Guide: Recording video, recording audio, and editing for YouTube

I wrote this guide a while back for my guildies and I figured I could share it here for folks as well. Are you a YouTube noob who wants to start making game videos? Below is my advice for how to jump in, at varying levels of commitment and expense.

Also, if you like game videos such as the Spelunky Daily Challenge or a review of Democracy 3 or the Cat Context podcast video version, check out our YouTube channel!

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Even in the era of YouTube domination, recording video is still kind of confusing and technically obtuse, and also the more you learn about it the more you realize how much more you COULD be doing if you really cared. You monster.

I am by no means an expert I wrote a guide to getting started anyway! It’s broken down into three stages of increasing commitment, expense, and .. um.. fanciness. Start with #1, and if you find you like making game videos and want to get more in depth then read the next stage. (There is no shame in doing the simple and cheap stage forever, either.

Stage 1: Look, nerd, I just want to record a game. (Video)
Stage 2: Is that Freedom Rock? Well turn it up, man. (Audio)
Stage 3: But what I really want to do is direct. (Editing)


Stage One: Look, nerd, I just want to record a game.

Cost: $30. Set-up time: about an hour.

Video
Go download the free 30-day trial of Mirillis Action!.This is relatively new software and I hear it not only does a good job but it’s also very user friendly. If you like it, it’s also the least expensive game capture software out there right now with a one-time price of $30. There’s a pretty good video on YouTube of someone going through all the Action! menus and explaining the settings that is probably worth skimming at least.

Hint! A nice compromise between file size and quality for YouTube is 720p, which means you want to set your recording software to record at 1280×720 AND your game window resolution to 1280×720.
Hint! Raw video files are huuuuuge. Apparently Action! has pretty good compression naturally, but plan on using up about 1 gb for every 60 seconds of recording.

Audio
At this stage you can just record your audio live with whatever mic you have through Action!.

Hint! You want to hear your voice over the game sounds, so make sure you keep the game volume pretty low while recording.

Editing and Uploading
Let’s not worry about editing at this stage. You have a video with game audio and commentary! Log in to YouTube and upload that puppy.

Hint! If your YouTube account lets you add custom thumbnails, they should be 1280×720 in size.
Hint! The main way that new people will find your video on YouTube is via the tags, so make them good. For example: “The Wolf Among Us”, “Wolf Among Us”, “Telltale Games”, “Wolf Telltale”, “Wolf Among Us Walkthrough”.

Stage Two: Is that Freedom Rock? Well turn it up, man.

Cost: $0. Set-up time: 2 hours.

Video
We took care of video in Stage One for the most part, so there aren’t really any tweaks here. If you are so inclined you can find alternate codecs to do various things, including ones that will record a very similar quality at a much smaller file size. I use the Lagarith Lossless Codec myself, which gives me files of about half the size as the default codec.

Audio
The first step to improving audio is recording your commentary to its own track. Download Audacity, which is free and freaking amazing. You can do a lot with Audacity, but basically at this point you only need to know two things: make sure the microphone drop-down menu right above the recording area is set to your mic, and then click the red circle button to record. You can run Audacity while you’re recording the video for live stuff, or record the voice track later for post-commentary.

Choose “Export -> as wav” when you’re done. Now download Levelator, which is also free. Drag and drop your .wav file on top of Levelator and it will work its magic to make it sound better.

Hint! There could be a whole additional post on Audacity, but basically highlight any part of your sound file with your mouse and hit the Del button on your keyboard to remove it. Highlight a segment and click Generate -> Silence to make it silent. CTL+2 zooms in, while CTL+3 zooms out.

Editing and Uploading
So now you have a video file with game sound and an audio file with commentary. Open up the free Windows Movie Maker (or I guess the free iWork editor if you are on a Mac?). Click on “Add Videos”, and point it to your video file. Use the little pull-down menu next to “Record narration” and select your audio file. Save, and under the “Save Movie” pull-down menu select “For YouTube”.

Once that has finished rendering, upload it to YouTube. Watch your video and savor the improved sound quality.

For extremely basic editing after uploading, try the YouTube Editor. It handles like a 3-legged cow, but it is free and will do basic things like combining uploaded videos into one or trimming the ends off a video.

Hint! Rendering takes a super long time, probably at least twice the runtime of your video depending on your computer. Start the process and go watch some tv or do something else on the computer that doesn’t require much processing power.

Stage Three: But what I really want to do is direct

Cost: $50+. Setup time: 3 hours.

Video
Keep being awesome.

Audio
Also keep being awesome. Have you tried post-commentary yet? I like watching my video after recording and then doing the commentary, although sometimes that makes my obviously awesome jokes sound a bit rehearsed.

Hint! Want to just put some music in the background? Check out the Free Music Archive. Don’t use copyrighted music or YouTube will kick your butt. Also, don’t forget to turn the music volume down very low in your editor so it doesn’t muddle your voice.

Editing and Uploading
Okay, let’s get serious about editing! The first step is telling Windows Movie Maker to bug off. There are a lot of video editing software options but I like Sony Movie Studio which starts at $50. Here’s a quick video I found on setting up Sony Movie Studio the first time, but the important bits are making sure the editor is set to 1280×720 (just like Action! and your game) and “Internet” or medium-level quality. YouTube compresses things a lot, so a mid-level quality means short rendering times and just losing quality that YouTube would stomp down anyway.

Like Audacity there are SO MANY THINGS you can do with Movie Studio that I can’t even get into it. Project -> Import Media lets you import your video file(s), sound file(s), and any still images to use in your final video timeline. Like Audacity you can highlight segments with your mouse and then cut/copy/paste. The other things you need to know is Project -> Render As (create the video file on your hard drive) or Project -> Make Movie (create the video file and then upload to YouTube). You can choose to render your whole video or just the highlighted part, which is good if you have a long recording that you want to break up into two subsequent videos.

Movie Maker also has a fairly solid internal sound recording feature which is good in a pinch, but you will get the best quality by recording and editing with Audacity and then importing the sound file into Movie Maker.

Hint! There is way too much to talk about here for Movie Maker, but if you want to explore some of the advanced moves click the little “Event FX” symbol in the far right corner of any video track. This opens up the FX window and lets you play with pan, zoom, adding watermarks, and a bunch of other things.

If you finished Stage 3, you now have now learned some techniques for advanced video, audio, and editing. Now it is YOU who is the YouTube master.

Author: Jessica Cook

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7 Comments

  1. I loooove Audacity. When I did my “Here Comes Dinosaur” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLUDpw92BQg ) parody video, Audacity was super awesome for being able to apply reverb (with a plugin), remove unwanted breaths and noises from my vocal track, and balancing the two.

    And putting together guild kill montages ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPd4QXM-tfc ) it was great at fading and mixing boss quotes and background music.

    If you want to do a lot of recording, get a huge drive! I have a terabyte drive exclusively for FRAPS footage, and I still need to constantly delete a lot of raw recordings. But it also allows me to record at my maximum resolution of 1920×1200. If I want to compress it later I can, but better to get the raw footage at maximum quality first so you don’t think later that you wished you did.

    Great post, I’ll have to check out the Sony Movie Maker (which you had suggested before if I recall correctly).

    Post a Reply
    • Great advice! I have limited hard drive space so I tend to record right into 720p, but you’re totally right that the ideal is recording at a maximum resolution.

      And I also love Audacity. With a little effort to learn it can do so many crazy things. I discovered the noise gating plug-in a few months ago (cuts off any sound below a set decibel level) and it has seriously shaved hours off of my podcast editing.

      Post a Reply
  2. Awesome stuff, been meaning to look into this sorta thing. Thanks Liore! :)
    Quick question though, if I don’t want gameplay footage (say I want to upload me playing piano) and don’t have a web cam (but have a hand held camera) what tips can you provide in this case?
    Joseph Skyrim´s last post: Dead Island Riptide: Finish Her!

    Post a Reply
    • Hmm, I haven’t done it myself, but you should be able to move the camera’s footage file to your computer and then load it directly into the editor of your choice, make any changes (title screens, voice overs, trimming, etc), and export into a YouTube-friendly format. If for some reason your camera records in an odd file format I highly recommend Handbrake as a free, open source video transcoder that will turn just about anything into anything else.

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