How to create gaming video
With video games becoming a major part of the entertainment industry, the advent of video capture devices and screen recording software, and the existence of user-driven streaming services such as YouTube and Twitch, a new art form which combines all three has come about in recent years. Previously, the experience of playing a video game was a more or less solo experience; at most it could be shared with a few friends in the same room. Now you can record you experience and share it with people from all over the world, or live stream your game so people can watch with you as you play.
But if you actually want to be a creator in this new realm, there are several technical hurdles you must overcome, and a few new skills you must master which have little to do with your game playing skills. It's a lot more complicated than just pressing a "Record" button while you play. This guide is intended to help beginners over the hurdles and teach the skills needed to create and make public your own game experiences.
There are several different sub-genres, and knowing what to call them will help your viewers to find you.
- Live stream: This is where you play the game live for your audience. On most platforms which support live streaming, you can see viewers comments via text while you're playing, and respond if you want to. A possible disadvantage is that you can't edit the content.
- Let's Play: This is where you record yourself playing the game. In this case you can edit the content to remove pauses and uneventful sections. Otherwise it's very similar to just sharing your experience playing the game.
- Blind: A blind Let's Play is where you're recording yourself playing the game for the first time and with little or no previous knowledge of the story. In this way you're sharing your reactions to events and plot developments as they happen. Some types of games are better for blind Let's Plays than others.
- Walkthrough/guide: If you're already an expert at a game, and think others might benefit from what you've learned, you can create a walkthrough which guides new players through any problem areas. Or if you've discovered a new strategy you can share it with others.
- Review/First look: This is where you can discuss the merits or problems with a game. In this case, you're taking a few representative scenes from the game rather than the entire thing. A "First look" is generally shorter and only covers the early part of a game, and is used for recently published games. Either way, the idea is to help viewers decide if they want to purchase the game for themselves.
- Speedruns, glitch exploits, and other stunts: Here, you're just recording the fact that you can complete the game in a certain time, or completing the game under some unusual condition.
- Highlights: A short video showing one specific event in a game, typically a feat of player skill.
- Documentary or preservation: In instances where a game may be lost to time (Typically when a multiplayer service is shut down), a video recording can faithfully show how players interacted with a game while it was on the market.
- Other: The format is flexible so you can try your own innovations. You might create a video exploring the back-story and lore associated with the game's characters and world. Or a video which pokes fun at everything that happens in the game. The sub-genres are just labels, not boxes you have to fit your ideas into.
One decision you need to make is whether to include commentary. Commentary allows you to share your thoughts and feelings about what's happening in the game. But not all viewers appreciate commentary and prefer to just watch the gameplay. Commentary is necessary for walkthroughs and reviews, but it would probably be a distraction in a speedrun. If you do decide to do commentary, then you will need a microphone to record it. It's usually worthwhile to invest in a good microphone instead of relying on what may have come with your computer.
Commentary can either be live, in other word recorded as you play, or recorded after the fact. A Let's Play would usually either have live commentary or no commentary at all. On the other hand review or video about lore would general have audio recorded after editing.
What you will needEdit
- A game, preferably one you like playing
- Recording software or a recording device
For games you can play on a computer, you can run recording software while the game is playing to record what's happening. Be aware however, the resources available on a computer are limited, and if your game stretches the capacity of your computer then the additional load of recording the video may cause problems.
Since the mid 2010's many video game consoles have come with limited video capture capabilities built in. These built in features are often limited in video quality, as well as in recording duration. For consoles without this feature, or for greater control of video quality, an external recording device is needed. These come in a few varieties, and are typically either oriented to older style consoles (RF, Composite jacks), or newer consoles (HDMI ports).
In any case, knowing how to set up the software or device to get the best results is skill in itself.
- Microphone (for commentary)
If you're going to do commentary then you will need a microphone to record it. One with digital output such as USB is recommended since it will not pick up interference from your computer. Headphones for listening are a good idea as well since you don't want to game sound to echo in your microphone. A headset with headphone plus mike will usually perform both functions well.
It's best to keep your audio environment in mind as well. Find an area free of street and household noises if possible. Put your phone on vibrate and take common sense precautions to keep extraneous sounds from being recorded.
- Video editing software (except for live streams)
Unless you're doing a live stream you'll need to edit your video to make it more appealing to your viewers. Editing is another skill in itself, but fortunately you don't need to be an expert to put together a gaming video.
- Video player (optional)
You should be able to watch your video in the editor, but it won't hurt to have an alternate way of reviewing your final cut. It should be sophisticated enough do fast to step through a video frame by frame and to provide information about video quality.
- Camera setup (optional)
If you plan on including reaction style content in your videos, a webcam or other camera will let you capture a video feed of yourself as you play your game. This video feed can then be superimposed in the video using software.
Your camera feed can be enhanced or modified a number of ways. A green screen or other chroma key will allow you to more easily remove the background from this video feed using software, giving more space for gameplay footage, or to permit the use of a virtual background. Alternatively, if you would prefer to use a cartoon or 3D model for reactions, special avatar software can translate your movements captured on camera into a reaction on a virtual avatar.
- Image editor (except for live streams)
You might think that if you upload a video to YouTube that it will create a thumbnail image for it automatically. While YouTube does offer to create a thumbnail, it's just a single frame chosen more or less at random. It's almost always better to create your own thumbnail, one which will catch a viewer's eye and provide some information about the video itself. But images don't create themselves; you generally have to combine elements from the game and other sources, text, and perhaps special effects to create a good thumbnail image. You'll need a image editor to put all these things together and create an image. An image editor and the skill needed to use it may have other benefits as well.
- A streaming service creator account
A YouTube gaming channel channel is, at it's core, a YouTube channel. You'll need to master the mechanics of uploading videos or streaming live, and of publishing and organizing your videos. If you're really serious about catching views then there are all sorts of analytics you can study. There are also complex issues of monetization and age restrictions you should at least be familiar with at a basic level, even if you don't expect to receive any income from your channel.
Knowing the basics of video quality will help in deciding how to set up your recording software or device for best results. You might think making every video as high quality as possible would be the way to go, but there are trade-offs. Higher quality video takes longer to upload and process, and streaming services often tailor the quality of video sent to viewers to match their internet capabilities. Given the additional overhead, it doesn't make sense to increase the quality of the recording beyond a certain amount. Televisions and computer monitors are only capable of displaying a certain level of quality. While technology is rapidly improving, there is also a limit to how much information the human eye can perceive and how much information the human brain can process. Some games, especially older games and those which use pixel graphics, don't produce high quality video to start with, and recording at high quality won't add quality that's not in the source.
Frame rate/Frames per secondEdit
A "moving" picture is really just a sequence of still pictures shown at such a high speed that the human eye perceives motion. But what speed is necessary to "fool" the human eye? The rate at which the pictures are shown is called the frame rate, and measured in frames per second (FPS). At 5 frames per second, individual pictures are clearly visible and the illusion of motion is lost. But for decades feature films were made at 24 frames per second and most people were satisfied with the result. Hand drawn cartoons often run at lower frame rate in order to save on production cost; if someone has to draw each frame then reducing the frame rate reduces the workload.
For games with photorealistic graphics, a higher frame rate is usually expected, 30 frames per second is standard for computer video. For games with a lot of action and movement, some viewers may see an improvement at 60 frames per second, and some game consoles can create a frame rate of 120 FPS. Some games with hand drawn animation use, in effect, two frame rates. A lower frame rate (as low as 12 FPS) is used to save on drawing, but for background motion, where nothing changes but the position of the object, a higher frame rate is used. For text-based and point-and-click games where there is little of no motion, a lower frame rate can be used. A point-and-click game goes at one frame per click, not multiple frames per second.
There is little point in recording more frames per second than the game actually displays, and it may take some research and experimentation to determine the best frame rate for an individual game.
Just as a moving picture is really just sequence of still pictures, an image shown on a computer screen is really just array of small dots. So, again, the question arises of how small do the dots have to be before they are no longer recognizable as individual dots and are perceived as a continuously shaded picture. The individual dots are known as pixels and a typical computer screen may show them in a 1920 by 1080 array, and these dimensions define the resolution of the image. In other words the image is composed of a rectangle, 1920 pixels wide and 1080 high. The ratio of these numbers, in this case 1920:1080 = 16:9 or 1.777..., is called the aspect ratio. The 16:9 aspect ratio is the current standard for digital television and video, but the older 5:4 aspect ratio is still seen. At a resolution of 480 by 270, the image will appear noticeably blocky, but some games use this resolution as a deliberate design choice; older video games used low resolution because of limitations on technology, and some games imitate that look, called pixel graphics, to give the game a retro feel. Some gaming consoles can produce higher resolutions, for example 4k or approximately 4000 pixels high.
Another aspect of image quality is color depth, but it's not really necessary to consider that here.
Video compression is the method used to amount of information used by a video. At the standard 30 frames per second and 1920 by 1080 resolution (and assuming 3 bytes per pixel color depth), it would take 625 gigabytes to store an hour of video. With compression, it's possible to store the same hour of video in less than 1% of the space with little noticeable loss in quality. It is video compression that makes streaming even possible; no one would stream an hour television show if it took a week to download, and communications infrastructure would quickly become overloaded if many people tried. Video compression uses complex algorithms and sophisticated mathematics to perform its magic, but there is one aspect you should be familiar with if you plan on creating and editing videos:
- Key Frames
The difference between two consecutive frames of video is usually very small. This can be used to compress video much more than would otherwise be possible. A typical compression scheme breaks up a video into chunks of a few seconds long, fully records the first frame of each chunk, and only records the differences for the remaining frames. The first frame of each chunk is called a key frame.
When editing a video, it's much easier to cut only on the key frame boundaries of the chunks. It's relatively easy to move the chunks around since they are independent, but making changes on a random frame will require that the video be recompressed to allow for the fact that the start of a chunk is no longer there. So it's very preferable to work with whole chunks when editing a video if possible. The alternative is to recompress the video after editing, a lengthy and processor intensive process. More sophisticated editing, such as overlaying text or special effects, will also require a recompression step. If you only plan on doing basic editing, such as trimming the beginning or the end, or that section where you put the game on pause for a few minutes, you need to plan ahead and make the chunks fairly small, around 1 second, to give you some flexibility on where make your cuts. You can do with by setting the key frame interval in your recording software.
Key frames are important for streaming as well. If a viewer is joining your stream, they won't be able to see your video until the next key frame. For this reason, streaming platforms usually insist that your key frame interval be set to at most 2 seconds.
Steps to create a Let's PlayEdit
Now let's talk about what goes into to creating a Let's Play, or any recorded game play video. Streaming is somewhat different and will be covered elsewhere.
- Decide on a game and what type of video it will be. If you're doing a Let's Play then it should be a game you think you would like. The idea is that you're sharing the fun of playing with viewers, so if you're playing a game you don't like then no one will enjoy it. If you're doing a first look or a review, then at least pick a game that you might like. For a tutorial, find an issue in a game that other players seem to having trouble with, or which you had trouble with and managed to figure out.
- Decide on an editing style. This is needed because simple editing requires much less effort and processing power than more complex editing, see the discussion on Key Frames above. A simple editing style requires only a few seconds to process the final edit, but more complex editing make take an hour of intense computation to process an edit. Related to this, try to decide on the overall format of the video. Will it be a single video or a series of videos? Will each video cover a single session of gameplay, or will you be gathering clips from multiple sessions, or will you be splitting a single session into multiple videos? How long will your video(s) be?
- Set up your recording software or device to record the game. Video quality settings should be appropriate for the game, but may be limited by the hardware you're using. If possible, save settings customized for each game. It's a good idea to record your settings somewhere such as a spreadsheet. For information on individual recording software and devices, see the following:
- Recording game video using OBS
- (Other recording software and devices to be added.)
- Run one or more technical tests before starting. This should cover the entire process from recording to editing, to make sure everything runs smoothly and that you get a satisfactory result. It may mean playing the first five minutes of a game multiple times, but the alternative is that you may discover after the fact that your game recording is unusable. Remember to check audio quality and balance as well; can you hear both yourself and the game clearly in the video? This is the time to adjust game volume and your mike's volume.
- Start the game.
For each videoEdit
- Turn on your recording software or device, check that you have the correct settings for the game you're playing, and make sure it's recording. The most common, basic, and fatal mistake you can make is to forgot to press the Record button. This not only results in lost effort, but if you're doing a blind Let's Play or a first look video it means you've lost the chance to record your first reaction to what happens in the game. It's much better to prevent this by turning the recording on early and record a minute or two of blank screen which you can edit out.
- Switch your audio to headphones if necessary. Check audio levels to make sure audio (from both the game and yourself) is being picked up.
- Depending on how good your memory is, how long since your last episode, and how much of a summary of where you are you like to give, you may want to refresh your memory about where you were and what was going on in your last episode. If it's a difficult game and you've gotten rusty after a long hiatus, then by all means practice your skills before starting again.
- Double check your recording is on and video and audio are both working, then start playing. If you're doing live commentary then it's customary to introduce yourself at the start of each video, though not everyone does this. Perhaps the must unnatural, not to mention distracting aspect of live commentary is that you're keeping up a running conversation with an imaginary person as you play. You may want to do no commentary or record commentary afterward depending of the type of video and your personal preference. If you're recording commentary afterwards then you may want to use a script, in which case writing a script will have to be part of your process.
- When you're done with a session, wrap up the commentary (if any) and shut everything down.
- Your video file will probably have a meaningless name, so rename it to include the name of the game and other relevant information, for example HappyFarmingSimEp5.mkv.
- Now it's time to edit your video. At the least you should trim the beginning and end of the video, and cut out pauses and other "dead" sections. For example if you just walking or going through a merchant's inventory for a long period of time then you might want to cut most of those sections. Of course how aggressive you are with this kind of thing is up to you. You may be gathering clips from different recordings for certain projects, in which case editing will be more difficult and time consuming. Remember that the video will have to be reprocessed for some edits, including specials effect such as dissolved and wipes, and adding on-screen text. When you're done editing, avoid writing over you're original recording; video files are large and you'll probably want to delete raw footage eventually, but save them for a while in case something goes wrong in the editing process. As long as you have the video open in an editor, you may want to save a few frames to use in thumbnail images. For information on individual video editing tools, see the following:
- Editing game video using Avidemux
- (Other video editing software to be added.)
- Create a thumbnail image for the video. This can contain various elements such as text, an image from the game, a channel logo, or a picture or drawing of yourself. For information on individual editing tools, see the following:
- Upload the finished video. Depending on the video platform you will probably need a video title and a detailed video description. For information on individual video platforms, see the following:
- Uploading a game video to YouTube
- (Other video platforms to be added.)
- Review the video to make sure everything went as expected.
Depending on how much effort you want to put into it, you can probably expect to spend twice as much time on other activities as you spend actually playing the game. For more complex projects that ratio will go up.
Steps to stream a game videoEdit
(To be filled in.)
- Open Broadcaster Software - A general guide to a popular screen capture software. (Now known as OBS Studio)