Monthly Archives: March 2015

Fish Plays Piano falls short – Twitch Plays Chess instead!

Sometimes I get this little voice inside me, that wants to do something completely different and just ignore all the things I have to do and take care of. Apparently this time it was to make a fish play music! (Yes, I am an adult!)

This weekend I did not get to record for my YouTube channel or do anything else that you could call “useful”. Because I was playing around with some concept for a new Twitch channel. My first try to put my fish Stumpy in front of the camera and let him play the piano, worked after roughly 12 hours of work. But due to their inability to play beautiful melodies and lay around a lot of the time, kinda turned out to be … not that interesting. I’d much rather watch a human play the piano on stream ๐Ÿ˜€

The implementation was surprisingly easy with the help of MATLAB’s image processing features and Arindam’s blog post / template I could work with. I did some minor tweaks to the script, mainly in the form of dividing the screen into a grid and checking the coordinates from the blob with said grid and then sending keystrokes to a online piano tool.

After I streamed this for a while, I decided I would try out something along the lines of “Twitch Plays Pokemon”, just with a different game: Battle Chess! I spent a few hours trying to set up the system with some Python scripts, with no luck (Getting Python & PyWin32 to run on my system was a headache).

I then looked a bit further and found an open source tool called OpenTwitchPlay. The implementation was fairly easy and the stream was up and running in half an hour and seems now to run stable. I will have a closer look at the source code and see if I can modify it to fit it the channel; other chess software is also something I am considering, since this would maybe allow more complex commands. Luckily I have a dedicated system for the stream (It’s my German notebook, that I won’t be able to sell here heh)

The Stream is currently running for 20+ hours and so far Twitch lost 2 times against the (slightly slow) NES AI. Currently it picks up in pace and some dedicated viewers are taking on the challenge of beating the AI. It certainly is going to be tricky, when more player are going to join the stream, but so far it’s been a blast watching them and listening to Nectarine Demoscene Radio. (Haha, please ignore the April Fools Bieber theme)

Chess is very much like Starcraft 2 for me: I enjoy playing it once in a while, but I don’t have the perseverance to get really, really good at it; Since I love tinkering on stuff like this, I am looking forward to improving TwitchLovesGames!

Game Guru – The Easy Game Maker?

I am giving away a Steam key for GameGuru! If you want to join the raffle, scroll to the bottom of the post and enter there!

Not too long ago, I was contacted by the developer The Game Creators, to check out their engine GameGuru. It is available on Steam for ~20$. After some initial fun with it on my stream, I figured I would give it a closer look and do a quick introduction / first impression video on the engine. As a game developer with experience, I can not be considered an absolute beginner, so I have other standards. I tried to stay as open-minded as possible, with an absolute beginner as the end user in mind.

Note: GameGuru is an early access title on Steam, so updates over time, might resolve issues I might have encountered with the engine.

I also wanted to leave a few additional words here on my blog, for anyone seeking more information.

GameGuru states to be the easiest and most enjoyable game creator out there. I will have to say, that you will be able to create game quickly IF you accept a few limitations.

  • You will only be able to build first person games. There is no easy way to switch to another perspective or control style, if at all.
  • Indoor levels can only be created with pre-made parts.* If you want anything kind of geometry, you will have to build that in a 3d modeling program and import it into the game. If you have no experience with the creation of games, chances are, you won’t be able to do that as well.
  • The editor allows editing only top down, which makes placement of items, enemies and geometry tricky. Sometimes you can’t see what you create with the terrain tool until you are in the game. You can make changes to the game while you play it, this feels very finicky and impractical. I would love to be able to tilt the editor camera. I assume it has been left out to keep it very straightforward and less prone to problems.
  • You won’t be able to easily edit standard behaviours of your character*, those of enemies or certain events in the game; this will require to work with the LUA system in the background and at that point I feel you can as well learn to work with other (free) engines like Unity or GameSalad.
  • The performance is bad. I run a pretty might right and as soon as I encounter 10-20 enemies at the same time, and my system slows down drastically. For most use cases with this engine, this won’t be an issue; I am just pointing it out.

I think that this engine is a fun little tool to play around with for kids or someone that is thoroughly intimidated by the thought of writing a line of script or code and that can work with these limitations that I listed above.

* Since GameGuru is currently in Early Access, many of the features that are planned are not available yet. It might be worth, checking out this tool later down the line with the following additions made to it:

 

  • Character creator โ€“ personalise your game characters using this simple creation tool
  • Construction Kit – the ability to easily create building structures for your games
  • Improved AI & gaming techniques
  • Enhanced explosions and particle effects inc fire/smoke
  • Under water swimming and effects
  • Lazer weapons for Sci-Fi games, Spells for Fantasy games
  • HUD systems; compass tool, map, inventory
  • Melee attack & other combat & interaction game choices
  • Extra characters and game assetsโ€

 

 

Additional links:

How to record a Let’s Play? Recording software to capture your gameplay!

I am certainly not an expert on the different tools out there to record your gameplay footage, but I can at least tell you what I use and why I am using it. I would first split up the available software into recorders which are mainly intended for streaming and then those for recording gameplay without any streaming capabilities. Since they can offer features for both purposes, the lines blur a bit at times.

XSplit or its free open-source alternative OBS are two tools to record your gameplay, while also being able to stream it (even simultaneously) to services like Twitch. These tools will leave you with smaller file sizes if you plan to upload them without any further editing. Due to their nature as streaming software, the quality of the recorded gameplay will be lower than an high-quality recording with other tools. These tools will also leave you with one single file, rather than several, which severely limits your ability to do editing afterward (except simple cuts). You will not be able to adjust the audio levels afterward, so these tools have to be set up perfectly to get the best results. An added benefit of these tools is that you can directly record your webcam with the game, which makes syncing up your video to your game & audio unnecessary; but keep the downside in mind, that you can’t edit the footage very well.

Bandicam, DXtory or Action! (just to name a few), can record gameplay and audio in several tracks (your microphone and the game audio), enabling you to balance to levels afterward and give you better editing abilities. Especially if you don’t have a high-quality microphone or just want to improve your audio quality with effects later, you want to use one of these. These tools will also generally allow higher quality recordings, so if you plan to edit your videos and render them again, I would highly recommend these over the previously mentioned streaming tools for recording. Except Action!, you won’t be able to use these for streaming. (I haven’t heard much about the streaming functionality, so I can’t say much about it. They have a 30-day trial, if you are interested.)

Bandicam and a few other tools have a way to overlay your gameplay with your webcam, so you won’t have to sync up the footage later on, but I recommend not using these options and using your manufacturers recording software instead. Since most people have Logitech Webcams, this will probably be the Logitech Webcam Software. Other tools for recording your Webcam exist, but this one will do the job. If you want effects, you should add these later!

screenshot xsplitSo what do I use? I am sure a few friends of mine will now cringe… I use XSplit most of the time since I record a lot of series and I save a lot of time not having to render them again. Since I can apply an equalizer and compressor directly to my microphone feed, thanks to my new interface, I don’t need the audio tracks separated to apply effects. I should mention, as much as I like XSplit, it took me a lost of lost footage and frustration until I got myself conditioned to do test recordings for the audio levels. If your game audio is too loud or your microphone set up the wrong, there is pretty much nothing you can do about that. So if you go ahead and use one of these tools, make sure to test, test and test. Not having to use a separate software for streaming, is another bonus for me, since I now know my way around XSplit after over a year of use. I tried OBS for a while, but I am more than willing to pay the 5$ per month for this tool.

If I want higher quality footage and separate tracks for later editing, I will pick Bandicam – it works very well in most cases and its new version presents the settings very well, and it offers good value for the price. I heard good things about DXtory and Action! And the free tool LoiLo looks promising, I just haven’t used any of these myself, so I can’t comment on these.

So what should you use? I would advise against Xsplit for Beginners, not only because of the licensing costs but also because of the inability to edit your footage afterward. Editing something I recommend to beginners – it will take longer, but it will improve your content if you take the time to watch and edit your recordings again. XSplit will give you a finished video that you can upload directly to YouTube without editing it, but unless you do series where you don’t intend to cut anything, it will severely limit your ability to improve your footage after recording in post-production. If you plan to stream, I would recommend checking out OBS first, and if you are happy with it, you can save a few bucks per month – your viewer won’t be able to tell what kind of software you are using, and they both work flawlessly.

I hope I could give you some ideas about recording your gameplay footage and let me know if you have any other questions!

If you want some more information & comparisons on video game recording software, it might be worth checking out these links:

What software do you guys use and why do you prefer it over other tools?

YouTube Tip: Set as official series for this playlist

YouTube is surprisingly good at sneaking in features, without telling anyone. One of these, that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago is the new Series playlists feature that you can enable for your playlist. It is a great feature, that will help you retain viewers and make it easier for them to find your content. This comes especially handy for my gaming series and I am sure you will be able to make use of it as well. I have seen many creators, not setting up their playlists like this yet; probably because they don’t realize this feature exists.

What does ‘Series Playlist‘ mean? Let’s say a viewer finds your series on YouTube through the search (not the playlist) and starts watching the video. Before ‘Series Playlist‘ was a thing, you had to make sure to present follow up episodes to the user in one way or the other, because you could not always rely on YouTube to automatically suggest the next part in the suggestions on the left side.

If your next part does not get suggested or you offer your viewer another way to find the next part in the series, chances are, the viewer will just click the next interesting thing and not follow your series (unless he really is into it, but then he will have to search for it).

What you had to do before that, was to make sure there is a link in the description to the next part and / or you have an annotation linking to the next part in the video itself. Alternatively adding a playlist to the description did the trick too, although not as convenient. I still recommend doing those things, but now you can increase the odds, your viewer follows along the series!

To enable this feature for your playlist, follow these simple steps:

  • Open your playlist that you wish to edit and click the “Playlist settings” button below the title

playlist settings

  • In the little pop up window, check the option ‘Set as official series for this playlist’ and then hit save.

set official

You are done! Yes, that was all – you enabled the awesome functionality of that feature! Now when a user finds your video, YouTube will add the next part in the series above all suggestions with the note “Up Next” and automatically play the next part, if the user has this option enabled via the slider.

up next

There are a few requirements that you need to meet:

  • You must have a verified account in order to use series playlists. Verifying just requires a phone and you should do this anyway to get the full potential out of YouTube!
  • A video cannot appear in more than one series playlist. So make sure to not have several playlists with the same videos and set them all as official.
  • Only videos uploaded by you and that you have the rights to can be added to a series playlist.

I hope this tip helps! It will certainly make it easier for your viewers to follow along the series and hopefully make them watch more of your videos!

YouTube Tip: How to come up with keywords for my (gaming) videos?

Since I spent nearly two years now on YouTube creating a lot of content and optimizing it for YouTube’s search engine, it might be a good idea to share some general tips about that with you guys. Keep in mind that these tips are based on my own experience and they might yield different results for you. Coming up with effective keywords can be quite tricky, especially when you are facing a strong competition. When I try to come up with keywords I usually ask myself these things:

  • How strong is the competition?
  • What kind of videos are these? (Series, One-off, Review,…)

What do I mean by strength of the competition? Well, if you are trying to rank high for a very popular game that has been played by many (and popular) YouTubers, it can get very hard to rank high unless you are a very big YouTube channel yourself… Why is that?

Although there is no official documentation about this, it is fairly simple: YouTube likes LOVES watch time. The more a video gets watched, the higher it gets ranked. This means that a video from any bigger YouTuber will get ranked higher than a video from a small YouTuber, since more people are watching the bigger guys, even if their SEO (search engine optimization) is horrible. That might not seem fair to us smaller YouTubers that create all this great high quality content, but from YouTube’s standpoint it makes a lot of sense. Of course they are going to promote the video that is going to generate millions of views (and therefor a lot of ad revenue) and that people will most likely watch to the end over the ones that people stop watching after a few minutes. That’s why viewer retention is so important… all the keywords won’t help you, if people stop watching after 10 seconds. YouTube will KNOW that and rank down your video… but that’s a topic for another post.

So what does this mean in terms of keywords? If you are trying to rank for a generic keyword like just the title of the game, you might not even appear in the search results. What can you do? You can always try to get some long tail keywords. Long tail keywords for example are “Let’s Play Supergame Part 1”, “How To Do XYZ in Supergame” or “Supergame Early Access Gameplay”. Depending on how strong the competition is, I might try to rank for a more generic keyword like “Supergame Gameplay”, “Supergame Review”, etc.

If you are competing against other smaller YouTubers or are even one of the first ones to do a video on a certain game (that’s why it can make sense to keep an eye out for smaller indie titles to find them early), going for the more searched terms can work really well and might even be easy.

That does not mean that you should never put generic keywords like “Supergame Gameplay” or even just “Let’s Play” in there. I wouldn’t recommend filling the whole field with generic ones, but a few ones will help YouTube figure out what kind of video this is and they might even suggest it through YouTube on another video with similar tags. (Pro tip: Don’t just copy-paste keywords from other YouTubers without modifying, YouTube WILL know!) Also don’t put spammy and irrelevant tags in there. (“Free PC Game Download”, “Funny Video”, “Sex” – you get the idea…)

Now about the kind of gaming video… If you are creating a series, you should always make sure to have a few long tail keywords in there and it’s variations like “Supergame Part 1”, “Supergame Episode 1”, “Let’s Play Supergame Part 1”, “Supergame Let’s Play Part 1”, etc. because this will be searched by potential viewers that are looking for a series. Here are my keywords for my SimCity series:

Keywords

You can see that I threw in a few generic keywords but also a few longtail keywords. Over time and thanks to a good viewer retention, I got to rank fairly high. It took a lot of refinement and try and error to get to that point. I even came late to the party, the game being out for quite some time before I decided to make videos on this game. It doesn’t need to be on release day, but it certainly can help!

If you want to know which of these actually work and bring in viewers, you should check your Analytics -> Traffic Sources -> YouTube search and then look up the video you want detailed information on. This will show you the terms that have brought people to your videos. It always pays off to go back to them after a while and clean up ineffective keywords and add variations of working keywords into the mix.

Youtube Traffic - Search

For reviews, first impressions and other videos, you want to make sure to add these long tail terms to your keywords like “Supergame First Impression”, “Is Supergame any good”, etc… but also add things like the genre of the game (“Survival Game”,”Horror Game”,…) or the platforms you play the game on (“Supergame Gameplay PC”, “Supergame PS3 Gameplay”).

Now for ways to find keywords. If you have a competition, search for the terms you would use as keywords and open up high ranking videos (ideally of smaller YouTubers) and look at their keywords. Check out ReelSEO’s video How To Find the Tags of Any YouTube Video or install the free vidIQ plugin (recommended). Looking at other YouTubers and how they are doing their keywords will help you understand the keyword system better. Also pay attention to their description in title! Just don’t get discouraged, if it doesn’t make a lot of sense at first – YouTube’s search algorithm takes way more data into account than we can see.

What do you do, if you don’t have a competition or just want to find out what people search for? Just use Google’s / YouTube’s Autosuggest tool! Start typing in the search bar and see what YouTube starts completing / suggesting for you. Typing in “SimCity ” will give you a few suggestions what people are searching for (and also what might be worth making a video on). Play around with this a bit, to get a feel how it works.

autosuggest

Of course there are smart people out there, that made tools for this – like the Google suggest scraper รœbersuggest, that will pretty much give you the results of a lot of all the possibly combinations. I highly recommend using this tool, when you are drawing a blank.

This little post is certainly not exhausting the topic of keywords, so If you want some more information, I recommend reading the YouTube Creator Playbook or looking for relevant videos on channels like ReelSEO or Google Webmasters

Making sure that you optimize your description and title in unison with your keywords is also an important part but I can spend another post, just on that… and I might. Just make sure that you integrate the most important keywords you want to rank for not only in the title, but also in the description.

Hope this helps – good luck out there!

Steam Greenlight Pick: Pizza Express

I am always on the lookout for potential titles that I can play on my channel. Most of the times I end up not making a series out of it, mostly because I am quickly bored of it. If it interests me, I usually stick with it longer and eventually I decide to start a Let’s Play series if it is a good fit.

Recently I came across Pizza Express on Steam Greenlight. A game that got to me due to the nostalgia nerve that it hit. Making Pizza yourself? Managing a restaurant? Reminds me of Pizza Connection / Pizza Tycoon, one of the games that got me into management & business simulations! Better give Pizza Express a spin!

steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_319687399_preview (1) steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_319687399_preview (2)

steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_319687399_preview (3) steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_319687399_preview

After I got used to the interface, that is not designed for 27-inch screens; I found myself baking pizza, creating new recipes and managing a restaurant. Pizza Express reminded me a lot of Cook, Serve, Delicious, when it comes to the actual cooking part, but it had a more interesting ‘restaurant-simulation’ behind it that integrated well with the cooking part. To be profitable, you not only have to set the right prices and make little mistakes when making the pizzas, but you also have to make sure not to buy too many ingredients, that you will have to throw out at the end of the day.

The game presents a skippable story through the first 12 days (the full version will have 30 according to the developer), that not only explains the game very well without breaking the immersion but also was genuinely interesting. So interesting, that I dealt with the eye-straining interface over two hours; I did not find an option to play the game in windowed mode.

PGs
The animal characters fit very well into the whole theme and are quite unique, especially for this genre. I mean, who has seen a cat manage a restaurant?

The music in the game, which was made by several artists and is Public Domain, complements the 16-bit graphical style of the game very well and adds to the fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s unlikely that I will play Pizza Express on my channel, but I feel after two hours of fun gameplay (and the reason I didn’t blog on Friday), I owe it at least a mention here and a recommendation! The demo can be downloaded on the Steam Greenlight Page. It got my vote ๐Ÿ™‚

Gaming for yourself vs. Gaming for YouTube

Since I started YouTube nearly two years ago and especially since I started Let’s Plays about 1 1/2 years ago, I had (and still have) the following dilemma: Should I play this game for myself record this for YouTube?

It has been bugging me for a long time, and it still does every few days, when I feel like playing a game for fun. If you regularly record gameplay videos and then start to play a game for yourself without any capture software running, it feels a bit like doing office work and then at the end of the day, throwing out every bit of progress you made; a missed opportunity for content.

This dilemma seems especially true for story based games: You simply cannot play a story based game for yourself to ‘savor it’ and then record the same game again for YouTube; you already know the plot, your reactions are not genuine, and it’s more or less boring.

Recording it while experiencing the game the first time yourself will give you a genuine reaction and also will (generally) lead to more exciting footage for your channel since you are interested in the story progress and react the first time to events. So why not savor it while recording it for the first time?

Here is the problem: Interesting and engaging commentary take quite a bit of focus. Have you ever tried to have a conversation during a movie? Chances are, you will miss important parts. If you try to concentrate on the film, your conversation is going to be very bland.

Long story short: I believe, playing a game without recording it, results in a better gaming experience since you can fully focus on the game. But if I play for fun, I feel bad for not recording it, since I am not working towards my YouTube channel.

Now a solution to this problem would simply be to record Let’s Plays and after that play games for yourself afterward (if you want to provide daily content). I am sure that’s a legitimate possibility: If you are a full-time YouTuber living from it!

Strategy based games or survival games with a high replayability value are a good choice for this dilemma. I can have a YouTube savegame AND and personal savegame and both gameplay experiences are going to be different enough, for me to have fun every time. Now I only need not to feel like I am slacking, when I don’t record the game I am playing. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let me know what you think about this!