Game marketing is kinda horrible. When I stick those two words together in my head (with a rancid squidge) I think of two things: humid halls of sweat and hair, and sentences pieced together by robots that are both glaringly spurious and salacious. And that’s only the associations based on the experiences I’ve not immediately wiped from my mind in fear that they’d stalk me back home.
But let’s not dwell on the detritus that haunts my inbox daily. There are more positive, refreshing examples out there that would still qualify as, yes, game marketing. More specifically, let’s zoom in on an ad campaign that Metanet Software has put together for its upcoming 2D platformer N++. It’s called “Motion++.”
These are photographs of women dancing. Striking bold ballet shapes in bare feet. With them is a florid range of scarves, one each, being flung through the air, sketching out the release arc of an arm, or curling around the body during an allegro step. Their somatic expression is energy. Faces detail joy and strength. While the scarves add a fantasy-like streak of color to the images. And this is advertising a videogame?
Yes, the images started out as an effort by Metanet’s Mare Sheppard to “express the influence of dance and movement and art” in N++. It’s how she and Raigan Burns (the other half of Metanet) not only see but “feel” the game that they’ve created. At its most basic, N++ (and by association Motion++) is about bringing out the inner ninjas in all of us. It could be a concept as simple as that. Bosh. Done. But it’s not. It’s a lot more than that, at least to Sheppard and Burns, as N++ is the culmination of over a decade’s work; it is, in fact, the third in their “N” series of fast-paced platformers, the first one being released back in 2004.
This is why it’s easy to believe Sheppard when she says that there’s a lot of emotion contained in all of this: the game and this ad campaign. And it’s perhaps not right to call it an “ad campaign,” even. For it didn’t start out that way. It’s not the product of committee but of passion.
Three years ago, Sheppard started taking ballet as a way to grow through different channels, both in mind and body. It also served as an enjoyable retreat away from game development—”you have to focus on gracefully manipulating so many muscles and limbs on time and with precision, there’s not much brain-bandwidth left to think about the game, which is perfect!” She says that learning ballet herself and watching others perform it has expanded her understanding of visual languages, especially how to express complex thoughts through a medium as abstract as dance, which has parallels with N++; it being about style, minimalism, and vector art in a world where your only weapon is your fluid, twitchy movements. “My favourite thing is when the emotion conveyed is not over the top and obvious, but exists in between moments, sequences, and in the tiny little nuances,” Sheppard says.
At some point, tethers must have started appearing in Sheppard’s brain, connecting the various parts of her life: ballet, videogames, and her interest in fashion. That’s when Motion++ started to come together. First of all, she had to create the scarves, and did so by taking screenshots from N++ and turning them into high-res patterns in Photoshop. Sheppard then went to a company that transfers digital designs to textiles, and had her patterns printed on to high quality pure silk chiffon, the fabric then made into scarves with hand-rolled hems.
The scarves, only 24 in number, are now being sold in the Metanet shop. They sit adjacent to Metanet’s Etsy shop, which is filled with pins, notebooks, stickers, and earrings—a range of merchandise that is made to stand out as different. The scarves could have been left at that. But Sheppard saw the potential to underline the scarves as something special, and came up with the idea of a photo shoot, which could also potentially serve as a way to advertise N++. This thought billowed as she hired six dancers and Gabe Toth, a local photographer, to arrange a fashion-editorial style shoot directed by Sheppard (choosing lighting, backdrop, and mood, giving general direction to the dancers).
Sheppard is thrilled with the results for obvious reasons: the photos are gorgeous, expressive. But it also went towards another desire of hers, which is to celebrate women of “a multitude of ages, personalities, sizes, shapes and colours.” It’s a visual celebration that couldn’t have come at a better time, considering that just days before Motion++ was launched, Misty Copeland was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, the first black woman to hold that position in the theater’s 75-year-history. It seems an appropriate if completely coincidental move by Metanet to acknowledge the diversity of women, particularly those in dance, through Motion++.
“Fashion and art tend to visually-represent only a small sliver of the diversity of people that populate the world, and whenever possible I want to try to show more than that,” Sheppard says. And so she has, with a fiercely feminine ad campaign, and for a videogame nonetheless, which conveys through its attitude, physicality, demeanor, and style the emotions that both inform N++ and should hopefully be brought out in those who play it.