How to Make a Let’s Play: Quick ‘N Dirty

This is more of a review meant to sum up a few details from the first 3 parts, starting from the set up. If you’re looking for an in-depth article, check those posts out!

Hello, Internet!
It is I, Charlie, here to review a few of the finer notes of our set up before anything actually gets recorded.

As we noted earlier, we’ve got a 2 laptop set-up. The first laptop is a 2017 Macbook. This runs both our audio recording software and our facecam software. For audio, since I’ve yet to find a reliable program that records 2 input sources well,
(programs I have found so far have had issues with 2 microphones with either lag or dropped sound) the Macbook runs both Audacity into microphone A (a snowball mic for those paying attention at home) and the Quicktime Player audio recording software runs for microphone B (another snowball).

For our Facecam, it’s Photobooth (The built in webcam software on a Mac). It’s very important that you do a test recording on all three pieces of software and play it back to make sure things function without issue. Can’t count the number of times we’ve false started due to my lack inability to remember to test.

For our gaming laptop, we try and record in 1920X1080 at 60 FPS. How we usually start every video is with a strong, strong cup of coffee. After that however, we’re off to the races. After we start the screen recording software and do a quick sync (wherein a countdown of 3-2-1 is cycled in time with a scroll through the main menu and a loud countdown into all microphones), we usually just jump in. Part of what makes the Indiecent Exposure series so genuine is the fact that I have no clue what the games are like, if they’ll even work, or what the controls are. It’s as much of a mystery to me as it is to everyone else!

After about 30-40 minutes of playing (that or finishing a level or first boss) we once again perform another sync at the end of the video. Afterwards, all recording stops.

Any videos are then run through HANDBRAKE, a program used to keep video frames and quality consistent. Our settings in handbrake are a constant FPS rate of 59.94, or as close to the source material file as possible. From Handbrake, the videos are saved to an SSD here at the studio. The audio files are also moved to this SSD. In fact, EVERYTHING is moved to a central SSD, which makes finding and importing things into Adobe Premiere so much easier.

Open and import your raw footage into Premiere Pro. Lay everything out on your timeline, and try to line up the syncs on all of your audio/video footage so that the start of your timeline is the countdown of 3-2-1 on all tracks. Once you’ve done this, RENDER YOUR FOOTAGE.

During the rendering, I usually head off, grab lunch, another coffee, play a few rounds of our upcoming MMA card game. But in all honesty you should take this opportunity to create your graphics. End cards, name tags, anything funny or special graphics wise you’d like to import later on should be created in the downtime.

Once your footage has been rendered, and your graphics created, begin editing your footage. Shrink the face cam footage to a corner (any corner is good!) to a point where it’s not distracting but still noticeable. Don’t forget to bring the game audio down to an acceptable level (usually around -20 DB) and try to get your own (microphone) audio up to an appropriate level where both partners are clearly audible (easier said than done!). Now take the cut tool and use it to select pieces of your footage you like, and remove clips you don’t like.

Lay in your graphics and add the appropriate transitions (fades and dissolves!) to spice up your editing.

Now export your footage and grab yourself a drink!

We’ll be going into the details of ‘Performance’ in our videos next time so don’t forget to follow us on social media for more updates!

-Charlie


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How To Make a Let’s Play Part 3:

Greetings, nerds! It is I, Charlie! With a quick note about this week’s blog post:

Attention! Before reading, you should know this is a continuation from parts 1 and 2 of How to make a Let’s Play, so if you’re just starting out and want to know what to use and how to record gameplay footage and audio, give a quick look through our previous parts.

…And now we’re back!

We left off just as you finished the importing of all your sweet, sweet raw footage and audio into your timeline. So now that it’s all up in there, What next?

1) Import any graphics, animated pieces, pictures or cards (end cards, title screens or otherwise) into your project. This includes things like your name tags, Title tags, all that good stuff.

2) After you’ve lined up your sync (using the 3-2-1 CLAP method noted earlier, in which you line up the audio to the video with a menu scroll) insert your name tags in the appropriate area.

3) RENDER. YOUR. FOOTAGE. After everything is placed on the timeline (roughly where you want them) Render the footage. This helps prevent ‘Loading Lag’ wherein a succession of quick cuts can cause your machine’s video display to fall behind and appear out of sync, even if that is not the case.

4) Once rendered, editing will go much smoother. Import any music you’d like into your timeline. If you’d like to give your video a ‘Bed’, (soft music playing in the background during speaking bits), place it just low enough to cover up any awkward silences.

5) Place your name tags, title screens and any other relevant information into the timeline. Don’t forget to add transitional effects (like fades) into your titles as well.

Remember that most adobe programs can cross over into others, so taking the time to learn things like photoshop and aftereffects can pay off in huge dividends for a final product.

6) After you’ve pieced together everything comes the rough stuff. The export. When exporting in any program (but in this particular case, Premiere Pro) try to keep your export settings as close to your import settings as possible. For example, if you imported a video that was a resolution of 1920X1080, try to export it as the same resolution. If your program has preset settings for a particular platform that you would like to use it on (such as a ‘YouTube’ setting), try and use those settings as well.

Seems simple enough, right? You can check out our finished product here:

Well we’ve covered a ton here so don’t forget to take the time to review everything before uploading your next video. If you’ve got any questions don’t forget you can reach out to us at the ZeMind social media accounts below.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Make a Let’s Play Part 2: Editing

So now that we’re set up with our equipment, it’s time for the hard part.

For editing we run the most recent premiere Adobe Premiere (Creative Cloud), along with the program ‘HandBrake’. Why Handbrake? For those of you who aren’t familiar, the built-in DVR you can find in the XBOX app (comes with Windows 10) can record at higher frame rates, but often doesn’t CONSISTENTLY record at higher framerates.

Essentially what will happen is your footage will either gain or lose frames as it plays, leading to occasional de-sync between your voice and the video. Handbrake is used to level out the frame rates and thus give a more accurate sync between audio and video.

Speaking of being in sync, it’s important to give yourself an editing start point. For us, it usually involves going to the game menu and scrolling through options while simultaneously counting ‘1-2-3, 3-2-1′ into the microphone before a large CLAP.

What this does allow an identifiable point in both audio and video which you will use as a starting point for your project in editing. (the clap will show up as a HUGE spike in the audio waveform so all you have to do is align it with the visual clap on the screen). To save yourself some extra time later, write down the time of any significantly entertaining moments happened on a piece of paper next to you (or just make a mental note of it for later).

Once you’ve performed your sync, and put your video through HandBrake, you’ll be able to align both up properly in editing. Play your game as planned, and nearing the end, perform a sync again (just to make it easier to tell if your video has fallen out of sync at the end). Quit your recording and POOF! You’re ready to go.

When exporting audio files, it doesn’t really matter what container your sound comes in as long as it’s high quality and readable by your editing software. This also applies to your video footage. For transparencies sake we try and export as .wav in audio and .mp4 for video.

Once you’ve opened up your video editing software, import your audio and video to your timeline. Watch your video until you find the clap from your sync earlier and align it with the clap audio and VOILA! You’re all ready to start editing.

Use whatever tool you can in your program to assemble all the good parts of your video while leaving out anything dull. This is often done in a click/drag motion and found in many of the programs’ tutorials. Don’t forget to do the same with the audio as well as fine tune the levels to the appropriate volume.

That’s all for this week, NEXT WEEK we’re rocking the overlays and editing tricks to add a little flair!

Don’t forget to follow us on social media, and in the mean time enjoy the latest video from our YouTube channel and don’t forget to subscribe!

-Charlie Ze Newbie

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How to Make a Let’s Play Part 1: The SET UP

So you want to be internet famous? Make a ‘Let’s Play’ video or five, do ya?

Well you’ve come to the right place. In an upcoming series of blogs, I’ll walk you through a behind-the-scenes peek of how we make the videos currently releasing on our YouTube channel in our series ‘INDIEcent Exposure‘.

For a quick overview, INDIEcent Exposure is a series where we highlight the gameplay of ‘Indie’ developers from Toronto and the world by playing them (occasionally really poorly). You can check out an example of us playing Ballistic Tanks by Kirklight Games on our YouTube Channel!

Alright, now to the good part.

What is our set up?

Right now we’re running a pretty basic set up. We use the ASUS gaming laptop ROG GL552VW to play/record the game audio/video. It’s nothing fancy but it does everything we need it to do.

SPECS: Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700HQ CPU @ 2.60GHz (8 CPUs), ~2.6GHz Memory: 16384MB RAM. DirectX Version: DirectX 12

We’ve hooked it up to an extra monitor (yet again, nothing fancy). Any HD monitor will do, in reality. As for our Facecam, we’re cycling through a few different options (webcams, our own phones etc) but we’ve settled in on using the same Macbook we use to record our sound (Just so happens it’s the latest and oft hated Macbook, but that’s negligible. As long as it can run ‘Audacity’ software as well as its own webcam at the same time, it’s good in our books).

When it comes to microphones, we’re using the ‘Blue Snowball’, a classic choice among early streamers/podcast enthusiasts. You can find it here.

All of our recorded video is kept on an 500 GB SSD (which will undoubtedly need an upgrade once it gets full.)

Our next video will feature a lighting and set up using this green screen kit (provided it ever gets here).

When it comes to the software on the Macbook, we’re running the built-in webcam programs, as well as Audacity in the background to keep things going simultaneously. While my personal experience would request the use of an ElGato capture device, the Windows 10 laptop we have uses the DVR built into the XBOX app. The footage taken from the XBOX app can be in varying qualities, so it’s important to note your settings before hitting the record button.

Anyways, that about wraps up the prerequisites for our set up, tune in next week for the next step of making a ‘Let’s Play’ styled video montage!

 

Until next time, don’t forget to follow us on social media and watch our videos!
-Charlie Ze Newbie

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Stream Team, Assemble!

Greetings, Internet!

Good news everyone! We’re reviving our YouTube channel! Praise the sun!

After a quick discussion with the higher ups, everyone’s favourite ‘Newbie’ will return to the online trenches with an ongoing YouTube series wherein members of our studio will play games to highlight some of the great indie content from Toronto.

The finer points are still being worked out, but essentially we’re coming out with short form (5 minute) videos playing games from small-ish studios with the hope of showing the public the kind of games we’ve got in the works here in Toronto (including the surrounding area). We’re also hoping to invite some of those game developers into our own studio to play their games with us; the intent being to build a larger and more well-knit local community.

So if you’re a developer from the GTA (or from the southern Ontario region) and you’ve got a game you’d like to see us play, send the following info to this address: Charlie[DOT]Barangan[AT]ZeMind.ca

A) Link to your game on Steam
B) Credits (Dev team, etc)
C) Contact information
D) Relevant social media

Please note that we may not always have the resources to commit to a solid release schedule. Rest assured that we will try to get around to as many games as possible, but we also need to make time for the production of our own titles. If you’ve got any further questions/comments don’t be afraid to get in touch with us on social media. The channel itself won’t be updated until we have more content, keep an eye out for us in the coming weeks!

We’d love to hear from you!
-Charlie Ze Newbie

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Meet a ZeMind Artist!

Greetings, internet!

It is I, Charlie Ze Newbie with a new kind of blog post.

A lot of work and love goes into the games we make here at the studio. For our upcoming game, VERSUS, we’ve gone in a delightful cartoon style that is absolutely adorable. This week I sit down with Gus, one of our artists, and talk to him about his background and his thoughts about working here.

How did you get started in art?
I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. I used to come home from school and lay down in front of my tv and watch cartoons. I used to draw fan art of the cartoons I was watching as I was watching it [laughs]. I lost it (drawing passion) in high school, although I got it back in college because I wanted to make a career out of it. In high school it didn’t seem like a possibility. Afterwards, I went to college and took art fundamentals from there.

What are your degrees?

I have two diplomas. Diplomas? Certificates? I don’t know. I have two of them since I graduated from Sheridan with the Visual Creative Arts program and I also graduated from Mohawk College with one in graphic design/animation. I thought about doing a game design program that focused on art and design programming at one point, but art still feels like an ‘Enterprising’ part of the game design field. In video game art, it always feels like we’re reaching new… Well not “Heights”, but like, “Heights”, you know? [laughs].

Influences?
I shouldn’t call any of them out. It’s funny because I’ve met a lot of them. I’m actually friends with some of them now. They’re people I aspire to, whose art I found online. But growing up, I found my influences in cartoons a lot of the time. Megaman, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Medabots. Those were great.


Speaking of which, what are your Favourite games?

My favourite game is Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced! It inspired my art style a lot. That as well as Megaman battle network. My dad took me to Germany once and I never looked up from my Gameboy (due to Megaman Battle Network). Those and of course the classics, like Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask. I have really fond memories of them all.

What are you playing right now?

Breath of the wild. Everyone’s playing that right now. Everyone who has a Nintendo Switch, anyways. I’m also playing some PC games. I like Blizzard games, like Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone. Those kinds of games.

What is the best part of working at ZeMind Games?

This is a pretty good environment. We have a dog, so what else is there? I have a computer, [laughs] The people are pretty cool. Various types of people. I’m trying to un-dig this hole that I’ve dug for myself (laughs), I don’t think you should include that there’s beer in the fridge. That’s a secret perk.

Thanks for chatting!
Thank YOU!

Hope this let you all get to know the sort of people who work here. If you’ve got the chance, we’d love it if you followed us on social media! Stay tuned for more of the people who make ZeMind Studios such a fun place to work.

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Calling all Toronto Artists!

These faulty prototypes turned out a little smaller than we expected… Pen for scale.

What’s that? You’re a local Toronto artist interested in card games? Well step right up!

We’re on the hunt for a few extra hands for our upcoming card game. Just so anyone interested is aware, it’s based on the growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) that takes place in a cage (think the ‘UFC’). Players will build a deck of punches, kicks, wrestling and submission techniques to help reduce their opponent’s health to zero in as fast a manner as possible. Many card game lovers who are/were familiar of games such as the Pokemon Trading Card Game, Yu-Gi-Oh! As well as Magic: The Gathering should find some of the elements in our game familiar.

If you’re a Toronto artist who just so happens to to enjoy card games, MMA or both, drop us a line! Here’s a soft list (by no means set in stone) of what we’re looking for.

In no particular order, here’s what we’d like to see:

We’ve only just begun our hunt for local talent (we love supporting our homegrown pals!), but it’s very important to us that the art on our cards be action oriented. The style has yet to be nailed down in its finer details, but we’re imagining something with heavy inks and a dynamic perspective.

If possible we’re going for something along the lines of what ‘The Big 2’ comic publishers (Marvel or DC) would publish in one of their larger titles. Exaggerated hands and feet as well as combat in motion are all a huge plus here, so don’t be afraid to showcase your style when it comes to the ‘Art’ part of mixed-martial arts.

Preferably, we’d like to include two characters per card locked in mid-strike or in the heat of combat. Art that highlight all sorts of punches, kicks, knees will all go to the top of the stack. Combatants can be on the ground, in the air or standing as long as the violence/exaggeration levels don’t reach the ‘Mortal Kombat’ level of gore. Think less in the realms of ‘Fatalities’ and more in line with the ‘EA Sports: UFC’ series.

Don’t worry so much on background as much as getting the spirit of combat just right. We also LOVE dramatic angles, so if you’ve got a few pieces lying around that fit the bill, we’d love to see them (Via link! No files please!).

When it comes to colours, we’re hoping to see a lot of de-saturated pieces as well as heavier, comic styled inks. Inspiration wise, there are plenty of manga titles up for grabs that would help, but try and take your inspiration from fighting video games such as the Street Fighter franchise.

Don’t worry if your art doesn’t fit the requirements list perfectly, we’re still working things out so details may change. Send us what you got!

You can email a link to your portfolio, and some notes about yourself to me, Charlie Ze Intern, here charlie(DOT)barangan(AT)zemind.ca or reach out to us on social media accounts listed below.

We can’t wait to show you what we’re coming out with next!

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Git Into my Game!

I’ll be the first person to tell you that coding is hard. I’ll also be the first person to tell you I can’t code to save my life. That’s why, of course, the lovely team here at ZeMind has introduced me into the cold and murky depths of Xcode (lucky me).

Yes, your favourite newbie has descended into the flame-broiled heart of heck itself, past the rings of Unity and into the pits of Git.

So, what am I doing here, you may ask? Turns out that while writing the script was a team based and often times humorous trip into the realms of puns and fantasy, actually entering the thing into the game has proven to have a bit of a learning curve. Those of you who follow our social media pages (which you all should be, duh) know that since I’ve begun my tenure here at the studio I’ve given Unity a try, with uh, mixed results.

That being said, I clearly had not-the-worst point collection ball game here in the studio, and the experience went well enough to say that I’d give coding a go in the future.

Fast forward to now, where thanks to our tightly knit team of developers, I’m working with an (explicitly for newbies) customized chunk of code which essentially plays as a mad-libs for entering the script and dialogue into our game. For Versus, we’ve gone with a traditional JRPG dialogue setup, that is to say we’ve got a shared dialogue box between all talking head characters on the screen.

On my end, I’ve gone about not just entering the dialogue but also selecting the talking head portraits themselves as well as filling in sound effects for dialogue (while we won’t exactly be going with english, we may change it up to have a sort of ‘Sim-Speak’ kind of tone.

It’s definitely eye-opening to see the amount of sheer, hair-raising frustration and terror that goes into coding something. Even with my custom set up, I’ve had several follicle ruining moments that have tested my patience. Not to mention all the times I thought I completely wrecked the game when pushing it.

*Shudders*

The game is now in an incomplete but playable state. We’ve got a ton of the art assets set in (which, while still being awesome, still have a few left to go) as well as the majority of dialogue and story from acts 1-3. Most of the characters are playable, save for a few that need a touch more tweaking. We’re still in the process of finalizing certain aspects of the story as well as selecting final music and additional effects, but overall this game is turning out to be a lot more fun than anticipated.

That’s all for this week, don’t forget to follow us on social media for more updates, contests and giveaways!

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So you want to sell a card game…

With ‘Mega Fighters’ (working title of our MMA fighting card game) hopefully coming out sometime this year (we’re thinking fall-summer), the time has come to try and solve the logistic issues between getting the game made and getting the game out there.

Hold on to your butts.

With only a projected few months to go, we’re buckling down and making the most of our precious play testing time as our self-imposed deadline draws near. We’re testing. A lot. The first thing we’re hoping to do is release a starter pack containing the basics of what two people would need to play a basic game of Mega Fighters (includes an awesome introduction to the game as well as a few rare cards to get their collection going).

The second thing we hope to do is release another ‘Deluxe Edition’, complete with several more playable characters, un-lockable abilities as well as a plethora of moves you won’t find in any other card game. These extra cards will of course be available in booster packs we plan to release as well, keeping in tradition with many of your favourite childhood (or adulthood) trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering.

We’re also hoping to include a few accessories (such as dials and score cards) to keep track of certain statistics like hand size, health totals, etc. We feel like these add to the speed and overall enjoyment when included but don’t detract from the experience when playing without them.

As with any fighting game, the level itself will provide much of the flavour. What we’re aiming for is a cage-like play mat that simulates the circular ring you’d find in many MMA fights both on TV and at the amateur level. Speaking of flavour, we’re now on the prowl for local (Toronto) artists looking to get out there and design a few cards (with compensation, of course). It should be noted though, that we’re on the hunt for something along the current Marvel Comics style and that we’re looking to review portfolios in the upcoming weeks.

Got any hot tips on an artist looking to get in on a card game? Shoot them our way!

-Charlie Ze Newbie

If you want to keep tabs on us don’t forget to follow Zemind Games on social media!

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Nerf This! A Mega-Fighters Update

When it comes to balanced games, chances are you’re not thinking of fighting games. Chances are even better, that you cringe at the idea of a fighting game being ‘Balanced’. For the average person catching a high level eSport or watching a competitive fighter, it’s essentially a blur of movement, rapid framerates, endless combos and an audience/broadcaster commentary track using what is effectively an alien language.

To an extent, these things are part of the experience- The ‘Alien’ language of a fighting game commentary is part of the community, and the endless combos with an obsessive counting of framerates is what separates contenders from pretenders. However, when designing our own fighting card game (with a digital expansion in mind) it became plainly obvious that many of these things can be entry barriers for new players, or, in our case, players in a new game.

As a bit of background, our card game (currently in early development) is a mixed martial arts fighting card game sitting the line somewhere between the Street Fighter series and the EA Sports UFC franchise. Using punch and kick cards, as well as submission and wrestling cards, you’ll also need a solid gameplan to reduce your opponent’s HP to 0.

This is what the team looks like when designing games.

One of the advantages to a paper-prototype is that it inherently strips away frame rates by slowing the game down. For future fighting game developers, I would strongly recommend breaking down your game down into a card game for the sake of understanding how fighting commands (and their interactions with each other) work. In doing so, we’ve discovered what moves could be considered over powered and what needs a little extra heat behind it to keep its usage up.

As a personal note, when it comes to balancing the game out, I’ve always erred on the side of nerfing, as opposed to buffing attacks (in both fighting and card games) so as not to provide any potential game-breaking strategies. This however, has changed over the course of balancing the games as buffing cards increases the game’s pace and overall excitement. When trying to emulate the chaotic feel of an MMA fight, it should always feel like any fighter could win at any moment, conversely, it should also go without saying that the more skilled combatant should win more often than not. Essentially, what we’re going for is the feeling of a potential upset victory but reward those putting the time in to learn the game’s intricacies and strategies. It’s definitely been eye-opening going from player to designer, but overall it’s easy to say I’ve gained an entire mountain of respect for everyone in the testing department.

We’ve actually just printed out a new set of cards to expand our original 16 card lineup, and we can’t wait to test them. This game is going to be awesome.

If you want to keep tabs on us don’t forget to follow Zemind Games on social media!

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