Making Entertaining and Engaging Video Game Trailers

[UPDATE: June 11, 2012]
Updated this post with some new and some additional information:

  1. Links to reviews of various capture software on Mac, PC and Linux from Pixel Prospector
  2. Link to my review of the BlackMagic Intensity Extreme. TL;DR: Buy it. It’s awesome.
  3. Link to a great article on indiegames.com on What makes an effective game trailer.
  4. Link to Rami Ismail’s awesome Presskit() for creating clean, simple and effective Presskits.

Like most things in my life over the last year or so, this (extremely long) post came together because of a couple of very serendipitous events :) Way back in October of 2010, Nathan Vella of Cappybara games shot me a quick tweet saying “Hey, want to collaborate on a talk about Indie Game Trailers?” So, a few hours before the deadline, we collaborated over skype and google docs and threw together what we both felt was a pretty strong proposal. Nathan submitted it, and that was that.

A few months later, we heard back, and the talk was accepted to be part of the Indie Game Summit at the 2012 Game Developer’s conference! The only hitch is that they cut the time down to 25 mins from 60, and asked that I do the talk solo *gulp!*. Nathan was cool with that, so I jumped at the chance.

Trailer-Blazing: Creating the Trailers your Game Deserves

The hardest part about putting the talk together was cutting it down to the 25 minute time limit, and still getting a good breadth of topics and information across. I decided to focus the talk on more of the artistic aspects of making a trailer, and cut out almost all of the technical stuff. So, I didn’t want these few pages of notes Nathan and I had created to go to waste, so I’ve dumped it all online here, in a somewhat cumbersome and insanely large blog post…

For those of you that don’t have the time to read this entire thing I totally understand. I’ve summed up the whole presentation/blog post in a quick 5 point TL;DR version for quick & easy digestion.

I’m sure there’s a few topics I’ve glanced over here, or maybe haven’t given the kind of coverage that people would like, so if you feel something is lacking, feel free to get in touch, and I’ll see if I can shed any more light on any of the topics!

Thanks, and Enjoy!

Table of Contents

TL;DR What makes a Successful Game Trailer?

What is a Game Trailer Supposed to do?

Capture your audience’s attention
Entertain your audience
Ensure your audience understands your game

Dissecting Popular Game Trailers

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Fez Long Screenshots
Super Time Force
Realistic Summer Sports Simulator
Super Meat Boy 90′s Commercial
Dead Island & Transformers Fall of Cybertron

Let’s look at some classic movie trailers

Alien 1979 Trailer
The Shining Trailer

Creating a Trailer with Story and Dramatic Structure

Dramatic Structure in your Game Trailer

Capturing high quality gameplay footage

Screenflow (OS X)
CamStudio, Fraps & Camtasia
HDMI Out: Blackmagic capture cards & boxes
HDSLR Video

Tools to edit and assemble your trailer

Adobe After Effects
Adobe Premiere

Video Compression, and putting your Trailer online

Video Compression
Colour and Gamma shifts with H.264 compressed MOV files
YouTube Vs. Vimeo
YouTube Vs. Vimeo – Custom Thumbnails
Does Vimeo hate game developers?
So what should I use? Vimeo or YouTube?

Bombs away! Sending out the mail blast & Working with the press

Sending out the email!
Promoter App & The perfect video game press kit

What is a Game Trailer Supposed to do?

Before we get into too much depth about how to make a great game trailer, we have to talk about what the goals are for your trailer… What exactly is the outcome that we want to see? Do we simply want to raise awareness about the game? Do we want people to go and buy the game immediately afterwards? What makes a great game trailer, and will encourage people to want to learn more about your game?

Before you capture one frame of footage, these are things you want to think about, and they should shape how you approach your trailer. We’re going to look at three main points here that I think are critical not just to game trailers, but most online video in general, and it’ll hopefully set you down the right path…

Capture your audience’s attention

This seems very straight forward, but you should do everything you can to ensure that your trailer is engaging and immediately captures your audience’s attention. This is pretty obvious since nobody ever sets out to make a boring trailer, but this should really shape how the first 5-10 seconds of your trailer plays out. One of the ways I like to do this is by immediately immersing people in game footage, or immersing them in the tone/environment of the game. I don’t see the point to spending the first 5-20 seconds on logos/title screens/UI etc.

Just get to the action and start things already!

If you have to show logos for legal or some other reasons, try and integrate the logos in gameplay footage or game elements somehow and don’t put them on a black background. Try and be a bit creative in the way they’re integrated into the trailer.

There’s also data to back this up. The stats on viewer abandonment are pretty fascinating. There was a study done by Visible Measures in Sept of 2010 which showed that 19.4% of a video’s audience defected in the first 10 seconds. 44.1% click away after 60 seconds. (This is an average of watching 40 million videos over 7 billion viewings according to visible measures)

What can we gleam from this? Keep things short! Anything more than 90 seconds is overkill in my opinion, and if your video is sub par, most of your viewers won’t get this far anyways. In the wise words of Phil Fish, “People have shit to do!

Entertain your audience

This is another somewhat obvious point, but your trailer should be as entertaining as possible. Think of it this way… When the viewer hits play, you’re forming a relationship with that person, and the trailer you create is usually the first impression people get of your game, so you don’t want to blow it. If someone is going to take their time to click play, you don’t want their first impression of your game to be boring, or low quality. You should reward them with something that’s engaging and entertaining.

The worst thing you can do is make a bad trailer and deliver something that’s not the same level of quality as your game.

If you have an amazing game, spend the time to make a cool trailer too so you don’t unintentionally turn people off. If you put out a bad trailer, it almost works against you, since even if your game is awesome, they probably won’t want to check out more info about your game.

Ensure your audience understands your game

Again, this is another simple concept that seems pretty obvious, but by the end of your trailer, you should leave the viewer an understanding of what you’re game is about. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to explain the gameplay, or gameplay mechanic. It could be the story, atmosphere or the tone of the game… It can be about the main character, the goals of the game, there’s literally an almost infinite amount of things you can show off… But you absolutely have to show some restraint! :)

Focus your trailer around one core concept!

People always seem to cram way too much information into their trailer, and the results are generally poor. You don’t need to go into tons of detail in your trailer. Covering your game’s story, gameplay, atmosphere, tone, awards, price, OS/Devices etc. is way too much for 90 seconds. The trailer is the hook to get people to want to learn more about your game or to buy it, it’s not the place to show off every feature and discuss the nuances of the game. Leave that for the website. Keep things simple, and resist the temptation to cram every feature of your game in your trailer since it might end up confusing people or even worse, just turning people off.

Dissecting Popular Game Trailers

So, I’ve stated that you should focus your trailer on one core concept or idea, but how many trailers actually do this? Unsurprisingly, most good, memorable trailers do exactly this, and I’ve gathered a few different trailers to showcase how they each tackle this problem.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

First up, I wanted to talk about the commercial for Yoshi’s Island. Now, this isn’t an indie game, nor is it a standard game trailer (I don’t think game trailers even existed in the 90′s so a commercial is as close as we can get) but I wanted to talk about it for a few reasons. This game was released while Nintendo was the king of the video game industry, and they could do whatever they wanted, But the commercial still focuses on one core message.

This commercial is totally nuts, but what’s interesting about it, is it spends 25 seconds focusing on a fat guy eating food, and 5 seconds of actual gameplay. Considering how beautiful and amazing Yoshi’s Island is, this seems like the weirdest way to advertise this game. But the commercial has ONE message: This game is full of content!. They just chose to relay this message in the most bizarre way possible. Maybe they’re trying to subtly reference Stand by Me and Monty Python, subconsciously making teenage boys want to buy the game. I don’t know :) But that being said, the message is simple, and focused, and delivered in an entertaining and memorable way.

Fez Long Screenshots

The 2nd trailer I’d like to look at are the “Long Screenshots” that Phil Fish released for FEZ. Now, these videos are a little bit different than your standard game trailer, but I think they’re perfect videos for showing off the tone and feel of the game. When playing FEZ, there’s no enemies, it’s just walking around, exploring, solving puzzles, and enjoying your time in this world he’s created. I’ve probably watched each of these videos a dozen times because there’s so much detail and each side of the environment has something different going on, there’s just too much to take in in one viewing.

What Phil is trying to convey with this trailer is that FEZ is a slower game, but if you take the time with it, there’s many beautiful places to explore and see.

The other great thing about these videos is that it teases the viewer in the best way possible. He’s saying “Hey, look at all the detail in just this one section of FEZ. When you play this game, the variety and detail in the rest of the game is going to make your brain explode”. Or at least I think that’s what he’d say :) Phil released three of these videos, and I think they’re a great expression of the tone and feel of the game, and gives you a perfect idea of what you’re going to expect when you get immersed in the world.

So, Phil is focusing SOLELY on the Tone and Feel of the game. He doesn’t talk about the story, the size, length, or gameplay, though he does subtly allude to it through the rotating environment, which again, is a brilliant tease.

Super Time Force

The video for Cappybara’s Super T.I.M.E Force is the pinnacle of what you can create for a teaser trailer. There’s lots of cool things going on here, so let’s break them down…

Cappy decided to focus on the gameplay for this trailer, and one of the things they do to help you focus on the action is slow down the footage. Slowing down the footage helps the viewer focus on what’s going on in the game, since in this case, it’s total batshit insanity. :) This is kind of similar to how the Long Screenshots for FEZ slows down the rotation to help you focus on the details of the environment. They’re slowing things down here to help you focus on the gameplay. But be careful you don’t misrepresent your content, or you’ll create disappointment or resentment when people play your game. This happened with the Dead Island trailer which we discuss later in this post.

The 2nd thing they’re doing is zooming in to specific areas of the footage, to again focus your attention and show the viewer where to look.

You’re intimately familiar with your game, but the viewer isn’t. This is likely their first time seeing the game.

So show the viewer exactly what they should be focusing on by zooming in to specific areas of the footage.

The other cool thing that’s going on here, is that there’s a bit of a structure to the trailer. The music and gameplay builds to a climax, and they hint at a storyline by having the guy screaming at the end. The trailer has some Dramatic Structure with a beginning, middle and end. It starts out with a bunch of guys streaming out of a transporter, telling the viewer, OK, all these guys are coming from the same place… Then it shows a variety of gameplay footage from different areas of the game, and it ends with a hint of story.

What’s probably the best aspect of this trailer, is it leaves you wanting more. It’s such a short tease, and leaves more questions than answers, which helps pique the viewer’s interest.

Realistic Summer Sports Simulator

This is one of my favorite trailers that I’ve worked on over the past few months. :) But it actually took us a while to figure out what to do for the trailer. I figured it out when I sat down with some friends to play the game, and we were just laughing because we were constantly failing at every event. Justin Smith had the idea to make the trailer kind of like a tutorial, since it takes a while to figure out how to play each event. We sort of took that idea, and merged it with the fail blog compilation videos and we had our concept.

The one concept we wanted to get across is that RSSS is a parody, it’s really funny and fun to play.

Like the Super T.I.M.E. Force trailer, we zoomed in to specific areas to focus on the funny parts, and just break up the trailer visually, so we weren’t staring at the footage at the same zoom level the entire time. Having the same level of zoom of the game for a full minute is kind of boring, and cutting in for closeup helps break up the monotony. We also didn’t show all of the events, and teased the viewer with the few that you see.

Finally, there’s a call to action at the end to buy the damn game :) I wouldn’t really recommend doing this kind of blatant call to action in most trailers, but in this case, it kind of works, since the trailer is about “How to play realistic Summer Sports Simulator” and you do have to buy it to play the game. It also fits with the build and structure of the trailer, since we’re kind of building up to that final climax with all of the different steps. In this case, I think it works since it fits with the tone of the trailer and the game.

Super Meat Boy 90′s Commercial

The trailer for Super Meat Boy is one of my favourite game trailers of all time. It’s was created by none other than James ID, who also did the Binding of Issac trailers. This trailer is great on so many levels, but the one point I wanted to make with this video is that it basically focuses on the tone of the game, and says “hey, this game is like all those old, hard, awesome 16bit games you played back in the 90′s”. There really isn’t that much gameplay footage in the trailer, and what there is, is hard to decipher because they ran the video through a few VHS tapes to make it look super lo-fi. (As a little aside, we did the same thing for the Card Hunter trailer, but ultimately decided that it was best to go with the clean version).

So, what is this trailer focusing on? Again, like many of the other trailers we’ve discussed, it focuses on the tone of the game and not much else. It’s trying to evoke the feeling you got watching those awful 90′s game commercials (like the 90′s Yoshi’s Island commercial). The game is full of references to old 80′s & 90′s video games, so the tone of this trailer fits the game perfectly. This kind of trailer works great, and it definitely attracted a lot of attention when it was released.

Dead Island & Transformers Fall of Cybertron

I kind of hesitated to include these trailers here, but they’re two prominent AAA game trailers from the past few year, so I think they’re worth talking about.

There’s a great behind the scenes video which goes into some detail about how and why the trailer was put together like this. Here’s a few quick quotes from the video: “We wanted to make something that made you look twice” “We wanted to make you feel what they were going through” “If you’re worried we’ve shown you everything this game has to offer, you’re sorely mistaken” What does that mean? They wanted to make something entertaining, engaging, and teased the audience that what they’ve seen is only a glimpse of what’s to come.

The Dead Island trailer has been the subject of some controversy but I think it’s a fantastic trailer. It’s essentially a short film rather than a game trailer, and that’s why I think it works so well. It’s engaging, grabs your attention, and is a very entertaining.

People have complained about the trailer, since it deviates pretty far from the actual game. The action doesn’t take place in reverse, the game’s not in slow motion either, etc… The trailer sets up some false expectations there, and you have to be careful walking that fine line between showcasing what your game is about and just making a cool piece of entertainment.

“However different in plot, form and aesthetic, both imagine a picturesque vacation spoiled by a gaggle of reanimated corpses. And that, in the opinion of its creators, was the intention.” – EDGE Magazine

Edge has a great article that talks at length about this trailer, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse here. Essentially both of these trailers are short films with a story, and a beginning middle, and end. Yes, they have obscene budgets, and awesome VFX studios backing them, but that doesn’t mean that your trailers can’t have some sort of narrative as well.

Creating a Trailer with Story and Dramatic Structure

So, as we’ve seen, most of the trailers we’ve looked at focus on the tone of the game, and have some sort of dramatic structure to them. But what is dramatic structure? Basically, it’s having a story with a beginning, middle and end. That might sound complex, but it can be very simple, and makes all the difference.

Dramatic Structure keeps your viewer engaged!

In the Realistic Summer Sports Simulator trailer, we build up to a climax by having a bunch of steps, ending in a call to action to “BUY!” the game. In Super Time Force, they build up to a climax through the pacing and editing of the clips, and end with the guy screaming, which hints at a story. For the Canabalt: 2 Player trailer, we start off with some establishing shots of Winnipeg, introduce one character, then the 2nd, show some gameplay, and end showing where you can play the game.

Dramatic Structure

If you just have a bunch of gameplay footage, slap it together, throw some text over top, that won’t necessarily engage the viewer. Try and think of your trailer as a story with a beginning middle and end, and structure it so that it’s constantly building towards some cool ending or payoff. There’s many ways to integrate this kind if thing into your trailer. You can add dramatic structure through your choice of gameplay footage and the way it’s edited, the music, pacing of your edit, etc etc… It’s really important to focus and spend a lot of time on this, since most game trailers don’t do this at all.

So the important question to ask yourself is:

Am I creating a Story with my Trailer?

This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your trailer off with “One man, on a mission” or “In a World…” or something cheesy like that. It just means having a bit of structure and a build to the way it’s put together. Your trailer should maintain a constant forward momentum and build towards some sort of climax or resolution.

Let’s look at some classic movie trailers

So, just for comparison, let’s take a look at two classic film trailers and see how they’re structured.

Alien 1979 Trailer

The Shining Trailer

These two movie trailers are awesome. The Trailer for Alien still gives me chills, and the trailer for The Shining is so intense, even though it’s just one shot for a minute and a half. Does that sound familiar? It’s kind of like the Long Screenshots for FEZ!

What both of these trailers do is set the tone of the films perfectly. They both build to a climax at the end and are put together in such a way that you can’t help be gripped by what’s going on on-screen. The trailer for Alien is beautiful edited, and as the music builds it also builds tension and suspense until all hell breaks loose around 1:30. Neither of these trailers talk about the plot, story, or characters. The core concept they’re trying to convey is that these movies are thrillers, they’re intense as hell, and they’re going to scare the crap out of you.

Technical Stuff

Capturing high quality gameplay footage

If you’re going to be making a game trailer, you’re most likely going to want to show off some gameplay footage. There’s a whole bunch of different ways to capture footage for your trailer, and we’re going to walk through a few of them here.

One of the things to keep in mind is that you’re going to want to capture your footage at the absolute best quality possible. That usually means capturing and saving the footage to some uncompressed or lightly compressed video codec. This means massive files and gigs and gigs of data.

One other thing to keep in mind, is it’s best to capture your footage with your in-game music turned off. Generally, you’re going to want to have a different soundtrack playing for your trailer, and you don’t want to accidentally capture your footage with the music baked in. Turn that off, and just capture the footage with the sound effects enabled, and that will give you the most flexibility when editing your trailer down the line…

Screenflow (OS X)

Screenflow Let’s just start out with the best piece of software for the job, and that’s Screenflow. Unfortunately, it’s OS X only, which is a damn shame, considering how good it is.

Screenflow is super intuitive to use, and has an option to capture footage internally to an uncompressed format, and then save it out to an uncompressed Quicktime which you can bring in to any editing package. It’s a rock solid piece of software, and you can capture multiple streams at the same time. You can capture audio through a USB mic (or iSight) along with capturing footage from your screen, and from your iSight or webcam all at once, and it brings those in as multiple video tracks into Screenflow’s editor.

One of the awesome advantages, is that it allows you to remove or replace the mouse cursor with whatever you want. If you don’t want it showing up in your footage, a simple checkbox removes it. You can also edit your entire trailer inside of Screenflow if you want (I haven’t tried this) but the capability is there.

I like Screenflow so much, that I’ve installed Parallels and WINE on my Macbook Air, so I can capture some PC game footage using this software. It really beats everything out there for Windows and is the best option for capturing footage if your game can run in OS X or Windows.

CamStudio, Fraps & Camtasia (Windows)

PC Capture If you’re running Windows, you’ve got quite a few more options:

Camstudio

Camstudio sounds great in theory. Free, open source screen capture application. I gave this a try back when I was trying to capture footage for the Serious Sam trailer, but had nothing but issues with it. One of my requirements was that it capture uncompressed footage, and I think I just gave up after an hour of trying to get it to work. They provide a lossless video codec, but I don’t think I could get it to install properly. All this being said, I know some people have had no problems with this, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s free, so I’d give it a shot first, and you might have better luck than me.

FRAPS

Again, I’ve heard people have no issues with FRAPS, but I just couldn’t get it to work for me. I think this tool was originally built as a benchmarking application, and the screencapture part feels kind of bolted on. You have to pay $37 for it to record as long as you want with no watermarks. Maybe it’s my crappy video card in my old 2008 PC or some other software issue, but I just couldn’t get this to work properly.

One of the issues I had with FRAPS is for some reason when I recorded the footage at 60fps, wrapped the footage in a 30fps container, which made the footage play back at 1/2 speed (but the audio was playing at normal speed) when I brought it into After Effects or Premiere. I ended up speeding up the footage 2X and then pitch shifting the audio sback down. It was an ugly solution, but it worked, and I never used the software again.

From the samples on their site, FRAPS seems like it would work pretty well, so I think it’s worth giving it a shot, before moving on to the next option:

Camtasia

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Camtasia. It works, captures uncompressed footage pretty well, but it’s a horribly designed piece of software. The UI is horrible, and exporting a movie out of it involves a 5 step process which involves digging through through various dialog boxes. It’s set up for easy sharing on social media sites like Youtube etc, but if you just want to get a bloody Quicktime or AVI out of it without the footage being resized or compressed all to hell, it’s like pulling teeth.

Once you’ve captured the footage, you have to suffer through Camtasia’s editing application which is useable in that all I’d want to do with it is just trim out the unnecessary gameplay footage, and have one movie with all the good parts. Doing anything more than that is likely to result in an aneurysm.

[Update] The wonderful people at Pixel Prospector have created some greats posts going into even more detail on various capture software for PC, Mac, and Linux, so please check those out!

HDMI Out: Blackmagic capture cards & boxes

[Update]: This device is awesome. I did a full review of the BlackMagic Intensity Extreme here, if you want to check it out. But the TL;DR version is: Buy it.

Now, Let’s say your game doesn’t run on OS X or Windows, and that it’s an Android or iOS game. Sometimes, you’re able to run these games in the simulator in OS X or Windows and capture the footage through one of the application I’ve listed above, but there’s times that just won’t work. Those situations generally revolve around the game not playing smoothly (or at all) in the simulator, or if you’re using special aspects of the hardware like the camera or the accelerometer/gyroscope.

In these situations, you’re going to have to run your game off of an iPad 2 or iPhone 4s, both of which mirror their displays out though an HDMI adapter that you can get from Apple. I honestly don’t know what you can do with Android phones since I haven’t run into that problem yet. I’m sure there’s a way to get HDMI out of those devices too.

That HDMI feed needs to go into something, and the place it’s going to go is one of Blackmagic’s capture cards/boxes. I don’t have any experience with these, but there’s lots of information listed on Blackmagic’s site about your various options. The one I’m most excited about is the Intensity Extreme which captures uncompressed video through Firewire to a Macbook Pro/Air. I’m going to be picking up one of those when it’s available.

The Intensity Pro card works on a Mac or PC, but you need a tower with PCI slots in it, and I don’t know too many people that have Mac Pro’s anymore. The Intensity Shuttle needs a really beefy PC that has onboard USB 3. It has to be a special kind of motherboard too, so that just wasn’t an option for me.

For the Hunger Games trailer, I did have to capture footage in this manner, and I had to go to a local production house to do it. It cost me about $75/h to capture the footage, but I was able to do it all in an hour or two, so it wasn’t that expensive. That might be your only option if you don’t have access to the necessary hardware.

HDSLR Video

Failing all of the above options, pretty much your last resort is to just shoot the screen of your device with a camera. This might not be as bad as it sounds, and for iOS/Touch devices, this is actually a pretty good option.

First the downsides: You need to know what you’re doing. If you’re not familiar with the whole HDSLR workflow, and how these cameras work, this can be a very frustrating experience, so I’d recommend finding a friend, or someone that has used these cameras in the past and knows how they work.

Canon cameras have a well documented and annoying moire issue, where if you shoot something like an iPad or iPhone screen up close, the image will look like absolute garbage because of the moire pattern. You have to shoot the screen a little bit out of focus, which makes the footage look blurrier than it needs to be. The Panasonic GH2 doesn’t have this issue, and is my current favourite HDSLR, because it’s produces the best quality video for the lowest price (compared to the Canon cameras).

Shooting video of your game being played is a great way to show off games that make unique use of the hardware (camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, etc) and to show off how the touch interface actually works and feels.

One of the reasons we chose to shoot the Aquaria for iPad trailer this way was that we wanted people to know that they were watching a new trailer for a new version of Aquaria. Aquaria has been out since 2008, and there’s tons of gameplay videos out there on Youtube. Had we just released a straight gameplay trailer, it wouldn’t have been totally obvious that this was a new trailer for a new version of the game, which is what we wanted to hit home.

Another great example is the trailer for Fingle for the iPad by Game Oven.

Fingle is really unique in that it’s almost more like a board game, or a version of Twister for the iPad. What’s going on on the screen isn’t really that important. The game is all about how the fingers and players are interacting with each other, so it doesn’t make any sense at all to just show gameplay. It needs to be a mixture of both in this case.

Tools to edit and assemble your trailer

There are literally dozens of different video editing packages out there, all of which are completely valid and good pieces of software, so it’s impossible for me to cover them all. So, I’m just going to touch on the two that I have some sort of experience with. This isn’t to say that the rest are bad, I just tend to stick to 2 main packages, and haven’t taken the time to learn or look into what everything else has to offer. I’m sure using Final Cut Pro, iMovie, and Windows Movie Maker all are valid solutions, but I have basically no experience with them, so I can’t really say if they’re a good tool one way or the other.

Adobe After Effects

After Effects IconIf I had to pick one tool to suggest, I would say that the best tool for assembling a video game trailer would have to be Adobe After Effects. It’s more of a compositing/motion graphics/animation tool than a straight video editor, which means it’s way more flexible than something like Final Cut Pro or Premiere. It’s also got a bit of a steeper learning curve, and doesn’t behave exactly like an editing program. It’s more like Photoshop with layers and keyframes, which, if you’re familiar with Flash, you’ll probably feel right at home inside of AE.

Bilinear Filtering vs Nearest Neighbor in After Effects

Bilinear Filtering vs Nearest Neighbor in After Effects

The nice thing about AE is that it allows you to import all sorts of different kinds of files with different frame rates, sizes, aspect ratios etc, and it’ll keep everything straight, rather than trying to conform imported footage to whatever the timeline dictates like some other applications. Since you’ll likely be bringing in shot footage, gameplay footage, in-game assets, sound effects, music and all sorts of other elements, After Effects will handle them all, and lets you mix and match all of those kinds of things on the same timeline.

One of the other nice things is there’s a switch on layer in your timeline that allows you to specify if you want bi-linear or nearest neighbor filtering when scaling your footage up or down. I have to plead ignorance when it comes to the other software in this list, but I THINK AE is one of the only apps that allows you to set this nearest neighbor scaling method when adjusting the size of your clips. This is pretty critical when dealing with games that use pixel art since you always want those to be as crisp as possible instead of the muddy blurry mess that can happen if that’s not set properly.

Adobe actually allows you to rent After Effects for $75 a month, which isn’t that bad at all, especially if you only need to hammer out a trailer at the end of your dev cycle. 1 month should be more than enough to get up to speed and create something cool.

This isn’t really the place to talk about how I use AE to assemble my trailers, but I’ve got a bunch of blog posts, and a tutorial site where I talk about some of the shots I did for the more VFX intensive game trailers and you might be able to gleam some information there. There’s tons of training availble online for After Effects, and I think it’s the best tool for the job.

Adobe Premiere

Another weapon in your arsenal to make a game trailer is Adobe Premiere. Personally, I only use Premiere if I’m working with footage that I’ve shot with a DSLR, since it can play back footage real-time, unlike After Effects which has to render everything (either as a RAM preview or as a final Quicktime movie) before you can play it back. When going through hours of footage, it’s really the only way to go. That being said, once I’ve created my rough edit in Premiere, I always take it into After Effects for finishing.

That’s my personal workflow, and may not work for everyone, and it’s totally possible to create a trailer solely inside of Premiere, I just don’t like working that way. There’s a lot of gotchas like making sure your project settings are set up perfectly when you create it, otherwise it can lead to weird problems, like accidental filtering of your images, ghosting/doubled up frames, introducing interlacing, and other weird stuff that’s simple to avoid in After Effects.

Video Compression, and putting your Trailer online

Video Compression

This section could be a whole blog post in it’s self, but i’ll boil it down to the workflow that works for me. After you’re finished editing and putting the final touches on your trailer, I always export a full resolution, high quality version that has as little compression as possible. I usually never bother with a fully uncompressed version, since they take up way too much space, and generally don’t play back smoothly.

Final Audio Compression

Final Audio Compression

What I like to do, is export my final version as a 99% PhotoJPG compressed Quicktime with full uncompressed audio. Why PhotoJPG at 99% and not 100%? Well, generally speaking, the file size difference between 100% and 99% is about 30-50%, depending on your movie, but the quality is pretty much indistinguishable. Doing a difference key between a 99% PhotoJPG Quicktime and the original source material shows that there’s essentially no perceptible quality loss, though of course there is some, because it is compressed ever so slightly.

I’ll then take that high quality master, and create my final compressed Quicktimes based on that. I like that workflow since it allows for some experimentation with compression settings without re-rendering the final movie over and over (and generating lower resolution versions for quick emailing/dropbox’ing if you need to share it quickly).

For final output, I always use Apple’s H264 codec set to max quality (see screenshot to see the settings) with Audio set to AAC encoding, at 320kbs. There are a variety of different H264 encoders, and after messing around with the free x264 codec, and Adobe’s Main Concept encoder, Apple’s always seems to spit out the best looking compression with reasonable file sizes.

H.264 Compression Settings

H.264 Compression Settings

Now the downside to Apple’s encoder is that it costs money, but it’s cheap enough ($29.99). (Download: OSX/WIN OSX License/Win License) It’s a separate install for OS X users as well. Basically, you’re buying Quicktime 7 Pro, which is an older version of Quicktime since Quicktime X on OS X lacks the functionality to specify any sort of customizable H264 export settings. Sigh… Apple…

So why not use Adobe’s Main Concept H264 encoder exporting your final version right out of After Effects or Premiere? Well, the results I’ve seen from it are far from perfect. I found the file sizes were much larger than Quicktime’s exports, and there was more colour/gamma shifting going on with Adobe’s encoder.

Colour and Gamma shifts with H.264 compressed MOV files

Look at how H.264 messes with your colours

Look at how H264 messes with your colours

I’m going to keep this section relatively short, since there’s two awesome blog posts (#1, #2) already written about this subject (and I might do my own down the line) but it doesn’t matter what you do, your colours will get tweaked when you export your Quicktime to H264. If you view the resulting movie in Quicktime Player on a PC, it’ll look totally washed out and horrible, but when you upload that video to Vimeo/YouTube, that gamma shift goes away. Open the same movie on a Mac, and it looks fine. WTF. This whole issue is a total disaster, but here’s the short version:

Export PhotoJPG master -> Create H.264 Versions using Quicktime Player 7 based on that Quicktime. Upload those H.264 Quicktimes to Vimeo/Youtube, and they’ll look as close as you can get to the original. I’ve tried about a dozen different iterations of Quicktmes, gamma stripping some, baking in a gamma shift into others, and the above workflow is what has generated the best results for me.

YouTube Vs. Vimeo

So, you’ve got your final H264 compressed Quicktime, now it’s time to upload it to YouTube. That’s a pretty straightforward process, and is your best option since it’s easy to share the video, and tons of people have google/youtube accounts, so you’ll likely get some comments & feedback, for better or worse.

That being said, one issue I have with YouTube is its compression. YouTube re-encodes your video, and creates separate versions from your Quicktime’s native resolution, down to 240p. By default, videos play back at 360p and that version generally looks like crap compared to the 720p or 1080p versions that you’re uploading. I’m not sure what the stats are on users setting their default playback to HD, or how many people click the button to bump to the res to 720p or more, but I bet it’s pretty slim. So, the net result of this is that your viewers are going to see a version of the video that’s of questionable quality. In some cases. I have seen 360p versions that look just fine, but generally speaking, I’ve never been thrilled with the 360p encode.

That really bugs me and that’s one reason I always upload my videos to Vimeo. The difference with Vimeo, is that when you upload a 1080p or 720p video, the version that’s displayed is simply re-sized to fit the embedded size, not down-sampled. What this means, is that Vimeo is simply resizing the high quality/resolution video down to whatever the embedded size is. That’s why when you click on full screen in Vimeo, it doesn’t stop/start like YouTube does since it’s streaming the same file to you, rather than grabbing a totally different stream like YouTube and a bunch of other customization options.

The one big caveat to Vimeo? It costs money. $59.95 a year. But that does get you higher quality HD encoding on your video.

YouTube Vs. Vimeo – Custom Thumbnails

I haven’t done too much research into this, but I’m willing to bet that a cool thumbnail for your video results in more plays than something that’s bland. Unfortunately, the only way you can upload a custom thumbnail to YouTube is by being a YouTube Partner. So you’re kind of stuck with the three choices that YouTube picks for you. The reason for this (from what I gather after a few minutes of googling) is so everyone doesn’t upload a video of a big ol’ pair of titties as their thumbnail which would likely generate tons of clicks. Sadly, I kind of agree with their reasoning here. :)

Of course, there are workarounds for this problem, but I’ve never really taken the time to give this a try.

Vimeo, thankfully, will let you upload a custom thumbnail, and it generally displays it at a really high quality. One caveat, don’t upload a PNG thumbnail. It will compress it all to hell and it’ll look like crap. Save a high quality JPG out of Photoshop (I always set it to max quality, since Vimeo re-compresses it) and that turns out much better.

Does Vimeo hate game developers?

If you take a look at this article on Kotaku, and these tweets, yeah, I’d say they do. But the reality is a bit more grey than this. Vimeo states in their user agreement that “gameplay videos are not allowed on Vimeo Basic or Plus accounts”. It’s pretty stupid, and basically, if you upload a gameplay video, and it starts to generate a lot of traffic, there’s a chance that someone at Vimeo will notice, and they’ll remove your whole account.

I have tons of game videos hosted on my Vimeo account, and Polytron has a bunch of videos there for FEZ, and neither of us have had any issues, but it’s kind of like playing Russian roulette… These videos technically could be removed at any time, which is really shitty.

What happened to Alec is that he was using Vimeo to host videos about his game Alone, and they were embedded in a whole bunch of different sites that were covering the announcement of the game. Shortly afterwards, his account was suspended, and all of his videos were blocked on all of the different sites. That’s pretty much a worst case scenario, and he had to contact every site to get them to change the video to the YouTube version.

So what should I use? Vimeo or YouTube?

This would be my strategy:

Upload your trailer to both Vimeo and YouTube, but send the YouTube version around to all the different gaming and social media sites.
Then, embed the higher quality Vimeo version on the game’s official site. This way, your site will have the highest quality encoded version, which you can customize with a special thumbnail. Vimeo also has a lot more options for customizing the player which is really handy if your site has a cool layout. If for some reason Vimeo decides to kill your account, you don’t have to worry about all of your embedded videos disappearing or being unavailable, since all of those SHOULD be using the YouTube version. You can disable embedding of the vimeo video too, which will force people to use the YouTube link if they’re looking for a copy for their site.

Bombs away! Sending out the mail blast & Working with the press

Alright, so everything’s done, you’ve uploaded your trailer to YouTube and Vimeo, and now you just need to let people know about it. I don’t claim to be an expert in marketing or be a social media wizard by any stretch of the imagination, but there are a couple of simple techniques and tips I’ve picked up that I think can help make a difference in helping to get the word out.

If you’re going to email every blog on the internet about your game, make sure that you send an email that’s short, simple and gets straight to the point. If you’ve got a contact at Kotaku or whatever, of course email them first, but failing that, send it to their generic email addresses or contact forum on their site.

Don’t send a PDF. Don’t attach a video. Always send a plain text email, with simple copy/pastable chunks of information. Send a link to the video on YouTube and even include the embed code to save them a step. Send a few quotes about your game, and a simple 1-3 sentence write up about it. Include the link to the appstore or wherever they can go directly to get your game. Do you have a Facebook Fan page, or twitter account for your game? Send them a link to it. Have a link to a .zip press kit with more info, higher res screenshots and maybe a full quality version of your trailer (if it’s small enough).

If you’ve released games before, and have some press coverage under your belt, have a simple line that says “Hey, I’m the guy that made that game you guys covered before (link to it) I thought you might want to check out this new project I’m working on…” and go from there.

Basically, just like your trailer, keep things short, simple and to the point. I can’t say that this is going to work 100% of the time, but it’s worked for us when we’ve tried to get coverage of the Winnitron 1000.

Another not so obvious tip is in the YouTube description for your trailer, always make sure to make the App Store link or website the first line of the description so it appears right below the video without people having to expand the info section.

What day of the week is best to send out an announcement about your game? I’ve heard various theories about this, but the one I’ve heard the most is that Tuesdays are generally good, and the 2nd last Tuesday of the month is best. Why that is, is anyone’s guess… I think it has to do with the fact that most people get paid on the preceding Friday, so they have money to spend, and people have more time on Tuesday to look at stuff online, since they’re not bombarded with as much work as they might be on Monday.

Of course, there’s many paths to the same goal here, and everyone has a different take, so do whatever works best for you. :)

Promoter App & The perfect video game press kit

I just became aware of this cool web app called Promoter, developed by Andreas Zecher. “Promoter is a web-based tool for game developers that tracks press, manages promocodes and reminds you of festival deadlines.” Every hour Promoter automatically finds and archives new press mentions of your games from 600+ gaming sites. I haven’t used this tool before, but it seems like a fantastic tool for indie developers.

Andreas asked a bunch of game journalists what makes up the perfect video game press kit. This list is pretty bang on as far as I’m concerned and mirrors a lot of what I’ve listed above (and adds some things I’ve missed too), so I would check it out on his site.

[Update]: Rami Ismailcreated an awesome tool called Presskit() for creating clean, simple and effective Presskits. There’s a bit of a complicated setup, but the results are awesome.

[Update]:From the May Boston Indies Lighting Talks, Alec Shobin of Subatomic Studios (Fieldrunners, Fieldrunners 2) talks about what he feels goes into a good press kit. Lots of good info here too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPUJvbBHIw&feature=plcp

TL;DR What makes a Successful Game Trailer?

Capture High Quality Gameplay Footage

  • Set aside at least a full day to capture your footage.
  • It takes a long time to capture good gameplay “moments”.
  • Use High quality software and capture with as little video compression as possible.

Engage and Entertain your Audience

  • Don’t think of your trailer as an ad, because you’ll focus on too many things
  • Make something entertaining, and focus on one core aspect of your game
  • Resist the urge to show off every feature and aspect of the game
  • Ensure the quality level and tone of your trailer matches your game

Tease the viewer that what they’ve seen is only a glimpse of what’s to come

  • Don’t overwhelm the viewer with information
  • Don’t give too much away
  • Keep your trailer Short (under 90 seconds), Simple, To the point.

Create a story with your trailer

  • Give it a beginning, middle and end.
  • Try to treat your trailer like a very short film.
  • Give your trailer structure, and build to some sort of payoff or resolution at the end.

 
 

About Kert Gartner

I make Indie Game Trailers & Online Promotional videos.

I love Photography, Animation, Visual Effects and have over 8 years experience working as a 2D compositor for Hollywood Feature Films. I am an Adobe After Effects and Photoshop Certified Instructor, and teach at Red River College and New Media Manitoba in Winnipeg

I'm currently available on a freelance basis if you looking for someone to help you out with Photography, Consulting, Speaking, and Visual Effects Training.

Tutorials at VFXHaiku.com