Fan Trailer : The Painscreek Killings

Overview

I made this fan trailer just to try my hand at making a trailer of a walking simulator. I remember hearing The Painscreek Killings recommended in a podcast, and decided to pick that as the subject of this exercise.

The Painscreek Killings is a crime solving first person puzzler by EQ Studios, that was released in 2017. It’s set in the late 90s in an abandoned little town, supposedly in the States (though it looks very British). You play as a reporter that has been sent to the town to inspect an unsolved murder. The lands are about to be auctioned off by the state, which make this the last opportunity to snoop around in the empty buildings to find out what really happened. Diaries, messages etc. lead the player to the next clue, and as the player gets told at the start of the game, keeping your own notes is pretty important.

The game kept my curiosity for its whole length. I often felt pretty sure about a theory of how things might have gone, but finding a new set of clues then threw me in another direction. This kept a constant sense of anticipation of how the game might surprise me next, until the very end.

Choosing the angle for the narration

(spoilers ahead)

The trailer has only subtitles because it’s just a fan trailer (and my voice acting skills aren’t worth showing off), but you should imagine a middle aged male, gruff detective voice.

In the game the player absorbs a ton of information about the world through items, surroundings and written text. Though the characters in the game “exist” only in diaries, phone messages etc, they seem very fleshed out. To convey some of the same experience in a trailer, I thought it would be a nice idea to have a character from the game as a narrator, giving a short outline of the game’s story from their own standpoint.

For the narrator of the “voiceover”, I thought about 3 different characters. Firstly, there’s the playable character, a female reporter. However, she’s left as a blank slate that the player reads or hears nothing about until the very end of the game, so making her narration sound interesting would be a challenge.

Another alternative was to use one of the servants in the victim’s mansion. We read a lot about several of them, and they’re much in the weeds throughout the family’s history so having a sense of personal experience seep through the narration would’ve been possible.

The third option I thought about, which I ended up going with, is a detective that was hired by an anonymous client to solve the case earlier. One of the stories that are uncovered throughout the game is his investigation. He’s been staying in a hotel and his car is outside, giving an ominous sense that something’s happened to him. The player hears his voice in one audio message, and finds numerous notes by him. Also the fact that he’s been in the same situation where the player is now makes him all the more relatable, and thus suitable as a narrator. I tried to avoid revealing too much by keeping the narration text very vague and suggesting things rather than showing them.

Another challenge was to communicate to the viewer that the detective is not the playable character. For this purpose, I added a scene after the “blackout”, when the player finds his detective ID from the abandoned car. If there was an actual voiceover, I also would’ve added an eerie echo in his voice.

Choosing the music

The game has a haunting piano soundtrack that fits perfectly the mood of the recently abandoned buildings. I think the music is the main thing in setting the tone of the trailer, so I had to find something that is similar, but varies enough throughout its length to keep the viewer interested in watching the trailer. I ended up going with the track Mystery by ArtHaiz, which I cut a bit shorter. It has a nice buildup, and I think this kind of ramping up the mood serves to keep the viewer hooked. Consequently with tweaking the structure of the music, I also wrote the narration text, ending up with one where detective describes getting closer and closer to solving the case, until there’s a “whack” sound and the screen goes black. While I was working on the text and audio, I had no video on the background to throw me off, which helped me focus on one thing at a time.

Capturing and editing:

This game is ideal for capturing footage, because at the end of the game, when the whole playable area is unlocked, you can go anywhere pretty quickly. Also, the mechanics are all about walking around and inspecting clues, so capturing good looking footage is all about finding the best spots and making smooth camera moves (for which a gamepad is necessary). The beautifully lit and meticulously propped environments provided plenty of good spots to get good looking shots from. Still, while editing the video, I went back to capture something many times and all in all, the combined capturing work ended up taking about a day.

Since this fan trailer is more of an atmospheric story trailer than something that lists gameplay mechanics, there was no strict guideline on how to organize the scenes. When I had the music and text in check, I placed suitable gameplay clips to match the narration where necessary, and organized them so that the camera movement doesn’t make weird shifts of direction in consequent scenes. I also made the pacing get quicker towards the end of the narration, and added fades where they seem to fit the flow.

In the end, I also added some notes that appear on top of the gameplay at the most fast-paced part. To get them, I only had to look at my own notes that I wrote down while playing the game.

All in all, this fan trailer took me about 4 days to make, in addition to 2 days of playing the game.