Let's Plays: Week One

If you don’t want to read a long blog post filled with technical details you can move to the TLDR section down below.

As some of you know, but most of you probably don’t, I recently started a BrawnBeard a Youtube channel. It focuses on “Blind Let’s Play’s” of video games. The “Let’s Plays” means that I am commentating a video game, and the “Blind” part means that I am playing them for the first time. Getting started was something that I should have done a long time ago. I just never realized that people other than my wife would enjoy my crazy commentary, but I realize now that my assumption was naïve.

Gearing up

A Full list of the Gear that I choose can be found in the TLDR/Hardware section below. This includes many of the specifications not listed in detail in this blog post.

My “Let’s Plays” started out with a slew of research, as most of my projects do. I always want to find the very best gear for the money, or the best way to do something. Usually my research opens my mind to other possibilities and I follow all of them to their conclusions until I have a more complete picture of the problem. I have also been called “Frugal” more than once in my life, and this project would be no exception.

First we will start with the gear that I already deemed suitable for use. I already had a Playstation Eye which was gifted to me some time ago for the PS3. As you can imagine I never did anything with it until now. The Playstation Eye was basically worthless and still would be today. For my project I felt that it would be suitable to use as it offered decent quality for no money. Hell, even if I was to buy it new on Amazon it would only cost about five dollars. The only snag with the PlayStation Eye was that it was not natively supported on any version of Windows. Luckily a company called Code Labratories created drivers for just such an occasion, and the price tag of 2.99 can’t be beat.

So now I had a working Webcam so that I could paste my face all over the video that I would soon be shooting. The next piece of gear that every “Let’s Player” needs is a gaming computer. Being a long time gaming enthusiast I have one of those. The snag here was that the hardware was four years old with nearly zero upgrades along the way. The only way to know for sure whether what I wanted to do would work was to test it. So I fired up SOMA and OBS to try doing a mock Let’s Play. At the time my webcam with “muxed” directly in with the game video. See the (##Lessons) section for why this is a bad idea. For bad or for good I determined that my computer could record the gameplay of SOMA in 1080p at 30 fps using the x264 encoder. I was stunned and couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t need to upgrade a thing to have things go the way that I wanted.

One funny annecdote here is that I actually eneded up having 8GB of the 16GB of ram die on me, while doing this test. It seems like a conincidence and it probably would have died at any other time, but I found it rather weird none the less. Having less ram didn’t really effect anything and it was under a lifetime warrenty so I should have it all back in my computer at some point anyway.

The next thing I narrowed down while testing with my Playstation Eye was lighting. I had a feeling that this was going to be a problem, but my fears were misplaced. We just recently moved (read downsized) to a new apartment and we had all sorts of lighting fixtures just hanging about from the bigger space that we used to live in. I took two of the cheap IKEA lamps that we had lying around in the garage and repurposed them for lighting my beard-less face. Hopefully soon I will have a beard to go with my channel name, but more on that later.

After that I knew that I would need to silence the clickty-clack of my computer as I played games so that my typing would not show up on the audio. Sure I could probably just learn how to not bottom the keys out but I think that an O-Ring solution would work just as well. The only problem here was that I needed to have O-Rings that would not block the light from my MK TKL Disco with Brown switches. We all know gamers love things that change colors, I am no exception there.

The thing that took me the longest to find was a microphone. There was a plethora of information on the internet about which microphone was best and why. Some people would yell “BLUE YETI” others would yell “AT2020” and still others would yell really expensive microphones. Most of the time people recommended USB versions of these microphones. It took some digging but I realized that USB was a bad way to go. For one thing XLR microphones allow pretty much any part in the system to be swapped out for something else. The second reason was that the cost was basically the same. After looking through various sound tests on Youtube I decided that the AT2020 XLR Microphone was the microphone for me.

I already had the Audio Technica M50x that I got for christmas that would pretty much work for any audio that I would need to hear in games, and after watching a few “Let’s Players” I realized that everyone wears headphones. So this is what I would do as well.

With the decision to buy an XLR microphone came the decision to go with an audio interface or USB mixer. I searched for a long time and two names kept appearing Behringer and Focusrite(mostly for their Scarlet brand). Since I was on a budget I chose to get the Behringer Xenyx Q502 USB mixer. I would later find out that this gear choice was a mistake as well, but again more on that later.

With the two major decisions out-of-the-way I scoured amazon for a good deal on something to hold the mic from any angle so that I could have some flexibility with face-cam placement. First I needed some XLR cable and then I decided on the Neewer Mic Stand. Of the two I regret getting the mic stand as it picks up some slight keyboard vibrations if I am not careful with how hard I press the keys.

To round the setup off I realized that I should get a pop filter as well. The logic and cheap choise was a Dragon Pop filter. I regretted going with this almost instantly. It is super unflexible and would not wish that anyone use it.

All in all it was a rather cheap start to something that I really wanted to try and hoped that I would like. With all of my gear picked out and coming soon I moved over to the software department.

Working with Software

Luckily for me my wife works as a graphic designer so she already had all the Adobe Creative Cloud downloaded and installed on her computer. We would use this for editing thumbnails, audio, and video. It would make it a little awkward to transfer between on computers, but living in Boston had its perks and our internet was fast. In order to ease transfer between our computers and to archive the footage we decided to use Dropbox.

Now that I had a storage solution I had my wife work on some branding with me. We decided that it would be funny to have my making a crazy face on a volcano to start, so that is what we ended up going with. For the crazy face we decided to go with a picture from a photo that was taken of me on christmas years before.

christmas-2013

This is the end product!

brawnbeard-banner

With the branding out-of-the-way I needed to set a schedule. I saw that popular “Let’s Players” usually release onc or more video per day. Doing more than one video per day was out of the question for me, with a full-time job I was barely going to be able to record and edit one video a day. My pride had other ideas though. I settled to do the “bare minimum” of one video per day, which was still a lofty goal. I think that I really won myself over when I thought about having 365 videos in one years time. A schedule like this also gives me a lot of episodes, which means I will actually be able to finish games.

From there I needed to pick out some games to play. I knew that I wanted to play some new games but I didn’t want games that I might not enjoy. After some debate I went with SOMA, Hyper Light Drifter, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, slither.io, Ori and the Blind Forest, Undertale, and a fun indie game I found called Gravitas.

Originally I was recording games and editing them everyday, but I think that was unmanageable, as I really needed time to relax having a full-time job and all that. So from now on I think I am going to record in bulk on the weekends and try to edit on the weekdays in bulk when I get the time.

Furthermore I wrote down a script for the start and end of my videos so that I would not compeletly blank out every time I ended a video. Even with the script to help I still messed up a few endings, but after the first one I realized that I should just record more than one ending every time. I also decided that I needed to put a ~5 second buffer between one ending and the next ending, which would allow me to easily cut like scenes in a movie. My first few videos ended awkwardly with me going down to hit the button milliseconds after saying goodbye, which made it really hard to cut them.

As I started to do my first SOMA let’s play I realized that I didn’t have a timer on, luckily I had my wife with me and she tapped me when the time was up. Before I started another Let’s Play I looked for a timer and eventually settled on WatchMe. I really don’t like it but it fits what I need.

After recording all of my episodes I needed to clean up the audio a bit. This is when I noticed that I needed to record everything in separate files and combine it all in post. Its also when I realized that editing my skin in post was impossible. The most powerful editor for my skin was something best done in real life. What I am talking about is makeup. Yes I use makeup during my videos so that I don’t have to try to edit out shiny skin or zits or anything like that. It was also when I realized that my Mixer was making a mechanical noise every few minutes in my videos and I had to edit them all out manually. The last thing that I learned after my first week is that I need to normalize the volume of my videos so that they sound as loud all the way through.

The next biggest challenge after recording was deciding what to put in the description, what to title the videos, and what to tags the videos. I found a helpful tool called TubeBuddy early on that really helped me get started with tags. The description depended upon the game. Most game publishers ask that a link back to the game be posted in the description after doing some more research I decided that it would be best to always include the links in the description. I went event further and included social media links as well as a subscription link in the description. Outside of that I added information about the game, why people should watch the Let’s Play and a short summary of the contents of the Let’s Play. The last thing that I added to the description is a link to other videos of mine including the playlist that the current video exists in.

Deciding on a title was a different matter. Usually I go through my video and find a funny quote and use that in all caps. As of this post I have changed titles a few times and I am not sure what works best. I think that I will have to do a lot of experimentation here to find the right combination.

After I finished all that I needed to add an end screen with annotations. Tube Buddy to the rescue again. It allows you to add annotations through annotation that were used on previous videos. I would only have to create annotations once! AWESOME! The first few edits that I did, my end screen and the videos on it did not line up with the annotations. Eventually I realized that I needed to copy down the exact values from the end screen in adobe premiere and use those every time. The end screen was pretty simple to mock-up and with my wife’s help I thought that it looked damn good. I also got some music from YouTube’s free music collection so that I would not have to attribute anything else in the description.

Now that the recording, editing, and metadata where out-of-the-way I needed a good time to schedule my videos. I eventually went with 2:00 p.m. EST on Mon-Wed, 12:00 p.m. on Thu-Fri, and 9:00 a.m. on Sat/Sunday. This is due to a post that I found here. I am not sure whether this helped but I have kept to the schedule anyway. Along with the schedule I learned that I need to double-check everything that I do as one of my videos ended up going out at 2:00 a.m. EST and not 2:00 p.m.

After scheduling the video I wanted to push pre-prepared posts to social media, as I would be at work and unable to do it manually. Buffer served that purpose well. I did mess it up a few time and learned that I really need to double-check everything even the social media posts the night before.

TLDR

Software

Hardware

Lessons

  • Always record everything separately
    • webcam in one file game in another using OBS with -multi to record webcam in a separate instance of OBS
    • game audio separate from microphone audio
  • AAC audio quality does not need to be 320kbps, 128-160kbps will work just fine
  • Use OBS scenes and profiles
  • Hype yourself up beforehand by running around, doing jumping jacks, or some other activity
  • Only play games you enjoy
  • Double-check your schedules
  • Keep a schedule and try new things every so often
  • use the built-in noise gate for OBS but make sure your voice isn’t cut off
  • ALWAYS test audio and video before actually recording
  • start a time when you start recording so that you know how long your video is going
  • record multiple opening and ended with time between them, and pick the best one one editing
  • Best times to post to Youtube
  • get a floor standing microphone holder with a boom arm