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A new trailer for Mask of the Rose

This month it’s me, Hannah from Failbetter, here to shout and jump up and down and wave my arms in the air because we have a new trailer for Mask of the Rose and I love it like I love - I was going to say my children, but today one of them punched me on the leg and told me I was bad, so. What I’m saying is I’m fond of the trailer. Here it is:

This trailer was made by Derek Lieu, game trailer maestro. His YouTube and TikTok are masterclasses in what makes a good game trailer, fascinating even if it isn’t your job! Here he is talking about how the Mask of the Rose gameplay trailer came together.

Which parts of Mask of the Rose made you go, oh, that bit has to go in the trailer?

The line from Mr. Pages wanting to know about the taste of the hearts was one which immediately stood out. It made me laugh and inspired so many questions. The line “permanent murder” is also utterly fantastic. When searching for “good trailer dialogue” I look for something which says a lot about the world and the characters, in as few words as possible. “Permanent murder” is probably the shortest and most evocative two words I’ve ever had in a trailer. This is why I used both of these moments in the opening of the trailer to hopefully hook the audience.

I think Mask of the Rose is full of this sort of dialogue which feels like it could only belong to this world. I typically go for games with either spoken dialogue or action, but the writing drew me to the game despite the difficulty of making visual novel trailers.

When you're making a trailer for a narrative game, is there anything you approach differently than for eg a platformer?

For narrative games I always start with dialogue. I play as much of the game as I can and then I ask for either the voice files, screenplay, or more typically, a MASSIVE spreadsheet of dialogue. In this case it was the Ink files with their mix of code and text.

Then I delve into the dialogue, find the parts I think could work best, and try to create a story which illustrates a mix of the world, the characters’ situations, and the game mechanics. The dialogue I select and edit together is the backbone of the trailer which creates the dramatic structure.

I liken making a story trailer to being given a several thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, which I then have to select maybe a couple dozen pieces and make a picture which feels representative of the complete image. Or at the very least, representative of one section.

Aside from starting with dialogue there are still fundamentals of trailer structure which I always follow for every trailer I make. This is based on the information necessary to answer basic questions, and subsequent questions that come after. For example: What is this? What is happening? Why is that interesting? What makes this unique? How big is the scope?

What are the challenges of making a visual novel trailer?

The main challenge with visual novels is that text is the primary content, but using a video to deliver text can be terribly dull. Even though social media video and apps like TikTok show people are ok with reading a lot of text in videos, it’s still hard to make text engaging in a trailer.

Some visual novels’ strategy is to make trailers which use flashy motion graphics to add motion and visual flare to the game art. I understand this approach, but I feel like this focus on the visuals is to the detriment of the novel portion.

When relying on the words, the challenge of making a trailer is saying and showing a lot as quickly as possible. Thankfully, I had the Failbetter writers available to take my selections and tighten them up where necessary. It makes a huge difference if I can make a line shorter by even one word, while retaining the core message.

Something that I think would surprise people is the extent to which we've had to reconstitute bits of the game in different configurations to make them make sense in a trailer. Is this typical to your work across genres?

Yes, absolutely! I’m always looking for ways to make ideas and visuals clearer and easier to digest for the trailer audience. Whether this means removing HUD/UI elements in shots where they don’t contribute to the idea currently being shown or removing text which distracts from what I want the audience to read.

I’m always doing the “squint test” where you squint your eyes to blur your vision, and check whether or not the thing you want people to look at is the first thing you see. For example, if you’re in a room with a light source, with blurry vision, the light will be the first thing you see, the second thing will either be the next brightest, biggest, or most colorful thing, and so forth.

This means some of the shots have less text in them than you'll see in the finished game, but you're more likely to have finished reading any text I did show in the trailer.

For narratives I often have to put dialogue out of order to tell the story, because sometimes a line later in the story provides exposition which helps explain things at the beginning.

Is there a bit of the Mask trailer that you're particularly pleased with?

I love how the backgrounds blur out in the shots Paul [Arendt, art director for Mask of the Rose] created for the “sexy” montage. Combined with the music and the dialogue, I think that section creates a great feeling. If we did our job well, people should be reaching for those GIFs of sweaty people fanning themselves when they see it, haha.

I was especially satisfied when my wife laughed at the funny parts of the trailer. Seeing someone react with the emotions I intended to elicit is always very gratifying.

This was a fun one to work on! Most of my work is usually in capture and editing, so it was nice to play in such a richly realized world where the images are created mostly through text. I hope it pleases fans of the Fallen London games who might not play visual novels, and intrigues visual novel fans who aren't familiar with the series.