Today I’m going to share my approach on creating video game trailers for my indie games, from conceptualization to a finished, high quality video to share on Youtube or any other social media websites (or, even your own site!). We can break this larger topic down into three smaller topics: Software, Design, and Process.
We’ll touch on a few different applications required throughout the video creation process.
screen recording software: First, you’ll need a means of capturing footage of your game play. There are numerous screen recording utilities available that run the gamut of just-plain-terrible to dude-gimme-gimme-gimme. By and far, the best one I’ve come across yet is Fraps. You can easily capture both screenshots and videos at any time with a user-mapped hotkey. What sets Fraps apart from other screen recording utilities it its ability to capture directly from the source application rather than simply capturing a specified area on your monitor. Of course, this does have its limitations. I believe the source you’d like to capture must be DirectX or OpenGL, and I’ve come across a few applications that Fraps just doesn’t want to play nicely with. But for the majority of compatible apps, it works like a charm! It supports insanely high resolutions (4K+) and the ability to capture at up to 120 fps. The GUI is extremely simple and straight forward, and you’ll be up and running in less than a minute. The catch? The trial version limits you to a timed recording of 30 seconds and displays a watermark on the rendered video, and to retain full speed while recording, depending on the source application, you might need a pretty powerful GPU (Note, this limitation isn’t specific to Fraps alone – goes for all screen recording utitlies). But for only $37 for the full version, there’s no reason you can’t afford this if you’re serious about creating top notch trailers!
If you’re interested in a free alternative, CamStudio works considerably well. You can specify the region on screen that you’d like to capture, or have CamStudio automatically resize the capture dimensions to fit a window. Trying to achieve a recording quality at 60fps like Fraps (with my experience) might not be possible, so I can’t exactly endorse CamStudio for super high quality video game trailer videos. It does, however, work wonders for general screen capture software (if you’re producing video tutorials, for example).
I’m sure there are handfuls of other alternatives, both paid and free. With Fraps and Camstudio though, all of my screen recording needs are taken care of.
video conversion software: Depending on the output of your screen recording software, you may need to convert the rendered file to an entirely different format.There are many paid solutions for video conversion, and some even include default profiles to convert to formats friendly on certain services (like Youtube, or a website). I’m currently using handbrake. It’s free, it’s straightforward, and it does a great job. I’ll discuss more in the process section of this post.
video editing software: It’s been years since I’ve had to traverse the web searching for a good video editing software solution. I’ve been locked into AfterFX since college, and I have absolutely no reason to test out any other video editing suites. AfterFX is a mighty beast, and the flexibility and power lies in the ability to set and manipulate keyframes on any attribute, such as position, scale, or any of the dozens of included effects. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no recommendations for video editing software if you’re not interested in shelling out a bit of cash. Windows Movie Maker is a free alternative, but it’s so frustratingly limited, you’ll be literally ripping your hair out and viciously clawing at your eyeballs wishing there was just another way in life. Really. (Side note, I have to use Windows Movie Maker quite a bit at work. Whenever I do, I find myself suddenly slipping into a deep depression alleviated only by an AfterFX fix). I’m open to any other recommendations for video editing software in the < $50 range (and support keyframed animation), just so I can suggest it to others.
And that’s about it for the basic software!
There aren’t really any set rules in making an attractive video game trailer, but there are some helpful guidelines I’ve picked up on over the years. You want to be extremely aware of what sort of information you’re trying to get across, what emotions you’re attempting to convey to the audience and potential customers. Your trailer needs a mood that accurately reflects the type of game. The trick is establishing and continuing this mood throughout your entire trailer through use of music, timing, and visuals. Is it a fast paced action game with a lot of action and a handful of action served with a heaping side of pure actiony goodness? You may want to consider using an upbeat, fast tempo music track with a lot of flashy visuals and focusing on the quick, intense parts of gameplay. How about a relaxing exploration and puzzle game? A slow, ambient track might suit this, along with tidbits of video showing the player interacting, solving puzzles, exploring.
What gameplay footage should be included in the trailer? Trailers are relatively short – some range from half a minute, others might extend up to two minutes or so. But regardless of the length of the trailer, you’ll want to include a variety of different shots that give the viewer a very good idea of all your game has to offer. You know back in childhood how you’d head to the game store and pick up a SNES box, and on the back it’d have bullet points of all the features? Those features are the ones you’d want to emphasize in a video trailer. (Sorry, that’s applicable to Steam with digital games, and newer physical game boxes too, but I keep those old cheap SNES boxes forever in my heart). Show off some weapons, some insane boss battles, maybe a little exploration, some puzzle elements. The goal is to build momentum and keep it going, to excite and keep that feeling extending throughout the whole entire trailer.
It’s also always a wise idea to include the title and logo of your game company somewhere in the video, as well as the title and logo of the game itself. It doesn’t hurt to toss in some contact information in there too (as in, directing the viewer to a website for more info, not necessarily a telephone number! 😉 ). You might upload the video to Youtube, or perhaps directly to your website, but in the event that the video is embedded on a completely different website with absolutely no information regarding the video, you’ll need some info in the video itself so users can identify the game.
Never ever put menus in a trailer unless it’s relevant to gameplay. Why would someone want to spend a few seconds staring at a pause screen? Situations where menus may provide additional information about your game could be RPG’s, simulation games, strategy games, etc., where menu navigation and making selections are paramount to the gameplay experience.
And what a wonderful segway to pacing/timing. You don’t want to show any one shot for too long – you need to keep it varied and interesting, but you also shouldn’t switch shots every single second. Give the viewer a moment to process what’s going on.
Music is absolutely critical, a fundamental part not only of trailers, but also video games themselves! Hop on Youtube and search for trailers – it’s not specific to video game trailers, most movie trailers do an absolutely incredible job of syncing visuals with a music track to completely emphasize the mood.
Your number one priority in creating a video game trailer is saying something to the viewer. If your trailer can’t speak about your game trhough music, visuals, and timing, then you need to revisit it and rework it until it does. Here are some things you should put in a trailer:
- Character’s special abilities
- Using weapons, showcasing a variety
- The battle system, bosses and enemies
- Puzzles, exploring, focus on beautiful graphics
And here are some things you should never put in a trailer:
- Walking around randomly not interacting with the environment
- Pause Menus
- Game Over screen
- Glitches and bugs
- Your mom (unless your game is a mom simulator, then by all means, go right ahead!)
Just remember, keep it interesting! The visuals appeal to your eyes, the music warms your ears, and the game itself should melt your heart.
This section is a bit more technical than the rest. This is all about the process, starting from recording some gameplay video to rendering and uploading your game trailer to Youtube. I’ll speak more specifically about my process, as it varies from person to person, especially depending on the software they use. Here’s my approach:
I always start out with Fraps. I plan ahead and think of some interesting shots I’d like to share with fans and gamers. I always record at full resolution and 60fps – beginning with the highest possible quality right off the bat is important, as degradation through conversion is likely through each step of the process. Keep in mind, you’ll need quite a bit of free hard drive space to store all of your videos. When less than a minute of recorded gameplay can total to nearly a whole gigabyte, you’ll understand why having lots of free space on your HD is important! Because we’ll be editing these individual clips later, it doesn’t matter if our videos capture a bunch of things we’d rather not share in the trailer. For example, we want to capture the player being gruesomely pummeled by a giant bat zombie monkey creature, but we can’t anticipate exactly when the giant bat zombie monkey creature will strike. So we’ll just hit record whenever, and later in the editing process, we can cut out all of the boring footage.
Once I’ve built up a small library of different gameplay videos, it’s time to bring it over to my video editing software. Because I have over a terabyte of free hard drive space, and I just upgraded to a speedy i7 processor, I don’t bother with converting the humongous .avi files to something more manageable – my PC can handle it! However, if you don’t have quite as capable of a setup, you can always open up Hand Brake and convert your videos to something a bit more practical. It’s best to go with a file format that greatly reduces the file size without sacrificing much quality. DivX AVI is a great choice for video compression. I also recommend WMV (Windows Media Video). MOV can certainly reduce your file size as well, but not quite as significantly as other file format choices.
When preparing a large video project, it’s always best practice to ensure that all of your video files and other media assets are in one folder (or with subfolders). In a lot of video editing software, importing a file will merely reference the file, meaning that, even though it appears as if you’ve imported the file into your software and it’s there to stay, actually moving the file to a different folder on your hard drive might break the connection and cause the video editing software to become confused (“Huh? Where’d the file go? It’s missing!”).
It’s important to be aware of your composition dimensions (the resolution of your project). To my understanding (don’t quote me on this), when you upload a video to Youtube, it’ll automatically convert the video to the closest resolution setting either at or below the resolution of your video file. That means, if the video you upload is 1024×520, or some other similarly odd resolution, it’ll drop it down to 480p despite our video’s resolution being closer to 720p. If the native resolution of our video file is 1024×520 and we’d rather Youtube render it as 720p instead of dropping the quality to 480p, we could just simply scale everything up in our video editing software to reflect 720p… meaning, take the imported video and scale it up until it’s 1280×720. Now when we upload it to Youtube, it won’t drop down to 480p.
In AfterFX, I’ve heard tales of some people who have trouble with importing MP3 files – sometimes it may cut out a bit, or skip just a few seconds into the file. Though I’ve personally never encountered this unusual behavior, importing a WAV instead of an MP3 always does the trick.
When I’m rendering out from AfterFX, I always render as a WMV at the highest quality settings possible. This keeps the file size greatly manageable while retaining most of the quality.
That’s just about it! I’m sure I have much more to share, but my mind is a big ol’ mushy pile of yummy brain jello at the moment. Of course, as it always goes, I’ll update as I think of more helpful information to add to this post.