Lessons in Streaming

I’ve been dabbling in the world of streaming. Making Chapter Select videos made me think about my ability to capture gameplay footage. Born out of frustrating incompatibility with macOS, I’ve assembled a system that gets the job done. It’s lean; working silently on my pencil-thin iMac. Cables are routed. Systems strategically placed. Hard drives overflowing.

In between producing Chapter Select, I figured I should use this equipment somewhat regularly. Hone my skills and build a collection of game footage to use someday. I’ve done three streams as of writing this post. I intentionally varied them to push my streaming/capturing abilities.  

Here’s the set up: I’m using an Elgato HD60 mounted on the back of a 21” display. The USB cable and the long HDMI cord are routed in the arms of the VESA mounts. USB goes to the Thunderbolt 3 Dock and the HDMI reaches the “console corner” of my desk. There is one more HDMI cord connecting the HD60 to the TV. That is a 1′ HDMI 2.1 cable to prevent dangling.

When it is time to record, I just plug this other end of the routed HDMI cable to the console of choice and open Elgato’s Game Capture software on my iMac. I can’t use OBS or the like because the HD60 is not recognized outside of Elgato’s own software on macOS. As restrictive as the Game Capture software can be, I was done letting ideal set-ups be the barrier (i.e. excuse) between me and creating. Keeping it simple has reduced the friction in starting. I just use the iMac’s built-in camera and my Shure Beta 87A. Who cares about the camera quality on a podunk stream when the image size is that of my thumb?

When it came to streaming VR gameplay, it turned out I already had all the equipment I’d need. The Oculus Quest 2 can wirelessly stream its display out to any Chromecast-enabled device. Thanks to Stadia, I have a 4K Ultra Chromecast lying around. The catch is HDCP, which is baked into the Chromecast. The HDMI splitter I bought for capturing PS3 and PSTV gameplay strips that out though. This allows me to capture the Chromecast output with ease. The Quest 2 streams at 1080p60, giving me a quality video wirelessly. The hit on battery life doesn’t appear to be major. Plus, spending more than a couple hours  at once in VR is tiring. 

On the choice of YouTube or Twitch, I pick YouTube. Twitch is overwhelming in its features. They are the platform for live gameplay, but I figured familiarity and simplicity would be best. I’m content with it. 

Now we get to the actual games I played. The selection was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, and Pistol Whip; a platformer, a visual novel, and a rhythm, on-rails shooting game. 

Playing the games themselves is fine and looks good with this particular arrangement of cables and software. The real challenge (which I’d wager everyone faces when streaming) is learning to play and talk to an audience simultaneously.  

Platforming, talking, and keeping an eye on chat are tough muscles to build. Especially when I chose a tough platformer with monkeys. It was fun when some friends and my wife hopped in to roast me. Knowing people that are interacting helps tremendously. 

Pivoting to a visual novel makes having something to talk about easy. That’s the crux of the gameplay. I was able to spitball theories, crack the case, and be engaged. Playing a lawyer game is far less desirable to watch for an audience when you are just testing streaming out. No engagement made solving the mystery the same experience as playing by myself, just out loud.

Streaming in VR removes the chat element. I can’t see it or engage with the audience. Playing a loud, rhythm game for the first time was also an interesting approach. I had also just run four miles. My legs were jelly. It was far from ideal. Lesson learned there.

I think the most important element of streaming is streamlining the process. Configuring a set-up that is plug and go has been instrumental. The excuse list becomes shorter and it makes work easier. I know have the capabilities to capture any system in a few clicks. Which has lead to the new problem of needing way more hard drive storage…but that’s a problem for future Max.