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The Game Awards show has often been referred to as “the Oscars of the video game industry.” It is a chance for the developers, media and fans to come together and celebrate some of the best of work of the year. It is also a chance for studios to reveal some of the latest trailers and announce the newest games. This year was a huge surprise when Epic released its new storefront live on stage and quickly followed it up with several new games came out the same day, including Ashen and Hades. But while the reveal was certainly exciting, nothing has been more thrilling than the ruse that was the announcement trailer for Witchfire from last year’s Game Awards.
Developed by The Astronauts, the studio who originally made The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the trailer immediately captivated the audience with its incredible graphics. But the Witchfire trailer impressed with more than just its visuals as it was an exciting deception that was at the core of the announcement. No one knew anything about Witchfire before the trailer as there had been no teaser or press release to prime the audience with any knowledge beforehand. This gave The Astronauts the chance to highlight and withhold anything it wanted to about the game.
The Astronauts took a gamble with the trailer but it paid off beautifully. The Game Awards is a yearly celebration for the most dedicated members of the gaming community and the Witchfire trailer used this knowledge to play a trick on the audience by playing with their assumptions.
The Trick Only Works If You’re Smart Enough
At the beginning of the trailer, the audience is left in the dark. You can see the beautiful visuals that highlight the attention to detail that made The Vanishing of Ethan Carter so notable. But then the audience believes they’ve seen enough when the trailer explicitly mentions the teams credentials. By stating, with the accompanied footage that this game is “From the makers of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter,” the audience starts to make connections.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was a walking sim from 2014 that has players exploring a seemingly abandoned location filled with impossible stories. The genre is known for its experimental narrative design with a rich story and environment that hardly calls for interaction. I’m not here to argue whether or not this genre should be considered a proper game (it should), or worth the critical reception it often receives (it does), because that wasn’t what The Astronauts was worried about.
Instead the studio knew that the audience would take one look at the footage they showed, with the connection to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and assume the genre would be the same. The Astronauts went out of their way to reinforce this assumption with way it presented this game that no one had seen before, but then there was the twist.
After about 45 seconds, the player in the trailer enters a ruined courtyard and the world comes to life. Something big and monstrous stirs in the center of the courtyard then the illusion of this being a typical walking sim shatters. Perhaps some viewers quickly speculated that this title was something more akin to a thriller or horror game, like Soma or Amnesia because it’s feasible that the transition between the two wouldn’t be too difficult.
More Than Just Walking
But the answer is revealed a split second later. When the gun is hoisted up into the bottom right hand side of the screen, the genre is cemented: this will be a shooter. The entire first half of the trailer was a lie, or at least a trick to make the actual reveal all the more exciting and impressive. It was designed to trick people, to make the additional information all the more rewarding, “but also Painkiller and Bulletstorm.” The trailer then bursts into life with an interest array of weapons and a terrifying close up of enemies.
The surprise announcement and then release of the Epic Games Store, Hades, and Ashen might have been unexpected, but that was a precisely coordinated event that was slowly sprang on the audience over several individual announcements. But this one trailer was already a surprise. No one knew this game existed and then the trailer took it one further and played with the audience’s expectation. In only one minute and 15 seconds, it managed to take the audience on a journey and genuinely surprised the people because it assumed they were smart enough to be tricked. It’s something we should see more in game trailers and the reason it is still the best reveal from The Game Awards.