Video design tips
Posted May 21st 2013
Note: This article is also on HBO
- Play repetition
- Speed changes
- Camerawork and lighting
- Challenge and excitement
- Image quality
- Adding music
- Opening and closing
This article offers tips and thoughts on various aspects of gameplay video construction and design; particularly tutorial videos but also other types. It's not about the technical side of things (hardware specifics etc.), it's mainly about fashioning the actual content and avoiding common mistakes, to end up with a better and more polished product. I've occasionally offered such advice, having knocked out a few videos myself, and I figured it was time I expanded that into some sort of handy guide. In places I give examples from my 'BCM' series showcasing novel Halo gameplay. But just to be clear, the article is for gameplay videos in general, not just Halo ones.
Having got all the gameplay footage you want, it's often going to be inappropriate to show the whole lot, especially if you're doing a tutorial. By removing segments and joining the ends up with transitions, unimportant footage can be gracefully edited out to focus on the essentials and keep things reasonably snappy. You don't want to bore your viewers after all; they'll stop watching. In fact, if your video is long, some people might not even start watching! So think about trimming the fat.
In particular, consider truncating journeys. Instead of showing the whole of a trip, you could show your departure then transition to your arrival. If you did nothing important or entertaining along the way, the truncated version is really all the viewer needs. But you could include a few snippets of footage along the way if you want to help guide the viewer or something. One example of a truncated journey is in BCM41 starting around 1:06.
Don't cut too tightly
Don't cut things too tightly around the key action you want to show. Give the viewer sufficient time to get their bearings at the start, and don't end too abruptly afterwards.
To give one example, suppose you're showing some gameplay where you attempt something tricky and it doesn't work out, so then you transition to a new clip in which you're trying it a second time, having reverted. In this case, let the first clip linger for long enough that the viewer can clearly see that things haven't worked out. If you end it too abruptly, the viewer may be wondering what the heck went on; they didn't have enough time to assess the situation. This is also an example in which your gameplay style might need to be modified a bit, with the video in mind. If you weren't making a video, you'd probably revert the moment you see that things haven't worked out. But because you're making a video and want to make sure viewers see things long enough to realize what's happened, you'd wait a bit longer before reverting.
Coherence and focus
A fundamental aspect of tutorial videos in particular is that viewers need to understand what's going on. The video needs to show things well. It's a bit like telling a story. If one part is unclear, your audience could start to get lost and lose interest. So, think about that when deciding how to break things up into clips to string together.
I think it's generally also good to keep the gameplay focused on the matter in hand. Extraneous elements could have the effect of diluting the theme and confusing the viewer about the significance, quite apart from adding to the run time. So either cut them out or avoid them in the first place. On occasion I've even seen videos dealing with two fairly unrelated things, which would've been better treated separately. By focusing on less, you potentially get a video with a stronger identity, having a more specific theme for people to latch onto.
There's sometimes opportunity for making a clip follow on from the last in some nifty way. One such way relates to musical continuity. If the second clip is still playing the same in-game music as the first, you can potentially fine-tune the join so the musical rhythm or beat is maintained, or approximately maintained. Aurally that can make the join a lot more pleasing than otherwise, and the viewer may not even notice a discontinuity at all. The fine-tuning can be quite easy to do, depending on your software. I do it quite routinely when the opportunity arises. For example it's done at about 0:28 and 0:54 in BCM62 (imperfect, but at least the beat continues fairly well).
Creative linkage of game events
In some cases you might fine-tune a join to make something match up in regard to game events. For example, in BCM45 I had a 'crazy-firing' Grunt who was continually firing his needler. After establishing that his animation cycle lasted 117 frames, I fine-tuned the clip joins (starting around 6:01) so his firing rhythm was maintained. It wasn't necessary of course, but I thought it was nice to have the needler rhythm going on the whole time. I did the same in BCM54 with a crazy-firing Elite.
Careful linkage can also create comedy. For example, at around 3:41 in BCM26 a Marine says "Are you blind?", then things transition to a new clip and another Marine says "Roger that". The juxtaposition makes it seem like a comic answer (or at least, that was my intent), even though it was nothing to do with the first clip.
A transition effect can provide a graceful way of moving from one clip to the next, making things less abrupt than simply snapping to the next clip. Your software will probably offer lots of options, but think twice before using the more elaborate effects. You want the viewer to be focused on your footage, not distracted by whizzy transition graphics. The standard transition would be a simple cross dissolve, where the second clip fades in as the first fades out.
In regard to the duration of a transition, don't make it too long - a common mistake. A long transition can be frustrating, making the viewer want you to hurry up. You want grace, but you also want it fairly snappy. To be specific, I recommend not exceeding 1.5 seconds. But also, your choice of duration can depend on the type of transition you're using. With my favoured 'page curl' transition I use a duration of 1.2 seconds, but when using a cross dissolve I'd make it snappier - like 0.4 seconds for example - because 1.2 leaves you seeing a blurry mix for too long; not good as there's nothing to focus on. For a cross dissolve I'd suggest not going above 0.6, but it's up to you. At the lower extreme you could make it near-instant, providing just a bit of softness compared to using no transition at all.
Something to bear in mind is that the duration of a transition will obviously affect how quickly any game music fades in or out. If you don't want such fades to sound jarringly abrupt, you'll need to make the relevant transition suitably long - such as my favoured 1.2 seconds. To be more specific, for a fade-out I'd recommend a duration of at least 1 second, because I tried 0.8 and found it too abrupt. For a fade-in however, suddenness doesn't seem quite so painful, so you might go a bit lower if you want. In my videos, the cross dissolve to my opening clip lasts 0.8 seconds, which I find ok for a music fade-in.
Don't go varying your transition effects randomly through the video like a kid pressing different buttons to see what they do. Decide on a main choice and stick with it unless you have fair reason to sometimes use something different - which I'll talk about now.
Different types for different things
There's scope for using different types of transition to indicate different things. To give an example, there was one time just after 2:00 in BCM48 when I wanted to show something which happened earlier. To help indicate that it was a flashback, I transitioned to it with a 'circle open' effect rather than my standard page curl, then returned to the present with a 'circle close' effect. The circle open seemed nicely suggestive of peering back in time, and made the flashback stand out well from the main flow. So there's one idea: use a different type to indicate a flashback.
Another idea is to use a different type to signal gameplay which is occurring after having reverted to an earlier saved state (basically a time rewind). I've not yet done that myself, but it's worth considering. I think a 'wipe left' effect could be nice for that (new footage sliding in from the right), suggestive of going backwards.
Even though I mostly use a page curl, sometimes a fast cross dissolve makes a better choice. In BCM62 when I was showing some set-up work, I used them for cuts within certain localized phases of the work, leaving the page curl for when things moved on to a new phase. That's definitely an idea worth considering; using a simpler faster transition for cuts within a certain phase of your gameplay. I did something similar in my 'freakiness and fun' montage BCM56, in which fast cross dissolves were used for cuts within the footage for a certain event. Page curls separated the events.
Another place I used fast cross dissolves was in the second part of BCM37 where I was showing a bunch of Marines trying to fight off the Covenant. That was going to comprise a lot of short clips in that one area, and I was also acting purely as a cameraman, so it felt more appropriate to use fast transitions akin to what you'd see in a film. My page curl would've been a bit too elaborate, possibly detracting from the comedy and certainly slowing things down. It would also have made the clips seem more separate, whereas I wanted things to feel more like an ongoing scene.
To mention one last example, my videos start with a cross dissolve from the title display (my opening segment) and end with a cross dissolve to the end display. I only use page curl for transitioning between gameplay clips.
In some cases you may be wanting to show multiple instances of a bit of play. For example, attempts at doing something difficult, or showing different possible outcomes of an action. People soon tire of repetition, so think carefully about how much you really need to show, and try to minimize it.
In the case of wanting to show different outcomes, the first clip could show a play in its entirety, maybe even the second too, but later clips could show less and less of the initial part (assuming it would be much the same in each case), thus focusing more and more on just the end phase where things vary. For example see what I did in BCM11 starting around 2:03, where I was falling from a bridge and showing different landing impacts.
In general I'd caution against speeding up footage as a means of condensing a segment of play. Typical speeded-up footage is hard on the eyes, and some people have a lot less tolerance for it than others. Using cutting and transitions is likely to be a better option, making much nicer viewing. In particular, instead of speeding up footage of a journey, you could truncate it as I mentioned earlier.
Of course, if you're speeding up the footage, the sound from the game might sound like quite a mess, unless you've already got it partially or totally blotted out by added music, or if you've reduced the game volume. So that would be another consideration.
More generally, avoid messing around with the playing speed unless you're really sure it makes good sense. I've seen footage made almost unwatchable by irritating speed changes (speeding up or slowing down), obliterating the game's natural dynamics. It can make sense and be fine to watch though, and in particular it might be useful or appealing to show something in slow motion.
Tutorial videos should preferably include either captions or voiceovers to guide the viewer. Sure you can get away with just having some written guidance somewhere else, such as in the description area on a YouTube video page, but that's far from ideal. It'll be a pain for the viewer to have to keep referring to the written material to understand what's going on. Integrated guidance is much better; and sometimes you may want some in a non-tutorial video too. There's quite a lot to cover on this topic, so let's get started.
YouTube annotation not ideal
YouTube's annotation facility is one way of providing captions, but keep in mind that it has a significant drawback. The annotation is merely overlaid on your video as it plays; so if anyone downloads your video to keep for posterity or whatever, they won't see the captions. Your video will display properly only on YouTube. Instead I recommend having captions which are truly part of the video - and obviously you'll need some video software for that.
Wording and length
Try to make your caption wording brief. The viewer wants to watch the action, not read a lot. Choose your phrasing carefully to try and make things as concise as you can, with minimal syllable count. Think about different ways of expressing what you want to say, and different word choices. Look out for superfluous words.
Some examples. Instead of saying "Now get in the Scorpion. That will prevent the Marines from getting in the Warthog", you could say "Board the tank to stop Marines boarding the hog". Not only is that much shorter, it's only one sentence instead of two, so it has better flow. Instead of saying "Now get out of the Scorpion and get in the Warthog" you could say "Switch to the hog". Instead of "You can use any method you like", you could say "Any method will do".
Also, instead of having a long caption, consider whether it might be better to have two or more short ones, so the viewer doesn't have to take their eyes off the action for a long time - something which can make them anxious about whether they're missing something. You can do this even with a single sentence. For example, instead of a caption saying "Overturn the far Ghosts and destroy the Wraith", you could have "Overturn the far Ghosts" then "and destroy the Wraith" a short while later. With very short captions like that, the viewer will barely need a quick glance each time.
In the case of such linked captions, try not to have the second caption too rapidly after the first (see my general advice on scheduling). Note also that I didn't capitalize the second caption, as I was just continuing a sentence. Nor did I bother using an ellipsis character. You could use one if you prefer (e.g. "…and destroy the Wraith"), but after doing that a few times myself, I decided it wasn't really needed and things looked better without.
My own captions are deliberately short and never go beyond one line, but that's perhaps partly because I also have a fully detailed written account of things on my site. My captions provide rough guidance but my site material goes into far more depth, including covering options not even shown in the video. If you're not going to have such backup material, you may be obliged to have longer captions in order to cover all the detail you want. You might even decide to have a whole chunk of text occupying most of the frame while the action is suspended - like inserting a small page of text in between clips. I wouldn't say that's very desirable though. If you display the text long enough for most people to read, that could be quite a long time, during which fast readers could get bored and frustrated. As well as which, viewers may become anxious about whether they're going to have time to reach the end before it vanishes. And yet, if you instead make the duration brief and expect people to freeze the video to be able to read everything, you potentially annoy people who weren't expecting to have to do that. It's up to you to make a judgement call about such things.
If you favour a relatively informal style of expression, use contractions; e.g. "I've" instead of "I have", and "you'll" instead of "you will". Also, be consistent about your style of speech. If you're using contractions, make sure you use them throughout. Or if you want things more formal, check that you haven't accidentally used a contraction somewhere.
Spelling and punctuation
Before you unleash your video on the world, check your spelling and punctuation! You can easily give people a bad impression if you're careless with that stuff; and after all the effort you put into the video action, why bring it down with bad English in your captions and other text? Your video software may have a built-in spell-check facility when adding captions, but if not, you could always write the captions in a text application for the checking. Some special words relating to game elements may not be checkable like that, but you could check the game manual if any, or look on the internet.
As for punctuation, one of the most common failings lies in missing out apostrophes in contractions. For example, "do not" contracts to don't, not dont, and "cannot" contracts to can't, not cant. The apostrophe stands in for one or more dropped letters in such cases. Another common mistake is to get "your" mixed up with "you're". The latter is the contraction of "you are", while the former indicates possession (e.g. "Fire your weapon"). Entirely different! You may not think this stuff matters much, but to other people such mistakes can stick out like a sore thumb and send a shiver down the spine, so it's worth being careful. If you want more advice, do a web search for "punctuation guide" or something like that.
This is important! Try to make a caption last long enough that most viewers will have time to read it. And bear in mind that it may take a moment for them to even start reading, so make an allowance for that. It's a common mistake to show captions too briefly (sometimes far too briefly), and it's very annoying when they vanish before you've got to the end. Also keep in mind that when you read your own captions, you already know what they're going to say, and this is likely to make you skip through them faster than an unfamiliar viewer would. Don't let that mislead you into making caption durations too short.
As a rough principle, the longer the wording, the longer the duration should be. For a caption of several syllables, I'd suggest a duration of at least 3 seconds. But also, take into account what's going on in the video. If there's a lot of action, preferably increase the duration a bit because the viewer is likely to take longer to start reading. It may take them longer to even notice the caption.
When checking your caption durations, you should try and empty your mind of what's coming up, and also read at a leisurely pace. Basically, you should try to simulate being an average first-time viewer.
Think about when exactly to show a caption. Preferably avoid having one when there's significant action going on, because the viewer may be quite engaged with that and might not even notice the caption for a while, plus you want them to be able to watch the action if possible. Sometimes it may be necessary or even appropriate; but in general, try to have them when there's nothing intense going on.
Just to give a simple example, suppose you want to make it clear that you need to destroy an enemy tank. Instead of displaying the caption "Destroy the tank" when you're actually doing it, preferably display it a few seconds earlier, so it ends before the actual event. The viewer will then be able to watch and enjoy the event, undistracted. Moreover, the caption let them anticipate what was coming up.
In some cases you might let your caption scheduling be partly guided by the nature of the background it'll appear against. If your caption is light in colour, it'll catch the eye more easily if it appears against a dark background, rather than a light one. So if there happens to be a spell of darkness at a certain viable time, that could be a good time to start the caption. In that way, it may pop out at the user better. I've done this many times with my own captions, which are light orange with a black outline.
Try not to have a caption too soon after another. Preferably allow at least a few seconds for the viewer to re-focus on the action. If they have to shift their attention back to the caption area too soon, it could annoy (like, it was barely worth their time re-focusing).
Placement in the frame
I suggest putting your captions along the bottom of the image, and preferably quite low down so as to minimize how much they impinge into the image. One exception might be if you want a caption close to a particular object it's talking about (and maybe you'd have an arrow graphic too). Avoid having any text too close to an edge of the frame, which could look ugly. Leave a comfortable separation.
Preferably keep your positioning consistent, i.e. keep it in the same place, at the same height. If it moves around from caption to caption, that's likely to look haphazard and messy.
When it comes to the letter styling (font, colouring, and other visual attributes), things need to stand out well and not be ugly or garish. I'd suggest using relatively thick lettering for good visibility. Thin lettering may be more subject to visual degradation when the video gets encoded by your software or later converted by YouTube (thin lines may start to get lost), but you can always experiment. As to colouring, a generally good option would be to have a light main colour plus black outline. That would probably make your lettering stand out reasonably well against most backgrounds. In particular, a contrasting outline pretty much ensures that your letters won't get lost against any background. Your video footage may be such that your lettering doesn't really need an outline though, and that can look perfectly fine. Preferably avoid intense colours (high saturation), as those can be hard to look at, and too dominant over the footage.
The lettering may stand out even better with a drop-shadow effect added, or some other effect, but be careful not to make such effects too strong or things could get ugly. Try to keep things fairly subtle and aesthetically pleasing.
You may also have the option of giving your captioning some animation effect or having it against a dedicated area of styled background. For example you have such options if using iMovie. All I'll say about this aspect is, be wary of making things too flashy or garish, and of making the text harder to read. A lot of those effects may look like fun, but they don't necessarily enhance the viewer's experience.
In general you should use the same styling throughout. Indeed, you might like to keep the same styling for all your videos.
Fading in and out
Rather than having a caption blink on then off, it'll look more elegant if it fades in then fades out. I use a fade duration of half a second, which looks smooth yet reasonably snappy, but you could use a bit less if you want more snappiness.
Letting action speak for itself
Sometimes the video action itself may be enough to make things clear without needing a caption. You might still want one (e.g. for emphasis), but sometimes it could be better to do without. For example, at about 0:39 in BCM70 I demonstrate overturning two Ghosts at once by firing a Banshee bolt in between them. I didn't include a caption saying to fire in between them, because the viewer could see very well how I was doing it. That allowed them to keep their eyes on the action.
Instead of using captions to guide your viewers, you could use voiceovers, i.e. adding your voice over the gameplay footage. It's not so common in tutorials, but it's common in walkthroughs for example, and has the obvious advantage of letting the viewer keep their eyes on the action. It also gives things a more personal feel of course. I've never used voiceovers myself but I can offer some thoughts as a prospective viewer.
Try to make sure you come across clearly. The game sound might need to be reduced when you speak, or the viewer may be straining to try and pick out your words - which is mighty annoying. Likewise, don't have any music too loud, competing with your voice. There's also the obvious issue of simply speaking well. Don't mumble, and try to avoid getting whispery or suchlike, as that could end up being hard to pick out. Try to keep a good steady volume.
Swearing and crudity
Preferably avoid swearing and crudity, or you may lose some of your potential audience. Maybe you don't care about that, which is your decision of course, but I'm just spelling it out for anyone who didn't realize. Some people don't like to listen to that sort of style, and may just stop watching; plus it may put them off checking out your other videos too.
There are some other things you might want to avoid as well, such as screaming "Jesus Christ!" or suchlike when getting slaughtered in gameplay. That may be a routine exclamation for you, but I'm guessing it wouldn't go down too well with some of the more religiously minded. Basically, if you want your video to be enjoyed by a wider audience, be more conservative with your language, like you might when talking to a stranger.
Repetition and mannerisms
Try not to use any phrase repetitively, because it's likely to become annoying fast, quite apart from reflecting poorly on the extent of your vocabulary. You should also try to guard against making pointless space-filling sounds like "Err…" and "Umm…" too much, or exhibiting other potentially annoying mannerisms - such as loud or weird laughing.
Accent and dialect
Occasionally I've seen videos where the uploader gets a lot of comments about some aspect of their accent or dialect. I'm not about to suggest that you compromise your identity, but if you have issues along those lines or anticipate that you may, you might consider trying to speak in a more standard way in some regard.
Camerawork and lighting
Your in-game camerawork and the prevailing lighting can make a significant difference to how engaging and pleasing the video is to watch, and how clear things are, so it's worth thinking about. I'll elaborate on a few specific topics.
In a tutorial video, good camera angles and positioning can help show things better, or help clue the reader in to your exact location. You may like to think about that in advance before doing your gameplay, or do some exploratory work to decide what might be the best. Also, good smooth camera control can give a more pleasing effect than if you're jerking the view around clumsily. I quite often repeat bits of tutorial gameplay for the sake of trying to achieve better camerawork, whether that be to give a better view of things or to improve the camera control.
A couple of times I've seen Halo videos done on PC in which the player has extremely high rotation speed, able to about-face almost instantly. It was very hard to watch and it badly degraded visual continuity. The view kept snapping to new directions, so it was hard even to keep my bearings. It also felt unrealistic, though doubtless the player had become accustomed to it. For the sake of your audience, I'd recommend not having such extreme rotation speed.
Theater mode in Halo games
Some of the Halo games include a Theater mode, enabling you to play back gameplay and view it in various ways, including with a third-person camera or a free camera. As such, you can potentially make your video using Theater footage rather than the original first-person footage. Or you could use a mix of both. I'm not particularly advocating use of Theater mode; it may be better to stick with just standard footage, depending on what you're trying to show. I'm just pointing out the potential. The alternative views you can get could help you show things better or more dramatically.
With the Theater's free-cam there's massive creative potential - you can really play at being a movie director - but I've not often seen it exploited. How about some dramatic low camera angles for example, or some memorable close-ups? If you use the free-cam though, you may need to practice with the controls a bit to get your camerawork smooth. Smooth movement, smooth panning, smooth zooming.
Beware of darkness! Dark footage can make it hard for the viewer to see things well. In my videos I usually turn on Master Chief's flashlight in dark or darkish areas, to try and provide a clearer and more appealing view, with more contrast and colour in it.
Note also that dark footage can end up appearing even more murky than it looked when you were playing. That's partly to do with how the video footage is captured and subsequently processed, but I can think of three other possible contributory factors. Firstly, the smaller size of the video frame compared to the large screen you were playing the game on, making it harder to distinguish things. Secondly, watching the video against a bright background, something which may cause the viewer's eyes to close down slightly and thus make dark colours seem closer to black. That especially applies to dark footage being watched on YouTube against YouTube's glaring white background - a truly awful colour choice for a site dedicated to video viewing. And thirdly, being in a brighter environment where there's more light getting reflected off the screen.
Challenge and excitement
Really make an effort to deliver the best gameplay performance you can. You've got an audience out there, so put in some work and try to show some worthy skills! Also think about what might make for good exciting footage. Let me elaborate a bit.
As an example, let's suppose you've got an idea for showing some Halo combat, in some scenario or other. If you use a low difficulty level and appear to be under precious little threat from the enemy, that's probably not going to be very impressive or exciting to watch. Maybe it'll still make enjoyable viewing in a casual way, but if it looks like a stroll in the park, it's not like anyone could applaud you for your skill or achievement. Ok you might still get folk saying "Awesome!" in the comments, but don't let that fool you into believing it. From what I've seen, there are people out there who'd cry "Awesome!" if you tied your shoelaces! What I instead urge you to do is make things significantly challenging. Ratchet up the difficulty level or enemy numbers or whatever, do some practice so you're able to cope, and try to push things further. When you're deep into seriously challenging combat, you'll be in a position to make a far more exciting and impressive video. Something more substantial and worthy.
When it comes to the actual recording, do a lot of plays to try and get the best and most entertaining footage you can. Get a bunch of good plays, then try to pick the best. Making that selection can be hard, but if in doubt, perhaps choose one with something especially memorable about it, whether it be performance related or funny or freaky or whatever. Possibly something people might be apt to comment on.
In regard to excitement, that can partly depend on your playing style, and you might want to think about that - i.e. playing in a way that makes for more exciting footage. For example, charging in at close range (more than you might normally do) and using weapons with strong visceral sounds. Sometimes these choices might put you at greater risk, but if you can cope with it, that's ok. Obviously there are plenty of situations in which you could just station yourself well back from the enemy and wear them down with minimal risk; but that may not be so gripping to watch.
Some things you might normally do could be outright tedious to watch, such as doing a lot of wandering about searching for the best possible weapons to pick up. For the sake of your future audience, don't fuss around too much!
There's also the issue of not doing irritating things in your gameplay. This depends on the viewer's tolerances of course, but speaking purely for myself, here are some things guaranteed to irritate me in Halo videos.
(1) Switching weapons repeatedly when running along, like you've got a compulsive nervous twitch or something. Likewise with doing melee just for the sake of it. (2) Pointlessly excessive reloading, e.g. after every single sniper shot. (3) Exploiting fast reload glitches. Looks awful, wrecks realism, and it's akin to cheating, so I may not even continue watching. (4) Repeatedly jumping to delay or cancel a checkpoint, when that really wasn't needed and was merely done for some personal convenience (probably to enable reverting later). It wrecks realism and bounces the view, so is best avoided if possible. Put your audience's enjoyment first.
I'm also not keen on the artificial removal of the HUD or elements of it. That makes things look odd and detracts from the full immersive experience.
Here are a few points relating to matters of image quality or viewing quality.
Hand-cam not good
If you've got some interesting gameplay to show, do your best to record it in decent quality, to do it justice. That means using some sort of linked capture device, rather than just pointing a camera at your TV screen. Hand-cam footage is likely to be painful stuff, both visually and aurally. I've seen some excellent gameplay goodness sadly devalued that way; videos which although functional in showing what went on, couldn't really be enjoyed. So do try to use a capture device if you can. Yes it's potentially a technical hassle and costs money, but it makes a massive difference.
No squashing please
Don't show squashed imagery! Things should have their correct proportions. You know how when you mess around with the aspect ratio setting on a TV and see a person's head become flattened or elongated? You need to avoid such distortion from how things are meant to look. It's amazing how many people don't seem to understand this, or apparently have some sort of blindness to it, or a readiness to accept it because "that's just how it came out". I've seen so many videos spoiled on this count. I think I even recall one time when someone had squashed some 4:3 footage to fill out a 16:9 frame because that made the video 'widescreen'. Arrgh! All it did was make it painful to look at of course. So let me be clear on this - and I don't mind if I sound a little bit mean too, because this has been driving me nuts for years. Unsquashed imagery is an absolute baseline requirement for anything to be merit being called a quality production. Usually I don't even bother to watch anything squashed nowadays. I just stop.
I'll touch on something a bit technical here, but it's of fundamental importance to the viewing experience. Roughly speaking, the 'frame rate' is how many frames (images) your video shows per second. With low rates such as 15 fps (frames per second), playback can look noticeably choppy, a shortcoming which is especially detrimental to any fast-moving action. To provide good smooth action and thus a more pleasant viewing experience, you really want 25 fps or higher. When forming a video file from your footage, your software will probably give you a choice of frame rates. Choosing a lower rate would make for a smaller file as less information needs to be encoded, but the playback will look choppier; so keep that in mind. The natural choice is to use the same rate as the source footage.
Avoid split-screen if possible
In regard to Halo games, preferably don't use co-op mode for your gameplay if you could just as well be using single-player. Single-player gives a vastly better image to watch, compared to co-op's split-screen display.
People seem to love adding their favourite tunes over the top of their game footage, which quite often means stonkingly loud music that leaves little or nothing to be heard from the game itself. It's up to you if you want to add music of course, but bear in mind that some viewers may find it frustrating not to be able to hear the game clearly; and if it can't be heard at all you're effectively showing silent footage. You'll be weakening or losing a significant dimension of the game, and making things less intimate. It can also be harder for the viewer to concentrate on what's happening. Personally I often have to mute the sound on such videos, which doesn't exactly make for a great experience.
However, there's obviously potential for adding music in a more sensitive way, and it could even play a key role, e.g. through the lyrical theme or in the way the music fits with the action, rhythmically or by mood.
Opening and closing
It's worth spending some time and thought on the presentation of your videos in regard to the start and end. Potentially, you could have some sort of standard opening segment (maybe even with signature music), giving your videos a common style which people would come to recognize. But keep it snappy or people are apt to just get fed up waiting and click somewhere later on the timeline to try and jump to where you're actually doing something. You could have a closing segment too, giving credits or whatever. These touches can make your videos seem more polished and have more identity than if you just start and stop with the gameplay footage.
For my BCM series showcasing novel Halo gameplay, I opted to keep things simple. My opening and closing segments are just static images featuring some gameplay imagery and text (all done using Photoshop Elements), and they last two seconds apiece. But obviously you could have something animated instead, which could be more interesting to watch (and which in the case of the opening, would also provide an indication that the video has started playing).
Fade-in and fade-out
If you are going to just have gameplay footage though - which is fine - you might like to at least consider having a fade-in at the start and a fade-out at the end, to make things more graceful. In particular, an abrupt ending can be rather jarring, both visually and aurally. With a fade-out, the viewer can see that things are about to end, and the sound doesn't suddenly cut off.
After putting all that effort into your video, it's worth giving some careful thought to what best to call it. Try to avoid anything long or cumbersome, especially if you hope your video to become really popular. A title which is memorable and easily rolls off the tongue could be a help. A descriptive title (e.g. "Ghost Glitch in AotCR") would obviously help in signalling what's in the video, which might help you get more people checking it out, but you could instead take some other approach, such as something humorous or cryptic.
In specific regard to YouTube, bear in mind that when your video appears in a list, long titles potentially get truncated. So if for example the title was "Halo CE, Assault on the Control Room, Ghost Glitch", people might only see "Halo CE, Assault on the" or suchlike (partly dependant on their browser's font sizing), which isn't very helpful. And if you use that sort of titling style, maybe they'll see that for a lot of your videos, giving them no way of telling one apart from the other - quite frustrating. I sometimes think people use such long YouTube titles in the hope that the video is more likely to turn up in searches for the relevant words. But that's what tags are for. Remember to give your video the appropriate tags, so it'll potentially show up in searches for those terms.
A YouTube title doesn't have to be the same as the actual video title though; it could be something shorter, to make sure people can see it without truncation. For that matter, it could even be something longer. For example I have a video called BCM15 (I opted for simple numerical titling of my BCM series, for the sake of easy reference), but I made the YouTube title 'BCM15 - Falling Grunts' so people get an indication of the content.
Before releasing a video involving transitions or captions or other work, you'd be well advised to sit back nice and relaxed and watch it through just like a viewer will. You may notice something not quite right; something you missed earlier because you were deep in the business of fiddling around with stuff. Relating to much of what I've talked about, here's a checklist of questions you might like to run through.
- Is the cutting and transition work ok? Are there any dull bits I could cut?
- Are there any repetitive bits I could reduce with better editing?
- Have I made things coherent and well focused?
- Do the captions make things sufficiently clear?
- Could any captions be made more concise for easier quicker reading?
- Would any long captions be better replaced by multiple smaller ones?
- Are captions shown long enough for most people to comfortably read?
- Are captions shown at good times, preferably when there's not much action?
- Are there any captions better eliminated, where the action speaks for itself?
- Have I got all the caption spelling and punctuation right?
- Are the captions consistent in regard to formal/informal style?
- Can my voiceovers be heard clearly enough?
- Are my voiceovers free of annoying repetition and mannerisms?
- Is the title good? Not too long-winded?
Got a handy test subject?
If you've got someone who can watch your tentatively finished video and provide some feedback - ideally someone without your intimate knowledge and understanding of what's coming up - that could be very useful, possibly leading to some beneficial adjustments before final release. In particular, for a tutorial video this might bring to light a problem with understanding what's going on. You may not have made things sufficiently clear.
Finally I'll say a little about releasing.
If uploading a video to YouTube, I strongly advise making it private to begin with, in case anything funky happens with the uploading and processing. Only make it public after you've watched the resulting conversion on YouTube to check that it came out ok. And if something's wrong, try to fix it of course. There are various requirements your uploaded video needs to respect, else things may come out screwy. YouTube has advice on uploading and troubleshooting.
Note: One requirement is that the uploaded video was encoded without 'frame reordering'. If it was encoded with frame reordering, YouTube won't process the video correctly, in my experience.
Advertising in a forum
When making a forum post somewhere to advertise your video, bear in mind that there may be a convention for indicating that the subject of your post is a video. It's worth remembering to use that convention, as your post may get some extra clicks that way. For example, in the HBO forum you should include *VID* at the end of your post title.
I'll just throw some thoughts out on this. Think about your overall release pattern. Don't release too many videos too fast or they're likely to garner less attention. You don't want to swamp people. Especially don't release a lot of scrappy videos too fast. One carefully polished video is worth more than a whole bunch of scraps; and the more scrappy stuff you release, the more you dilute the quality of your overall output, and the harder it is for people to spot the good stuff. I'd also say don't bother with releasing 'teaser' material. To my mind that counts as scraps, and I think you'd be better off just spending your time on the actual finished product. If people get to know that you always release good solid stuff, that'll surely help you build up a following (e.g. subscribers on YouTube).
I think it's also good if you can keep up a steady output. That may well take some effort, but if you don't release anything for a long time, the interest of your followers may start to wane.
Talking of which, it's high time I got busy with my next video. Tips are over folks - hope this gave you something to think about. I'm off to fire up the Xbox!