi dream come true, and no one has discovered it but you.

    You didn't need to know anymore, the gameplay mechanics, the upgrade system, the objectives. This game just lets you explore the strange vastness, and the trailer just gave you enough to make you feel that. Couple the video with the great audio. The music syncing perfectly with the actions of the player, and the audio had that familiar vibe of Earth, yet it strikes the tone of discovery and wonder. The space scene sounded perfectly sci-fi as the music climaxed at the right moments.

    This is definitely one of the best trailers for me, and I am very much looking forward to the game.

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    Probably the greatest reaction to a trailer of all time. And to end with Miyamoto with a sword and shield. AHHHHH, my 14 year old self was crying.

  • This ME3 trailer is interesting too, in that it is all CGI, but is pretty much a prequel to the game

  • The Bioshock trailer always comes to mind for me

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    Shows of environments & monsters & actual gameplay

    Has a kickass song

    That musical queu when your hunter takes out the scythe and the music holds for just a second...

    Another example

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    Showing off cool new environments & weapons all while that incredible song is rising in the background.

  • @Lexad The reaction makes the trailer legendary, and the trailer itself is such a perfect hype inducing thing as well. As much as I adore Twilight Princess, it's a shame the final game never lived up to the full vibe of the trailer. The Breath of the Wild trailer does a better job of conveying the final product I feel.

  • @Hero-of-Lime said in What makes a Great Game Trailer?:

    @Lexad The reaction makes the trailer legendary, and the trailer itself is such a perfect hype inducing thing as well. As much as I adore Twilight Princess, it's a shame the final game never lived up to the full vibe of the trailer. The Breath of the Wild trailer does a better job of conveying the final product I feel.

    It is a shame we never got the full out war that the trailer conveyed, but I loved TP. Because I played it before Ocarina of Time, I honestly feel it is a better game since I am not affected as much by nostalgia.

  • @Lexad I prefer Ocarina (it's my favorite game in general) but TP is either my second or third favorite Zelda game. The final game is perfectly fine, but the early environments in this trailer were so amazing. The forest, the dark wasteland, that's one thing BotW seems to be picking up the slack on.

  • Something that gives you an idea of the tone of the experience, doesn't spoil any major plot points or events, yet still leaves you wanting more. I think CG trailers have a place in gaming because it's an easy way to give us the tone they are going for without actually using any segments from the game (thus avoiding spoilers if they do it correctly).

    Here's a great example of a trailer in my opinion -

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  • @Whoaness This is probably in my top 3 favorite posts in all of the forums. Absolutely fantastic. Thank you very much for your critiques and insight.

  • Twilight Princess '05

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution

    A trailer needs to take you on a journey. If it does, it doesn't even matter if block-pushing puzzles are part of that journey. I think a trailer can only be as good as its music. The way the music slowly builds in the Twilight Princess and Deus Ex trailers is palpable: You feel it in your bones. I don't usually feel that if the music isn't an original composition for the game, capturing its tone.

    There's something about the Eidos Deus Exes that makes overbearing narration and Adam Jensen's sheer edginess just work. We totally accept the random 16th century throwback because it fits with what they were going for.

    Both the Twilight Princess and above Skyrim trailer really try to sell the adventure. You can tell by how they both devolve into gameplay montages near the end. Skyrim shows you nothing but first-person environmental shots at the beginning of the trailer, playing to the worlds Bethesda are known for. It's also neat how they show both the dragon and Dragonborn's perspectives, highlighting their connection and even tilting the camera in time with the dragon's wing beats.

    They both have really strong endings, too, the Skyrim trailer playing up the natural wonder of respawning dragons. Meanwhile Twilight Princess uses a great zoom to eliminate negative space as Link and King Bulblin charge at one another head-on, giving the audience no room to breathe before cutting to the logo with the lightning. TP also had a bunch of great shots earlier in the trailer, like how they zoom out, de-syncing the camera with Link as he runs into the dark, unknown woods. It helps that Twilight Princess' in-game cutscene direction is still largely peerless in the gaming space.