Thursday, August 21, 2008

Battle of the Trailers

Well, the next few months may be the biggest marketing war the MMORPG industry has ever known, and each side has opened fire by launching their respective games' opening movies. Personally, I don't get why companies spend so much time and money (Blizzard has a staff of 80 whose SOLE job it is to crank out cinematics!) on these things, but I suppose we can only oblige them by doing some comparison.

First, the links.
- MMO Champion has the Wrath opening in streaming video, and a Blizzard downloader link to the high resolution version.
- Archmagery has a link to the streaming version of the Warhammer opening, and Gametrailers has a "HD stream" version. I haven't seen a downloadable high res one yet.

Both openings are excellent, and I'd advise you to watch both of them before continuing so my analysis doesn't spoil the big spots.

And now, the battle!

Production Values:
I'd expected Blizzard to run away with this one simply because of the amount of money they spend (again, a staff of 80, which is larger than most studio's DEV staff). In some areas, Blizzard really delivers; the fur on the boot, the snow, and little environmental details. However, when it comes to the character models (which are the stars of both shows), Mythic has managed to do similarily well, and craft a substantially longer production to boot. Blizzard may not have been aiming for a lengthy intro, especially with Starcraft and Diablo videos to do. Still, this thing felt similar to the TBC opening, but without the middle part where we get to see characters doing cool things. I wasn't expecting Mythic to compete in this category, and they managed it, which is a....
Verdict: Edge to Mythic

Dramatis personæ:
Wrath has Arthas, and a voiceover by Arthas' father (killed in Warcraft III). Warhammer showcases a number of its playable character classes, and has a voiceover by someone who may or may not be a significant character in the Warhammer lore, but sounds like she's trying to be Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (and/or Elizabeth, queen of England) to the uninitiated. Still, having characters is better than not having characters. See the next category for more, but in this one, it's another...
Verdict: Edge to Mythic

Do the trailers accurately portray the game?
The Wrath trailer says that Arthas is a threat and and that he has many many minions for players to fight. This is one place where I think Blizzard has managed to misunderstand (accidentally or deliberately) what fans were complaining about. The Burning Crusade was a story of why Illidan has to be stopped, but only the most elite of 25-man raiders got to actually fight Illidan, or even any of Illidan's lieutenants. Blizzard says that fans wanted to interact more with the major lore figures, so in Wrath, Arthas will put in Elmer Fudd type appearances via astral projection to tell the wascally players how he'll get them next time. (I wonder if, like Brutallus, he will overtly tell them to bring 24 of their friends, cause clearly there's an in-game lore justification for why you'd never bring 26 people to take down a Pit Lord.) Then again, in some ironic way, this trailer does an honest job of portraying the World of Wrath; Arthas throws a bunch of minions in the general direction of the player, and dealing with the man himself will be a job for someone's 25-man raid when patch 3.3 hits sometime in early 2010 (give or take a few months and/or a patch).

By contrast, Warhammer's trailer makes the Destruction faction look like extras in Lord of the Rings. The Greenskin tanking class, the Black Orc, is mowed down by the dozens by a single Dwarven engineer. The Chaos Marauder gets to stab a mage in the back, but not hard enough to actually kill the mage, and then he gets his ass destroyed in melee by what looks like a Shadow Warrior (I thought they were about bow fighting, even in melee range). The random Urukhai that Peter Jackson created so there would be a boss fight at the end of the first Lord of the Rings film put up a better fight. The squig herder is comic relief and easily beaten by just about anything (actually, some accounts claim that's relatively accurate). And the Dark Elf Sorceress is apparently just out to tease some girl on girl action. Did I mention that realm population balance is the make or break issue for this game? Depicting one of the two factions as cannon fodder is not the way to go.
Verdict: Edge to Blizzard

The Big Flying Creatures
That giant bird thing is either some unstoppable primal god of chaos and fury, or it's someone's mount that does one damage. I can never tell from appearances when it comes to the Warhammer lore, they make some pretty weak things look pretty cool. Lore factor aside, the Frost Wyrm is larger and has no vital organs (it's made out of bone, impressively detailed sinew, and magic). If we're having a Pokemon battle, I choose Frost Wyrm.
Verdict: Edge to Blizzard

Has Blizzard finally ended four long years of discrimination against gnomes by its refusal to include a gnome in a WoW cinematic?

And there you have it folks, Warhammer by a score of 3-2. This is what happens when you ignore the gnomes, Blizzard, you hear me, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU IGNORE THE GNOMES!

On the plus side, it should be easier to make an all-gnome remix of this one because there's only one character in it, and we can have Gnome Death Knights.


Xtian said...

I agree with your analysis, except to say that I give even more emphasis the Sense of Drama category. Or perhaps I feel like it should be broken into Plot/Theme and Vibe/Energy. I feel like a trailer has to sell me on the story of the game and get me to want to participate, but it also needs to catch me on an emotional level with music, visual power, and pacing. And I think WAR beats WoW in both categories. Maybe they tie in the former and WAR smooshes face in the latter.

I liked TBC's trailor. Like you said, it had the same style as WotLK, but also had the action sequence in the middle that pumped my blood and emphasized that Illidan needed to die via fighting. Comparing those three trailors I think shows how WotLK is really lacking in energy, and how that brings the entire piece down. As for me, I can appreciate the details in the trailor, but nothing ties it together like I see in TBC and WAR.

Green Armadillo said...

As I said up top, the quality of the opening cinematic is about the lowest of all priorities that I care about in deciding whether a game is good/worth playing/etc. Many people have put together good intros for crappy games.

Blizzard is very fond of having the game draw on lore that isn't actually found in the game. For instance, the entire Kil'Jaeden encounter is scripted around characters from a series of WoW novels (which, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess, most players have not read). This trailer is a good example of that philosophy; you need to know the entire story of War3 to really appreciate what's going on, and even then you miss details like the identity of the Frost Wyrm (MMO-Champion claims it has a name, I've never heard of it before).

By contrast the Warhammer trailer is 100% accessible, it just seems to be advertising a game about a small band of invincible good guys swashbuckling their way through a wave of expendable orcs.

st-ranger said...

I think that Mythic might have had an ulterior motive in showing the Order guys being so kickass. Maybe they're looking at the beta population, and seeing how over-populated Destruction is and are getting worried. Destruction environments and lore is just, in a lot of cases, much more kick-ass. Maybe this cinematic will encourage more people to check out the Order side.

Green Armadillo said...

I strongly strongly doubt that this thing was altered in any way in response to population in the beta. Believe it or not, these cinematics actually take a non-trivial amount of time to produce, and you can't just walk into the office and say "well, the numbers say we need to switch it up and make these four classes look better today". I suppose they might have made the decision that Destruction would be more popular long long ago based on the fanbase though. Either that or the video dept had just watched Lord of the Rings. :P

Spinks said...

I think there will be another cinematic coming later to showcase Destruction some more.

Ferenczys said...

Having not yet seen the WAR trailer, I can't really do any comparisons, but I can speak to the Wrath trailer.

The biggest issue with the trailer is that you have to have played WC3 for the real gravitas of the video to make sense. If you played through Arthas' campaign, the voice-over by his father is poignant, prescient, and chilling.

Close your eyes (or bring up another window) and listen to the trailer; it's easy to imagine this older King just beaming to his promising son. The juxtaposition with the horror of Northrend makes for good cinema.

You are left wondering if that voice is in Arthas' head, like a memory even the Crown of Nerzhul can't keep away. As the Lich King Arthas exhudes silent menace. Whereas Illidan seemed brooding and smoldering with barely controlled rage, Arthas is cold, aloof, and utterly disinterested in the 'threat' posed by the players.

I loved how the trailer drew a direct parallel with Arthas as the former human king, now ruling over a vast kingdom of undead. Though the forsaken are supposed to have the market cornered when it comes to being Undead with Feelings, those Scourge we see shouting their fealty to Arthas sure mustered up some serious GAR.

All in all, I think the trailer was amazing for a three minute story. It captured the fearful potency of the Lich King, the imminent threat of his VAST army (love the shot with all the tiny blue Scourge flames ignited in the valley below), and the reminder of all the loss that led to Arthas' present role. I've always thought that Arthas' story was the best part of Warcraft's recent history, and the trailer doesn't disappoint.

It differs from TBC's trailer in that there isn't a direct challenge to the player (no, 'You are NOT prepared!' moment). Instead, the viewer is left with this huge sinking feeling, this sense of being utterly beneath the attention of the Lich King. This seems to contradict Blizzard's voiced intent of making Arthas a bigger part of the individual player's stories.

5 stars if you played WC3. 3 stars if you didn't. The uninitiated will be unmoved by the real driver of this trailer - the tragedy loss.

Moranin said...

I remember the excitement that the original WoW trailer conveyed - and in a way the WAR trailer taps into a similar style. Both are trying to introduce classes and demonstrate "like" matchups from the different factions. The juxtaposition makes for a feeling of tension and curiosity. WAR did a better job, in that it showed all those characters in one continuous environment.

The WotLK trailer left me (no pun intended) pretty cold. I played Warcraft III, and vaguely remember Arthas, but I didn't feel any connection or interest in the character as the trailer portrayed him. Really, my strongest "emotion" was utter disbelief that there could be solid ice so close to a less than 1cm layer of light, powdery snow. I didn't feel any particular interest in where Arthas had gotten a giant army of whatever those were, nor did I feel the need to care about their motivations.

And yes, count me among the "annoyed" at the continual anti-gnome cinematic bias! :P

Xtian said...

@ ferenczys -

I think there's a danger in trying to analyze an MMO trailer from a film critic's perspective. Just like the original article notes, there are points to be awarded for the Best Big Flying Beast Monster. I don't disagree that the choice of narrator's perspective and the corresponding juxtaposition is cool, but I don't think it carries the trailer either.

Even just looking at the choice of story design, though, I'm still not impressed. It doesn't offer style in the form of small ties to subthemes interwoven with major themes that contradict yet support each other in neato ways. Instead, the trailer says "HEY GUYZ! ARTHAS WAS KING OF GOOD GUYZ, NOW HE IS KING OF BAD GUYZ! ISN'T THAT COOL? WANT ME EXPLAIN AGAIN?!?" I feel that most of the audience caught on to the angle pretty quickly, but the rest of the scene didn't do anything beyond.

Still, the technical side was awesome. Heart the frost wyrm.

Kyosei said...

I think it's a bit strange to compare trailers between these games as they're advertising on different levels. Blizzard is showing off an expansion for people playing their game, returning players and possibly new players. (More never hurts right?) Mythic on the other hand is selling a "new" IP and game to a potential player base. So of course they're going to give different impressions.

I also think it's kind of funny, how I remember hearing complains from the other side of the fence with the TBC trailer where fans thought it didn't focus enough on the lore and too much on the random battles. Which once again goes to show you can never please everyone at once. Blizzard still should've added gnomes though ;p

On another note, I feel the vanilla WoW and TBC trailers were similar in vein because both had to introduce new races and the idea of visiting a new world. TBC, however, had more emphasis on returning to adventuring though for obvious reasons. WotLK we're going back to Azeroth not to a completely different world like Outland and no new races to show off. It's just left to advertising the title's namesake, which probably leads to why it feels underwhelming.