The High Art of Game Play Videos

Crafting quality game play videos is a high art.  For example:

Vintage Beef playing Skyrim

.

Note the beautiful colors, the commentary, and the smooth video presentation.

For nearly six months now, I’ve spent most of my “leisurely viewing time” watching YouTube and Twitch TV.  In fact, I ditched most of my television channels simply because I wasn’t watching it any more.  And having spent so much time watching others make game play videos, naturally I started toying with the idea myself.  At the same time, other family members began researching how to broadcast speedrunning* videos from a console to the computer and Twitch TV.

Guess what?  If you want to do it properly, figuring out how to make these things go on a budget gaming rig is hard work!  Oh sure, anyone with a few spare thousand dollars can run out and buy the best motherboard, CPU, Titan graphics cards and internet upload speed.  But for the rest of us, it becomes a quest for the middle ground – somewhere between “ooh shiny” and “look ma!  No lag!”

For your edification, I present a summary of our journey onto the YouTube and Twitch.TV Stage:

Of course, anyone with a webcam can broadcast to YouTube and Twitch, I know you’ve seen them as well.  But, we wanted to do this properly, so we set out to learn how the pros did it.

The first thing we discovered is that if we wanted to make quality video, we had a bit of investing to do.

Pieces of the puzzle

Broadcasting Software:  There are several to choose from but the one we chose is Open Broadcaster Software aka OBS.  We have found it to be readily accessible with a shallow learning curve.  Being free, open source software is an added bonus.

Recording Software:  Again, there is a vast array of choices, both free and paid, open source and proprietary.  Luckily, most of the pay ones also have free trials.  I chose to download every one that looked interesting until I found one that felt robust, didn’t murder my budget, had community support, and was easy to learn through trial and error, which is how I learn best.  I won’t make a recommendation on this one as it really is up to you and your budget.  Suffice it to say that I think nearly every trial version I used produced roughly the same quality result.  So it’s more about the bells and whistles, community support, and learning curve, rather than the quality of the editor.  For those interested in a starting place, look into Adobe Premier, Corel Video Studio, and Avidemux.  Then, branch out from there.  It may also do some good to look at separate sound recording and mixing software.  For that, I will recommend Audacity as I’ve used it for several years.

Video Capture Device:  Only required if you wish to stream or record console games.  This is where I bogged down in my research.  The number of options combined with the technology required to capture analog video and digitize it is a bit overwhelming.  There are two main groups of hardware that can be used for this: internal cards and external USB devices.  We went with an external device as it felt more portable.  Ultimately, we looked to the advice of others who were already speedrunning games for their opinions and recommendations.  I found in my research that Hauppauge is highly recommended.  It also seems that the “broadcast your gameplay” market may attract …well, shovelware – Products that are thrown together to make a quick buck. Read several reviews before committing to a particular device.

After much handwringing, we went with an Elgato, if you’re curious.  In addition to the capture device, be prepared for the wiring work that may be required.  In order to stream a console game, you may need to split the signal between the capture device and the television.  It’s likely that you’ll be taking a trip to the local Radio Shack, or regional equivalent, for A/V splitters.  (You can use RCA stereo equipment for this.)

Additional patience is a must as well, we have found, in that all the pieces are fickle and may need to be unplugged, plugged in, rebooted, etc. before they all talk to each other properly.

setup

click to enlarge

Oh, but wait, there’s more!

Your computer also needs to meet certain requirements in order to stream.  As Twitch TV warns, being able to stream is a combination of your CPU speed and RAM, (I would add, “and upload speed”), not necessarily your graphics card.  The latest greatest graphics cards are fine and dandy, but if you’re trotting along on a slow connection, chances are your upload speed is going to dash any hopes and dreams you have for streaming in HD quality.  (Streaming, mind you, not recording.)

Additionally, running even a lightweight recording program will tax your system and may lower the game’s fps (frames per second).  If the fps drops too low, your recording will be laggy.

The Responsible Adult budget I live on allows for halfway decent RAM and a mid-grade CPU for our computers.  (A minor note here, I have not yet reached the point of feeling comfortable with overclocking, so do not address it, but I know it’s a possibility.)  My budget also allows us gaming quality internet with a nicely above adequate download speed.  However, our upload speed is dreadful.  So, after grabbing all our software and hardware, we began our journey to find the middle ground, looking for average quality, from average machines, and an average upload speed.

…Good thing we have winning personalities.

By way of example, here are my test videos, the random … Practice Pieces…as it were.

Original computer build:  AM3 CPU, onboard Graphics card, 4Gb RAM

Guild Wars 2 “maxed out” at a whopping 25 fps, dropping to 15 fps when OBS was turned on.  It was never pretty, but I could play.

Disco, because, seriously, that armor is so 70’s!

With my upgrade, a mid-range graphics card one step up from onboard and still not enough RAM, I was able to play at 50fps, game graphics on medium.  But, again, when OBS was on, the fps tanked.  I just don’t have enough brain power in my CPU.  OBS recommends an AM3+ CPU, which will require a motherboard upgrade on our computers.

Still, I was able to tweak graphics settings and test again.  With enough compromising, I managed to get medium textures, 25fps, and a decent recording.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted!  I’m not even going to try streaming yet, although I want to.  For our streaming partner, check out Wyrmtalon on Twitch. He’s just starting his speedrunning adventure, currently working on the classic Playstation 2 game Suikoden.

As for me, I’ll be happy making videos and watching others stream…Dreaming of the day when I can upgrade my motherboard.

~ Star

*Speedrunning – playing through a video game as quickly as possible without cheating — manipulating glitches, bugs, tricks, and path optimization instead.  If you haven’t seen a speed run, check out SpeedRunsLive.com and SpeedDemosArchive.com.  For an example of how these players use glitches to beat games, see Cosmo’s most recent record-setting Zelda game here.

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