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Why Do So Many E3 Trailers Show So Little Gameplay?

Liana Kerzner | 3 Jul 2015 12:00
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E3 press conferences are undoubtedly exciting, not just for the announcements, but for the stuff that can go wrong in a live environment. E3 2015 gave us great moments like Unravel's Martin "Trembling Man" Sahlin shaking like a leaf as he introduced Yarny to the world, and those nail-biting Uncharted 4 demo moments where the developer couldn't get the controller to work. These were undeniable moments of authenticity, and gamers responded positively.

Yet that authenticity was nowhere to be found during many of the loud, visually dazzling game trailers for some of the biggest games of the coming year. Numerous times I caught myself going long stretches without taking notes, because so much of the content dwelled on the obvious. There's no need to write, for instance: "Halo 5: Guardians trailer features Master Chief in space."

Some game trailers are still copying movie trailers and in doing so they leave out critical information. You don't watch a game, you play a game, and many of this year's E3 trailers displayed a notable lack of meaningful gameplay footage, leaving players convinced that these games are very pretty, but not that they'll be seventy bucks worth of interactive entertainment. A player should be drawn into the reality of the game, understand how they're going to have fun, and practically feel that controller in their hands while they watch a trailer. Impressive graphics and a cool protagonist aren't enough to make a game trailer truly effective: these days, everything in gaming looks great.

But despite the fierce competition, some game trailers cut information corners. Take Horizon Zero Dawn, a trailer for a brand new game that didn't make clear what kind of game it was. Post-apocalyptic tribal woman that shoots robot dinosaurs with bows and arrows -- cool. Not giving any indication that it's an open world action RPG -- not cool. But Horizon was loaded with detail compared to Ubisoft's For Honor trailer, which is two and a half minutes of nothing but heavily armored warriors fighting. It's a great action sequence, but I had absolutely no idea how it worked as a game. It's apparently a 3rd person melee fighting game with an interesting combat mechanic tied to the right stick. So again, vikings fighting samurai fighting Medieval knights -- cool. I just didn't know how I would be involved, and for a game trailer, that's not cool.

"You don't watch a game, you play a game"

In the case of Dark Souls III, I suspect the game trailer was actually trying to avoid the ludicrously difficult combat of the Dark Souls franchise. These games are so hard they're essentially unplayable for many gamers, but that's why their fans love them - so why not make it a selling point? This insider snobbery surrounding franchises like Dark Souls actually touches on another issue I have with some other recent game trailers: They rely on pre-existing knowledge of a franchise to the point that they come off as cliquey.

Master Chief was stuck to the mirrors of every women's washroom at E3 because he's immediately recognizable. However, his antagonist in Halo 5: Guardians, Spartan Locke, is an unknown unless you've watched the Halo: Nightfall TV series. How does playing as Locke differ from playing as Chief? How does he add to the excitement or fun? Based on the trailers, I have no idea. Similarly, if you don't know what a Forzavista car is, the Forza Motorsport 6 trailer boast that there are 450 of them is meaningless. Potential players shouldn't have to become researchers to understand these inside references. (FYI, Forzavista cars have viewable interiors and engines that have been recreated with the same level of detail as the outside of the car. You're welcome.)

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