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A game's trailer is extremely important, so rather than release some mediocre video recordings during pre-alpha development I decided to let gifs show off the animation while keeping the audio side of things to myself, waiting for the game to reach a more complete state when I could then invest a lot of time into producing a proper video. In the end Cogmind's 90-second trailer required nearly three weeks of full-time effort from inception to final production. In all I spent several days researching and testing various recording, editing, and encoding methods, a day or so scripting animations, several days per iteration recording various game content, a couple days about half-way through thinking of solutions for various issues, a couple days collecting and analyzing feedback, and another couple days producing and encoding the final version. The easiest way to talk about all the aspects of trailer production is to simply follow the process from beginning to end.
On the technical side I found surprisingly little reliable information about techniques for creating high-quality pixel art trailers, so I would have to figure that out on my own. The outline was fairly accurate, and showed that the trailer would be on the long side at nearly two minutes. As expected, the first pass felt too slow, so much of the same content was recut into a quick trailer only half as long (60s), with a faster intro in a more instantly gripping cinematic trailer style. While a cinematic trailer would be more fun to watch, it might also misrepresent the game or attract the wrong audience, players that could be disappointed with the game for not being what they expected. Another reason for dropping the second intro concept is that its aesthetics look very out of place compared to the rest of the trailer, which is composed entirely of the blocky terminal UI, glyphs, and pixel art.
For the rest of the trailer content, clearly something in between the long and short versions was necessary. Recording video clips is (for me) by far the most time-consuming part of trailer production. My options were more limited than most games because Cogmind doesn't explicitly use the video card, eliminating the possibility of recording software supplied by various GPU manufacturers that reads the card directly, or third-party applications such as FRAPS which function in the same manner.
I'd heard good things about OBS, and rather liked how easy it was to record with, so that was my first choice. The first method of dealing with this is to give YouTube the highest resolution possible so it has more data to refer to in the compression, and also offers viewers with the bandwidth a way to view an outright better quality video.
As I only have a 1920x1200 monitor I considered buying a 1440p specifically for recording the trailer, but I was worried my poor laptop wouldn't be able to handle both running the game at that size and recording it. Rather than zooming to an arbitrary size, nearly every zoomed shot in the trailer is recorded at either 636x360 or 424x240.
Early on I decided I could speed up production and keep the visuals consistent by using the game engine itself to create as much of the animation and text as possible, rather than relying heavily on post-processing software for transitions and special effects. Minimal editing requirements also meant I could stick to simple software with which I was already familiar: Camtasia Studio. Every time you convert or resize a video the quality could degrade, so I needed a method to create a very high-quality upscale without side effects like those that ruin ASCII videos due to compression.
As mentioned earlier, zoomed scenes were recorded at 360p and 240p, so upscaling them to match the full-size 720p trailer gives pixel-perfect results without any distortion!


As soon as the first pass rough edit was complete I shared it with our trailer composer Alex Yoder to give him some material to work from and get an idea of what direction he planned for the music (before that I'd already provided him with a copy of the game and documents outlining the world and story). The music is an absolutely essential part of the trailer that really glues it all together, and helps set the mood as much as the visuals.
One interesting side effect of the trailer feedback that came from respondents' girlfriends and wives (including my own) was a change to the title logo shown at the end.
Even after the trailer was complete (production stretched from April 7~27), I still watched it multiple times nearly every day up until launch. On launch day I was happy to finally show everyone the full extent of what I'd been working on as a whole, rather than piecemeal in the form of snapshot blog posts. At first I considered hiring someone else to do it (a professional), but I like creating things myself, and finding, hiring, and bringing another person up to speed on the project would take a while, not to mention one of the most time-consuming parts--collecting clips for a trailer--is something I'd still have to do myself, anyway. It begins with your boot-up sequence, then quickly progresses through each element of the experience: explore, learn, evolve, rebuild, evade, destroy. The format aims to condense Cogmind into a series of segments that can be represented by one or more clips from the game.
But that second approach felt too fast for a game like Cogmind, not to mention it didn't clearly say as much about the game itself. Certainly a key part of marketing is getting everyone and anyone to watch your trailer, even if doing so takes a trailer that doesn't specifically say much about your game and how it plays. I think the intro we did use, cut directly from the intro of the current alpha version itself, does a good job setting the atmosphere and tone using the same aesthetic style you see in the game. So I revisited the first version and shortened each segment by cutting out any static shots and less meaningful content, even managing to throw in some extra clips and still come out a full 30 seconds shorter than the original length.
I think the final pacing works okay, though, and there's a pretty natural progression from one element to the next.
About three times as many clips were recorded in all, but these are all that went into the final version. However, multiple attempts later I couldn't get it to record Cogmind without any loss of color accuracy, even with supposedly lossless settings.
The good thing is it's made to record the desktop, and does a great job of it with perfect color and pixel accuracy, all with small output file sizes.
Camtasia can be set to temporarily deactivate Aero every time you record a new clip, but it's a somewhat slow process that would make quickly re-recording clips tedious. Zooming increases pixel size so the art is less susceptible to the effects of compression, at the same time helping focus on the action which is probably only occurring on a subset of the full screen anyway. These dimensions are precisely divisible into 1272x720, the size of Cogmind's full 720p window, a factor that will come in handy later on. It does have a couple annoying limitations, namely lack of support for relative directory structures within projects, and only one project may be open at once. Not that the quality is horrible, but with pixel art the idea is to retain as much clarity as possible at every stage of the recording and editing process. Never in my life have I been happier that 1272 (Cogmind's native width) is evenly divisible by 636 and 424.


With his initial concept in place, it was just a matter of waiting until the trailer reached its final iteration before he could time the music to match a few crucial points. But before upscaling to our 1440p target resolution, here I ended up using After Effects for something after all.
After Effects is of course the perfect choice, and fortunately its one-month trial is plenty of time to handle something like this, so I didn't actually have to own it.
The MP4 file size produced by Movavi was both smaller than its high-quality AVI output and appeared to give the same results when both were uploaded to YouTube, so I stuck with MP4 since it's a more widely compatible format. Producing a mediocre trailer to cap two years of development would be very disappointing to say the least! Viewing hours totaled 206 in May alone, so that at least tops what I put into producing the trailer =p.
Most segments of the trailer were changed in some way or another between the first and final versions. The trailer clearly follows dramatic structure from the thematic intro through a gradual build to the climax, and is well-supported by music the entire way. I keep save game files for each situation in case I needed to revisit them to re-record (I did end up revisiting them all for the final version, as the first time was a quicker rough pass). Naturally the final trailer will end up being compressed before it reaches the viewer, but if the clips I record for production purposes already start out looking bad, the final product will suffer for it. I could have also just turned Aero off manually for the duration of recording work, but I figured 30 fps is good enough for Cogmind and YouTube doesn't usually use 60 fps anyway. The alternative was to record the game at 720p to save on processing power (and therefore production time), then upscale the final trailer.
This is especially useful with Cogmind since the full interface can be pretty overwhelming, though you don't need to be paying attention to the entire thing at once.
Aside from these it's plenty easy to stitch media together, layer and adjust video and audio, and dynamically zoom or pan to different areas. It was convenient to produce both the close-ups used throughout the middle of the trailer, and the really tight shots seen at the end.
Getting feedback from more than one source was great for the different insights and perspectives, while any areas of overlapping criticism were in definite need of change. Testing showed that the latter produced smoother animations, but the required file sizes were huge and Camtasia chokes on large files. I'd rather steer away from deceptive tactics in favor of using the opportunity to show off as much of what the game is really like as possible.



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