clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified films: an exercise in emotional advertising

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

2K Games didn't always plan for The Burn Room, its first live action trailer for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, to spin off into a full-fledged miniseries.

But after that first trailer was well-received, 2K decided to pursue a longer series: a string of episodes that would serve to advertise the game and establish an emotional connection between its protagonist, Special Agent Carter, and potential players. The shorts were made under the direction of Henry Hobson — whose directorial credits include the live action train trailer for Resistance 3 and the opening sequence of Naughty Dog's The Last of Us.

For those who saw the trailer and aren't familiar with the hardcore strategy series, Hobson sought to draw them in by making them care before entering the field themselves. Before shooting their first alien or even picking up the controller, Hobson wanted them to care about the world, about the characters and about Agent Carter's plight before playing the game.

"For me, what's really good about the game world is you're in control, and you are able to go out and find out new things, go down streets and investigate things and find out more about it, and play with the world," he told Polygon following the presentation. "That's what video games essentially are. I was very keen to get as close to that as possible by not having a straight commercial where you just see a guy, and he burns a bit of paper and that's the end. That's not all that needs to be told.

"I'm not a heavy video gamer but I took myself as the model: what gets me into a game? And it really is about understanding there's more in the story being presented to you, and that you're in control of it."

Actor Dominic Monaghan, who plays and wrote much of the script for Agent Ennis Cole, said working on the project was "cool in the classic dictionary definition" of the word. When helping Hobson create the character, he wanted to make someone viewers would identify with — someone like XCOM's in-game agents.

"I wanted to do something [with it] that hit a pretty profound level with gamers — a lot of gamers nowadays are asking for more and more stuff," he added. "They're asking for character development and backstory, and I had the opportunity to play a character that really could deliver on that."


In the series of short films, we learn that Cole is an agent for The Bureau, a government organization that seeks to protect American citizens from alien threat. Cole's family is affected by a unforeseen attack on his small, suburban town, so he heads out to combat the enemy alone.

Hobson noted that Cole was designed to emulate the soldiers players will send into combat, with The Chase trailer drawing from the idea that not all fellows Carter sends into combat with come back in once piece.

"One of the reasons [the films'] story evolved into having an emotional background was because of the idea that Carter, the principle agent, will direct his partners into battle — he, you, have the opportunity to send these guys off to death," he said. "What is Carter's emotional state going to be like? Within the game you get a sense of, 'Wait, should I do this?' You contemplate what you're doing. It's not always able to be on screen in a video game, but it's there — you want the player to really think about how they do it. Live action give us an opportunity to really push that emotional aspect, and really tell the story of one of the characters.

"In The Chase, we wanted to show Carter's emotional reaction to sending his fellow agent and friend off to die," he added. "It was an error of judgment. This is something you will do in the game, but you don't see Carter's reaction. He essentially sent him off to his permadeath."

Hobson believes that going with live action was the best way to pull viewers into the world if The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, using real, identifiable people to depict the true, terrible depth and consequence brought by the game world's enemies.

"The fear of it getting out of control, it's all reckless; [the aliens] go through and just want to take over everything. I think it's paramount to get that across," Hobson said. "And if you get that emotion, you've got viewers from the get go."

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.