WITCHER 2: Assassin of Kings– A Game Trailer with Feature Film Appeal

I was looking around the Golden Trailer Awards website this morning for inspiration. Among the GTA 13 winners at its May 31s, 2012 event was the preview for Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, recipient of the BEST VIDEO Game Trailer award.

At an indulgent length of 3:54, this preview was produced for an online rather than a theatrical audience, but it represents only one of many marketing elements released in support of the Witcher property. Other trailers on youtube and at the sight describe and promote gameplay, game engine, critical reception, popular success and the specific and various technological and aesthetic qualities that attract gamers.

This trailer, which features one extended scene which plays out luxuriously, features no dialogue, no copy and no voice over. However, from this episode of relaxed merrymaking ending in graphic and shocking mayhem, a viewer learns a great deal about Witcher in terms of character, story, setting and production value.

Here’s what is shown: aboard a Medieval vessel, an archer displays his skill for the pleasure of his king, who drinks heavily from a chalice as jesters and fighters tumble and brawl for his amusement. Seated next to him, a distinguished courtier is dismayed by the vulgarity of the entertainment.

In the commotion and distraction of the prize fight, the assassin (Letho) clambers aboard ship, clears his nostrils, removes a vial and hurls it toward the mast, where it breaks, releasing a powerful spell that freezes the ship and all her passengers. The courtier, revealed as the King’s Wizard, reacts quickly to the breaking vial, creating a bubble of protection around himself, the king, the archer and two guards.

As the frozen ship and crew splinter and crumble into shards of ice, the Assassin attacks. He evades the archer’s arrows, stabs him, slashes the guards whose shield he uses to deflect the Wizard’s attack. He cuts the throat of the wizard, then confronts the drunken king, who futilely attempts escape. He hacks off the king’s head, raises it in the air, ties it to his girdle (belt) and dives into the water, as the crumbling/splintering vessel sinks.

There are three music cues: the first, diegetic– played by on-screen musicians– is a medieval tune, background for the jesters tumbling; as the brawlers prepare to fight, the musical ensemble (lutes and drums) provides a percussive background to stimulate the crowd. Then, after the Assassin launches his vial and begins his slow-motions attack, a gorgeous, haunting chorale of female voices fills the air. That cue continues to the close.

I mentioned character and story above. Let me specify. The king is a drunk, quaffing thirstily during the jesters’ antics and the fighters combat. He even takes a drink while awaiting the onslaught of Letho, after his men and ship have been frozen. The Wizard, alert and capable, covers his face in dismay at the crude antics of the jesters and tumblers, indicating to the audience, if not his king, his disapproval. He is the only one to resist, practically, the Assassin. The Archer, proud of his skill, is overly confident, and when his two arrows have missed, has no further defense. Letho, the assassin, massive and bald, scarred and ruthless, is also agile and quick, fearless and effective. When he blows his nose onto the deck after climbing aboard, we see the contempt he has for his victims.

In this trailer, the quality of the CGI is exceptionally high. There is nothing jerky or pixelated about the action and movement; nothing sketched or vague about the detail and the dimensionality. I looked at a trailer which emphasized the back story of this RPG and the critical and popular response, and noticed that this same level of animation was not sustained within the game itself. Camera angles provide 360 views, closeups, medium shots, stills, slow-mo, as well as establishing shots and bird-eye views down the mast. The appeal here is to the visual realization of this violent, dangerous world.

Over the past decade, sophistication of game play and technology have become increasingly commodified (expected, certain, de rigeur; see in particular pp. 790-791 of the Harvard Law Review linked above) at the high-end of the video game industry, pushing marketers to find different aspect to feature and sell. (Game Engine vs. Game Content.) Perhaps a reliance on such old fashioned qualities as character, story and setting are represent the enduring qualities to promote, publicize and advertise as the lead arrow of the marketing effort?

[I’m just exploring my intuition here, so please correct any errors of fact or interpretation in the above post.]

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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