Building AWT: Game videos

Steve Sande, Kelly Hodgkins and I are building AWT into what it will be. There have been decisions to make and ideas to test. In this series, we'll provide an honest, behind-the-scenes look at the construction of what we know will be a vibrant community.

When Steve, Kelly and I decided to build a "Plan B" after TUAW shut down, I knew that I wanted to make gaming videos. At that time, I was just a few weeks into running Board Games Weekly (BGW), my podcast celebrating the hobby of tabletop gaming*. My BGW co-hosts and I had begun talking about video when "Plan B" became real. I knew I'd have to cease production on BGW, but I wanted to take the idea of game videos with me. 

I planned to make two types of gaming videos for AWT. First, a series comparing tabletop games to their iOS counterparts. I love tabletop gaming dearly, and meet with my gaming group twice per week for games, beers and laughs. It's such a great way to unwind.  As an Apple fan, I enjoy testing out the iOS adaptations of the games we play. A series comparing the two is only logical.

My other plan was to supplement written reviews with videos that highlight gameplay. I wrote many game app reviews at TUAW, and often wished I could show a game in action. AWT has given me the opportunity to do just that.

Today I'll look at the processes I went through and the software I tested while making iOS gameplay videos. I'll highlight what worked, what didn't and the setup I'm currently using. Here we go.

Gameplay Videos

Alto's Adventure, released on February 19, is the most successful example of a gameplay video I've done so far. It's not perfect, but it's good enough that I was willing to publish it. 24 hours before the review went live, that was not the case. 

Initial Plans

My first challenge was fundamental: How do I get the iPhone's screen onto the Mac so I can record it? I did a bit of research and found Reflector for Mac ($12). This fantastic little app essentially lets you select your Mac as an AirPlay destination via mirroring. It's wireless, tidy and was a big part of my initial solution. I purchased it, followed the setup instructions and presto! It worked beautifully. My iPhone's display was perfectly mirrored on my screen. Now, to record that output as video.

Every week, Aaron Mahnke and I record the Home Work podcast using QuickTime Player. The free software ships with every Mac and has a "New audio recording" option that lets me capture my voice for the show. It also offers "New screen recording," which I figured I'd use to grab Reflector's output. It captures your Mac's screen, or a portion thereof, and converts the result to a video.

The last piece of the puzzle was my narration, which I nabbed using SoundStudio and my Rode Podcaster mic. With all of the pieces in place, all that was left was to give it a try.

Moderate success

The first video I recorded was the game Province from Laboratory. The iOS version is very nice indeed, and grabbing the video was no problem. The final video came out pretty well (though the sequences with me behind the desk did not. More on that next time). 

Later, I recorded this 60-second tip with the same QuickTime/Reflector/SoundStudio setup. It also came out rather well so I was ready to try the rig with a feature review. Namely, Alto's Adventure.

Epic Fail

 With my review written, I sat down to shoot the video. I must admit I was quite excited, as I liked the game a whole lot, I knew I had written a comprehensive and entertaining review, and felt certain that a gameplay video would put it over the top. With everything in place, I hit Record.

The video struggled a bit. I decided to "give it a second." It continued to stutter. I kept recording. It didn't let up. "Maybe it's just the recording and it will look better via playback."

I finished and popped the result into iMovie. The stutter did not improve. This video (above) was unusable. What happened?

It seems that Reflector just couldn't keep up on my 2010 MacBook Air. Between the mirroring, QuickTime and SoundStudio, there was just too much going on. I turned to Kelly and Steve and told that the Alto video was unusable, and wouldn't be a part of my review. Bummer, man.

Epic Win!

Then Steve pointed out one more trick that QuickTime had up its digital sleeve. If I connect my iPhone to my Mac with its lightning cable and select "New movie recording" in QuickTime Player, I can record my device's screen in full HD. There are two QuickTime options to note here: Camera and Microphone.

  • Select the iPhone as the camera
  • Select the iPhone as the mic

Now, QuickTime will record the video and audio from my iPhone. I tired it out and it worked amazingly. No stutter, no lag. Just gorgeous HD video of the app, including audio. 

There was one more "gotcha" to overcome. I used SoundStudio to record my commentary track, and when I popped it into iMovie, it overrode the app's audio track. So I re-shot the video and added my voice audio as a commentary track in iMovie. The result is the video you see below.

I'm very happy that worked, though there's more work to do, like a nicer introduction for our videos, and maybe a music bed.

In the next "Building AWT" post, I'll look at the tabletop/iOS videos I've been working on. In the future, Kelly and Steve will share their own stories from our efforts to get AWT off the ground. It's thrilling, scary, hard work and fun. We're glad to share the ups and downs with all of you. 

*Unfortunately, I've had to put BGW on hiatus while I work on Apple World Today. I love it dearly, and hope to bring it back, but for now I must concentrate on creating something that will earn me a living.