Tips for Making a Lets Play

Tips for Making a Lets Play

Commentary is a very stylized medium and this essay is going to focus on a particular type of commentary, the video game walkthrough, or the Lets Play.

Production

When producing a Lets Play you must be conscious of your recording equipment. You may be incredibly funny and informative, but if there's a glare on the screen and constant pops in the audio recording people will be focusing on that instead.

I've noticed that quite a few people record footage from a camcorder. I must admit, I think that doing so should be completely avoided unless absolutely necessary, but I realize that sometimes it can't be helped.

Some tips for recording on a camcorder...

Know how lighting effects the video quality, set up lamps and adjust shutters so that the screen is lit up as equally as possible. Avoid lighting that will produce a glare on the screen.
Audio quality on most camcorders is of very low. It would be best to avoid recording commentary audio until your at your computer, where you can use that microphone instead.
Avoid background noise. Don't record in areas of high foot traffic. We don't care to hear what your dog has to say about the game.

The better option is to buy av cables and hook them up to the audio and video output and input ports of your camcorder and television screen. This will greatly increase the video and audio quality and avoid any background noise. With this method, however, you can't record the commentary until later.

Recording from your computer also provides its share of pitfalls, but they generally lie in the details. These can be harder for a novice to realize, but nonetheless can still be very distracting if present.

In regards to your screen capture program...

If you are using a program that allows you to adjust the size of your recording space, avoid recording the game window's border. This applies to emulators too.
Be sure that the recording program can record enough frames per second without bogging down your computer. If your game slows down noticeably during the recording people will notice. (A potential remedy for this is to speed up the footage in editing).
Make sure to remove any benchmarks from appearing on the footage. We don't care about how many frames per second you're recording and if we do it means something is wrong.
Make sure that your cursor does not appear in the recording. Most recording programs allow you to toggle whether or not it appears.

In regards to audio recording...

Few things are more annoying than pops and feedback. Adjust the placement of the microphone so that you can avoid both of these.
When recording game audio and commentary simultaneously, be sure to adjust the volume so that your voice is loud enough to not be droned out by the in-game audio.
Update your audio drivers so that the audio quality is as high as it can possibly be. This is important for both in game audio and commentary.

Final Notes
A good program for recording game footage is Fraps, which can be found here. http://www.fraps.com/buy.php
A good program to use for recording and editing audio is Audacity, which can be found here.
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Sound levels can be adjusted by clicking the speaker icon at the bottom right of the Windows screen and going to the volume control window.
A lot of problems can be solved in editing, it's a good idea to watch all of your recorded footage before posting.
Commentary

The content of a person's commentary is solely up to the author. This is where the appeal lies, the commentator can choose whatever style of commentary he wishes: informative, comedic, or a mixture of the two. However there are a few things that should generally be avoided...

Avoid filler. Anecdotes can be both funny and informative, but try to avoid rambling about how your day was or some particular commenter that pissed you off if it doesn't apply to the game.
Try to avoid constant screaming and yelling. No matter how funny it might initially be, nonstop yelling will eventually strain our patience as much as it strains your vocal chords.
Randomness can be funny, but random does not, by itself, equal humor, remember that.
Avoid a commentary style that makes your natural voice come off as grating or abrasive. (If you have a high pitched, nasal, and sharp voice perhaps a dramatic delivery with constant yelling might not be the best style for you).
Avoid voice acting text boxes. This can be taken with a grain of salt, but unless you're a good actor I'd save it for a joke at the character's expense or something similar.
Don't record if you can barely stay awake. Tiredness and exhaustion will come across in your voice. This doesn't apply to sounding tired or exhausted as a stylistic choice.

Now I will go through a few general styles and their characteristics...

Informative
Focuses on aspects of the game that might not be obvious: secrets, strategies, bugs, and glitches.
Includes information about the game's development and release.
Makes comments about how the game, or certain events were received and how you agree or disagree with a particular opinion or the general consensus.
Includes information about how certain events in the game are similar to events in other games. (Tropes)

Overly Dramatic
Manages a fine line between comically hammy and horrifically annoying by overreacting to certain events in the game.
Puts an emphasis on a certain personality traits (short-tempered, cowardly, snarky, etc.), to create a persona that's in many ways similar to a cartoon character or professional wrestler.
Can focus on glaring flaws, bad A.I, horrible voice acting, glitches, etc.
Has a sharp volume dynamic, shifting from loud to soft and from clear to whisper/growl.

Deadpan
Focuses on sharp, dry wit instead of comedic overreacting
Comments on mellow-drama, hammy/bad voice acting, idiotic game play aspects
Makes witty jokes toward the fan base, other characters, or other individuals surrounding the game.
Generally makes heavy use of sarcasm.

Of course these archetypes are simply some of the several available and you can mix and match different characteristics for different situations or to create a wholly unique persona.

Final Notes
Generally speaking, developing a persona that's close to your own personality is the best option as it will be the most natural for you. You might not need to develop a persona at all, but you will probably have to exaggerate your personality somewhat.

Scripting or Improvisation?
This is the place where innate talent seems to be the most relevant. Choosing whether to use scripting or improvisation depends on a few factors...

Are you the type to makes jokes without thinking or is your humor very methodical?
In general, are you spontaneous or plan oriented?
Do you stumble over your words or can you speak with clear diction most of the time?
Are you the type who frequently runs out of things to say or can you recall information relevant to a conversation without missing a beat?
Do you prefer continuity over control or visa-versa?

Both scripting and improvisation have their advantages..

Improvisation
More reliant on reacting to the content at hand than methodical comments
Allows for train of thought commentary, which may produce a funny off-hand comment
It's easier to sound natural due to the fact that you're in the moment

Scripting
Allows for running gags, motifs, and themes better than improvisation
Since recording footage and recording commentary happens separately it allows the commentator to do multiple takes of a joke.
Easier to edit because footage and commentary is separate.

Final Notes
While it's uncommon, some commentators choose a combination of scripting and improvisation. They might outline a general theme for their jokes, make note of how to react to a certain event, or dub over jokes and lines that were done improperly or weren't funny.

Final Statements
I sincerely hope that this helps all aspiring commentators to make the most informative and funny videos that they can. Lets Plays have something of a stigma as generally being easy, poor quality, and unfunny. I hope that overtime, that changes. The only way that will change though is if the bar is raised and the status-quo is excellence.

If anyone would like for me to comment on their Lets Play, or talk to them further about Lets Plays, feel free to send me an PM on my Youtube account (http://www.youtube.com/deathcomesx). I will always be more than happy to give my advice. Of course, if you want to simply comment on this essay you can send me a PM too, I would love to know what you thought.

Special Thanks to:
Copper Chocobo

Very informative, you cover good points. I use Fraps myself, but it can be a bit limiting as far as what it likes to let you record. A few other options would be Camtasia that a friend uses, Hypercam, and possibly any built-in recorders you may have. One important thing to note is the kind of video/audio quality you need to achieve, depending on your game of choice. Don't try to record Crysis using unregistered hypercam, basically.

I was planning on doing an LP, thanks for the tips.

I like screenshot LPs more. It takes more effort, but if you're a better writer than a speaker and have a LOT of free time, it's the ideal route, especially for RPGs.

Concerning audiovisual quality there is one extremely easy bit that everybody always forgets: Testing. Make short test recordings, for each new game, to get the volume levels right, to see if it records the video properly - esp. cutscenes on older games; Fraps doesn't like Diablo 2's and Prince of Persia SoT automatically gives me one of the OP's faux-pas's: The red framerate-counter in the corner.

Also, editing. Less is more, but that goes both ways. Don't use every option available in Vegas just because you can. I use the almighty Movie Maker, primarily for the crossfade effect and little else. The cute heart-dissolve is reserved for update vids, cuz they don't count.
What I mean with both ways is that sometimes edits are just plain necessary. Failing can be funny. Failing twice can be entertaining. Failing 12 unedited times just makes everyone glad the video player can skip ahead.

And for the love of gonk, read and reply to comments and PMs and whatnot.

Thank you for all the advice. I plan on making an updated guide in the future, so your input is very appreciated.

I've started 1 'Lets Play' Series and have started a second one. But all I can hear of myself is KEY MASHING! Is there a way to make my voice louder? :C I use Fraps too >_>

Mark Harrold:
I've started 1 'Lets Play' Series and have started a second one. But all I can hear of myself is KEY MASHING! Is there a way to make my voice louder? :C I use Fraps too >_>

Is that Fraps recording from the mic? (I haven't used fraps in around 7 years, I don't know if it can do that) As suggested - use another program to record the audio - that way you can edit it, if needed, and then put it on top of the video.

Adjust the sensitivity of the microphone. Maybe even try to back away a bit. If everything fails, use another mic. But I'm pretty sure it's only the sensitivity - it's probably jacked up quite a bit. Audacity is really good for sound editing. I love it. It's super easy to use and quite functional. Recording and mic tuning are possible, too.

 

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