Our setup changes from time to time, and people ask us about this frequently, so about once a year I end up doing one of these posts where we explain how we produce our long-form videogame nitpicks. Obviously our setup has gotten more involved recently, since we’re now doing console games.
Note that all of these images are of Josh’s setup. He lives in Nevada and I live in Pennsylvania. There are 2,000 miles between us, so I’ve never visited his place. Which means this is my first time seeing this stuff.
First, let’s get the basic details out of the way:
The whole team gathers on our private Ventrilo server. That lets us talk to each other, and we use that to record the commentary portion of the show. Usually Josh and I both record the session, so we have a backup in case something happens to his recording.
My only other job (besides running my mouth) is to be in charge of the clock. I use this page to track the time and let everyone know when we’ve reached the end of an episode. I’ve been using that since the first season of the show. It’s ridiculous that I’m still using it, since there are a thousand other apps out there that would accomplish the same thing without wrapping themselves in ads like that, but I’ve never bothered to change because I’m a creature of habit. I generally watch the clock and call the end of the episode in the first conversational lull after the 20 minute mark. (But I don’t generally let us go above 25, even if that means cutting a conversation in half.)
We record a single unbroken hour-long session, which will later be divided into three 20-minute episodes. This is often frustrating for viewers. If we forget to turn subtitles on, then people will say “Please turn subtitles on.” Then the second episode comes out and people are like “YOU STILL HAVEN’T TURNED ON SUBTITLES WHY WON’T YOU LISTEN?!?!?”
Once we’re in Vent, Josh fires up whatever videogame we’re playing that week. Now, he needs to do two things with these game images: He needs to stream the game to the rest of us so that we can see him play and comment, and he needs to save the raw footage locally so he can put it in the show later. He can’t use the stream footage for the show, because the stream is a low-quality, super-compressed soup of pixels, because speed is more important than quality.
All streams are on some kind of delay. It’s inevitable. Josh is uploading a feed of videoThe vast majority of users have slower, laggier upload speeds compared to download speeds. to the server, where is gets compressed even moreIf you’re broadcasting video to thousands of people, then you’ll probably want to be really aggressive with compression, since bandwidth is far more expensive than CPU cycles. compressed before being sent out to the viewers. If you want to know more about this, here is my longer explanation of video compression.
A brief history our our streaming services: We used to use Livestream, but their incessant ads would interrupt our viewing several times an episode. It was infuriating. I would gladly have just paid a subscription to watch ad-free, but they didn’t offer anything like that. So we ditched Livestream and moved to Twitch. They were great until early this year when they overhauled their serviceDue to the massive influx of Playstation 4 streamers, since Twitch had partnered with Sony to do the PS4 streaming service. and suddenly those of us watching the game were on a 45 second delay instead of an 8 second delay. It’s impossible to have a sensible live conversation with Josh when we were seeing things 45 seconds after he did themTwitch CLAIMED that 45 seconds was the new delay, but in practice it actually drifts quite a bit. After half an hour of viewing, you’re probably more like two minutes behind. You can pause and restart the stream to get caught up, but then you get to watch another ad.. This might have sank our whole show, but a benefactor stepped in and gave us access to a private streaming server where we can stream with no ads on a dependable 5 second delay. Thank, you thank you, thank you.
For recording, Josh uses Bandicam. We used to use Fraps. Both programs let you save the HD footage to your hard drive, but Bandicam is able to do some light, non-destructive compression on the footage. This is really important if, like Josh, you inhabit a world of finite storage space.
The trick here is that Josh is having a conversation with the rest of the cast, but we can’t have our conversation show up in the video. If we mashed them all together during the show, then the game might drown us out and ruin the recording. More importantly, if our voices appeared in the stream then we would hear our own voices echoing back to ourselves on a 5 second delay. So Josh has to isolate Vent into one headset, and the game audio into another headset, and then he wears both headsets while recording the show. I think one ear gets full game volume, and the other kind of gets a mix of game+Vent, which makes Josh slightly less situationally aware on that side.
Once we’re done with the show, Josh takes the Vent recording, exports it to Audacity, and balances the levels. Then he fires up Adobe Premiere, balances the Vent conversation with the game footage, adds in some Kevin MacLeod music, and exports the result to a YouTube-ready video.
Total software packages used: Ventrilo, Bandicam, streaming client, Audacity, Premiere, and a AAA videogame. Many of these end up running at the same time. It really is amazing what computers can do these days.
This was the show as it has existed for the last 5 years, anyway. Now we have added a new gizmo to this ever-growing software contraption: We’re playing console games.
Josh uses one of these, which will split the video from his Playstation 4. One feed goes to a monitor. (Which is just being used as a television in this case.) The other goes into a USB port on his PC where a program will show the Playstation 4 feed in a window. Now, you might wonder why we need the first screen when we have this window, but for reasons that have never been adequately explained to me the translation from raw video to pixels takes about 4 seconds, and you can’t very well play a videogame on a 4 second delay. I’m actually really curious about this delay. I had a similar setup many years ago, and I had a similar delay. Computers have gotten many times faster, and yet this delay has remained fixed. Think about it: During the show Josh’s computer will compress video, stream it to a server somewhere in the world, the server compresses it, then I download it, and my computer decompresses it, all within 5 seconds. And yet it takes about the same time just to take a feed from the PS4 and stick it in a window. I dunno. Seems odd.
So in the end, Josh is sitting there wearing two sets of headphones, playing the game on one monitor while a second monitor shows the same thing ,except on a 5 second delay. Now all he has to do is play the game competently while four other people shout in his ear unhelpful directions, make bad puns, talk about unrelated videogames, and generally do their very best to distract him.
It really is amazing this show exists at all. Thanks for watching.
 The vast majority of users have slower, laggier upload speeds compared to download speeds.
 If you’re broadcasting video to thousands of people, then you’ll probably want to be really aggressive with compression, since bandwidth is far more expensive than CPU cycles.
 Due to the massive influx of Playstation 4 streamers, since Twitch had partnered with Sony to do the PS4 streaming service.
 Twitch CLAIMED that 45 seconds was the new delay, but in practice it actually drifts quite a bit. After half an hour of viewing, you’re probably more like two minutes behind. You can pause and restart the stream to get caught up, but then you get to watch another ad.
The Best of 2015
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2015.
Mass Effect Retrospective
A novel-sized analysis of the Mass Effect series that explains where it all went wrong. Spoiler: It was long before the ending.
Mass Effect 3 Ending Deconstruction
Did you dislike the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy? Here's my list of where it failed logically, thematically, and tonally.
What did web browsers look like 20 years ago, and what kind of crazy features did they have?
Deus Ex and The Treachery of Labels
Deus Ex Mankind Divided was a clumsy, tone-deaf allegory that thought it was clever, and it managed to annoy people of all political stripes.