Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Ambiguity of Game Trailers: CyberPunk 2077 Trailer Edition

by Ed Colley

Here’s a problem with cinematic game trailers. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s a link to the new trailer for CyberPunk 2077. Give it a watch, I’ll wait. Done? Now put aside the very impressive visual aesthetics for a moment. What have you learned about the game itself? Is a real-time-strategy, a first-person-shooter or even a MMORPG? Can you tell me anything about the characters involved? The chances are you can’t if your only information about the game is that trailer. But how come game trailers (and only game trailers) are allowed to get away with this? You couldn’t away with this for a film. Imagine if the trailer for the King’s Speech was just a freeze frame of Colin Firth in his lingerie to a brooding, indie soundtrack. You’d just think it was a poorly cast advert for a strangely named aftershave.

Search result for "The King's Speech". He must really like steam-punk, he's got cogs and everything.

Ambiguous trailers frustrate me. They frustrate me because you come out them feeling as if you know less about them than when you started. However, it frustrates me less if the trailer is also a standout piece cinematography (see the Dead Island trailer for details). The perfume analogy from the first paragraph is apt for this type of cinematic game trailer. It’s a short and vacuous advert which attempts to entice you into a sale without providing any real information. Now there are reasons for this of course. A perfume advert can’t describe a smell to you and hope to maintain its flimsy veil of elegance. In the case of CyberPunk 2077, it’s 3 years from being released so a large portion of the game hasn’t even been designed yet. They don’t even know what they’re selling really. 

"Okay, it's kind of like a really strong orange-y smell with a bit of petrol. There's possibly a Mentos in their too."
Regardless, I feel can’t let this level of ambiguity in marketing go by without calling it out and trying to smugly take it as out of context as possible. So without further ado, here is a list of adverts and trailers that the CyperPunk 2077 trailer could also apply to. Feel free to join in in the comments.
1.       A game where you play as a special police task force that is designed to take down a uprising of robotic, lingerie models.
2.       An advert for bulletproof make-up.
3.       A game in which you play as a freelance news Helicopter trying to film stories in a futuristic city where you get high scores for good composition and framing. Points will be deducted for every news headline which reads “News helicopter crashed again due to the pilot being too concerned about the lighting in his shot to concentrate on flying a god-damn helicopter”.
4.       A game in which the claw from a grab the cuddly toy machine in an arcade becomes sentient, gains human form and goes on a killing spree in search of vengeance for all the cuddly toys that have been cruelly taken from them over the years.
5.       An infomercial that goes along the lines of “Has this ever happened to you? Some bullets just can’t cut it with today's new super-cyborgs. Try Branson’s Bullets. For all your on-the-go cyborg exterminating needs. Also try Branson’s new make-up piercing rounds. ”
Having done some research, CyberPunk 2077 is meant to be an open world RPG from CD Projekt RED, who are most notable for producing the Witcher series. I was surprised to find out that the original CyberPunk game is a moderately successful 80s’s pen and paper RPG. To produce a trailer of such scale and quality for such a widely unknown brand definitely shows dedication. The basic premise follows the citizens of Night City, where humans are able to augment themselves with cyber-technology but at the cost of their humanity. Now that sounds like a good premise.
Don't worry, only 22 years to wait and then Spider-man can sort everything out.  
Developers feel the need to release these early trailers to build more interest and following in the hope of achieving more sales, such is the current state of the gaming industry. The problem remains that they are still tasked with marketing an incomplete and interactive product in a non-interactive medium. Therefore the only remaining features you can show your audience is the world you hope to immerse them in and the human element. Both of these can be demonstrated with strong story telling. If the trailer had shown the horrors of the process of augmentation followed by one citizen's descent into insanity, that would have been more compelling than watching a minute of bullet-time.
Still, those of you looking for irony will say that the trailer got me to research the game in spite of how much it annoyed me, so it has served its purpose.  In which case, aren’t you a clever clogs Mr. Marketing. I hope you enjoy your profitable career writing terrible dialogue for some pretentious perfumes, you ponce. It looks like I’ve been tricked by the internet again. Or in other words, I’ve just been Cyber-Punked.

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