Video Game Awards: Game trailers take a page from Hollywood
Though dozens of video games (and the creative minds behind them) will be honored at the Video Game Awards Saturday night, the real stars of the event will be the trailers.
Spike is debuting 10 trailers for highly anticipated games at the ninth annual VGAs, among them Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (check out the Hero Complex exclusive image above), Metal Gear Solid: Rising, The Amazing Spider-Man video game and the mysterious new PlayStation 3 title, teased online as The Last of Us.
Gamers have high expectations for the previews, which is not surprising considering the video game industry now rivals (and some would argue surpasses) Hollywood in artistry, pulls a fair amount of star power, and makes considerably more money than the movies. Consider this: James Cameron’s “Avatar,” the top-grossing movie of all time, earned $77 million during its opening weekend in 2009. Last month, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 raked in $775 million during its first five days on shelves.
“I think it was viewed to be very niche in the past: ’Oh gamers. They’re them,’” said Casey Patterson, Spike’s executive producer of the awards show. “But it’s like what you saw with Comic-Con. It isn’t niche. It is the mainstream.”
An appeal to the mainstream is certainly the tactic favored by publishers of social games, such as the dance and sports games for the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect. Nintendo’s ads for its Zelda games feature actor and comedian Robin Williams and his daughter Zelda, who was named for the game’s title character. And Nintendo isn’t the only company aiming to capitalize on celebrity cachet. Video game giant Activision spotlights actors Jonah Hill, Sam Worthington and Dwight Howard in a comedic commercial for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
The gaming industry may be drawing in more A-listers, but based on gamers’ response to the awards show, the industry’s core audience is more interested in artistry than celebrity, Patterson said.
“When we first started the franchise, it was built as kind of a Hollywood format because so many celebrities were getting into games,” she said. “There was Vin Diesel and Snoop and Jack Black. People were setting up shop, setting up their own game companies, launching their own games in addition to voicing them, in addition to acting in them. … And what we’ve learned over time is that really was a trend. It’s really become more about stories and character and the visuals than it has been about sort of stunt-casting celebrities.”
This focus on storytelling and cinematic visuals is nowhere more evident than in the game trailers, which sometimes take a page from Hollywood. The live-action trailer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim depicts villagers in the war-torn land of Skyrim suffering a winter bleak enough to rival the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones,” while the game’s hero stares down a dragon.
Meanwhile, the edgy previews for Dead Island and Deus Ex: Human Revolution adopt nontraditional narrative structures, breaking the mold from the rote, recycled Hollywood format — something big movie studios often can’t (or won’t) risk.
The Deus Ex preview plays like an infomercial created by a resistance movement, cutting news reports and documentary-style footage to warn the public that human augmentation (a sort of sci-fi plastic surgery) is part of a corporate conspiracy to control people.
And the Dead Island trailer makes brilliant use of the virtual medium, telling a heart-wrenching story in reverse slow-motion. Don’t be surprised if this three-minute trailer for a zombie video game leaves you misty-eyed.
Dead Island and Deus Ex face off against eight other games, including Batman: Arkham City and Tomb Raider, for best trailer, an award category packed with nominees of a caliber that lands them toe-to-toe with big-screen productions.
“It’s better than movies,” Patterson said. “Movies is a passive experience. Movies is just watching. Now you’re getting movie-quality storytelling and you’re able to interact with it. How could that not be better?”
Fans can vote online live during the VGAs for best trailer. Viewers will also live vote for their most anticipated game, character of the year, and on the cover for the new game NFL Blitz. The award show, hosted by “Chuck” star, video game voice actor and avid gamer Zac Levi, will feature “appearances” by augmented reality game characters, as well as game designers and publishers — the real “heroes” in the gaming world, Patterson said.
The show airs Saturday at 5 p.m. PST.
– Noelene Clark
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