Video Essay - Making Game Videos
I’ve been uploading game videos to my YouTube channel for about eight years now, and as my first foray into video essays, I decided to make a video about how I do it.
This is the original script for that 8-minute video, for the folks who would rather read text. It’s a little longer and includes some deleted sections. I deleted parts mainly because I couldn’t find an interesting video clip to go with them, but one time because Davinci Resolve bugged out and kept rendering an annoying audio click in one spot for no apparent reason and I gave up after a week of trying to work around it (hilariously, it was right after I said “nothing annoys me more than audio problems”).
There are basically three steps to recording game videos. First I setup how I’m going to record the game. Then I play the game. Then I process and upload the videos. Those first and last parts are the most time-consuming.
I use two PCs to record now. Since my last gaming PC upgrade in 2021, I converted my old gaming PC into a recording PC.
I used to do home recording in the 90s, so I’m obsessed with sound quality. The audio part of a video is the most important part to me.
I use XLR microphones and a small mixer, which feeds the audio interface into my recording PC. Technically I could simplify things and plug the microphones directly into the audio interface but the mixer gives me more flexibility.
In the past I’ve had great results with an old Rode condenser microphone, but right now I’m using an Audio Technica dynamic headset. I record in a very “live” room and it’s very easy to pick up excess noise and echo from the wooden walls and floor. It’s worth sacrificing some microphone quality to reduce room noise. Room noise is the main thing that gives you a headache when you listen to other people’s videos.
I used to use a Shure headset, which was even better at reducing noise, but I found the hypercardoid mic sounded a little harsh, and more importantly it was uncomfortable to wear. But if you need to record next to a vacuum cleaner, I’d recommend it.
I prefer dynamic over condenser microphones because condenser mics are really good at picking up “mouth sounds” if you’re not careful. A condenser mic will pickup the sound of your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth which results in tiny little moist “clicking” sounds, especially if you’re quiet and use a lot of compression like I do. I don’t want to think about that when I’m playing a game.
I use a cheap Behringer compressor as a mixer insert on the headset. I set the compression at about 4:1. It also has a noise gate and a built-in de-esser which I have cranked because the mic is so close to my mouth.
OBS can technically do all of the microphone processing (and my mixer even has a built-in compression knob) but I prefer the outboard compressor, and I’ve just gotten used to it.
I found out very early on that I have to do a lot of compression on my voice because I mumble quietly while playing but then I’ll suddenly yell at something out of nowhere, and I need to smooth out those levels.
I use a Mackie USB mixer because it has essentially two outputs, one analog and one USB. The analog output goes to the audio interface in my recording PC, which goes into OBS. But the USB output goes back to my gaming PC, so I can add voiceovers in post-processing if I need to. Editing on the gaming PC is much faster than it is on the recording PC.
(Incidentally, I recorded most of the voiceover for this video with an Audio-Technica AT2035, a new condenser microphone I’m trying out. I had some suspicions that my old Rode microphone was dying.)
I use an AverMedia PCI capture card in the recording PC. I used to use an Elgato capture card, but I kept having random audio dropouts so I replaced it. Nothing annoys me more than audio problems.
To get the video from my gaming PC to my recording PC, I mirror my gaming PC display to the capture card’s HDMI input at 1440p resolution.
I don’t usually use much in the way of camera equipment for game videos.
I experiment with recording a webcam from time to time, but I very rarely publish it. I find that “face cams” are useless unless you’re good-looking and/or you’re doing something interesting with your face, and 95% of the time I’m just staring blankly at the game screen. It just draws the viewer’s eye away from the game for no good reason.
Still, I recently got a Logitech BRIO webcam, and before that I used a Logitech C920 webcam. Sometimes I try recording both at once.
I also got a Sony ZV-1 camera which can be used as a very high quality face cam for recording, but it’s a pain to stream video from it, and I think it uses some weird beauty filters that I can’t figure out how to turn off. It’s better for other kinds of video. (Like some of what you’re seeing in this video.)]
I got some cheap LED lights that I can turn on when I’m recording at night. Quality video is mainly about lighting, which isn’t a subject I care much about, so I do the bare minimum I can get away with.
Another reason I avoid camera video is that I have to clean the house. Yuck.
Not to mention it’s a lot easier to edit the audio tracks if you don’t have to synchronize them with any camera video.
Like the rest of the world, I use OBS to record the videos. I have it setup to record multiple audio tracks: One for the game, one for the headset, and one for a backup microphone track in case I accidentally leave the main microphone muted.
The backup microphone is just a Blue Snowball USB mic, and it sounds awful whenever I have to use it, but it’s better than silence, and way better than having to re-record a video or a voiceover.
Unfortunately there’s not much you can do as a backup if you lose the game audio though. Good luck fixing that.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with recording multiple video streams as well as multiple audio streams. That’s more of a pain to deal with, though.
For video encoding I use the Nvidia constant bitrate encoder at 10 to 15 megabits, depending on the size and complexity of the source. I usually set keyframes to 1 second intervals to give me more flexibility in editing.
For audio encoding, I record at 48khz and encode anywhere from 192 to 256 kilobytes.
I try to keep my raw recordings to 45 minutes or less, but sometimes they go up to an hour. They average about 4 to 6 Gigabytes each.
After all that setup, I finally get to play a game.
I can only play for an hour or less before I need a break from the screen. I have back, neck, and shoulder problems so I can’t sit for long periods of time anyway. I could never be one of those streamers that plays for 8 hours a day or for 24 hour marathons.
On weeknights I can only record one or maybe two videos, but on weekends I might record four or five or more videos, depending on how much I like the game.
I have to have a mute switch available at all times to cut the microphone whenever I cough or sneeze or something. I’m plagued by mucus and phlegm so I’m constantly having to clear my throat or cough, especially if I record in the mornings.
So last year I splurged on a fancy schmancy Elgato Stream Deck and an Elgato Footpedal to use during recording. Before that, I just used a cheap wireless numeric keypad, which works just as well.
Otherwise I just play the games and say whatever comes to mind. There’s a mysterious skill and a kind of performance art to talking out loud while you’re playing a game, which is something I’ve been working on for seven years now. It activates a part of the brain that otherwise goes unused, and it doesn’t come naturally. But I’m used to talking to myself in my head all day, and I’ve found that it’s largely a matter of disabling the social filter that keeps me from doing that in public.
As for what to say, I just try to convey what I’m thinking about the game at any given time. I talk about what I would be interested in hearing if I were watching someone else: The thought process that goes into game decisions, the things about the environment or the story that stand out as unusual or interesting. And dumb jokes, of course.
The most influential YouTube Let’s Play series that got me started was a Dark Souls series by a guy named Masterkizz, which I first saw around 2015. It’s the one that made me think “okay, this is what this art form is supposed to look like.” His is rough at the start but I’ve mostly been trying to copy his basic template ever since.
He has a way more exuberant personality than I do, but there’s an authenticity to it that I like. You get the sense that if he wasn’t recording and you were sitting next to him in the same room watching him play, it would look exactly the same as the YouTube uploads. You can tell he just likes to play games. There’s a lack of a performative veneer, and that’s what I try for too, even though it is a performance to some extent.
I like to think of a game video series (I hate calling them Let’s Play videos) as more of a documentary, something that tells a narrative story of how I experienced the game. I want to go through a character arc of my own, as a player, from the beginning of the game to the end–separate and distinct from whatever the game’s story is–as I discover new things and learn the ins and outs of the game along the way. It’s an elusive goal.
Once the game session is over, finally there’s the post-processing, which can be quick or very time-consuming.
This is probably the part that I’ve spent the most time trying to streamline over the years. I’m constantly tweaking the workflow and trying to automate things to make it easier on me, and I change something on almost every game series I record.
I lean heavily on ffmpeg command line scripts. I’m a programmer in real life so that stuff is fairly easy for me. If you don’t know, ffmpeg is a command line tool to read and write video files, and it’s packed with processing tools.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t do any manual editing on my recordings. Usually, I just run a script that mixes the game and microphone audio tracks together the way I like and spits out a final MP4 file. Usually one high quality version for uploading to YouTube and one lower-quality version to archive onto an external USB hard drive somewhere. The script works about 75% of the time.
But sometimes I need to cut out boring parts of a recording. The first thing I’ll try is a program called Avidemux. If you can manage to make the cuts on keyframe boundaries, it doesn’t require re-rendering the video, which saves tons of time and preserves the original quality.
Avidemux is also a very good tool to scrub through a video very quickly to remember what’s in it, or find a place to grab a video frame for a blog post.
Sometimes I need to edit only the audio tracks. Usually to fix a section of the commentary where I accidentally muted the main microphone, and I have to copy over a section of the backup microphone track.
In those cases I’ll use Audacity for simple edits or REAPER for more complicated edits.
But sometimes I need to use a full-blown video editor. When I go into a video editor, it’s usually for complicated montages like condensing five hours of boss fighting down into a half hour video, or perhaps adding titles, and it’s very time-consuming. It could take five times as long to edit those videos as it does to record them, so I try to avoid it.
I used Movie Studio Platinum for many years but lately I’m starting to use Davinci Resolve as my video editor of choice. It’s quirky and has a bit of a learning curve, but I’m finally warming up to it. (I used this video as a practice project for Davinci Resolve.) (Just beware that it crashes A LOT, but thankfully it has a good crash recovery system.)
And that’s it. Just a few simple steps and eight years worth of mistakes, and that’s how I make videos. That’s the secret to it, really. Just keep making new videos and try to learn from the mistakes you made in the old ones. Good luck!
- Most of the game footage is from playing the Resident Evil 0 HD Remake on January 31st, 2023, which I haven’t uploaded yet but probably will in a couple of months.
- The Avidemux footage is from Nier: Automata played in 2022, which I also haven’t uploaded and probably never will because I doubt I’ll ever finish that game.
- Dark Souls II - Part 59 - Velstadt (2015) https://youtu.be/c79tOHIsjXw
- Cataclysm DDA Short Stories - Sharleen and the Pickup Truck (2022) https://youtu.be/8D9DgH0D8qk
- Elden Ring Pt 245 - Melania the Sword of Miquella (2022) https://youtu.be/bzwYl5ZBoBs
- The intro sting is a track I came up with in 2017 for my Guild Wars videos, but I don’t remember if I’ve ever used this version of it before now.
- The main background music is a track I made with Renoise for my Dwarf Fortress videos in 2019, but I never uploaded any of those videos.
- The outro music is from my Cut The Chain music video in 2021 https://youtu.be/q3FN52rYaMY which has samples from the commentary of my Resident Evil 3 PS4 demo video https://youtu.be/DPlSXw8JSTE, both of which still makes me laugh.
- Audio Technica BPHS1 https://www.audio-technica.com/en-us/bphs1 (great bang for the buck) (it turns out almost none of the audio in this video was recorded with one, but almost 100% of my game recordings since 2022 are)
- Shure BRH50M https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/microphones/brh50m-lc?variant=BRH50M (very expensive, not recommended unless you’re rich or have a very specific need to record next to a vacuum cleaner) (games recorded in 2021 used this)
- Audio Technica AT2035 https://www.audio-technica.com/en-us/at2035 (a new condenser microphone I’m trying, most of the voiceover in this video was recorded with this)
- Blue Snowball https://www.bluemic.com/en-us/products/snowball/ (way bigger than you’d think)
- Rode NT1 https://rode.com/en/microphones/studio-condenser/nt1 (I love this mic but they don’t make the one I have anymore, mine looks more like the current Rode NT1-A)
- Mackie ProFX10v3 https://mackie.com/en/products/mixers/profxv3-series/ProFX10v3.html (I’ve always liked Mackie mixers but they aren’t as good as they used to be)
- Behringer MDX2600 Composer Pro XL https://www.behringer.com/product.html?modelCode=P0CCX (good enough, not sure they still make this model)
- Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 https://focusrite.com/en/usb-audio-interface/scarlett/scarlett-18i8 (more for recording music, a bit overkill just for games, and I’d rather have a MOTU because I used to have several MOTU audio interfaces that worked very well in the 90s)
- AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K https://www.avermedia.com/us/product-detail/GC573 (working well so far but I don’t actually record in 4K)
- Elgato HD60 Pro (don’t think they make this one anymore, thank god)
- Sony ZV-1 camera https://www.sony.com/en-ci/compact-cameras/products/zv-1 (used for B-roll of equipment shots, but any phone camera would have also worked)
- Logitech BRIO webcam https://www.logitech.com/en-us/products/webcams/brio-4k-hdr-webcam.960-001105.html (I don’t record in 4K though)
- Logitech C920 webcam https://www.logitech.com/en-gb/products/webcams/c920-pro-hd-webcam.960-001055.html
- Elgato Stream Deck v2 https://www.elgato.com/en/stream-deck-mk2 (too expensive for what it does, but it looks neat I guess), Elgato Stream Deck Pedal https://www.elgato.com/en/stream-deck-pedal (also kind of pricey for what it does, but it works and it’s hard to find alternatives)
- Cheap Wireless Numeric Keypad https://www.newegg.com/p/0GA-00D9-000V5?Item=9SIA72533B2377 (there’s a million of these out there)
- None of those companies pay me.
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