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How To Make a Game Trailer - Hyper Light Drifter's Kickstarter Trailer Analysis

So, now everyone is playing the amazing Hyper Light Drifter by studio Heart Machine Z , and if you aren't, you're surely missing it!


If you wanna know why it's awesome, just Google for the reviews, or even better, go play it! The world is intriguing and inviting, the gameplay is rock-solid and the art style... OMG, that art style!

Today we're cracking open one unsung hero of the game's original Kickstarter campaign. About 3 years ago, Hyper Light Drifter was originally pitched to the public through a concise marketing page and a kickass Trailer. To say the campaign was a success is a huge understatement: it was trying to raise 27 thousand dollars and ended up amassing almost 700 thousand by the end of the campaign. So the question here is:

HOW DID THEY DO IT?

First thing, there was no huge marketing budget to propel the campaign forward. I'm inclined to think there wasn't too much of a huge network of press contacts on launch either, knowing that back then, Heart Machine was mostly a one man operation manned by the game's original creator, the super talented Alex Preston.

Instead, Hyper Light Drifter's Kickstarter success was really mostly fueled by the game's - and the marketing campaign's - own merits.

So here's our personal reading on what made that campaign so successful:

1. A strong trailer. I think this was really the driving force of the campaign's success.
2. An effective marketing text that, like the trailer and the game itself, is concise and allows images to speak for themselves.

Our post today will focus on item 1. Please spend 2 minutes of your time, watch it  and see what we're talking about (even if you've already watched this one at some point):


WHY LEARN HOW TO MAKE AN AWESOME TRAILER

Kickstarter is not the only good reason to learn how to pull that off yourself too.

There are tons of good reasons to learn how to present your game in its best possible shape even early in its development cycle - even besides marketing.

Marketing is an obvious reason: a trailer is a major thing to pitch your game for a publisher, potential collaborators, an investment company, a crowd that is possibly willing to alpha-fund it, etc.

Now here is a counterintuitive idea: the mere exercise of forcing yourself to build a vertical slice of the game's core systems, aesthetics and overall mood in the form of a trailer is also very productive for the game development itself.

If you can't really conjure a working image of how the final game should feel like, then you have a problem much bigger than early marketing - one that you might want to address sooner rather than later.

So yeah, learn how to make a decent presentation for your game. Focus on what is really important. Focus on what would be part of a 30 seconds pitch. Cut the fat. Then cut the fat even further, until you barely need words to explain why it's great. Then polish the hell out of what's left. If it looks attractive then, then you are 99% likely to have a game concept in your hands that is worth developing.


HOW AN EARLY PROTOTYPE OF HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER MADE FOR A GREAT TRAILER

So, one could argue that it's easy to make a good trailer out of a complete game. One could argue that the game's superb art style (which was already fully mature back then) was also a major help. While having fantastic art will always be an obvious major help, the point stands: even with fantastic art, you can't make a gameplay-focused trailer without an almost fully developed game - or can you?

For all we know, Hyper Light Drifter was little more than an initial gameplay prototype back when its Kickstarter campaign launched (in production jargon, it was probably what we call a proof of concept build). They still managed to pull off a fantastic campaign nonetheless. 

I think the core thing to keep in mind is that very little needs to be developed besides what is actually shown in the trailer's scenes. While I can't claim that this was exactly the case with Hyper Light Drifter, the argument stands. If you managed to define what your game actually is about, as stated above, then you're in for a relatively straightforward trailer development roadmap. You need the mechanics that are shown in the trailer. You need the assets and cutscenes that are shown in the trailer. You need one strong piece of music that effectively translates the mood of the game.

Of course, before any of that you need a storyboard listing what those mechanics, assets and cutscenes are. Focus on what is cool and important in defining your experience.

Pixel Prospector has a really good post on the steps of making a solid game trailer and we think it's a good place to start if you're feeling lost. Take a look at it, and compare their notes to our trailer analysis. You'll notice quite a lot matches.

Shortly after Light Drifter's campaign went live, we decided to make an analysis of why that trailer was so strong and successful. More specifically, we tried to carefully read what each scene said about the game. It would be pretentious to claim that we actually figured it all out, but I think our reading provides at least an important first layer of understanding on that great trailer.

These days we stumbled on that old analysis and decided to share with other game developers. So without further ado, here's our humble contribution to help you figure out what to put on your game's trailer.

Hope you enjoy our analysis and that it helps you make good trailers too! ;)

(RIGHT CLICK THE IMAGE AND OPEN IT IN A NEW TAB TO READ IT PROPERLY)


(RIGHT CLICK THE ANALYSIS AND OPEN IN A NEW TAB TO READ IT PROPERLY)

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