Thursday 21 April 2016

Jam Enslaver Reviews...Microsoft 3D Movie Maker

I hope everyone enjoys my latest review. It took quite a lot of work to get it completed, so as promised here are some of the things I had to deal with during production for those who are interested. See you next time!

Recording in a VM

For most of my videos, the idea for which game I should review starts with the question "What can I record footage of?" and goes from there. This was not the case with 3D Movie Maker!

I got the idea to make a review of it whilst I was finishing my review of Body Harvest. There comes a point in each project, when I've finished playing the game and recording footage, and when the voiceover is in the can, where I finally have to start pulling all the pieces together into the final video. It's a daunting prospect, similar to what a writer faces when they have a blank page in front of them, and there'a always a part of my brain that wants to procrastinate by thinking of what my next video should be about.

I'm not sure what made me think of 3D Movie Maker as a potential next project, but I really liked the idea of using it as a way to talk about my growth as a creator of videos so I was determined to find a way of making it work. Unfortunately, the game doesn't seem to be compatible with Windows 10 so I had to find a work-around. Luckily I happened to already have a copy of Windows XP installed on my computer using VMWare (which is, surprisingly, free for personal use). The game ran in a window but otherwise was perfectly playable once I had fixed a strange issue that caused my mouse to unexpectedly zoom off the edge of the screen at random intervals (it turned out I had the mouse input mapped twice, so each movement was doubled).

With a working copy of the game, the next question was how to record footage. In past PC game reviews I've used FRAPS, but I didn't have high hopes for that working since it's very flakey and doesn't even seem to work for games that run in fullscreen, let alone one playing inside a window inside a VM!* It didn't take long to confirm my fears: As I suspected, FRAPS does not work with VMWare.

Forced to find an alternative, I stumbled upon a forum thread where someone recommended Hypercam. I've looked online for better alternatives to FRAPS before and have always been disappointed. Most screen recorders seem to be designed for video tutorials of productivity software, so they tend to only record at very low frame-rates and never record system sound. So I was amazed to discover that Hypercam did exactly what I needed: allowing me to record the exact part of the screen I wanted at a smooth frame rate and choose which audio inputs were used. This one tool has suddenly opened up a world of possibilities for things I can do in the future, including revisiting that Riven idea!

* People who recall my video series playing Myst might be interested to know that I was hoping to follow up with a series in which I played Riven: The Sequel to Myst, but because I just couldn't get FRAPS to work with it I abandoned that idea.

Computer Issues and Corrupted Files

Not everything went smoothly with my recording setup, though. My trusty Alienware PC is now getting on for 9 years old and has developed a rather alarming trait where it will randomly show a black screen and stop working, which happened numerous times whilst I was recording footage. Luckily all the files were intact despite having to hard reset the machine, but when I came to edit them I discovered that not all was well. I'm guessing that when one clicks the Stop Recording button in Hypercam it does some work to 'finalise' the video file, including things like writing the length of the video into the file. Because the computer was turned off without this final step being completed, the videos were showing up as having a length of zero seconds.

Initially this didn't seem to matter. If I opened them in a video player they would work fine, but if I tried to skip ahead it would be extremely slow. I'm guessing this is because without time information to work with, the computer would have to scan through each frame from the beginning of the video to find the one you had selected. Since editing videos requires constant skipping around inside video clips, this was a problem. The solution was to re-render each of the corrupted videos, (rendering goes frame-by-frame anyway so wasn't affected by the missing data) which took an extra couple of hours but meant that I didn't have to go back and re-record any of the footage.

Finishing the Movie

This was the first time I've been blocked on a video project for creative reasons. From the beginning I wanted to make a complete movie in 3D Movie Maker as part of the review process, and then to publish it to YouTube to accompany the review as a demonstration of what the game can do. The problem is that I'm not much of a story-teller, and I spent ages trying to figure out how the story of the bank robbery should end.

Originally the two police officers were going to follow a trail of clues through a number different scenes, eventually ending up at the villain's hideout for a final showdown. I couldn't figure out what even one of those accidentally left behind clues should be, before hitting on the idea that perhaps they were left on purpose. So I started imagining that the police were lured to a location by a treasure map for some nefarious purpose. Then I couldn't think of why a bank robber would do that, until the idea of a surprise birthday party hit me as the perfectly ridiculous way to end the story.

Late Script Changes

Speaking of changing the story, I actually ended up modifying the script for the review whilst I was in the editing phase, several weeks after I had recorded my voiceover. Originally the script talked about my surprise that Movie Maker's McZee is voiced by the same person who plays Barney in the Half Life series, and I had planned on finding the scene in Half Life 2 where he first reveals himself to the player to put alongside the footage of McZee speaking.

I knew that the same actor played the G-Man, but Barney is one of my favourite characters so it seemed like the obvious choice. However, when I started playing Half Life 2 to record the footage I was immediately struck by the iconic, incredibly creepy monologue that the G-Man gives at the very start of the game, which I had somehow completely forgotten about. The juxtaposition between the two performances seemed too good to ignore, so I changed the script to mention the G-Man instead of Barney.

I usually avoid doing this for the simple reason that a re-recorded line of dialogue tends to sound different from the rest of the voiceover and can be very jarring for the viewer. Your voice can sound different on different days, and when I used to record using a headset mic the audio would vary wildly if I didn't get the positioning exactly the same between the two recordings. Luckily my new Blue Snowball mic didn't seem to have this problem, and the updated line slotted into the rest of the recording seamlessly.

The change ended up working really well as it allowed me to do something even more interesting in contrasting the two characters together in the video!

What's Next?

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I'm always thinking of what comes next for my videos. I've been tinkering with my recording setup for the last couple of days and am now able to record footage for my next project. I'm looking forward to making this one because it's going to be a little departure from what I've been doing recently: a new installment of Jam Enslaver Plays...

Look for it soon on my YouTube channel!

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