Tips for Recording Gameplay (re: Distant Worlds: Universe, w/Let’s Play)

In trying to record my Distant Worlds: Universe game, I hit a number of snags, so I figured I’d put my experience up here to help out anyone else who may have similar issues. For that matter, I may as well mention some other tips for folks wanting to record video for YouTube.

First and most important: get away from using Fraps. It’s not the only game in town anymore. In DW:U’s case it doesn’t work because the game natively renders multiple desktop windows; Fraps will only pick up the main one, so your video will be missing key panels, popups and so forth, and it won’t capture any of the game setup screens at all. I am now using Open Broadcaster, a free and open-source alternative that is also much more powerful and useful for reasons I’ll describe below.

Specifically for Distant Worlds: Universe, you’ll want to set Open Broadcaster to record your desktop, not the game window, for the reason described above. I also tested it with DOTA2, where recording the game windows works fine, but you have an option here that Fraps does not provide. Which you can also use to record non-game video, if you want to do something like programming tutorials or games that only run in a window, like Aurora. It will also capture output for streaming.

Other alternatives to Fraps also exist. Nvidia’s Shadowplay looks somewhat promising, if limited — I have friends who swear by it — but not every video card supports it. There are of course also paid alternatives; the one I looked at was XSplit, but that throws a watermark on your video, which I find unacceptable, and I think it has other limitations as well, only resolvable by paying a subscription fee. Which I think is preposterous; at least Fraps and Bandicam only have to be paid for once.

Open Broadcaster also has other advantages. It can save your video in a single, compact .flv file. Fraps saves in multiple files that then have to be stitched together using a video editor like Windows Movie Maker. For me, this is a huge timesink and adds a lot of overhead to the whole video-making process, even though I normally don’t do much if any actual editing to my video. An hour of recording could take 2-3 hours of editing and rendering even if WMM doesn’t choke on the source files — and for longer videos it often does.

My typical process under Fraps: Record the video. Fraps, to its credit, does make this very easy, and the onscreen FPS counter does show whether you are recording or not. Once finished, I have a pile of video files that are each roughly two minutes long, and add up to about 1GB per minute of video. This caps my ability to record, as I only have about 600GB free for storing raw video. I then stitch these files together using Windows Movie Maker. The resulting output is much more compact than what I put in, so I delete the source files.

On my system, rendering the finished video takes longer than the total runtime. So a half-hour video might take 45-60 minutes to render. This is time not spent playing or recording, and doing other things on the PC at the same time will slow it down — especially anything that’s also heavily using the video card. Uploading the video to YouTube takes potentially many hours; figure maybe 2 hours per 20 minutes of video at my upstream speeds.

The new process under Open Broadcaster: Record the video. You might have to fool with the video sources a little bit, and there’s no onscreen recording indicator. But at the end you have a single .flv file that can be directly uploaded to YouTube if you don’t want to edit it. Uploading is significantly faster because the compressed .flv file size is much smaller. The time savings is enormous, literally tripling the available time I have to actually play and record.

One final tip, again for Distant Worlds: Universe specifically: disable the music. First of all because it’s kind of terrible. And second because, if you’re going to upload your video to YouTube, YouTube will automatically scan it for recognizable copyrighted music, and get hits because DW:U’s music is cloned from a bunch of different stuff. While these are technically false positives, they are in my judgement not worth fighting over.

Now, one thing I have not done yet is to sit down and compare the video quality between Fraps and OBS… but at a glance I don’t see any notable issues with the latter, and YouTube degrades video quality anyway, so I’m not sure it would matter even if Open Broadcaster video was slightly lower quality.

2 responses to “Tips for Recording Gameplay (re: Distant Worlds: Universe, w/Let’s Play)

  1. YouTube’s automatic scan for copyrighted music must be very strange. The main thing I use YouTube for is trawling for music and it’s absolutely chock-full of stuff that is certainly under copyright to someone. Most of it seems to sit there happily for year after year. I have even posted a couple of videos myself with music on them taken from new CDs issued in the last five years and they went through with no issues and are still there now.

    I have heard no end of stories about problems people have had with uploading and even streaming gaming content because of these music copyright issues. Is there something specific abut games that setts YouTube’s alarm bells ringing?

  2. Do you encounter black flickering screen? I have my OBS set to record monitor 1 which is where the game is up but I get a weird black flickering, I have windows 7 and I have Aero disabled