The best in game engine trailer is hands down the Halo 3 Cortana ‘Gods and Demons’ trailer. A masterpiece musically, it is essentially a few backgrounds and Master Chief and it became legendary. Put on top of that, those little visual clues and the words of the character Cortana, all of which helped turn the trailer into a work of art. The trailer runs over two and a half minutes and is a testament to the minimalist idea of less is more. Its simplicity is its greatest strength and serves to point the viewer’s attention to the words spoken and the music played, it even has the nod to Winamp’s Morphyre Visualizer in the title screen. Bungie forces your ears to the music because there is so little to obviously see.
The best music in a trailer was defiantly the Secret World launch trailer. A haunting rendition of Dinah Washington’s ‘Bitter Earth’, the in-game visuals were fantastic but what helped it blow all other trailers were the slow and beautifully voiced ‘Bitter Earth’ that was even better accompanied then the original. With The Secret World launch trailer, a trailer full of melancholy and yet hope for better days. In many ways it fits Secret World perfectly, its tone is exactly what the Secret World is all about; no pulled punches and no bait and switch.
The finest story trailer I’ve ever seen for a game has to be the DC Universe Online trailers [1,2,]. These trailers were magnificent spectacles of CGI goodness. I’m sure you saw them if you play video games even if you never even played DCU. Heroes and Villains fighting to the death all while victory is snatched away as Braniac triumphantly returns. In many ways I think while the DC Universe trailers might have been amongst the best ever made, there was an expectation of greatness for the game that I think Sony Online wasn’t able to fully deliver. I bought that game and played it for a few months here and there but even knowing that the trailer was not in-game I fell under the spell of that great storyline. In my opinion the game never fully delivered on it, and although it has been and continues to be fairly good; with regards to the storyline it never really hit the high of the trailer.
The best non-gamer trailer has to be the original Gears of War ‘Mad World’ trailer. All of these trailers succeeded as trailers but their success only helped some of these games. Contrast DCU with the ‘Mad World’ Gears of War trailer; the hopeless struggle against a terrifyingly, superior enemy. Mad World fit the tone and feeling of not only the game but the trilogy perfectly. Gamers who saw that trailer got exactly that sense during the game. I can’t even remember how many times I saw and read stories about non-gamers seeing that trailer and quieting down because it was so memorizing. Certainly it’s entirely CG but for many people it was simply an incredible trailer. Epic Games though now a fairly large and well known development house was fairly unknown to the customer base of Xbox owners that were going to purchase Gears of War. It was also a new IP, which is never a sure thing, first person shooter, or not. Epic Games was faced with a task of getting people who didn’t know its reputation to buy an unknown product, it also wanted to garner some interest but most importantly memory space of the causal customers. After the hardcore customers gave it their mark of approval the causal customers took that initial memory of the commercial, combined it with the good reviews and presto a new IP is born. The trailer was perfectly tailored to appeal to both the core customer base and those who would take a chance on the unknown.
Finally is the last trailer on the list, the Mass Effect 3 launch trailer. All in game assets the trailer is essentially for-the-fans, by-the-fans. It’s not the beautiful graphics of a CG trailer, or the beautifully composed music of a work of art, what it is at the core is a trailer to get people who love the series pumped for the final game. From this trailer we learn that a perfect trailer is sometimes not what it seems. Much of the trailer would be basically incomprehensible to those who had not played at least one of the previous games and yet it was very well received. This trailer succeeds because it understands not only its purpose but also the reason it’s being made.
Great trailers tailor themselves not only to the game itself but to the audience best affected. Money well spent is money well spent but not every trailer needs to be visually impressive to hit the right note with the audience, sometimes other things will affect an audience more than the latest, greatest CGI affair. Great trailers are more akin to an art form than a math problem. But there is a pitfall of a great trailer that raises expectations higher than is possible to satisfy; certainly DCU wasn’t the only offender (I’m looking at you The Old Republic). It’s counterintuitive but sometimes a great trailer can overshadow the game its advertising.