Entries in howto (2)

Friday
Sep022011

How to make an iOS game trailer with iMovie, ScreenFlow and the Simulator

Something of a sneak peak in this how-to post for 36peas and the #idevblogaday site... we just finished work on the trailer for our upcoming iPad title Hyperion: d7. It took us about 4 hours (the trailer, that is -- the game took about 4 months), was a lot of fun and actually works pretty well. In this post I'm going to explain how we did it.

I've included technical stuff (how to capture source video, how to get correct compression and import/export settings along the way etc) and direction/design stuff (how to pace the video, how to make it look good).

First off -- you better check out the Hyperion: d7 trailer itself:

This took us 4 hours -- including the time taken to capture the source video in the Simulator (not easy -- the iPad game itself really does need two fingers for effective gameplay) and the time taken to move video around between ScreenFlow and iMovie.

If you're not interested in the video how-to, but do want to know more about Hyperion: d7, skip to the bottom for more details.

What works -- what makes a good-looking video game trailer?

This process pretty much involved watching a lot of other trailers. Primary observations were:

  • +/- 60 seconds seems to be an optimal length
  • lingering gameplay shots don't work
  • menus are dull
  • teasing works better than describing
  • tempo is critical
  • everything hangs on the music

What we decided upon -- our video production rulebook

The details of specifically what we did are in the next section -- these are just the headline paramters for how we guided the process.

  • Pacing should be consistent (all cuts the same length)
  • We'd make the most out of the game's natural aesthetic (and concentrate on using clips that looked good -- not necessarily ones that we thought "played" good)
  • Use the same effects/transitions in similar places
  • Break up the action shots (doing so consistently -- again to aid pacing)
  • Present some basic information about the game -- but don't worry about detail
  • Do not re-invent the wheel

What we did -- step-by-step how-to for making our iPad game trailer

Technical pointers and specifics are in the next section -- skip ahead if you're not interested in the video production bits. If you are interested in the video production stuff, I'd encourage to read both -- there are useful (but non-specific) production pointers in the technical section.

  1. Selected the background music we wanted to use -- we had an awesome original score to choose from. Two tracks stood out as obvious candidates.
  2. Looked for appropriate 60-second-ish sections from the above tracks and selected one -- it was 63 seconds and had an appropriate open, close and riffy bits. From this point on everything was played back and tested against this music.
  3. Decided on how many non-video (text stills) there would be -- we are using these as breaks in the action. We decided on two (plus the closing stills).
  4. Picked our transitions (we did this by testing them against some sample captured video -- when using built-in fixed transitions they can look very different on different source material).
  5. Decided where the transitions would be used (i.e. video>video; video>text).
  6. Picked the text effects (same as the transitions -- try them out).
  7. Worked out a good single cut length -- we did this by testing clips between two transitions over the top of the already selected background music. This got us to 4.5s per cut for video and 3s for text stills
  8. We then broke down our 63-second timeline into the three sections demarked by text stills and populated the gaps with video cuts, getting us something like the following:

     
  9. We wrote a list of bullets about the game but didn't dwell on the detail.
  10. We wrote a list of things we thought might look interesting (not based on the list from the previous point).
  11. We stated recording source video using ScreenFlow (more details below) and the iPad Simulator -- we weren't too worried about capturing the right stuff at this stage, we just follow the list from above.
  12. Bringing that video into iMovie, we started to select and trim clips. For most clips we also applied either a single crop or a panning/zooming "Ken Burns" crop (see technical stuff below).
  13. Added text from previous bullet list to correlate with what we'd captured (and to some extent what we wanted to say first / in what order).
  14. We then repeated this whole process for the second section of clips -- we still weren't stuggling for what to record here (and this was with our tired-after-almost-2-straight-days-of-pre-submission-gameplay-testing eyes).

    At this point our source video window is starting to look like we have secret plans for a secret base in a secret spy world where nothing on the secret spy computer screens looks like what you'd see on a real computer screen:

  15. Once we'd got sections 1 and 2 in order, we looked at the list of things we wanted to say and worked out what we'd not yet said -- giving us a requirements list for the last lot of captures.
  16. We chose gameplay to match those points (this was the upgrades bit in section 3) -- and spent a little more time than we had on previous captures making sure we got what we wanted.
  17. We created a closing title card (we should have done this sooner -- it's the only bit we weren't 100% happy with).
  18. Added the final stills (the closing title card and the 36peas logo). At this point, the timeline looked suspiciously familiar:

  19. Watched it end-to-end.
  20. Made some text tweaks (nothing significant -- just some modifiers and joining/flow bits)
  21. Exported and watched again. And again. And again.

Seriously -- that was the process we went through. We didn't have to go back on ourselves, or figure out why it didn't feel right -- it just did. This is entirely down to the consistent, snappy pacing. The video flows and feels interesting because the tempo is good and there's lots of pretty colours moving about. The details presented in the video aren't what make that so. If you happen to be interested in those as well, even better.

Technical stuff -- gotchas, hints and techniques for the iPad/iPhone Simulator, ScreenFlow and iMovie

In no particular order (but all particularly important in their own way): 

  • Before you even start check that you can record from the Simulator. We had to do some code massage to get it to run in the Simulator (you never test in the Sim, right?) and we had to hone our using-a-mouse-like-an-iPad-screen skills.
  • Get your (lack of) compression settings right -- and then check them every time you do something. The only place you want your video compressing is at the very last stage in the workflow (i.e. when YouTube compresses it). Key stuff:
    • ScreenFlow -- Preferences > Advanced > Screen Recording Compression > Lossless
    • iMovie -- Preferences > Video > Import HD video as: "Full - Original Size"
    • (on export) iMovie -- Share > Export Movie
  • ScreenFlow only records one display -- do a few test recordings before you spend 10 minutes getting frustrated with the Simulator only to find you recorded the output of the wrong monitor.
  • You need to crop the captured video from ScreenFlow after the recording. If your game starts with a black background (ours did) you want to start with something else open -- like Safari -- so that you can line up the the crop window with actual screen (and not overlap the black bezel of the Sim).
  • ScreenFlow can capture all sorts of stuff -- make sure you only capture what you need (screen and computer audio)
  • Disable the in-game music for your game (you likely want to keep SFX). This way you can have the game's soundtrack (or some other piece of music) play throughout your cuts but keep the in-game SFX if you want them.
  • Edit the audio properties (for volume/gain) for each inserted clip independently. For some clips (in-game footage) you probably want to keep the SFX high, for others (menu taps) you'll want it low. Pick consistent changes throughout (we ended up with all "high" SFX at 50%, all low at 20% and a couple of fade outs).
  • Be aware of how iMovie handles clip length -- transitions by default play over and consume part of the adjacent clips, so what starts off as a 4.5s clip ends up looking like 2.2s on the timeline with transitions surrounding it.
  • Adjust crop and position for every clip -- for example, the iPad screen ratio is 4:3, not 16:9 (which you want to be exporting in most likely), so you'll need to crop and scan each clip.
  • Work out how to use the "Ken Burns" crop in iMovie (click a clip, click crop, crop start then hit "Ken Burns", then select red end rectangle and move/crop accordingly) -- it allows you to pan and scan on the fly, set scale transitions and track action. We used these extensively to add or enhance motion.
  • ScreenFlow lets you add mouse pointer types -- obviously the default arrow pointer makes no sense, but the optional "circle" pointer works pretty well for finger simulation (we dropped the size and opacity for a subtler effect).
  • Pay attention to what you're actually recording -- especially if you're using in-development or imediately-post-production code. For example, we had to fudge the "global high score" and "global average" parts of our fancy skills analysis charts so it didn't look so sparse.
  • When creating stills to be used in the video (like the closing shot of the Hyperion trailer), create them at the resolution at which you intend to export the video (for example we were targeting 720p, so we created them at 1280x720).

Concluding thoughts -- would we use different tools? FCP? FCP X? Premiere?

We're pretty pleased with the results -- there are a few bits we'd like to do slightly different given different tools (iMovie's UI sucks -- and it crashed my MBP twice in the process) -- and will certainly be sticking with this formula for future Hyperion (and likely other) videos, but we will look at other edit suites. The restrictions (fixed transitions and single video playback being the primary ones) actually helped us make quick what-can-we-do-with-what-we've-got decisions -- but with more varied source material and evolving requirements we might benfit from taking that self-imposed ruleset to a more sophisticated tool chain.

Er, so what's Hyperion: d7 then?

You'll be hearing a good bit about the Hyperion game itself in the coming days and weeks -- we literally just submitted v1 for approval and finished up on the trailer this morning. We're starting launch activities next week -- but we were eager to get this post out there to the #idevblogaday audience as soon as possible -- we'd have found this very useful 12 hours ago ;)

Should you find yourself needing to make further reference -- or just for the sake preparing for those hexes, here it is again, Hyperion: d7...

Thursday
Jul282011

An iOS (iPad) app launch marketing and promotion task list template

We just finished up an outline launch task list for our soon-to-be-announced iPad debut title – this post contains that list, effectively a draft iOS marketing plan. It’s pretty generic, so we figured it might be useful to everyone else out there.

We’ll be revisiting this over the coming weeks – if you’ve got input, questions or whatever let us know – we’ll update this post and report back as we fill out the gaps.

Where are we at right now?

Right now – July 28th – we’ve got a mostly-finished game, a name and this list.

This is our first _proper_ release on the App Store – we’ve put a few things out there before, but this is the first time we’re doing a launch proper. We don’t expect everything to magically go in our favor – but we do know that if we do everything we can this time round we can only make positive iterations from there on out (we’ll have other stuff launching this year as well).

Required Assets (things we’ve got to make):

1. The game itself (full/paid version) – see list below of new/related features

2. Additional SKUs/version (lite/ad supported etc) – TBD

3. Various videos (launch trailer, full trailer, gameplay footage etc)

4. App assets (app description, screenshots, icon, press release/launch text etc)

5. Game website

  • Cross-site stuff with this site
  • Leaderboard integration with OpenFeint stuff
  • (post v1) level/map sharing

Things we need to decide:

6. Decide on launch price

7. Decide on free version (lite or ad supported)

  • (lite) launch date
  • (lite) what features
  • (ad supported) launch date – presuming same as full version at this point
  • (ad supported) ad location / integration
  • (ad supported) future feature set – will it get all post-v1 features?

8. Confirm app name

  • Current use (revisit this since originally deciding on name)
  • Trademarks in relevant regions (at least US & UK)

9. Game website URL (dedicated domain or sub-site to this one)

Features required in app (that relate directly to this list)

A good chunk of these are specific to the game we’re launching – though all are specifically launch/promotion related so completely relevant to other games, just need some adaptation.

10. News and updates pull RSS feed for front page with optional links (to other parts of app; to external URLs)

11. Separate feed (or filter for full/free apps) such that in-app cross-promo news items make sense

12. Finish “challenge” levels design – including having 4-8+ weeks worth of challenges

13. Figure out challenges integration for OpenFeint (if possible) and pushing of leaderboards to game website

14. Decide on final stats and analytics (just Flurry or our own stuff as well)

15. Decide on & implement final version of level sharing – particularly external services and iOS protocol handlers for twitter, facebook, google+ etc

Other things to think about / research

16. Do we need to think about readying App Store promo / feature assets in case we get one?

Launch schedule critical path

Fill gaps, estimate time scales and update/re-sequence this launch sequence list:

17. Announce game

  • 36peas blog
  • Dedicated game site
  • TA forum post (initial launch post) + announcement trailer
  • Media host locations (youtube, vimeo)
  • Offer limited number of public beta test spots

18. Release full trailer

19. Announce to iOS press

20. Distribute promo versions

21. Submit for approval

22. (update, resubmit, required)

23. Announce launch date (decide on best day of week)

24. Release v1 (at promo price)

25. End promo period

26. Announce v1.1 features

27. Launch v1.1 + promo price

Launch activities (not on critical path)

Plan and prepare for other launch-related activities (that are not on above critical path:

28. Solicit media requests for promo material

29. Identify “target” list of game biz people, iOS people, developers, media etc and do direct notifications where known or relationship exists

30. Cross-posting elsewhere of dev- or launch-related contents (inc #idevblogaday, The Cocoa Mag)

31. Speaking engagements and other public events (360idev – we’ll be speaking there and at iOS Dev UK)

32. Identify other timely launch-time events (game jams?)

33. Complete schedule of development content (blog posts etc) related to the game’s development

34. Get in touch with Mike Berg to update last year’s 360idev game jam site – this title is based on a prototype that originated in Austin 2011. Also give Jon Wilker a shout to encourage a mention – timing should be close to this year’s game jam

35. Identify and schedule other promo opportunities and offers – are “freeappaday” promos still worthwhile?

36. Release soundtrack via iTunes & some form of (free?) direct download

Post v1 features

37. Sort out development time scale such that we know when a v1.1 is released (presuming point releases – 1.1, 1.2 etc are feature-full, others 1.0.1 etc will be fix releases)

38. Decide on known likely post-v1 features (multiplayer, map editor + sharing)

Post v1 activities

39. Update this plan with an ongoing retrospective analysis / results

40. Release gameplay stats

41. Release commercial stats

42. Announce next version

43. Release next version

44. Identify competitions, summits etc -- anything applicable to enter title into

Your input wanted

Did we miss something? Is there an area you'd like us to expand on? Let us know in the comments -- we'll update this as we go.

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Updates

28th July -- Added #44 -- re competitions and summits