From Mad Worlds to Jonah 'n00b' Hill: the recent evolution of videogame trailers

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A rough guide to the best game trailers of the past decade

With a global market now valued at over $93 billion, games are seriously big business. And with so many big-budget titles competing for shelf space it takes something very special to stick out from the crowd. Game trailers are a relatively new form of marketing. Before the rise of YouTube and its ilk, and when game budgets were relatively modest, it was prohibitively expensive to advertise games on TV or in cinemas. Now, practically every game has a trailer; and even if it doesn't there will undoubtedly be a raft of 'let's play' videos and walkthroughs – a practice tacitly endorsed by the industry, particularly since the age-old practice of releasing playable demos has more or less come to an end.

Here's a selection of some of the best game trailers from the past decade, loosely grouped by the approach they take.

Go all arty

One of the most memorable game trailers ever made is the original Gears of War from architect turned Tron: Legacy / Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski. It features Gary Jules' and Michael Andrews' melancholy cover of 'Mad World' (originally arranged for the film Donnie Darko) which it juxtaposes with images of horrifying otherworldly creatures. When an HD remake of Gears of War was released this summer they neatly revamped the trailer accordingly.

Other notable trailers that follow this stripped-down piano template include Halo 3's depiction of a toy soldier diorama and Dead Island's superb reverse-action trailer, the latter produced by Glasgow-based Axis Animation.

And proving that it really is the biggest games that most favour the arty approach, GTA IV's highly-anticipated teaser trailer adopts Philip Glass' 'Pruit Igoe' in a brilliant parody of Godfrey Reggio's visual poem/documentary Koyaanisqatsi.

Use proper talent

Looking at the state of Call of Duty now, it's hard to believe its conception was in response to the unrealistic direction taken by the Medal of Honor series back in the early noughties.

Although CoD arguably dropped the ball with the inclusion of Modern Warfare 2's cynically controversial level 'No Russian', its Jonah Hill/Sam Worthington 'The Vet & The n00b' trailer ensured the ball was well and truly punctured. Since then we've had Guy Ritchie directing and Robert Downey Jr starring 'Surprise' trailer, and the most recent 'Seize Glory' trailer featuring the so-hot-right-now Michael B Jordan and, of course, Kevin.

While most film directors of note tend to steer well clear of games, Michael Bay took on Need for Speed: The Run and somehow crafted a game trailer that's far easier on the eye than his notorious car chase in The Rock. And while it has no big names attached, it's clear from this evidence where a big chunk of Destiny's rumoured $500 million budget went.

An honourable mention goes to legendary horror director George A Romero for this brief 1998 trailer promoting Resident Evil 2 (a game series inspired by Romero's own 'Dead' films).

Real gameplay can be very effective

When it comes to creating a trailer from the bones of the game engine itself, there's one developer that gets it right every time. Swedish developer DICE sold us the free-running majesty of Mirror's Edge with a wonderfully fluid trailer featuring the game's key mechanic in glorious action. But its formidable trailers for Battlefield 3 and its sequel viscerally capture the action, adventure and carnage of its most successful series. Most recently, their gameplay trailer for Star Wars Battlefront has reignited the imaginations of fans eager to act out their 'original trilogy' fantasies.

EVE Online is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game set in the vast wilderness of space. It's been going for over a decade and, with its intermingling social, political and economical systems, it's an intimidating prospect for new players. Brilliantly, its recent trailer, 'This is EVE', plays up the grandeur and beauty of its most thrilling moments while wisely glossing over the myriad complexities.

Make a film trailer

Although gaming revenues have long surpassed cinema as an economic force, many game producers still yearn for the esteem bestowed on their big screen counterparts.

When Duncan Jones' Warcraft film adaptation was announced, many fans questioned why the job hadn't simply been handed to the game's developer Blizzard, in recognition of their stunning game cinematics. Their sterling efforts have helped promote World of Warcaft (and its many expansions), Starcraft 2, Diablo 3 and more. Their work is composed of pre-rendered CGI so there's no gameplay on display but the amount of preparation, artistry and technical skill that goes into making each of their trailers is breathtaking. There are too many to choose from, but 'WoW: Legion' is their most recent effort.

Edinburgh's Rockstar North also have a solid track record when it comes to cinematic game trailers, this time all rendered in-game (using cutscenes rather than normal gameplay, as opposed to DICE's efforts). Although Rockstar have moved on from the days of packing their games with famous acting talent, their love of film is still evident in their trailers for Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V. Other notable cinematic efforts are Bioware's stunning trailer for Mass Effect 3 and a wonderful cyberpunk effort for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Keep it brief

Of course, you don't need to give away much at all to generate a huge buzz, as Fallout 3 well knows.

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