I’ve talked about trailers in the past, but with our new Trailer Park feature it seems like a topic that’s worth revisiting. If I’m honest though that wasn’t the article that initially sparked me off thinking about great trailers, it was the Halo 4 launch trailer, a live action affair.
Personally I always enjoy the Halo trailers, and not simply because I’m a big fan of the series. No, it’s simply the quality of the trailers they manage to produce. Whilst I can certainly see why some prefer gameplay focussed trailers, there’s a quality about trailers like those for the Halo series that really appeal to me.
The thing with gameplay trailers is that whilst they can be informative about what a game actually looks like, they often don’t tell you much more than that. The quick cut nature of certain trailers, particularly with games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, makes them pretty close to useless in my opinion. They give you maybe a dozen snippets of gameplay, but none of them is more than a few seconds long.
That, to me, doesn’t seem like a useful way to put together a trailer. Yes, you’re showing actual footage from the game, but you’re not really giving a sense of what the game’s like. All you likely know is that you shoot people with guns; hardly the deepest information.
Even when a gameplay focussed trailer gives you some insight into how a game plays, that’s usually all you’re getting; it completely ignores the fact that games have stories and characters. Yes, it is possible to get it across in this type of trailer, but it’s certainly more difficult.
This is where I loop back around to the pedigree of Halo’s live action trailers. They are, for my money, the best trailers for any game out there, and they rarely use any in-game footage at all. The production values excel but, more importantly, they manage to tell a story without spoiling the game for anyone. Look at the Halo 3 diorama and museum based adverts, they were simply wonderful, gave you a look at Halo’s world and brought a tear to my eye more than once.
What a great trailer does is give you insight into the game’s universe, into the reality that it weaves. No you can’t do this for every game, it would be ridiculous for the next Gran Turismo, but I love something that hooks me in and intrigues me. Gameplay is certainly capable of doing that, a new or interesting mechanic can be a great draw, but I don’t feel that a gameplay trailer does.
Although I know it’s not quite a trailer, take the famous Michael video that Sony put out. They could have made a great trailer by slicing together gameplay footage from the games it draws from, and it likely would have been a good showcase and then forgotten in a few weeks.
Instead they gave you something that drew you in, that made you initially curious and then really hooked you with a fun reveal. They didn’t just make you notice PS3 games, they made you remember the brand and forced it to stick in your head.
The best trailers and adverts are the ones that make you do that, that give you something new or interesting, something you can genuinely talk about and that stay with you. Gameplay is great, but it’s easy to forget and hard to attach emotion to. It may inform you, but it rarely sticks with you.
I can’t say the same for great pieces of video like that Michael trailer, Halo 3’s adverts or the Gears of War 2 Last Day trailer. They’ve stayed with me, sometimes years after they came out. It sounds pretentious, but they feel like more than just an advert for something. They show you how good these things can be, and, in some cases, I love them more than what they’re advertising.
Sure a trailer’s primary focus is to sell you something, be it a game, movie or book, but a great one is one that sticks with you, independent of the final product.