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Art and advertising: The true nature of videogame trailers

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The videogame trailer is made of lies and anticipation. Throw in some Hype, a little Computer Generated magic and you've got a recipe for unrealistic expectations. Often we're left wondering, "Where was the game I was promised?"

I know the feeling, and I've come to believe we're watching trailers for the wrong reasons. Would you call a Rembrandt garbage because it doesn't recreate the woman herself? Would we critique the Mona Lisa because the real subject can't live up to our expectations? Why then, can't we separate and appreciate trailers apart from their source material? Because if we're ever going to truly understand their value, we need to change our expectations of the videogame trailer altogether.

I remember watching the live-action trailer for Halo ODST and thinking, "Wow, this validates my love of narratives in games."

I loaded it up for a friend, anticipating his reaction, high fives and bro hugs waiting in the wings.

"This is garbage, it didn't show any gameplay."

Urgh. Somewhere along the way, my friend and I had diverged on what a game trailer is supposed to do.

Is it a piece of advertising? A piece of meat to feed the hype machine? Or is it a work of art, laboured on by artists, to be enjoyed separately from the game itself?

Gametrailers.com recently debuted their top 100 trailers of all time. The criteria for the top media was to "cohesively bring a viewer into the game's world, while keeping our heads buzzing with questions."

The top honours went to a trailer for the original Bioshock. In those few minutes you experience fear, anxiety, uneasiness and anticipation. It is not the game's intro, or a cinema repurposed as advertising media, but rather what GT calls a carefully sculpted introduction into, "the entire idea of Bioshock."

The trailer quite figuratively encapsulates the soul of a game, sealing the emotional drug in a plastic pill casing. It's pure. It's condensed. The trailer spits out the core of the creator's vision. And that in itself, is a thing of beauty.

I would greatly recommend visiting Gametrailers for their top 100 trailers, but here are five trailers that I believe transcend their own advertising agenda, and break free of the game they were intended to advertise, to create an art best appreciated on it's own.

5. Armies of Exigo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlv_ipbjfvw

There's something gripping about tragedy, and the Armies of Exigo trailer (a game I've never played) highlights the confusion of battle at the point of an aimless arrow. In the final moments of a nameless soldier, a series of quick, but seamless, cuts gives us a glimpse into everything this doomed warrior held dear. The trailer leaves you with a burden for this world and a fire in your gut to carry the fight, even though some like this dying soldier won't be around to see your victory.

4. Intro to Onimusha 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3mddCo00rk

A six minute epic, each climactic battle is bested by the next. As GT explains, "This timeless short shows how trailers can descend console generations, and create uniquely spectacular pieces of art." Every action director needs to take note how each battle crescendoes into bigger and badder confrontation until the viewer can no longer breathe, honed by its razor sharp, blood pumping editing.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4 E3 2006 trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T9GgZERaIA

A ten minute trailer by the godfather of cinematic game trailers. The action reaches heights even Michael bay could not imagine while successfully mashing the Western aesthetic against the kinetic samurai duel between cybernetic Raiden and immortal Vamp. It is just as much a western epic about a world weary gunslinger looking for redemption, as it is Metal Gear Solid. And only the auteur of the Metal Gear franchise could pull it off, as gametrailers suggests, to attempt such a feat would label you a madman; to actually achieve it they would call you Hideo Kojima.

2. DC Universe Online debut trailer, "Who do you trust?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lGTfK4PmPw

Imagine watching all your favourite superheroes die in six minutes. That's the premise for the trailer by sublime CG studio, Blur. Witnessing the desperation and courage of their final moments, you can't help but feel the agony of Green Lantern's bandaged and broken arm, or give a cheer when Superman finally joins the fight. The convenient time travel fix aside, the trailer stands as not only some of the most moving piece of science fiction, but cinema itself.

1. Halo ODST live action trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSy05OJhZ7M

"Many trailers try to tug at heart strings, but this one rips them out," GT says. And I have a hard time disagreeing. Beginning with the surreal future funeral, the narrative sweeps from the unwavering resolve in the face of the mourning little brother, to the terrifying first taste of combat and finally to the battle-scarred commander leading other young men to their deaths. In every scene the live action trailer makes you a believer, not that a Halo movie is possible, but like the sergeant's weathered scars, or his hard, unblinking eyes in the face of death, a good trailer makes us a believer in the creator's vision.

Honourable mention: Halo Reach "Deliver Hope" trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-PSXWpf10&feature=fvwrel

So what are game trailers to you? Advertising eye candy? Buzz worthy gameplay reveals? Or something to ease the wait before a game's release?
 


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