No trailer is an island

Blog Comments (28)

Behold, the newly-released trailer for zombie FPS DEAD ISLAND:

As is the case for 95% of All-That’s-Good-In-The-World, the first I heard of this was from Sizemore, who’s apparently done some deal with the devil entitling him to first dibs on anything set to whet the appetite and wet the pants of the Internet proper.

The trailer broke exclusively on IGN some time yesterday, started trending on Twitter late last night and popped up on Slashfilm first thing this morning.

For any game trailer making Slashfilm seems to signify that you’re well on the way to being embraced by the movie mainstream – part-timers like me who only buy one or two games a year. The reality though, as more than the occasional tweeter was quick to point out, is that the DEAD ISLAND trailer feels more original, more attention-grabbing and – for those of us given to tangling with the dead-undead at least – more enticing than the vast majority of movie trailers.

If we want to make any sort of useful comparison with the movie equivalent, it’s worth pointing out that this is the equivalent of a ‘teaser trailer’ – a shorter, typically more abstract and intriguing trailer that breaks ahead of what we would term the ‘feature trailer’ (or, if you’re Skinnertron – and be glad you’re not – the ‘regular trailer’).

Just as the feature regular trailer for any movie lays on the major plot points and key sequences somewhat thicker than your average teaser, it seems fair to assume that at some point somebody will feel the need to show us what DEAD ISLAND game-play actually looks like. That said, a good teaser is a great way to give yourself the early initiative. Or, as Londonfilmgeek put it:

Probably the best zombie movie of recent years is Zack Snyder’s 2004 Romero remake DAWN OF THE DEAD. (It’s an unfortunate detail of cinematic history that Romero himself, father of the genre, has released three of his own Zombie movies since then.) I couldn’t find a teaser but if you take the feature regular trailer (below) and stop it at the 1’20” mark that makes for a pretty good equivalent:

It might just be me, but suddenly that DEAD ISLAND trailer doesn’t feel quite so ground-breaking any more, borrowing as it does from Snyder’s harrowing homage to the 1978 classic. It’s a low blow, the zombie kid, and a brutally effective one, sending parents like me scampering to our little ones’ bedrooms just to check they haven’t started chewing the stuffing out of Paddington Bear. Parents like me, and BookPirate.

It doesn’t stop there mind. This isn’t the first game trailer to take gory ultra-violence and juxtapose it against a haunting aural backdrop. And maybe GEARS OF WAR’s wasn’t either, but their 2006 trailer (below) feels like a landmark moment in terms of challenging assumptions about how to sell computer games. At least, I and 8,624,457 other people seem to think so:

Even so, take out the zombie whipper-snapper and the unlikely soundtrack and you still have the challenging structure of the trailer, playing with the time-line to describe a relatively simple (and predictable) series of events in an engaging way. Here, surely, is where the makers of DEAD ISLAND are making a bold statement about their inventiveness, originality and preparedness to take creative risks. Well, kind of:

Put the pieces together and you have what’s perhaps not such an original trailer after all, albeit still a highly effective one. Maybe what’s most creative here is their choice of influences, and how they’ve combined them to break out of their core audience, challenging the perceptions of we part-timers in terms of what computer games are, and how to sell them.

It seems to me that what we’re really seeing here is the games industry still playing catch-up, growing to meet its expanding audience, learning from the experiences of other sectors even as it wheedles market-share from their tightening pockets. Part movie trailer, part music video, somewhere in there perhaps even a computer game. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

» Blog » No trailer is an island
On February 17, 2011

28 Responses to No trailer is an island

  1. Dan Light says:

    Hi Stuart. I had my colleague look this post over before I posted it precisely for the purpose of removing my usual bitchy side-swipes and replacing these with a suitably balanced critique of what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting game trailers to be released in some time. Evidently she has failed me.

    I had hoped this post would imply one useful view of why the trailer has succeeded, which is that it isn’t so original as to be unrecognisable. I’m thinking that the inclusion of certain signatures elements borrowed from here and there is precisely why the wider audience I identified is connecting with the trailer.

    I’ve also tried to give the creators credit for what they have achieved, without engaging in the kind of sensationalist hyperbole engendered by the sound-bite culture of social media. My intention was to get something a bit more considered together on a short turnaround – if I’ve chosen my words at all indelicately in the rush for pertinence, I can only apologise.

  2. Loudmouthman says:

    They say Plays can be defined by two genres, Comedies or Tragedies. I say that Video games can be broken into two categories ‘Space Invader’ or ‘Pong’ how ou dress up those categories, wrap genres around them and pull people has in the last 20 years moved from the simple ‘stunning 16bit graphics’ to the dazzling ‘incredible depth of play’ but it will always come back to am I fighting a horde of things ( badgers, zombies, aliens, soldiers ) or am I managing a resource and scoring points ( against Zergs, Romans or lemmings ) in an on and off email with Mike I have been wondering at what point do game worlds spin up enough energy to launch their own worlds and stories that others will orbit or land upon and build up.

    Our video game heros are having to grow up as we the game players are growing up. We used to care about being the Knight to save the princess, or the space spartan saving the holographic nymph now to identify with them they need to be carrying luggage, escorting the food trays to the tables and gathering supplies to bunker down in a zombie infested island all the while reading bed time stories at the right time in the game.

    The cross over point, in Fallout 3 we left the crib to seek out our parents and in Red Dead we protected our families by selling out our old friends.

    Naturally Mario will be saving the grandkids from the genetic manipulations of Kinky Kong !

    • Dan Light says:

      I’m so far out of my comfort zone here it’s hard to know how to respond – except to note that we were brainstorming ideas for the new Conan movie this morning and the best I could muster was a retro web game blending Barbarian and FarmVille entitled ‘Conan the Agrarian’. Our heroes might be growing up with us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still go backwards.

  3. bennycrime says:

    You just made me click on a Coldplay video, I Will Kill you.

  4. Two things.

    1. Epic blog post. That trailer is IMMENSE.

    2. How did you embed those tweets?

  5. Dan Light says:

    Definitely. There are plenty of elements here that are familiar to the wider audience it seems to be reaching, just not in the context of a game trailer, which itself is still a relatively new form compared to the music video or movie trailer. After that it comes down to execution, and I think that’s part of what people are responding to so positively – it’s just a really well put together sequence.

  6. Dan Light says:

    I’m not as familiar with the genre as I’d like – Resident Evil 4 was the last survival horror title I played to a finish, and I suspect there are people out there who would tell you that even that wasn’t a true zombie game (probably the same people who go on about 28 Days Later not being a bona fide zombie movie).

    We worked on Dead Rising, which looked like fun, but definitely wasn’t asking to be taken seriously, and I also had Left 4 Dead pretty highly recommended, although it sounds like it’s only worth playing multi-player and that rules out a lot of us part-timers.

    Even so, this is still the kind of thing that could draw me back in. It looks moody, genuinely atmospheric, but also rich with detail. More than anything releasing a trailer like this just feels like a massive statement of intent – it says the game-play’s good enough to sell itself, so let’s skip straight to what’s on offer in terms of narrative texture, which is where a lot of technically proficient games seem to be found wanting.

    • jake_doran says:

      Left 4 Dead is fantastic. It has two levels of narrative – scenes that you come across in the game (graffiti, messages from other survivors, that sort of thing) and the stories that come about from playing with other people (‘Remember that times we got inches from the end, but got jumped by a hunter at the last minute and two people decided to go back and get him, but the other guy ran for it and locked us out’ that sort of thing).

      I digress. This trailer, like you say, is a statement of intent. I disagree that it shows that the game play is good enough to sell itself, as it shows none. What it does do though, is fire my imagination off towards all the possibilities of gameplay that could come about from this sort of setting and mood. In short, it could be setting itself up for massive fall if it doesn’t deliver when it comes to the actual gameplay. It gives itself a lot to live up to.

      I’d be interested to know if it was produced in-house or if it was shipped out to a third party. All the same, it has done its job. We’re all excited about it.

      • Dan Light says:

        Totally agree that their decision to omit game-play says little in itself. I suppose you can take it either as a show of weakness or as one of strength, but in the context of the wider piece it feels to me like the latter.

        I’m hearing that it was put together by these guys:

  7. Anonymous says:

    Daniel, how’d I know you’d be the person to dissect this so effectively? I think you’re quite right that Axis have creatively combined some nice sources to deliver something that’s not derivative in itself. Immense post and thanks for pointing me to TWO other great sources (I, too, was gutted to realise I’d clicked on Coldplay).

    Also, nice plug-in.

    • Dan Light says:

      Hey Pete, good of you to swing by. This has definitely taught me the value of blogging it while it’s hot, so to speak, it’s great to see a post come alive in the comments. Even if a few good people do have to get rick-rolled by a bit of Coldplay in the process.

  8. Stuart Aitken says:

    interesting dissection Daniel 🙂

    its funny – of course there were some key influences but they weren’t necessarily the ones you mention here 😉

    anyway thanks for what I thought was a fair and thought provoking article – its been great to see my ‘baby’ over the last 5 months get so much attention


    Stu Aitken,
    Dead Island Announcement Trailer Director

    • Dan Light says:

      Hey Stu – can’t imagine how much you have going on off the back of all this, making it all the sweeter that you’ve found the time to drop in here.

      I’m glad you feel we made a fair, useful critique, that was definitely the intention. And, like I said to Pete below, this has turned into one of those posts where the real story is in the comments.

      More broadly, congratulations on what you guys have done with this – seems like you’ve succeeded in putting Dead Island on the map for a HELL of a lot of people.

      Might even pick up a copy myself 🙂

  9. Someone just made it a little bit cooler too;

    Island chock full of Zombies and you play as a 60’s John Hamm. Listening to Ella FItzgerald. Knocking back an old fashioned. Smoking up a storm and spanging the heads of the undead with Novelty oversized and branded Lucky Strike cigarettes. Now there’s a game. Throw in some Pomade rpg element and we have a winner.

    • Dan Light says:

      This is also worth a look:

      Stands up pretty well played straight through. Probably is ubiquitous enough already to form the basis of a good trailer meme.

      *Scurries off to Windows Movie Maker to see what it sounds like accompanied by the theme from Van Der Valk.*

      • Now I really did scurry off, seemed like a worthy enough experience to be had.

        Dead Der Valk;

        • So here’s the other track that sprung to mind.

          I’ll not ruin the experience by naming the track ahead of the chorus kicking in;

          • Dan Light says:

            I saw today that one of the producers behind The Mummy and The Wolfman has snapped up the movie rights. Probably too much to hope that he sets it in the 60s.

            Also saw it announced that The Walking Dead is being spun off into a game. Posted on my blog a while back that it might make a good Unity-based MMOG. Again, not holding my breath.

          • Too many Zombie movies already – I don’t hold hope of this ever being made…

            From what has been written about the film project “a memento-like storyline” and the relative cooling of Walking Dead enthusiasm due to that final episode it’s going to take some hardcore willy waving to get money behind this – especially The Mummy and The Wolfman money.

            The Walking Dead game on the other hand is with Tell Tale Games – they of the Back To The Future Videogame released in 5 parts – it’s a point and click – as per most of Tell Tale Games. They’re also doing the new Jurassic Park game though what convention that game will be is seemingly unreleased.

            Back to the Future is a 5 out of 10 game – its a 7 out of 10 game if you love BTTF as I do. There is no need to make Zombie games anymore.

            Left4Dead 2 is near perfect. Contrary to your opinion that the multiplayer component of it would suck more of your time than the single player experience would – the structure of the game is that it is split into chapters – each chapter is it’s own sort of mini narrative e.g. descend a tower block – or cross a bridge – or refuel a car in a mall to make your escpae. These chapters take anything from 10 to 30 minutes to play though. The game has a system called ‘director’ that actively changes the way the game throws enemies (type and numbers) weapons, healthpacks and bottlenecks of easier killed enemies and excellent placement of sort of boss like enemies. No play through is ever the same as the last.

          • Dan Light says:

            Sounds like fun. I didn’t mean that Left4Dead would be a time suck – I’ve been told about the short format, it sounds perfect – but I think a lot of marginal gamers like me just aren’t hooked up to multi-player, and don’t have a circle of gamer friends putting in the hours to make that work. Sounds like you want to do something about that though, which is fine by me…

        • Dan Light says:

          Congratulations – you have created my new favourite thing ever.

  10. kelly says:

    nice post i like it…

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