14 March, 2010

A Brief History of My Video Talkthroughs

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, March 13, 2010

This is all pretty "inside <sport nobody cares about>", so you may want to skip it.

At PAX 2007, I wore the following t-shirt.

I didn't expect people to recognize all the stuff on it, but I figured that in the gamer rich environment of PAX, at least one person would know Heart of Evil, my favorite Half-Life mod. Nobody did. So I did a walkthrough and showed at least two of them how great Heart of Evil was.

What I Learned: I learned the basics of using Fraps, dinking with audio levels, and using Windows Movie Maker.

A few months later I started thinking about Blood, one of my favorite FPS games of all time. Nobody references that game, and it had a lot of great stuff in it. And, like Heart of Evil, it required a lot of roaming and exploration. Many modern FPS games feel like rail shooters in comparison. So I recorded a walkthrough of it.

What I Learned: I learned to be respectful of my viewers' time by warning them if there were long segments of aimless wandering. :)

Since Blood is an older game, I put a setup together that would allow me to record video from external sources, in this case my old Windows Millennium Edition machine. In theory it will eventually allow me to do walkthroughs of console games, as well.

It was during Blood that YouTube viewer Dulebstnurzweimal started commenting on every video uploaded. He generally has funny, observant things to say, which has been encouraging and improved the quality of the work.

Then the Let's Play Index started up on the Penny Arcade forums. Nobody had recorded a walkthrough of another personal favorite, Republic Commando, so I staked a claim.

What I Learned: Action packed games make for difficult walkthroughs. Republic Commando is a very busy experience. There are explosions and fighting and radio chatter throughout most of the game. Getting a word in edgewise was often difficult.

This was also my first experiment with using Windows Movie Maker for more than compression. I used it for title cards and subtitle comments that I couldn't say due to battle noise. I was particularly pleased when I was able to splice a clip from episode three into a much later episode (to show that General Grievous had been present on Geonosis).

I did a secret walkthrough of Batman: Arkham Asylum for a friend (which I still haven't finished because I am a lazy jerk).

What I Learned: The walkthrough had to be as Batman as possible, which meant no screw-ups and more refined stealth than I would normally bother with. That meant a lot of editing. Occasionally I also made jokes about my own commentary in the subtitles, which was weird, but Paul liked it, so I guess it worked.

Next came Gunman Chronicles, a Half-Life mod gone commercial. The game is equal parts fun and cheesy, which I felt made it ripe for a walkthrough. (And since I was sort of doing a Mystery Science Theatre walkthrough, I put together a video parody of the MST3K theme song as the cherry on top.)

What I Learned: Doing walkthroughs makes me explore more elements of a game than I do when I play through them myself. All I care about when I play a game for enjoyment is seeing what's next. But when I'm doing it for a walkthrough, I experiment more. It's not necessarily a better experience, but it's definitely a more thorough one.

On the technical side, my editing got more involved as I started fast forwarding past boring bits (the tank sections). And the music video was the most complicated thing I'd ever put together. I must have crashed Windows Movie Maker half a dozen times.

With Mass Effect 2 releasing and the Star Wars MMO on the horizon, BioWare was the subject of much discussion. But no one on any of the podcasts I'd listened to seemed to know anything about BioWare's first game, Shattered Steel. I figured it was my civic duty to put a walkthrough online so people could see what it looked like. Also, I didn't find any guides online for the game, so hopefully my walkthrough will make surviving the more difficult missions easier for anyone interested in experiencing this bit of history for themselves.

What I Learned: I was pretty concerned about making Shattered Steel watchable. I found out that by putting time indexes in the sidebar, YouTube viewers could skip all the briefings and debriefings.

Liberal use of fast forward whenever the game got repetitive was also helpful. But this meant I couldn't know where one installment would end and another would begin. You lose the personal touch when each installment doesn't begin with a hello and end with a goodbye. There's also an immediacy and feeling of shared experience that's lost when time becomes mutable. And finally, you have to be very careful not to prematurely delete any raw footage. :P

I should finish Shattered Steel this coming week. Then I'll take my customary week off. Then I've got a tough choice to make.

Do I show off The Witcher (my first perfect score of the year)? It's timely, as the sequel should be out in not too long. Very few people have played the original since it's PC only. I'm curious to see how putting the decisions in the hands of the audience will turn out.

Or maybe it's time to start Devils and Ninjas. I loved Devil May Cry. I didn't love Ninja Gaiden Black. I'd like to do a walkthrough of DMC to show people how I play, then start a walkthrough of Ninja Gaiden Black to show what I don't like about it. Will I prove that DMC has superior elements? Will I prove that whichever you play first is the one you'll end up preferring? Will I discover I was trying to play Ninja Gaiden too much like DMC and learn to love it for its own merits? I don't know, and the opportunity to learn interests me.

I'll probably go with The Witcher, since the other games are so out of date. It makes little difference if I do them this year or next. Heck, I could celebrate DMC's 10th anniversary if I waited until next year to do it. (And considering how long The Witcher is, it might be next year by the time I'm ready to start DMC.)

No comments: