How on earth do you make a launch trailer that elucidates what your entire game is about? And how do you do it in a way that pleases both current fans of the game, as well as people who have never heard of you before? I’m sure there’s no ‘right’ or decreed way to create a launch trailer, but this is what Failbetter Games’ process we used when creating the one for SUNLESS SKIES.
While trailers are beautiful and often capitalise on evoking certain emotions, they’re first and foremost a tool straight out of the marketing and communications toolbox. They’re one of the easiest, most digestible ways to let someone understand what the game is about. Therefore, the first thing we always do is meet to discuss and outline the marketing objectives, or what we hope to gain from releasing the trailer.
For the launch trailer, those were roughly:
- Showcase the complete game of SUNLESS SKIES, with emphasis on clearly showing off its USPs and core features
- Create something impactful and exciting—people should feel PUMPED at the end. It should spur people on to share the trailer during our launch week
This discussion spurs two concurrent actions: creating our first drafts of the script, and beginning the brief for the trailer.
The First Scripts
At this stage things are loose and just beginning to take shape, so each member of the communications team goes away to create their own individual scripts based on ideas from the objectives chat.
This is great because it allows each person to express their own creative ideas, and provides a pool of them for us to choose from. Plus, each person has their own skill strengths—so certain facets of the trailer will click immediately within these drafts. For example, our Communications Director Hannah often has a knack for the hierarchy of the messaging, as well as the specific word choice for title cards, while I have a clearer concept of visuals, music and pacing.
Once these are done we meet up again to share what we’ve come up with, and then pull and push different areas of each of the scripts until we feel we have a solid idea in our hands. At this point Hannah usually grabs the script to refine the ideas we discussed, while I begin to cement the Trailer Brief.
It was after our first scripting sessions that we really understood how to frame the launch trailer to achieve our goals. Our previous three trailers all were crafted with representing the game as a whole, but because they also represented specific in-game regions, we had the freedom to be pretty creative. With the hefty objectives of a launch trailer, it became clear that we had to hone our messaging even more.
I'll focus on two main discovers as this blog:
1) We must immediately set the time and place. Let's waste no time on answering the 'wtf is this' question, especially as trying to convey Victorians colonising space, let alone all our Fallen London universe lore is A LOT.
2) For the launch trailer to be successful we had to punch people in the face with the emotional/motivational 'WHY' of SUNLESS SKIES. And even with two marketers, the 'WHY' remained a wriggly, slippery elusive fiend for the first few scripts. In the end, we described it within the brief as:
“The *WHY* emotional/motivational grip on the player is about exploration. The payoff is the cost of exploring such a place. It’s a case of curiosity killed the cat. A cinematic trailer, using music and thoughtful cuts to deliver the atmosphere of the game: you’re drawn on by mysteries, compelled to explore, to run, and get into trouble you couldn’t have imagined when you set off.”
The Trailer Brief
This is the document that keeps us pointing due north. The SUNLESS SKIES trailers have anywhere from 5 - 10 people working on them, internally within Failbetter as well as externally, as we outsource the actual creation to the amazing team at Antimatter Games.
The Trailer Brief includes:
- the core brief (trailer length, our objectives)
- deliverables (format, requested gifs from the trailer)
- the main conceptual themes we'd like to portray ('player as captain,' 'exploration and Victorian spirit,’ ‘write your legend’)
- any content notes (good opening shot required due to advertising thumbnails)
- a list of assets and resources we'll provide
- a list of visuals we'd like to show off
- inspirational trailers with notes on how they relate to our aims
- audio and music inspirations
Masters of Art and Words
As soon as marketing feel the brief and our draft script is clear and solid, we invite our Creative Director Paul, artist Tobias and Narrative Director Chris in for a giant mind-meld. This allows us to discuss what realistic assets we have to work with, what shots may be good, and if the themes ring true. Most importantly, it ensures that our idea is representational of the game as it currently stands.
This can spur on guided tours through the Unity build or the game’s CMS to pull out specific, flavourful text snippets. It’s a time of trimming and refining.
Music in trailers should not be sold short, after spending plenty of time stuck in our retention graphs for all our trailers it’s obvious that musical beats and tone absolutely drive views. While we work with the brilliant composer Maribeth Solomon and award-winning studio Soundcuts for the game itself, we don’t have an audio expert in-house.
I’m by no means any sort of music expert, but I’ve enjoyed trying to find the right tracks for all our trailers. As one of our main objectives was to leave players feeling amped, we knew the track for this launch trailer was going to be supremely important.
Initially Hannah brought up Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which acted as our inspirations—their mood and urgency definitely felt in line with what were were hoping to capture.
From there I went on to listen an analyse tracks from within the game to see if any of them could strike a similar tone. A few of the Reach's combat tracks and outer Reach region tracks came close, but the pace wasn't quite right. So then I headed over to Premium Beat (always a trip, love the categories they have available to search through!) and gathered ten tracks I thought were in the right realm and shared it with the team.
The top three closest fits were Archetypes, Above the Ocean and Raising Expectations. We initially chose Above the Ocean, but once we heard it in the first draft we felt it was too jolly for the second half of the trailer. In the end we went with Raising Expectations, as it had that Vivaldi-vibe to it and transitioned in a way that matched the pacing of the trailer better.
Afterwards we finalise the brief and the script, and gather up all the assets so we’re ready for the actual assemblage. These get sent to the Antimatter team, who expertly weave, splice and mold the footage together per our script, but with their own video knowledge and creative ideas for things like transitions and special effects.
From here we go back and forth over a few review drafts. The first review allows us to see whether or not our our ideas for the script and music fit well with our business objectives—and it’s where the biggest changes occur. After that the tweaks are pretty small, especially as Antimatter have been great at really understanding what we were aiming for in the first place.
With so many people on both teams involved, I try to always keep a very clean line when it comes to giving our feedback. Paul, Hannah, Tobias and I discuss it internally, and then I collate it all into one very organised (hopefully easily understandable) list to send back across to Antimatter’s project lead.
Once we have the final product it’s all about making sure we’re using it to its fullest extent. For example, most of our SUNLESS SKIES trailers were given to IGN a day in advance as an exclusive, which allows us to basically double our views on YouTube. We also cut them up into various gifs to use across social media.
It’s hard not to dive into more trailer talk, I’m sure there will be more blogs. I’d also highly recommend checking out Derek Lieu’s entire blog if you’re looking for more trailer-craft advice! Without any further ado: