This year marks the 100 year anniversary since the first trailer debuted in a U.S. film theater in November 1913. In the past century movie trailers have become what we expect to see before deciding yea or nay on a seeing a film. But they have also become what we can look forward to seeing from other media platforms as well like video games and books.
Following in the movie industry footsteps, video game trailers (aka cinematics) are evolving and influencing the industry every year. One of the older trailers, 1998 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, has a unique flair and displays game play footage that really orients the gamer:
When 2K, Bethesda, and Activision announced their new console games, they all showed live action trailers. These trailers have the opportunity to be abstract, experimental, and translate a game’s mood and overarching point of view. Live action trailers can bring the game to life in a very real way, showing what the game might look like and feel like with real people in real time.
XCOM: The Bureau Trailer
These cinematics displayed an interesting angle to the game’s background and story, but in doing so had to forgo the game world and game play. When looking at distinctions between console and MMO cinematics, it seems that for now the majority of MMO cinematics are continuing to go with CG. This could be because a lot of MMOs are fantastical and producing a live action cinematic seems undoable. But what about modern world MMOs like The Secret World? Thinking about live action for this cinematic sounds pretty cool, especially imagining the great VFX available for characters like the Revenant:
MMO developers like Bioware, Blizzard, and ZeniMax have produced CG trailers where the attention to detail is so inclusive that they feel almost real, while ArenaNet opted for mostly live action blended with some game footage in Guild Wars 2:
Both live action and CG trailers have the opportunity to orient the gamer on the experience that he/she might invest in. Live action trailers with no game footage run the risk of presenting a product that might not be anything like the game itself.
While developers feel the pressure to produce intriguing cinematics that compellingly introduce new games, they will inevitably experiment in unpredictable ways. Live action trailers may have the chance to reach us on a more profound level because we’re seeing that direct emotional attachment. However, when the Dead Island trailer debuted many were shocked and moved in a number of ways, and speculated that had the cinematic been live action it would have been too traumatic:
Last week’s column, Transcending MMOs with Transmedia, discussed how cinematics (and now TV shows) are extending game worlds to expand a contiguous universe and possibly draw in completely new audiences. We’re seeing this in books, too. When the director and producer were discussing my novel’s trailer, they considered both live action and CG. Because the book is a MMO fiction, they immediately gravitated toward CG, but as the discussions went on, they decided a live action trailer would give the opportunity to feature the main character as she’s described in the book. Even though CG would allow for them to incorporate Edannair’s game world, they wanted to display the personal side of the story while keeping it more ambiguous and a “teaser” themed trailer:
Movies, video games, and books have embraced cinematics to showcase different aspects of entertainment. Some are sticking with CG, while others like Halo shift to live action:
Halo's original trailer... yikes.
Halo 4's cinematics were MUCH improved.
Regarding MMO trailers specifically, it is interesting to speculate on where the cinematics will go from here and whether we’ll be seeing more live action. As we give feedback to developers and publishers about which trailers get our thumbs up or down, I wonder, do we prefer CG over live action? Or does it matter? A great trailer is a great trailer.
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.
Check out more columns by Genese: