Super Time Force 101: The Anatomy of a Capy Trailer
Ben here! I watched the trailer for Super Time Force and was blown away at how much information and personality Capy was able to cram into such a short video. So I asked them how they did it! This is their answer, and it gives a great behind-the-scenes look at the art and science of creating a trailer. Enjoy!
“Super Time Force is a run ‘n gun platformer that gives the player control over time, allowing them to rewind to any point and re-enter the action alongside their past selves.”
Reading that sentence gives you an accurate impression of our game. But there’s a chance you’ll just glance over it, or that you’ll read it and not really understand it. Past selves? Whaaa? We can easily tell people Super Time Force is “like Contra with time-travel”, but that doesn’t do much to explain how the game works, or why it’s worth checking out.
This was our problem when it came time to craft our next trailer: the game could be a touch confusing when explained in words, but is very easily understood when playing it. Often, gameplay footage cut into a trailer would clear these matters up for the viewer, but we still felt like people could miss the core of the game’s “play with an army of you’s” mechanic. It was a problem we really wanted to solve.
As it happens quite often at Capy, the solution presented itself via Capy creative director Kris Piotrowski’s very first idea. In a meeting with our trailer team, he argued that it was time to clearly lay out how Super Time Force’s core mechanic works. And he didn’t just mean show more gameplay - he meant that we should literally lay it out, via drawings and voice over, kinda like a teacher giving a lesson to a classroom of kids.
Kris’ inspiration for the trailer concept was “Recreational Mathemusician” Vi Hart, best known for her endearing ‘fast-motion class-doodle meets surprisingly understandable math videos’ on YouTube. This style allowed us to utilize three tools to teach the basics of Super Time Force: narration, drawings, and gameplay footage. After watching a couple of Vi’s videos and riffing on how to apply this style to the Super Time Force world, it became clear that the concept was worth exploring and would hopefully lead to the viewer “getting it”. And maybe laughing a little too.
Capy writer & Super Time Force level designer Dan Vader wrote the initial draft of the script and bounced it off Kris until they were both happy with the way the game’s mechanics were being explained. They also made sure it fulfilled our dumb joke quota. You can check out the final draft of our script here.
Key to the trailer’s success was a clear buildup to the reveal of the fundamental concept of Super Time Force: single player co-op, and having that line stick in peoples minds.
With a finished script, animator Nick “Qiqo” Stephan stepped in to figure out how to tackle each image sequence, and also define the visual style he would bring to it. While reading the script together, Qiqo elaborated on some of the image directions and helped us nail down the final sequences he would draw on camera.
Qiqo is an incredible artist who regularly blows us away with his creations, but for this trailer we relied more on his sure, quick hand to clearly render all the jokes and gameplay concepts. When we asked Qiqo to explain how the style of the doodles in the trailer came to be, he explained:
“Starting out, I envisioned the doodles in the trailer as ‘plushy’ versions of the games’ pixel art. After bunch of quick sketches, we settled on a style that the whole team liked. To be honest, not much exploration was needed… we just knew what the game was and what a sketchy version of it would be.”
With the style defined, we moved into production. The hand-drawn trailer sequences were shot over three afternoons right in the middle of the studio, while the Below and STF teams worked away. We cleared a desk and lit it with small lamps packing tungsten bulbs. The camera itself, Kris’ personal Sony NEX3N, was attached to a tripod on the desk, set to shoot 1080p footage of Qiqo’s upside-down hands and paper. The first two recording sessions took place back-to-back, and the third acted as a ‘pick up’ day, allowing us to re-shoot a handful of drawings from scratch to increase quality and clarity.
One of the harder sequences to shoot was the image that closes out the trailer. This shot required the paced consumption of many Jamaican beef patties. We enlisted the eating skills of a handful of Capy-folk, including Below programmer Renaud Bédard, who had strangely never had a JBP in his life! They were cold. And it was his second lunch. He was rather disgusted by the experience, and refused to take part in any potential reshoots. We really shoulda warmed those puppies up!
Meanwhile, it was decided that in order for the trailer to carry an air of scholarly authority, we would definitely need a narrator with a British accent. Unfortunately, we were hard up for actual British people, let alone ones with great voices, so we asked local friend/comedian/actor James to come in and lend his pipes as the trailer’s scientific-sounding narrator. However, during the recording session at Capy audio director Sean Lohrisch’s apartment, an even dumber idea sprang up: What if James read the trailer’s script as filmmaker Werner Herzog? Here is an mp3 of the Herzog take for your listening pleasure.
Listening to it afterwards, we noticed that James slipped in-and-out of the Herzogian accent from time to time, even occasionally channeling some Ahhnold. We stuck with his Brit take.
With the voice-over, drawing sequences, and gameplay footage locked, we put together a rough cut of the trailer to see if it worked out the way we had hoped. Nerve racking! Our original cut (with all the drawings sped up over 1000%) clocked in at well over four minutes, and felt sparse on gameplay; at that length we feared people would tune out. Editing is an intuitive & iterative process (much like games!) and with our schedules locked up, we decided to bring in a close studio friend to take us through post-production.
Mark Rabo, co-founder of Gamercamp and creator of trailers for games such as Sound Shapes and Hohokum, was on the job. The first edit he turned in seemed brutal - a hatchet job that threw away almost two minutes of drawings and narration. Initially this was a little distressing as we had thought the drawing sequences were tight to the narration of the script and the script itself crafted to cover all the bases of our unique and kinda hard-to-explain game. But as an outsider, Rabo was able to see places to trim that we hadn’t thought of. When we asked him about it, Rabo told us:
“I wish I had some funny story, but the reality is that I watched the rough edit and gameplay clips about a million times. Once it was all familiar, it just made sense to chop a bunch of the dialogue I felt was unnecessary and replace big sections of the drawn moments with actual gameplay footage.”
One of the moments that Rabo cut was a live action burning of one of Qiqo’s drawings synced to the line “like they wield explosives… explosively”. Safety-minded Kris decided to shoot the sequence on the back patio of his apartment and had to warn his upstairs neighbor that he was going to be drenching some paper in lighter fluid and setting it on fire, but not to worry, it was for “work”. Here’s the actual section we cut:
In the end, Rabo’s edit retained the essence of our concept while delivering the snappy, concise treatment of the material that was required to get our message across. He got to the meat of the trailer faster, delivering the “single player co-op” line, which we deemed as the integral piece, a whole minute sooner, and kept the jokes coming at a brisker clip. Once we had completed the final audio pass, adding key sound effects, science-y music and cleaning up the voice, we were done!
The finished trailer was released to coincide with the Day of the Devs (organized by our pals Double Fine & iam8bit) in San Francisco as well as Gamercamp, happening in our home town of Toronto. Upon its release, we were pretty overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response we got in person and online.
For Capy, it was critical to make a new trailer that, despite being stylistically different, matched the tone and overall vision we have for Super Time Force. We wanted the trailer to pique the familiarity with consuming knowledge from YouTube, while providing an entertaining glimpse into the personality of our game. Most importantly, we wanted to ‘educate’ people about how Super Time Force works in a jokey, even silly manner.
We hope we pulled it off, but either way it was surely one of the most fun trailers we’ve ever created. Especially for Qiqo, who ate JBPs and doodled for three days.