Trailer Design: Showcasing Gameplay and the Impact of UI [ELEX II]

posted in: Columns | 0

Today I’ll be referencing the game ELEX II, which just got a new “Combat Trailer”. (Alternate link.)

The most important thing I noticed about this “Combat Trailer” is that it doesn’t seem to show a single bit of User Interface.

Personally, this already feels weird to me as “combat” is almost inexorably related to “gameplay”, and for most games that aren’t primarily walking simulators (i.e. moving around in an environment with no particular need for interaction, and sometimes not even needing a map) or very atmospheric, that means some level of user interface is required to relay important information to the user—doubly so if that information isn’t naturally relayed through visuals or sounds, which is a good way of reducing UI clutter.

However, given that we don’t see said UI, we can guess that they either disabled it to give a better view of the game (something that can be great for exploration or environment trailers, because the UI probably isn’t that important relative to what’s being showcased), or the game has no constant UI in the first place.

Yet regardless of why no UI is shown, I believe there is a notable impact on how the audience feels about what they’re seeing. Even to casual and core gamers, user interface is subconsciously linked with gameplay: players intuitively understand that elements like health bars or a mini-map would usually just break the immersion of a cutscene and wouldn’t be included in cinematics, but if there is UI (outside of like, dialog UI of course, though one can argue dialog is gameplay too), it’s almost definitely indicative of whatever being shown being gameplay. (As an aside, consistent visuals and effects are also another way of relaying that something is gameplay and not a cinematic, but this post will be long enough as-is, so we’ll perhaps get into that another time.)

Point being? This trailer shows a lot of weapons and attacks, but it fails to show me much of what the flow of battle is like, what information I have to work with, if the game has things like skills, action stamina, etc. (things that would likely need UI—not seeing anything makes it hard to guess either way), how much damage the different weapons do (though we can maybe guess based on knockback), and a big one, what the camera looks and feels like during actual gameplay segments. Having looked up actual footage of the game’s beta, the camera angles used to show off attacks in the trailer often seems different than the ones in the game itself (which uses a classic 3rd-person-perspective camera behind the player).

Thus my overall impression of this trailer would be “it has a bunch of cool weapons and attacks, but the gameplay itself is probably basic and simple”. Is this actually true? Personally, as I haven’t actually played it, I would prefer to reserve most of my judgment and keep it at a first impression. However, as consumers, people must make some level of assumptions about what they see before deciding to purchase it, so I believe it’s important to consider the message one wants to convey with their trailer or marketing in general and check that it aligns with what they want.

In this case, I don’t know what message the people behind the trailer intended with it, but showcasing UI and the game in its “natural game state”—UI, camera work, and everything else—can be something to consider for one’s own games if one wishes to convince people that the gameplay segments of their game are genuinely fun and engaging. It also shows confidence that your game looks and feels fun without any extra editing or camera tricks not native to what people will actually be buying and playing.

Of course, if you want your trailer to feel more cinematic, that’s fine too, but depending on their expectations, a title like “Combat Trailer” could be misleading to some people, so even just the title of one’s trailer can also be something to consider.