How To Make Videos For Games
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We think our experience will be useful both to anyone who is trying to produce video independently and to developers who are outsourcing creation of video for their games.
Here is the video creation process:
Choosing a video type
The first we question we ask our clients is, “Why do you need a video?” Based on this answer, we propose one of the following video types:
- Teaser. No gameplay is shown and nothing specific about the game is said. But we create interest in the game and tease the viewer.
Example: Our teaser for the gloomy and addictive game Darklings 2 from Mildmania
- In-game video. Used as an intro or closing video or cut scene. Can be placed in game reviews as well.
Example: Our opening for Lost In Reefs from Rumbic Studio
- Trailer showing gameplay and game features. Used everywhere suitable for attracting the attention of a potential gamer: in-app advertising, social networks and online media, even TVs at malls/stores.
Example: Our trailer for the multiplayer version of LandGrabbers from Nevosoft
Idea and script
The storyline of an in-game video always follows the plot of the game, a teaser evokes the same feelings and emotions as the game itself, and the trailer immediately dives into the gameplay and the essence of what makes the game special.
When writing the script, we split the document into three columns: Scene Purpose, Video Action, and Voiceover Text.
When writing a script, we start with the “Scene Purpose” column. For each scene we write a one-sentence outline of why the scene is necessary in the video. This could be “Beginning of the video and introduction to the game”, “Main unique feature”, “Engrossing gameplay”, or “Call to action”. So we establish the sequence of scenes and form a bare-bones outline of the script.
When there is text only in the Scene Purpose column and the other columns are empty, it is easy to spot and fix any errors in the flow of the narrative.
The amount of detail necessary for describing the video action depends on the talent and artistic flair of the video designer who will be working on the project. For some of our people, all you need to do is write “logo appears with a spiffy animation” and give a link to a reference; in a handful of cases, we have needed to be more specific – “an object appears by increasing the scale with a bounce effect and reduced opacity, with acceleration from the left edge towards the center”, and so on.
Very important: The amount of voiceover text in each scene must match the number of events in the video. Here is how we calculate the balance:
2 voiceover words = 1 second
One major on-screen event = 1–2 seconds.
We can, of course, make all of the graphics ourselves. But why spend time and client budget if, during the game creation process, the client has already done enormous work to illustrate the characters, game interface, backgrounds, levels, and other visuals? We can simply take these source materials (layered .psd or .ai files, 3D models, etc.) and add all of the necessary touches ourselves. Oftentimes the graphics provided by the client are entirely sufficient for creating a video.
Example: Sources for Landgrabbers
Incidentally, we can recommend a good app for getting video grabs on iOS devices: Reflector (the trial version allows recording up to 10 minutes of video in a single session, which is more than enough for showing gameplay). We have not found an Android equivalent that is quite as convenient, so if you have any recommendations we will be glad to hear them!
The storyboard allows us to visualize the video long before the work is finished.
Depending on how complicated the video is, the storyboard can take on different forms: from a set of hand-drawn sketches to near-stills from the video-to-be. Adding detail to the storyboard means fewer unexpected comments from clients at later stages of work (which means fewer fixes and less time spent). We try to include all of the key scenes in the video in the storyboard.
Example: Storyboard for Darklings
Our experience shows that going without a storyboard makes the end result unknowable and unpredictable.
Does a game video need a voice? Our answer is yes, it does. Voice is too important of an avenue for reaching viewers to be ignored. Voiceover-free videos are easier to localize into other languages (since you do not have to redo the animation to fit the new audio track, which will have different timings than the original) but reduced production costs may be a false savings compared to the lessened impact of the video.
Is it worth it to save money by using an amateur instead of a professional voiceover artist? No, it is not.
A professional voiceover artist records his or her voice on expensive equipment in a studio with excellent audio isolation. The voice is recorded evenly, without jumps in volume or frequency. The artist regularly works with advertising and informational texts and speaks properly: there is no or very little aspiration and unwanted sounds are not present (hissing, whistling, popping, etc.). This kind of voice is easy to mix and combine with music and audio.
Note that audio is ALWAYS recorded before the animation is created, and animation is created only based on an existing voiceover recording. Doing the opposite will waste significant time. If you are unable to record a voiceover right away for any reason, here's the workaround: first record a “rough-draft” voiceover (yourself, on a karaoke microphone through a laptop's run-of-the-mill audio card) and create the animation based on that. Later, the voiceover artist reads the text in high quality so that it fully coincides with the timing of the rough draft. But this will add 30 to 50% to the cost of the voiceover artist’s work.
One thing that should be obvious, but we'll say it anyway: if you are recording in another language, have the voiceover done ONLY by a native speaker!
This stage is worthy of an article in itself. This is where the main magic happens, turning still pictures into a moving, emotion-provoking video.
- Animate in time to the music. Usually we give our video crew a metronome, which they use to animate all of the video events in rhythm to the music.
- The animation must follow the Disney's Twelve Basic Principles.
- Camera perspective in the video must be “live”, not static. Even if the video contains only static objects (for example, a logo and URL), the camera should shift about a little, zoom in/out, or slightly sway and “breathe”.
Music and audio
We write music from scratch for each project or else buy royalty-free tracks from stock sites: http://audiojungle.net/, http://www.neosounds.com/, http://www.premiumbeat.com/.
How does one select the right track? Obviously the music should fit the mood and content of the video; the music should not contain abrupt or startling sounds that distract the viewer. Often the best tracks contain a pulse and feature deep, clear bass.
All events in the video should be marked by sound, so that the video on a whole is perceived smoothly. Make sure that the voiceover is loud but with slight compression, and that the frequencies do not overlap with the music.
Properly localizing a video involves many tasks: translating all on-screen text, recapturing gameplay video in the localized version of the game, recording a new voiceover, and retiming the animation to fit the new voiceover. Depending on the complexity of the video, full localization can cost 50 to 90% of the budget for the original video.
The low-budget option for localization is to translate all on-screen text and add subtitles in the target language.
It's done! The video is ready now. The video, if intended for in-game use, is integrated into the game. Trailers and teasers are distributed on social networks, blogs, and media sites, where they draw the interest of potential players and build up pre-release anticipation – and even get added to app store pages (we still hope that Apple will soon add the ability to place video alongside App Store descriptions).
If you have any questions on the process of video production, we will be glad to hear from you! Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just leave your comments below.