The Elite: Dangerous Trailer

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 in Progress Report

Launch fever for Elite: Dangerous continues to ratchet up to new levels of excitement. Yesterday ‘Gamma 2.0’ was released to early access backers with a whole slew of bug fixes, graphical enhancements and some new ships – mostly notably the ‘Adder’ from the original game, completing a comprehensive pantheon of ‘Snake Ships’ – one of the most recognisable aspects of ‘Elite’.

Last week we got a teaser that there was a new trailer coming, showing a pilot walking past and heading towards a ship (A Viper I believe) with an Elite logo (glowing Apple Mac style) on his shoulder.

Yesterday an, or possibly the, official launch trailer for Elite: Dangerous was revealed across the major gaming sites and on youtube. If you haven’t seen it yet – watch it first…

Right then. Here’s what it shows.

It opens with a group of seven pilots leaving an airlock, each individually heading towards their ships with an undertone of menace and danger. The accompanying music driving and discordant; a major stylistic departure from the classical soundscape that characterises the actual game and previous trailers.

We are flung into space where it’s just possible to grasp a mining operation is underway when our protagonists (or are they antagonists?) fly in and launch an apparently unprovoked attack on the miners, destroying a number of ships. For some reason no one appears to have had their shields up – numpties. A battle then rages through the asteroid belt.

The attacking ships then flee across a short span of space into the vicinity of a space station, whereupon they set upon the stations defensive forces, looping and swirling around the station in a manner very reminiscent of the opening  scene of ‘Revenge of the Sith’, episode III of Star Wars. They evade fire from a series of larger ships, and pulling off some radical manoeuvers, taking advantage of the three degrees of movement possible in space. Having stolen a single canister of gold ( you spotted the ‘Au’ right?), they jump into hyperspace and make good their escape…

Cut to credits.

So, what did I think? My first impression was that I didn’t like it. This was mostly down to the music. No disrespect to Royal Blood, (a British Band from Brighton apparently – good to note) but it’s simply not my cup of tea and just sounded like noise. Yes, I’m old. Had the backing track been ‘Real wild child’ by Iggy Pop then I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more.

On more measured reflection my views are as follows.

This trailer is clearly aimed at a younger demographic than the crusty compadre of commanders from the 1980s such as myself. The focus is on instant and accessible conflict, show-boating your spacecraft, epic space battles and a devil may care attitude to law and order. It was GTA V in space, which Elite: Dangerous has been compared to before given its open ‘sandbox’ environment.

In this it succeeded. It certainly looked ‘Dangerous’. There was exciting space borne combat, a lot of different ships, impressive graphics and a variety of weapon load-outs featured.

But that was about it.

It is a ‘cinematic’ trailer for a game and as such is entitled to play fast and loose with the idea behind the game, rather than the actual experience of playing it, however…

I was disappointed to note that it seemed to enforce gender stereotypes. The seven pilots are universally male as they strut across the station launch apron, with what appeared to be a female character standing at the boarding ramp of one of the ships clearly awaiting the pilot. Subliminal message – it’ a boys’ game, and girls probably aren’t up to it – “Is this your boyfriend’s, ship luv?” A poor show in this day and age. **EDIT – Apparently I missed that two of the pilots were female. Ed Lewis (Community Manager at Frontier) has told me that an equal number of males and females were shown, so I’ll retract that criticism.**

The models from the game are being used, but the effects are not. The ships are clearly animated, moving in a way not possible in game, the ubiquitous “Not Actual Game Footage” moniker spelled out at the beginning of the trailer. Why not, when the game looks so good?

The gameplay presented was closest to the ‘Pirate’ role, but it was beyond that, it was anarchic. The story asked us to believe that a group of pilots would viciously attack a bunch of (presumably innocent?) miners and run the not inconsiderable gauntlet of a well-armed and fully defended space station for no good reason other than looting a single canister of cargo. Why?

The single message that this trailer conveyed was that Elite: Dangerous was simply about opportunistic ship to ship combat and nothing else. First time visitors are going to see a ‘twitch’ game where you pummel everyone into submission and go on a rampage through the galaxy with little thought for the consequences.

The plot made little sense and felt contrived simply to showcase the fighting ships. Unfortunately virtually everything shown in the trailer is not possible in the game. You can’t fight in close proximity to a station, you’ll be killed instantly by overwhelming firepower. You can’t yaw 180 degrees on a sixpence in the manner shown, the in-game flight model specifically prevents it. The high speed evasive ‘warp’ doesn’t exist, you have to charge up your drive first…

I can only assume it was a trailer targeted at a very specific demographic – young male gamers. It contained no depth, and ignored much of the rich tapestry of the game as a result. The Royal Blood Lyrics are all about violence and revenge.

I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it
But a trigger for a heart beating blood from an empty pocket

Assuming that’s what it was for it was well targeted. If that’s one of the trailers for the game then that’s fair enough, you can spin Elite: Dangerous in a number of ways depending on who you’re pitching to. If that was the ‘Spotty male adolescent’ trailer, game on.

But if that’s the only trailer, then it’s selling the game seriously short.

There are a lot of aspects to the game that are more appealing and measured. Trading requires more thought on how to portray it successfully  in a trailer, but a combination of stealth, tension and high value goods being moved between murky destinations could have been visually enticing. There have been enough fan videos showing smuggling to demonstrate that. There’s romance in the ‘tramp-steamer’ model that could have been woven in.

Exploration would be an ideal opportunity to showcase gender equality. How about an obviously female pilot locating a rich source of rare metals or an earth-type planet hidden in some distant nebula? Amelia Earhart anyone? **EDIT – See earlier correction about male/female pilots as I was deliberately exaggerating for effect here.

Whilst there, there’s no reason that we couldn’t have had a cut scene at the end of the current trailer where a female pilot in a large powerful ship, unimpressed by the prepubescent antics of the inexperienced male pilots as displayed, presses a trigger and calmly obliterates them all. Bounty hunter. That would have been an excellent twist – hinting that there was more to the game than first impressions would suggest. **EDIT – See earlier correction about male/female pilots as I was deliberately exaggerating for effect here.

The scale is missing too. Previous trailers have talked about the billions of stars, making your own way in the universe. Where was that sense of wonder? A pan away from the action at the end to make it very clear that the galaxy is unbelievably large and your part in it is very small indeed…

What about the politics? There is a rich and growing story line about to be revealed regarding the machinations of the Empire and the Federation… there was no indication of this at all.

With the music veering tangentially away from the themes that have been used to date, the focus on nothing but instant gratification in ship combat and the lack of depth portrayed I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation. It’s pretty, it’s exciting, and it’s Dangerous…

But it wasn’t Elite.

Let’s hope there are some other trailers that will have more ..ahem.. universal appeal.

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    13 Comments

  1. Two of the pilots definitely look female to me, judging by the waistline/hips 😉

    • This has been confirmed by Ed Lewis (Community Manager at Frontier) to be the case, I’ve retracted my criticism there.

  2. I’m opening myself up to ridicule here, but I’m pretty sure 2nd and 5th from the left on the garage door opening shot are female Commanders.

    Also I was quite pleased (as a fellow member of the ’84 demographic) with the garage rock soundtrack, it’s trying to straddle the harder end of 90s grunge, 00s White Stripes and doubtless some ‘new music’ that I haven’t listened to enough Radio 6 to know. But at least it’s not emo, nu metal or dubstep, eh?

    Pity about the AAAAA class thrusters they seem to have access to though. And re the CGI rendering – I’m sure in 5 years or so it will look like this in game. I was never too surprised when my MSX games turned out not to look like their full colour painted magazine ads either.

    • You’re correct on the female pilots. The music is a matter of taste of course! 😉

      • So maybe if Frontier are quick they could integrate this into the launch plot: “I don’t see how any Emperor old or new can be said to speak for half of his subjects, when an Imperial Senator can’t even recognise a human-basic female any more!” said Commander Boudicca of the Lyran Red Hand Flyers. “From now on, my sister pilots and I will no longer recognise Imperial authority and will fight to establish a corner of Lyrae Sector where its patronage is a thing of the past!” 😉

  3. I agree. This completely misrepresents the game as a pew-pew game with constant action and using flight dynamics unobtainable in the game. Let’s hope the ASA don’t have a field day with this if it’s made into an advert.

    Anyone falling for this and purchasing the game because of the way it’s portrayed will be very disappointed (and cause grief for other players probably). It’s likely to cause bad press on release too.

    Yes, it’s exciting. Yes, it’s cinematic. It’s not the game though.

    (I have no real beef with the music as it fits the drama and no-one listens to the lyrics anyway.)

    Another foot in mouth effort by Frontier’s communications team I’m afraid.

    • Taken in the context of the other ‘cinematic’ trailers we’ve seen, it fits right in with their constant action. And it understandably addresses the largest market segment of small (and not so small) boys who like to shoot things. The only bad thing about it is the unrepresentative Galactica-style flight dynamics, and that it continues the a narrative of unprovoked and apparently gratuitous attacks (like the Asp murder in station in an earlier trailer), alienating much of the existing player base.

      Try getting a more nuanced description of the game into 1’54” though – you will need a good director and editor!

      I’d like to see a series of trailers showing the different styles of play and aimed at different demographics, but at probably 50k per promo, I’m not kidding myself that FD will go out of their way to rub eg the 40something Commander market’s back. Maybe this video will spur the creative part of the community to make their own alternative in-engine promo clips.

  4. I also agree on what you write. Although the music is pretty cool, the production is flawless in it’s artform, the animators and effects people have done an excellent job. But the problem lies in the base concept, in the “story”. Given all those resources one could have made a much better and more interesting trailer and told so much more about the game.

    Well, maybe there will be more launch trailers depicting a more just image of the actual gameplay. But a trailer of this caliber doesn’t come cheap, so I doubt it. This is probably “the” marketing trailer selling the game.

  5. My 12 year old son sat up and was enthralled by it having been largely ambivalent to Elite previously (he was impressed by the visuals and scale before this but not compelled to play).
    This video had him asking for a go.

    Whilst hardly a scientific analysis I do suspect there’s everything you need to know about the pitch of the trailer right there 🙂

    Personally …I enjoyed it – It’s not *my* elite for sure but I can see what they were aiming at (he was sat in the chair next to me :)) and I found it fun and exciting.

  6. I too have mixed feelings about the trailer after my initial wonderment.

    Firstly I thought it was bloody exciting and that the soundtrack work very well with the action it was accompanying. I actually watched it a few times 🙂 with some chums on a massive TV!

    It was, however, only showing one aspect of the game(play) in the main part, that of pirate/fighter pilot. It showed off the ships and settings excellently.

    Perhaps there could be other trailers showing the other aspects with different soundtracks to show the differences in how you can play the game. But this may not be viable and as with all game releases the game trailers are often followed by gameplay trailers, showing what actually goes on.

    I personally don’t have a problem with the ‘not actual gameplay footage’ aspect of the trailer. So many games do this for cinematic effect. Look at the trailers for Assasin’s Creed, or Halo Reach for example. Plenty of ‘shine’ added there. Great trailers but not from the game (though sometimes cut-scene footage is used).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzCEdSKMkdU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18-_9E0HNY4

    What I could see working well is a trailer that opened similarly but after showing some action panned out (a long way) to show some calmer activities and demonstrating the scale at the same time, followed by a bounty hunt for a specific target, that target having been exploring while trading stolen goods and ending up as the trailer did with a kick-ass battle and hyperspacing the hell out of there. Something like that anyway. Essentially each time panning out to show the variety of ‘roles’ while showing the massive scale.

    Hopefully the marketing team, who don’t forget were responsible for that awesome Cobra at the Premiere, are able to show the world what else Elite:Dangerous has to offer!

  7. I can only agree with you Drew. The in game engine is so beautiful and we’ve seen enough HD shots and videos to show just how gorgeous in actual game footage is, I think they could have made much more of that.

    With luck, this will be the first of a series of trailers showcasing the vastness of the galaxy, the wide and varied array of roles a pilot can play and the shear amount of fun to be had.

    I had difficulty working out why they wouldn’t push the accuracy and attention to detail of the galaxy too. It seems to me like this is an excellent selling point.

    Still, criticism aside, I thought it was a very exciting trailer and I hope to see lots more as the launch approaches.

    Hope you’re enjoying the Magellanic cloud views you lucky astronomer you…

    Dan 🙂

  8. Very good review Drew, I totally agree. It’s a shame with so much fantastic in game footage floating around I think they would have benefitted more from an “Actual Ingame Footage” message at the start of a more appropriate video than the “Not Actual Game footage” message. Even the video shown live at the Premier would have been better after a bit of creative editing.

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