Welcome, welcome! I see you’ve perused some of the Let’s Plays in the #letsplays section and are now keen on giving it the ol’ college try yourself. And you’ve even read this rundown of all the tools you need to get started, have collected the necessary equipment, and are ready to begin your magical journey that will inevitably end with a blind Dark Souls/Undertale LP.
At this point, you’re probably wondering: how do I actually do a Let’s Play?
Like before, that’s a relatively broad topic, though less so now. You’ve got the hardware and software, but you don’t really know what to do next. Are you supposed to just start recording with everything and go? How much do you record? Do you record bonus content? What do you put in the thread posts?
This piece is focused on the Let’s Player who is just starting out and has not done an LP before. Anyone is welcome to read, of course, however if you see something and feel like it’s obvious, it might not entirely be the guide for you. Feedback is always welcome; together we can hopefully craft a good crash course into LPs for the curious.
Part 0 - There Is Only One RuleIf you've ever observed Let's Plays on SomethingAwful you may have picked up what was and wasn't frowned upon by the collective. Facecams, _hilarious_ voice acting, self-insert OC Pokémon fanfic LPs, The Three Month Rule, etc. There were a bunch of things that were taken as unwritten rules. Some of them actually were written down because they kept out a lot of low-quality garbage that would flood the forum and never actually go anywhere.
In any case, you probably know a bunch of the “rules” of Let’s Play, so I’m going to undo all of that here and now: there are no rules to how you should conduct your own Let’s Play!
There are going to be a fair few notes in this guide that relate to content and style, and you need to keep in mind that these are all just suggestions, particularly for first-time LPers. As long as you are not an irredeemable piece of scum you have a place here. You won’t be booted off the forum just for putting your face over your LP or having an intro on your videos.
Now, bear in mind that everyone reserves the right to provide feedback on your LP, especially if you post in the #lpgeneral:fortressoffeedback looking for some. Again, and without trying to sound snobby, plenty of people have migrated over from SA, where the bar was raised a little. One of the driving principles of LP on SA was that the star of the show was the game, not the LPer, which meant that efforts by the LPer to mug it up for the camera or promote themselves as a brand excessively got ridiculed until they either left the forum or became self-perpetuating forum memes.
Even with that attitude, though, there were plenty of LPers, popular and unpopular, who would make LPs that would incorporate elements that people tended to dislike. If you understand what the point of an unwritten rule and you had found an interesting way to go against the tide then it could work out. And even if you don’t have a unique spin on an unpopular tenant of LP, who cares? It’s your thread and your LP. If you want to LP something in a certain way then own it: stand by your conviction, and if you get excessive criticism about it you can put a note in your thread to let people know that you’re aware and to settle down.
If everyone followed the same conventions and didn’t try new things in this new medium with such a broad, open canvas, it would quickly stagnate, if not die out entirely. LP has changed a lot in the last ten years, so don’t feel like you need to go with the flow all the time; I certainly doubt I’d be having as much fun doing LPs if I played it safe every time. I still do do the occasional simple LP to keep myself busy and not overwork myself with complicated projects all the time, and you might change up what you do and don’t do in your LPs regularly. It’s all a part of figuring out who you are as an LPer. Which leads us neatly into…
Part 1 - Styling And ProfilingSomething you'll likely learn about yourself within your first couple of Let's Plays is the kind of LP you feel comfortable with doing. There are a bunch of ways you could approach a Let's Play:
- Group Commentary
- Solo Commentary
- 100% completion
And more that I either don’t remember or haven’t been figured out yet. The point is that there’s no one way to do a Let’s Play, and you aren’t going to know what method works best for you when you’re just starting out any better than I am. What you feel comfortable doing will depend on any number of elements: do you feel comfortable chatting with other people about the game? Do you find it easy to think of the words you want to say? Do you like tight editing? Do you just want to play and talk and upload the results? Do you think that the game you want to LP should be presented in a certain way?
When I did my very first LP I thought I should just play the game and do live commentary, bring in a friend or two on occasion, and not bother editing the video. And that LP is now burning in a trash fire somewhere along with the other couple of old LPs I did that were garbage. The first non-garbage LP I did, I thought I would just do post commentary and it would be fine. But it turned out I couldn’t get the words to form fast enough as I was watching the video, no matter how many times I tried, and I kept filling the audio track with all those filler words everybody loves to hear. Even writing notes didn’t help, so I wrote out an exact script of what I wanted to say.
It didn’t seem like the sort of thing anyone else was talking about doing, and I didn’t expect anyone would suggest it, but that’s what worked for me, and after doing that for a couple of LPs while interacting with other LPers and getting better at forming the sentences in a hurry, I found myself doing unscripted commentary again, and simply not talking constantly to let myself think when I needed to. Along the way I was also learning the ways I liked to structure an LP and show off a game, and now I feel like I have a style of my own.
Emulating what I thought was popular or good or what others suggested didn’t work, and I had to find that out by just pushing through the first couple of LPs. You can ask all the questions you want and try to get all the advice you can, but the best way you can learn what to do is by getting in there and…
Part 2 - Actually Making A Let's Play FinallyYou can't read posts forever and end up with an LP at the end of it; it's time to get our hands dirty. As dirty as they could actually get doing this. It seems simple, and it honestly is, but we're going to break down the process so if you feel like it's too complicated to get going you can feel some reassurance: you aren't going to have to be a pro at this right away, or ever if you don't want to. For the most part, if you're enjoying yourself, that will come through in your videos. Especially if you're doing live commentary and you're having fun while playing. But then there are always people who want to watch you suffer through a hard game if you want.
Choose a game - Since this is your first LP, after all, this is a choice that can trip up a lot of people. Even among games you know and love you may have a bunch you want to play for people. For your first venture into the wilderness, here are some tips you may find useful:
– Don’t choose your absolute most beloved game - When you do the games you really like you’re going to want the LP to be great; and you aren’t going to be great yet. The LP that would come out of that will likely disappoint you. You could redo the LP when you’ve learned more, but disappointment and frustration are hard things to look past and learn from in that context, and the preferred outcome from your first LP would be a positive one that inspires you to keep doing it.
– Don’t choose a 50-hour RPG epic - That’s the fastest way to burn yourself out on LPs. If you aren’t doing live commentary then every minute of gameplay is another two or three minutes of work in post-production, if not more. It’s a lot of work for each update, even on a basic level, and even shorter games can take awhile and exhaust you. As you get better at it, you’ll, well, get better at it; no reason to rush into a project that can take years to complete.
– Don’t choose a game you can’t have fun talking about - Passion is good. If your LP video is between 20 and 40 minutes, that’s a lot of time to talk about a game. It can be fun to play the game, but if you’re not actually that interested in talking about it then you’ll run out of things to say before the end of your second episode. Whether you love or hate the game doesn’t matter, passion is passion, and it can be fun going on long rants about stuff in a game you don’t like. Just make sure you actually want to talk about it; even with co-commentators it can be hard to keep up a conversation about the game if you get the feeling the person presenting it just doesn’t care that much.
There may be other pitfalls in choosing your first game, but they’ve escaped me for the moment. With all that said, what game should you choose? For a simple and fun time to get into the regular pace of Let’s Play, I think your first game should be:
- Between five and ten hours of gameplay
- Relatively linear, without a deluge of extra content
- Not too difficult/easy for you to play through multiple times
- Something you like enough to say “here’s why this game is cool” to someone
- Something you either know inside-out to point out things the average person might not notice in the video or encounter when playing themselves, or are enthusiastic enough about to make up for fewer talking points.
- Record some gameplay - Set up your capture gear and get to playing! Go through the game as you usually would, maybe at a leisurely pace to let the camera linger on details and give you time to talk about things in commentary, and stop either when you feel like you’ve got enough for one video, or when you’ve played until a certain point to cut into multiple videos later. Fortunately games are typically structured so that they have regular break points that can fit into digestible videos. Levels, worlds, chapters, story acts, and so on. If it’s levels, I find it easiest to just record as much as possible in one session because they can be cut together very modularly, for example. If you know roughly how long you want each video to last, you’ll get a good feel pretty often for how long to record for. This step can be very simple, or veeeeeeeery arduous depending on the lengths you want to go to for the LP.
Edit to a reasonable length - Alright, so maybe you recorded 90 minutes of footage in one area of the game. You certainly could upload all of that as one video, but the longer a video is, the more of a commitment it becomes to watch, at least in the viewer’s mind. Try to save those extra-long videos for a finale, maybe. But then, you also have to be the one to determine how long you want each video to be. Like I said, I think 20 to 40 minutes is a decent length for most videos, and games can usually be segmented somewhere around that mark. What it ultimately comes down to is finding a stopping point that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game.
If you’re LPing, say, Metal Gear Solid, and Sniper Wolf shoots Meryl, it would be really jarring to cut the video off there. Even if you’re pushing the limit for how long you want the video to be (which really shouldn’t happen anyway because if you just came from the Psycho Mantis fight you should have started a new video there and that’s only five minutes away) you should still keep going until the more natural stopping point of after you defeat her and are knocked out. Metal Gear Solid, in retrospect, isn’t the best example of reasonable video times, but it’s all that came to mind at the time.
- Record some commentary - If you’re doing live commentary then you’ll be doing this up with the gameplay; don’t forget to adjust your mic gain and the TV volume (or wear headphones if you can/are on PC) so you don’t get gameplay audio bleeding into your commentary! Anyway, the video is done and you just need to make words over it. If you’re on your own, all you need to do is open up your software of choice, hit record, and count yourself into the video so you can sync the audio up. If you’re doing commentary with a buddy online, you’ll both need to create a sync point for your own audio as well (both of you saying “sync!” at the same time, or clapping, for example) before the video begins.
Oh, weren’t feeling the commentary? You can always try again! This is easier to do if you’re on your own, since you aren’t asking another person to potentially reenact a conversation with you, but that’s not impossible either as long as you’re honest and can deal with maybe having to record your second take at a later time so you both feel refreshed on talking points again.
This is an important thing to keep in mind, so I’ll say it once more: you can always try again. If you screw up on a set piece during the gameplay, don’t say something you wanted to when it was relevant, or say something you think could have been done better, you can go back and do it over. I promise you you won’t be the first person to want to do it. With the power of audio editing, you don’t have to do the entire video over again, either. You can remove or re-record just the parts that you didn’t like, and insert extra clips if there’s space for it. Stuff like that can become seamless and you’ll feel like a sneaky magician for getting away with it.
Alright, now that you’re happy with the commentary you’ve recorded, use noise removal on your commentary, oh my god, please do it, if you take away one thing from this piece please let it be this, you don’t want your LP to go live without it. Noise removal is one of the most basic features in editors; all you need is about a second of relative silence; with that sample, even the default presets on most programs will perfectly remove all of that background hum; the computer fan, the hum of the refrigerator, the ambience that the mic just naturally picks up. Noise removal is the single largest increase in quality you can give to an LP across the board. Please use noise removal on your commentary.
- Export and upload - Gameplay is done, video is done, commentary is done, everything is synced up, you’re firing on all cylinders, and you even went back and put in clarifying subtitles or funny graphics in response to stuff your co-commentators may have said, who knows? The point is, you’re now ready to render out your final video and upload it to YouTube. I would say “your video sharing service of choice,” but let’s be real.
I personally don’t focus too much on the specifics of my export, typically because when YouTube takes a video in it performs its own conversion on it down to a uniform codec and bitrate based on the resolution size. I use Premiere, which has a YouTube 720p60 export setting, adjust the cropping on the video to get rid of black borders, and call it a day. Adobe’s video encoder is fairly notorious for producing unnecessarily large files, but what works works, and, again, I don’t think it makes a difference once it’s actually uploaded.
If you want advice on exporting with your specific choice of program, you should ask around for advice from other users who know more. The Premiere YT preset uses a 5Mb/s bitrate, and that works fine as far as I know; if anyone who’s gone into more detail with export settings wants to suggest some numbers or anything else, I’m all ears. Two things you will want to watch out for:
Crop out the borders - This applies if you’re playing an older console game or the screen size settings on your console are too small. That black space doesn’t need to be there, and will look pretty bad when viewed on YouTube. It’s a small thing, but it can be really annoying.
Always export at 720p or greater - Like I said, when YouTube gets a video, it does additional processing to make absolutely sure it can play it on all compatible devices – and it has nothing but contempt for SD video. The SD video pipeline is garbage compared to the HD one; even if you just double the video size of an SD game on export, the SD quality options will look better having been processed as a HD video. YouTube’s definition of “HD” is a minimum of 1280 horizontal pixels or 720 vertical ones, so most games will only need a double in resolution to hit the mark.
Leave your computer alone for a little while to render it out, upload it, title it however you please and do all that fun jazz. You’ve now begun your first Let’s Play! If you want, you can leave it at that, kick your feet up for the rest of the weekend, and work on the next video at another time, but if you’re on here, then I’m guessing you want some…
Part 3 - Sweet Threads, BroI mean you only need a single thread, but that works better than the other title I had. The thread is a convenient hub for your Let's Play; you can explain the game without requiring people figure it out through the first video or wander over to Wikipedia, give everyone a rundown of how you'll be handling the LP, keep a list handy of all the episodes currently out, and provide supplemental information with each update too, if the game calls for it. Between updates you get a better structured place than YouTube for viewers to discuss the game and what they just watched, post fan contributions or highlights, and so on.
Your OP and individual updates can be as detailed or sparse as you want them to be, but it’s usually good to cover the bases so that people who click on the thread can determine at a glance if they’ll be interested.
- What game you’re playing - Set up the game a little. Talk about the development, plot, genre and core gameplay, your history with the game or series, anything that clears up what the game is about and why it’s worth seeing. If you’re really stumped for words, Wikipedia does exist, but you should try to avoid directly copying text from it if you can, even if that means just writing the same information a little differently. If you do copy directly from a Wikipedia page, it’s a good idea to format it as a quote, so people know that it is the original text copied.
- What the LP will be like - Is it going to be blind? Is someone joining you on commentary? Are there difficulty options that you’re going to be choosing the hardest so you can impress everyone with your skill? Are there optional or bonus objectives that you’ll be going for? Do you have a spoiler policy? And so on. Give the potential viewer some clarification: they already know a baseline of what to expect from the game, now they need to know what to expect from you.
- Video list - You can put other stuff on either side of this, but generally you’ll want to put the video links as far down near the bottom of your OP as you can. People tend to stop reading once they find the videos, so putting important information after the video list will often be overlooked.
- Reserved - With the character limit on posts here, I genuinely doubt this will be the case, but if you’re worried you’ll hit it or just want to separate it a little, you can make a second post immediately after posting the thread, to reserve a place under your OP for additional info, fan art, lore posts, and so on.
Does this section seem short? That’s because your thread will be pretty short when you get going. And then people will check it out, and they’ll start posting, and whaddaya know, you’ve now got a thriving cantina of a Let’s Play where everybody hangs out and talks about <\throws darts at pin board with sticky notes on> the main character…and the petals from Flower…and Super Metroid Redesign…as college roommates…wow, that’s a way better pull than usual.
I only have one piece of advice once your thread is live, and that’s to not reply as soon as possible to every single post or question. When you are almost, if not more than half of the posts in the thread, it can feel a little stifling to conversation. Aside from that, you’re now on your own, your Let’s Play is out and in the world! I’m so proud of you! Keep up that positive attitude, ask questions in the feedback and tech support forums if you have them, don’t forget that you have mods if people start getting a little too rowdy and won’t listen to you in your thread, and hopefully by the time you get to the end of your first LP, you’ll have had a lot of fun and be bristling with ideas for what to do next!
There’s another section after this one, but that’s about the end of the actual guide to getting your Let’s Play up and running. Don’t forget the one rule of LP, and good luck exploring this fun hobby with the rest of us. Now gimme five, you’ve earned it.
Part 4 - Technical Difficulties, Please StandbyAll of that above, of course, is the best-case scenario for your Let's Play. In reality, things can go very wrong and it can be super frustrating at times because of how much time these things that seem totally out of your control are costing you. This section isn't really about actual tech support issues, those are the sort of thing that #lpgeneral:letstechsupport can solve. This is just about the things that can go wrong during the process, and how best to work around them. If you have a Let's Play horror story that you learned a valuable lesson from, let me know and I'll include it here.
Problem: The capture card didn’t record the game properly! Ouch, that one’s the worst, and usually the most amount of time lost. Capture software can always be finnicky. It’s better than it used to be, but sometimes the recording might fail in bizarre ways. Frame rate issues, resolution and cropping screw-ups, low hard drive space, no sound, and probably other things I haven’t encountered in some form before.
Solution: Prepare before hitting record — ensure you have ample space on your drive and that all of your settings are correct — and do a short test recording for a minute or two before your real run through the game. When you can confirm that it all looks okay, start recording, and keep a regular eye on the software. Make sure it’s still recording, and that it and the computer haven’t ground to a halt along the way.
Problem: I screwed something up and the game autosaved itself so I can’t go back! Unless you’re playing a Souls game, it’s perfectly understandable to want to have a good, clean take of part of the game. Sadly, the progression of games means that they often want to save silently in the background and sync to a cloud server, which can potentially kill a Let’s Play. It slammed the brakes on one of mine for about six months.
Solution: Firstly, if you can get a copy of the game that doesn’t employ cloud saves, do so. This only really applies to PC games, which can have Steam and DRM-free versions. The latter won’t have cloud saves, which are much easier to make and restore backups of than the former. I LP’d the Steam version of Fez because of an achievement, and reverting saves on a bad recording took about five minutes each time to do correctly because it just did not want to play nice with manually swapping save files. DRM-free versions also tend to have their save data much more easily accessible. I don’t know if you can opt out of cloud saves in consoles like you could on the previous generation. If you can, do that and make a backup on a USB that you can revert to. If you can’t, I’m not sure; you might just be out of luck, unfortunately.
Problem: My video editor crashed and I lost all the work I was doing, I had been going all night and now it’s gone! Yeah, that sucks. And it can happen to anybody.
Solution: You gotta save more, homie. Save always, save often. If your editor can autosave, set up autosaves, and also just always be saving. It’s a habit you need to learn as you work, to save when you make one or a small handful of changes. If you forget, try not to let it get to you; happens to the best of us, and at the very least, you should be able to get back to that point much faster than before.
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for y’all. It’s my hope that we can have this thread and the hardware/software guide function as a general guide for new LPers who are just joining in and either don’t know where to begin, or have a hundred other questions. If you have any suggestions, I’m happy to hear them; until then, I hope this helps somebody. Now I’m gonna actually catch up on like, any of the LPs that have been posted here instead of constantly writing FAQs for the site. Have fun, everybody.