Joint commentary videos – a step-by-step guide

One of the things I’ve been looking to do on my YouTube channel is more collaboration efforts. I loved doing the YouTuber Roundtable videos, but I also want to actually play more games with friends.

Inspired by the joint playthrough of Simon the Sorceror with SomeGuy (which has since been deleted, sadly), I decided I wanted to try something similar. I decided on Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity as the first game to try out joint commentary on, because my good pal Joe recently did a podcast episode on it, preceded by a video. Since it’s a game with a lot of minor branching paths, however, I invited Joe to be co-commentator on my playthrough of the game where I tried to do everything exactly right (that is, get all the pats on the back that Starfleet can give you).

“Who’s a good boy? You are! You’re a good boy!”

As opposed to a normal Let’s Play, where, aside from a bit of editing, you’re pretty much done with it when you’ve stopped recording, doing these joint commentary videos is a bit more work. The upside of it is that, at least for me, it gives me a good backlog of content that I can schedule to go out, thereby freeing up some time to work on other projects. Joe and I just did our commentary for the first half of the game this weekend — a two-hour session that will be split into four episodes.

If you want to know how to go about it, here’s a handy step-by-step guide on how to do your own joint commentary videos.

Step One: Play the game

Seems obvious, but you should first play the game. I used Open Broadcaster Software to record myself playing the game.

Normally, I use OBS to record games with my own facecam and recording commentary as I’m playing the game. It goes without saying that that’s not what you should do here. You should record the game without doing commentary or facecam, as you and your guest will be providing those later.

Step Two: Edit the playthrough

Next, you’ll want to edit the recorded footage. Most game footage will have some pretty dull bits where you’re just walking back and forth, trying to work out what to do next — or, in the case of Star Trek: TNG – A Final Unity, waiting for the goddamn starship to actually travel in real time to where you’re supposed to go.

Edit the footage into roughly the episode format you want the finished videos to go up as.

Step Three: Upload the videos as “unlisted” to YouTube

You’ve now got x number of “raw” episodes of the game, edited into episodes, but with no commentary. Upload those to your YouTube channel.

Of course, you’re not going to publish them in their current form. So set them to “unlisted.” This means visitors to your channel won’t see them, and they won’t show up in search results. Don’t set them to “private.” That’s not what we want. You’ll see why in a minute.

Step Four: Set up your audio equipment

This bit is maybe a little tricky, but there are several ways to go about it that may make it easier for you. Here’s what I wanted to accomplish:

  • I wanted to have my own facecam, as well as that of my co-commentator, in the video.
  • I wanted to have our commentary as separate audio tracks, so I had full control over them in the final edit.
  • I wanted to have a composite recording of the commentary (i.e. a recording of both our commentaries in one track) to use as a guide track.

Since I knew we were going to use Skype to record our commentary (Joe is in Canada, and I’m in Denmark), I knew I had to record the Skype call itself, as well as my own mic audio independently. We’re not actually going to use the joint call file for the episode itself, since the quality of that recording will be sub-par (it’s coming directly from Skype), but it will come very much in handy for syncing up the audio when we’re editing the final videos.

I could’ve just used a 3rd party Skype recorder like Ecamm or MP3 Skype Recorder. But I’ve had some problems with Skype crashing on me recently, which I thought was caused by using 3rd party applications, so I embarked on an astonishingly complicated endeavor where I would use Voicemeeter to record Skype with Audacity. It turns out I probably didn’t have to go to such extravagant lengths because it seems my Skype crashes are caused by Skype just being a tremendously awful piece of software.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up with:

  • Skype audio being recorded into Audacity with both Joe and myself talking.
  • Setting up Open Broadcaster Software to record my webcam as well as my mic audio.

That gave me a wav-file of the joint call, as well as an mp4 video file of my face with just my commentary on it (separate from Joe’s).

Meanwhile, in Canada, Joe was also setting up to record his audio separately from mine, as well as his lovely face on his webcam.

Step Five: Time to actually do the commentary!

At the appointed time, I called Joe up on Skype and we set everything to record. We then used the service to be able to watch the game footage together, even though we were on separate continents.

Sync-Video does exactly what the word suggests: it lets you watch a video online and syncs it up so that the participants are actually watching the video at the same time. You create a “room” in Sync-Video, which generates a URL that you send to your other participant. Then, you basically just point Sync-Video to a YouTube video, press play, and off you go.

This is why you uploaded the videos as “unlisted” in Step 3. The videos have to be online somehow for Sync-Video to play them. Setting the videos to “unlisted” means that Sync-Video can still play them, even though they are not visible on your YouTube channel. Had you set them to “private” instead of “unlisted,” Sync-Video wouldn’t be able to play them, because YouTube requires you to set special permissions for people who want to watch “private” videos. “Unlisted” videos can be viewed by anyone who has the link to them.

Right, so — we’re off! We’re watching the videos and we’re talking over them, essentially doing the commentary in one take, no holds barred.

Two hours later, we say our thanks and goodbyes, and we’ve got two hours of commentary video + audio in the can.

Step Six: Edit it together

Now you have to get the audio and video from your other participant, but that’s why clever people invented Google Drive and Dropbox. Once you’ve got all the bits together, it’s time to edit the whole thing into final episodes ready for public consumption.

Syncing up the audio and video is a little bit tricky. First of all, you want to sync up the commentary so it plays exactly like it was recorded. If the two audio files go out of sync, you’ll end up with two people talking over each other in a very unnatural manner. This is where the full Skype recording comes in handy.

Like I said, you don’t want to actually use the joint commentary recording as the final audio (although it’s nice to have as a backup in case something went wrong on either side). What you want to do is lay down the joint commentary track next to the video track of the game and sync it up so the commentary plays where it needs to go. Then you put in the audio files where the commentary was recorded separately — myself and Joe on separate tracks — and line those up to match the joint commentary audio track.

Then you just mute the joint audio commentary track and enjoy a full-on hi-fi commentary experience.

Now we add the facecams. Since I recorded my video and audio into a single mp4 file with OBS, that means my facecam and commentary audio is already in sync with the game footage. I just have to place that video file “picture-in-picture” on top of the game footage.

Joe, however, recorded his video and audio into separate files — he sent me an mp4 of his face moving about with no audio, and the audio came as a separate mp3 file. But that’s a simple matter of sliding the video file around until the lip movements match up with the audio file, and you’re good to go.

Step Seven: Render and upload

With the two facecam videos, audio tracks, and game footage all combined into a single glorious experience, it’s time to render that bad boy and upload it to YouTube for all to enjoy!

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