Guess I’m a bit late to the party, but I just saw the much-talked-about Dead Island Trailer. (Warning: it’s very gory.)
Despite some slightly janky motion capture, I think this is the most beautiful game trailer I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen a lot of video game trailers, but hey, I found it more moving than most movie trailers anyway. And I find myself obsessing over this. Maybe it’s just that I’ve had a lot going through my head lately and my thoughts decided to all coalesce here. Who knows. So here are some random thoughts.
More than anything, I’m obsessing over the music. It’s really elegant and effective. So I thought I’d try to reproduce it as best I could.
Here’s my version of the first phrase. It’s not quite there, but I think it’s a solid effort.
Despite — or perhaps because of — the simplicity of the original piece, this was really hard to pull off. Here’s what I learned:
- Pay attention to velocity. If you play all the notes at the same velocity, or loudness, the piece sounds like crap. There’s no sense of forward movement, no rhythm. Just a bunch of monotonous quarter notes. There’s no percussion or anything keeping the beat, so it’s up to the melody itself to tell you where each measure starts. So apparently, you want the first note (of four) to be loudest, and your third note to be the second loudest. So the beginnings of your measures are well defined, and the beginnings of each half-measure are pretty evident too. But it’s got to be pretty subtle… seems like one of those things where if you do it right, everything sounds even, even though it’s really not. Sadly, I don’t have the coordination to do this in realtime, any more than I can use the pressure sensitivity of my pen tablet effectively, so I had to manually alter the velocity of each of my notes after playing them, one by one. Gotta practice doing this for real.
- Use your mod wheel. The mod wheel is this dial on a keyboard that does… stuff. It’s different for different instruments. Sometimes it gives things more vibrato; sometimes it makes things warble in this really strange way. For the violin I used here, it softens the sound of the instrument — both in terms of volume and the sharpness of the sound. I’ve never really used the mod wheel before, but here it was essential to get the violin to swell and taper off like it does in the original piece.
- Tremolo is fun and easy. The violin does this barely audible tremolo in the beginning. At first I wasn’t sure I could do it since I don’t have a ‘tremolo violin’ instrument, but it was easy enough to get that effect by, well, doing tremolo — by rapidly vibrating my finger on the note being played.
- Filters can do more than make echoes. So there’s this piano in my music software. And yeah, it sounds like a real piano, and I could play the song on that… but it sounded totally wrong. Too bright, too happy. The original piece’s piano has this sort of muffled sound. I started with a reverb filter, which is the only filter I’d used before, mostly to make things sound like they’re being played in big stone halls. It helped, but wasn’t quite enough. So I added an equalizer filter too, to chop out high frequencies. That dramatically changed the sound of the instrument, and I got much closer to the sound I wanted with that.
- Key matters. My inclination when analyzing a new song is to transpose it to C — to change the pitches of everything so you’re just using the white notes of the piano. I did that here, and something felt off, so on a whim I put everything back in the right key. And then it sounded a lot better. I really don’t understand why yet.
- Simple, common chord progressions are fine. This starts with a I-V-I-V-VI progression, which as I understand it is fairly common. (Also recently noticed that How to Train Your Dragon uses a very common pattern.) I should study some of the more commonly used progressions out there; I have a list in one of my books already.
The bulk of the trailer is filmed backwards. It works extraordinarily well, and there’s a great sense of closure to the way it ends (begins?)… to the father reaching for the daughter, but since it’s backwards, he’s getting ever farther from her.
There’s a scene in Tinselfly I’d wanted to go backwards, but it’s not a particularly emotional scene; it’s more expository. There is a particularly emotional scene I was planning on doing forwards, but now I’m wondering what it would be like backwards.
You could rightly call that gimmicky, blatantly aping this or Braid or whatever, but as far as I’m concerned, if the story is better communicated by doing this part backwards, then I’ll do it backwards. It’s only a gimmick if you’re using some avant garde approach because you think it’s cool and not because you think it will work.
There’s this interview about the making of this trailer, and I found this quote particularly interesting:
To an extent a full CG trailer is always a different experience to actually playing the game. It isn’t trying to pretend to be game play, like a lot of CG trailers do, at all. It’s more trying to tell a story in the same world but in a different medium that describes an event that is illustrative of the type of interactive experience you might have when playing. All we have tried to do is tell that story as effectively as possible.
I have to admit there’s a certain logic to this. And the results are kind of refreshing. I never get much of a sense of gameplay from trailers anyway, so why not use this medium to do what it’s best suited for?
Though on the other hand, you could apply this logic to demos and argue that they should ‘tell a story in the same world’, but in a highly abbreviated fashion compared to the game story proper. I think that might be interesting.
Here’s another thing related to Tinselfly. On its own, I don’t mind gore, but here, it weirds me out a little because the characters are a little cartoony. It’s like… dismembering Wile E Coyote. Sure, you can flatten him and have bombs explode near him, but it’s all cartoony violence to go with the cartoony character who will react like a rubber toy, not like something that’s made of skin and muscle and brain matter.
I don’t intend for Tinselfly to have particularly violent gameplay (not in the story mode proper anyway, but that’s a long discussion). However, there will be violence here and there, and I have every intention of making said violence come off as brutal and visceral as I can make it. Now, that’s different from gore, but the issues are similar. She’s not finished yet, and I’m not saying this will happen, but could I, say, have my Robin character model be crushed to death on camera? I think I’ve asked that before, but I still don’t know the answer to that.