This spring we were invited to help judge the Game Trailer Challenge, in which gamedevs created videos for their games. We watched trailers and teasers made by developers and carefully evaluated each video. Today we'd like to show you the 10 videos that impressed us the most. We'll talk about what exactly made them awesome, in our opinion, and what could have helped make them even better.
The challenge was inspired and sponsored by Games Operators, a Polish game publishing company, and hosted by the founders of the Game Industry Conference — an event for game developers that has been held in Poznań (Poland) since 2014. This year the conference will run October 21-24.
4 videos that just missed the bar
These are videos we rated a "7" or an "8." Let's check out why they made it almost to the top, and what could stand to be improved.
Bear in mind that here and throughout the text, the points are those given by Alconost. Besides ourselves, there were 11 other experts judging the challenge, and their ratings did not necessarily match our own.
Trailer for Carebotz: 7 points
What we liked about the trailer was the gameplay capture quality and the soundtrack. The cut-in call-to-action texts were attractively designed, and the sound effects drew attention to them nicely.
The only problem is that the chief object of interest in the gameplay — the player's spaceship — is so small that it fails to catch the eye. You literally have to search for it in the frame. This is especially hard to do in scenes containing similar objects that are just as small: the visual differences fail to register. To make it easier for the viewer to focus on "our" spaceship, it could be backlit, made larger, or otherwise accentuated.
But an even more important factor is that at first glance it's hard to make sense of the gameplay events. The gameplay captures are not self-explanatory. Generally speaking, text boxes containing taglines are an effective way of explaining to the viewer what's happening on screen. But in the Carbotz trailer the text boxes are concentrated in one scene, and appear one after the other with minimal pauses. It's actually an interesting visual approach, but we wouldn't recommend abusing it just for effect, while obscuring the message.
The dramatic pause at the 10-second mark could be embellished with teasing taglines, egging the user on to continue watching the trailer. Otherwise the viewer may never make it to the scene with the cut-in text boxes explaining what the user can actually do in the game.
Teaser for Pale Night: 7 points
This minimalist 2D platformer comes from Pretty French Games – a Parisian indie studio founded by former Nvidia computer-assisted learning engineer Simon Andersen. It is slated for release on Steam in September of 2021.
We really appreciated the video's cohesiveness: the video and audio sequences echoed each other, telling a single story. The opening scene hints at intrigue, making the viewer watch a bouncing white cube until an in-frame caption reveals the secret of the key gameplay feature.
But the game's real killer feature isn't disclosed until 17 seconds into the video. Is everyone really going to keep watching that long?
In our opinion, the video could be abbreviated quite painlessly – for example, by sacrificing scenes with similar or identical color schemes and repetitive movements of the cube. We would suggest saving the enchanted forest for the finale, and concluding the closing scene earlier.
But in spite of the rather repetitive gameplay fragments, we would say the Pale Night teaser is a fairly good example of a game video. The plot is extremely well thought-out, and the logical structure is apparent. It feels like watching a cartoon with an introduction, climax, and conclusion.
Trailer for Covert: 8 points
This video from the folks at Baseball Team (Poland) really impressed us. Although the game itself is in the early stages of development, it's apparent that they gave the video their all, and that considerable time went making it.
The first 20 seconds of the trailer grab you and pull you in. The camera movements, the gameplay selections, the in-frame captions, the music – nearly everything is right on the money! The entire video sequence is synced to the beat of the background music – a great way of conveying the atmosphere and drawing in the viewer. The video looks very promising and sets a high bar for expectations of the game itself.
Its flaws? They're there, unfortunately, and they turn the viewing experience into a roller coaster ride. The virtually impeccable animation suffers jarring interruptions – a badly pixelated fragment, recorded gameplay with a sloppy UI, or a scene with unfinished character animation. Against the backdrop of the flawlessly executed scenes, these oversights stand out like a sore thumb.
Our advice in these situations is to not allow less than perfect fragments to crop up in the trailer. Also, we'd recommend disabling the UI when capturing gameplay. If necessary, the interface layer can be added directly at the animation stage. This will also allow for clean animations of transitions between menu elements, eliminating cursor shake, jerky scrolling, and glimpses of unnecessary windows.
Nevertheless, faced with the threat of hordes of marching hamsters, we rated this trailer a definite "8."
Trailer for Wayfarers: Call of Osiris: 8 points
The script is what really sets this video apart. It feels like the game was used as a springboard for a short film. The picture's quality is particularly noteworthy. It's obvious that the developers carefully set up the locations and thought out the trajectory of the camera movements before they began shooting.
And notice the flawless use of the dramatic pause at 0:14: it pulls the viewer in and makes them want to keep watching. Incidentally, the first 15 seconds of the video would make a terrific separate teaser video.
What mars the impression slightly is that the characters are sometimes hard to hear, although their text appears important to fully understanding the context. Also, to introduce a little variety into the visual sequence, some of the scenes could be slightly abbreviated, and others could be rearranged — for example, the gun battle scenes could be interspersed with other events from the game.
Overall, this video, in our opinion, is a terrific example of an action-genre game trailer. A definite "8," this video is right at the brink of our top faves. Speaking of which...
Alconost's top 5 game videos
We rated these videos “9” and “10."
Words trailer: 9 points
Watch this video with your sound turned on — the music really grabs your attention. The animation is also top-notch, with well thought-out plans and precision camera movements. The combination of swift movements and nearly static scenes, as at 0:20-0:23, help frame the rhythm of the animated events. And yet the video is by no means chaotic: the motion is extremely well balanced.
And another thing: the video has a very vivid climax. It happens at 0:32-0:35, when an object from the environment suddenly becomes playable, and the gripping, intense soundtrack gives way to the quiet plucking of strings. It feels as though for the last 30 seconds we've been running through dark rooms alongside the video's invisible protagonist, and have finally reached a safe haven where we can catch our breath and forget our anxiety. This metamorphosis is underscored by every expressive means possible, right up to altering the scene lighting.
What could be improved? In our opinion, the 10-second exposition of the game's name is overkill. Especially considering that the video follows the name demo with a brief teaser scene. The viewers may simply not watch that long, mistaking the name's extended screen time for the closing scene. That screen time could be reduced, or it could be occupied with other taglines with plays on words — this would fit the game like a glove. We would prefer to move the logos at the end of the opening scene to the end of the closing scene.
When putting the finishing touches on the animation, we would slightly tweak the lighting level of the scenes. Although the video's semidarkness is essential to the atmosphere, the need to literally squint at the screen makes for a not entirely comfortable viewing experience.
Trailer for EXISTENTIAL: 9 points
The game this trailer was made for was created by indie developers from Turkey for the Atom GameJam 72-hour gamedev challenge. Incidentally, "words" (the preceding contender) is also his work, and the videos for both games bear a common stamp: harmonious interplay of the audio and video sequences, animation synced to the rhythm of the music, and — most importantly — nothing but important gameplay fragments that actually help understand the context of the in-game situation. This video proves that you can bring your potential user up to speed, convey the game's atmosphere, and hint at what exactly they'll need to do while playing — all in less than 15 seconds.
We feel that the video could stand to have some text boxes with descriptions of the game's primary features and special abilities. For example, from the video's YouTube description we learned that in this game cheating is essential if you want to win. An intriguing idea — and a pity that the video itself makes no mention of it.
Teaser for Sunfall: Children of Adiona: 9 points
From a technical perspective, the first 30 seconds of this video border on perfection. The picture quality, camera speed and trajectory, voice post-processing, character dialogue, and sound effects are all flawless. The only thing is that we would have slightly shortened the 5-second white exposure at the very beginning.
The next 15 seconds of the video, however — a demo of the game world — fail to match the quality of the opening scene. The camera movements in the location scenes are not as smooth, and some of the locations appear to be shown more than once. In different scenes the running character is shown at various distances from the camera — sometimes quite far off — and it's not easy to keep your eyes on the tiny moving figure.
So far, not much is known about the actual game under development by Romanian-based gamedev studio Tractor Set GO! Assuming that the game will have more content, and then as the game's release approaches the video will be expanded a bit, we believe it will do a terrific job of motivating potential users to install the game.
Trailer for Under the Counter: 9 points
If the challenge had a prize for "video that stole the judges' hearts," our hearts would be lost to this video. Congratulations to Warsaw studio Korba Games on a job well done! Their visual novella Under the Counter is expected to be released on Steam, with a release date scheduled for June 30th, 2021.
Here's what we especially liked about the video:
Voice-over. More than just reading the text aloud, this was truly voice acting — exactly what a story-telling trailer needs. The reading style, the logical pauses, the semantic emphasis — everything is in place, and all at the proper dosage — no overacting.
Visual style. The art is varied, but it maintains a uniform style. The crimson hues in certain scenes and the neon sign in the logo neatly and appropriately break up the video's color scheme, which is generally fairly subdued.
The camera technique, sliding downward beyond what was previously visible in the frame. This dovetails nicely with the game's title, and creates an atmosphere of a secret about to be revealed. A terrific example of meaningful motion design.
Overall smooth, well-regulated animation. The pace of the video sequence matches that of the audio. The in-frame events do not distract from the essence of the story line.
Music and sound effects: all suitable, even-keeled, and perfectly combined.
Things we would improve include the scene at 0:33-0:47: the animation of the main character's hands really could have been a little more animated. But most importantly, how we longed for more emphasis at 1:05, when the camera swoops down in its trademark move… and the lovely lady behind the counter turns out to be not at all what she seems! The scene practically gave us goosebumps, and it would have been so perfect if the camera had paused just slightly at that moment, or if there had been a laconic animated effect or particular sound! Not that it's essential — even without it the video looks absolutely cohesive and engaging. But a move like that would have been the "cherry on top" that took the viewer to the next emotional level.
Trailer for #DRIVE: 10 points
We gave this video the highest possible rating. The planning of the script and visual sequence, the voice-over, the music and sound effects — everything was top notch. If you plan to make a video for your game independently, keep this video in mind.
Bonus: a terrific teaser for a non-existent game
Out of 20 videos that we evaluated for the challenge, two videos earned our highest rating. The first we've described above. Here's the second. We put it in a category all its own, because this video is the only one in our selection that depicts a non-existent game. (This was permitted by the challenge rules.)
Teaser for Fast Like Hell: 10 points
This teaser looks as though it was made in a single sitting. Feast your senses on the dynamic actions, the finely tuned animation, the music, the humor — all in perfect harmony! Personally, we would have given a little more attention to tagline design (the nondescript grey text boxes with black text appear overly simplistic, especially compared to the rich, glossy artwork) and added sound effects (the video is screaming for them, especially at 0:19-0:23). But even without this the teaser appears easy to comprehend, lively, and very natural.
Who won the challenge
Aside from us, there were 11 other experts judging the challenge — all gamedev professionals. Overall, the judges concluded that two videos had won the challenge: the trailer for Under the Counter and the teaser for Fast Like Hell.
Here's wishing the folks at Korba Games success in developing Under the Counter! And we hope the judges' positive reception will inspire Berdo Games to move ahead with developing Fast Like Hell!
Top videos as voted for by the jury
And here are the rankings of the videos as the judges see them.
|1||Under the Counter||
|1||Fast Like Hell||
|4||Wayfarers: Call of Osiris||
|5||Sunfall: Children of Adiona||
Although the position of the specific videos in the overall ratings differs from their positions in our personal rankings, the jury members liked the same videos that we did in 9 out of 10 cases.
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