Ever since they crept into my consciousness, I’ve been a fan of the video game developer Bungie (Myth, Oni, Marathon, others, most notably Halo). They have always exuded an idealism and a passion for what they do. They certainly aren’t perfect (who is?), and you could accuse them of a lot of things, but if there’s one thing you can’t say about them, it’s that they don’t have fun doing what they do, or believing in their work.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about them–certainly in retrospect–is the marketing they do for their games (at least with their more recent titles). Bungie tends to put a degree of thought and effort into their trailers, which seems to have become increasingly rare amongst other developers and publishers. Their work isn’t necessarily highbrow, but it’s rarely ever dumb; it’s definitely never brainless, lazy, or childish, and is usually something interesting (even if it may be a little cheesy at times).
This new trailer for Bungie’s upcoming game, Destiny, just might be the best example of thought, planning, and overall execution that the company has ever put into one of their trailers:
If you know anything about Bungie, you recognize their style here immediately. Most of their live-action/cinematic stuff is fairly simple but uses its elements in effective ways, and might typically possess some sort of reference (in the case of the “Believe” trailer, it was Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude; for “ODST”, Light of Aidan). The games themselves are chocked full with many more references and clues to myths, legends, bits of history, and more. It’s clear they have people who are passionate about these old stories, and it’s also worth noting that this trailer has much in common with this particular aspect of their games than their previous marketing ads. In fact, the amount of thought that went into this one is actually somewhat impressive.
For those not paying attention it may seem like a bunch of random action shots with a voice over. Lots of video game trailers have that, right? That sort of thing doesn’t tell us much about a game. Now, some of these shots are random, yeah, but on closer inspection, this trailer has a lot to say–maybe nothing we don’t already know about the game, but it’s all in the execution.
First off, a little information on the game is required–for those who may not be in the know, yes, but this will also be referenced later on. What is Destiny? Destiny is Bungie’s next shooter (duh) set on a future Earth where humanity was almost driven to extinction by unknown, outside forces. As we were making our final stand, a large, mysterious sphere-ship appeared in the sky above and sacrificed itself in battle on our behalf with little-to-no explanation as to why. Like a second moon, it now hovers over “The Last City on Earth” like a silent watcher. The people refer to it as “The Traveler” and knights known as Guardians take up oaths of service to protect the remnants of the human race, using the Traveler’s technology. Bungie says they want to go for a “futuristic mythology world” akin to science fantasy like Star Wars. Based on what we know of the gameplay so far, it sounds like an MMO FPS with classes, quests, and an open world, but the devs are adamant in saying it’s not an “MMO” (whether or not this will be the case, we shall see). Bungie has always been one to want to create a sense of community through their games, so while it sounds like running solo will be possible, there is definitely an emphasis on multiplayer co-op.
Now for the trailer itself, whoever wrote and directed this short knew a thing or two about speech class… and also probably marketing, but an entry level speech class is pretty relevant to this. The second you open your mouth you want to grab the audience’s attention, and a good attention grabber requires careful word choice. And if you want people to actually watch your commercial, those first few seconds (probably even less), audibly and visually, are extremely important.
The trailer officially starts here. Yeah, that ESRB notification probably kills what I just talked about. I guess that five second delay before you can actually skip is there for a reason. Still, it would probably be best if it were saved for the end.
Oh look, another space dude–
“Pay attention son… this is the part of the story that’s really important.”
I’m going to try and simulate the Average Joe here: “Whoa, that voice! Who is–IT’S GIONCARLO ESPOSITO! What’s he doing here?”
Almost right off the bat we see a well known actor (if not by name, then by face). His opening line: “Pay attention son…” Heh. Subtle.
You do want to carefully pay attention to everything you are seeing and hearing… because it really is important for what the trailer is trying to both show and tell you about this game trailer.
Said actor reads from Rudyard Kipling’s The Second Jungle Book. The excerpt: “The Law of the Jungle”. We see what looks to be a random montage of three space dudes nonchalantly marching up to aliens and gunning them down without so much as getting hit–several cliches (standard big dude showing up at the end, heroes prepare to take it on) included. Make no mistake. The quote is the central focus of this trailer, and almost everything we see revolves around it.
The word choice here is very deliberate and thought out. What exactly is being said here? Let’s find out:
“Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
The Wikipedia page on the Law of the Jungle is worth bringing up here because it compares the definition of the term with Kipling’s idea in the poem. “The code of survival in jungle life, now usually with reference to the superiority of brute force or self-interest in the struggle for survival.” Basically, “every man for himself; kill or be killed.” The author of the page goes on to say, “…this interpretation is clearly in conflict with [Kipling’s] ideas of the law of the jungle as a social contract which explicates the balance between the individual’s responsibility to the community and the community’s responsibility to the individual.”
What I would say here is that the ideas perhaps aren’t so much in conflict with on another, so much as Kipling’s idea (and subsequently Bungie’s) is an addendum to what already is: the world is a dangerous place, filled with selfish people. This is all the more reason for us stick together. To wander off on your own is death. It is because of this–in spite of it–we must help one another to survive. Kipling is acknowledging “the law of the jungle” while simultaneously stating such law makes community necessity. How do you prevent (or protect yourself from) dog-eat-dog? There is safety in numbers. Because that’s the way things are. Enter the wolf pack. It travels together for safety, and works together to bring down prey which an individual may be unable to do. And in the case of the wolf, self-interest and survival extends from an individual to that of a group, possibly against other groups. From that angle, how different is Kipling or Bungie’s idea from jungle law as it is defined? Destiny has several groups of aliens that want our solar system, and we’re collectively fighting back to keep it.
Now it could be that Kipling didn’t mean for the wolf analogy to be taken this far (into the realm of group eat group) and that the emphasis is solely on community and teamwork, but I have read neither of the Jungle Books, so it’s probably not my place to say. One thing is for certain: Bungie is using the first two verses of the poem exclusively to tell this short narrative, and that in itself can carry a whole new interpretation and themes, making the work a whole new story. Even without knowing a proper definition of jungle law, it’s meaning in this trailer can be intuited easy enough: the world is a dangerous place. The subsequent message from the two verses is clearer: this is about teamwork. Teamwork in the face of conflict.
“And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.”
Oh hey look! Some captain dude got SHOT as Giancarlo said the word “DIE”. Er, that’s a superficial connection, really. Anyway…
There is no literal law or judicial punishment saying if you go out alone you will be put to death. Punishment and death comes naturally when you head out into the wild unknown yourself. “It’s just how things work,” the line of thinking goes. Especially as Destiny presents it. Heck, it’s how Valve’s Left 4 Dead works–you stray from the group, you get torn apart by zombie swarms. Simple as that. Keeping also in mind “the law of the jungle” from earlier, we see the two groups (Guardians and aliens) fight for the right of the land. All of this is a clue: the trailer is telling us about the game’s multiplayer co-op nature. This will be expanded upon in the final stanza.
We could be really cynical about this and say it’s a subtle anti-single player message. I don’t know if it’s that extreme, but the push towards co-op is not unheard of from the likes of Bungie. It’s always been the law of their jungle, as it were.
“As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; …”
“The law runneth forward and back” line is referring to the whole “individual’s responsibility to the community and the community’s responsibility to the individual” idea. It’s saying that this law is, by nature, circular. This leads right into…
“… For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
The strength of the group lies in the unique skills of the individuals, but the individual’s strength comes from combining their skills with those of the others. Diversity comes together to form something wholly new that is greater than the sum of its parts. Greater than the sum of its parts it may be, but it needs those parts to be great nevertheless.
Notice how during the “strength of the pack is the wolf” line (0:43-48), we see the cloaked Guardian use his revolver to make precise shots past the shields of the enemies and disintegrate them, where before the showering of bullets strategy wasn’t working so hot (why did they try that anyway?). Also take note of how it was the “rogue” class of the three to do this, with the cunning and resourcefulness of rogues being associated with wolves. Additionally, notice how during the “strength of the wolf is the pack” line (0:52-58), that’s when the massive alien rises up behind the Guardians, who turn and ready themselves–the implication, of course, being it will take the skills of all three to bring this behemoth down: “mage, rogue, and warrior.”
I want that revolver. Really bad. I thought you all should know that.
Overall, this is quite the fun little trailer. And I applaud Bungie and those who worked on it. There is, however, one blemish in the time stamp above. Can you spot it?
The amount of thought that went into this is a little astounding. A father character is reading “The Law of the Jungle” to his son, which parallels the conflict being shown, which gives us an idea of what the game itself is like. This may be conjecture, but it strikes me that Kipling’s poem may very well be the design philosophy behind the whole game. It’s subtle, it fits together almost seamlessly, and it gives us a window into the game itself as opposed to being mindless pre-rendered action cutscenes that have practically nothing to do with the game. As someone who argues that games are meant to be played, not watched, and therefore marketing needs to consist of actual gameplay footage, I would say if you’re going to do cinematic trailers, then this is the way to do it. The reality, however, is that so few companies do these kinds of trailers properly, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see work like this. Now this doesn’t mean that the end product will mirror this perfectly (or even be a good game) just because the trailer is good (Dead Island proved that much), but credit where credit is due (Not saying it will be a bad game either, but that’s not the point here).
This trailer is not only well executed, it’s also a great example of what, in my opinion, is the thing Bungie does best: tangential learning. If just 1% of the five million plus viewers (as of this writing) take an interest in Rudyard Kipling and The Jungle Book because of this trailer, well, Bungie just facilitated the learning of over fifty-thousand people.
You know those people exist, and that they’re looking up both the book and the author right now, quoting the poem, etc.
Nice job, Bungie.