For the uninitiated, the concept of a “Let’s Play” is kind of simple: you record yourself playing a video game and then do commentary on top of it. It’s been really popular with the YouTube types as of the last couple years, and I decided that I would try it out.
The game I chose was one that’s near and dear to my heart – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I can actually remember the day I bought it for my Game Boy; my dad, sister and I were renting some movies from a Roger’s video, and I saw the familiar sword and shield logo of a Zelda game. It was used, and kind of an old game by then, so I think it was less than ten bucks. I had read Nintendo Power religiously in my youth, and I know that Zelda meant quality. My dad relented.
And so began my first-ever adventure with Link. it was tough for me to digest, because some puzzles just completely escaped my young brain. However, as time progressed I got better, and Link’s Awakening ended up being the first game I ever completed without anyone’s help. This was a big accomplishment for me, as I often gave up on games as “too hard” when I was younger.
So now I’ve decided to revisit the game, complete it 100%, and record the shenanigans for people’s enjoyment. I’ve learned a couple things along the way from both a production and a playing perspective, which I think anyone interested in doing the same thing should take into account.
I’ve seen my share of Let’s Plays, and the best ones always have effort put into their presentation. Intro music, a good overlay, a webcam and decent audio will go a long way to make sure people can actually focus less on your hangups and more on your content. In researching other Awakening series playthroughs, I came across a dude who was taking shakycam of him playing on a Nintendo DS. I didn’t want to be that guy.
If you’re playing games on your PC, a good way of getting a layered, proper overlay (especially if that game window is square, or 4:3 ratio) is using Open Broadcaster; a lot of people use this to livestream their games, but you can output to a video file, as well. This plus Premiere Pro is what I used to throw the whole project together.
Be Informative, But Candid
Part of the reason I wanted to undertake this project was to get comfortable with talking on camera and to get practice filling dead air. Whether it was narrating my actions or explaining objectives, I had to kind of wrestle between giving too much information or being too candid. I have the benefit of knowing the game like the back of my hand, but I won’t always have that luxury. Especially in other games, I may be a little bit more reactive in what I’m saying.
I modeled how I talked mostly after what I enjoyed watching myself, which are people who are relatively down-to-earth, aren’t prone to screeching, and know a lot about the game. I threw in a lot of historical information, discussed tropes of the Zelda series, and the over-arching theme of Link’s Awakening: it’s more of a parody than a “real” entry to the series. But most importantly, I had fun with what I was playing with.
But to be honest, that’s how I wanted to do it. If you want to yell like an idiot at every action, go for it: I probably won’t be watching.
Be Mindful of Your Audience
If people are willing to watch you, they’re interested in one of two things: the game, or you. If you can get them to be interested in both, you’ve done your job right.
A lot of people who do this kind of thing, as I alluded to above, make their audiences laugh by being largely reactionary. Some extreme cases exaggerate the hell out of any event in the game to make themselves look hysterical, which I’m not really about. I figure I’m willing to sacrifice a larger audience for something a little bit more mature, and part of the development of your series should be to make that plan.
That isn’t to say I’m looking to exclude people, but I have an idea of what I would want to watch when I turn on the camera and start talking about the game. I know this title well, and I’m half-expecting other people to, as well. It’s been out for twenty years, and it’s relatively easy – if you’re a Zelda fan, there’s a good chance you’ve played Link’s Awakening. What I’m looking to bring to the table is like a director’s commentary; I may not have intimate knowledge of how or why something was designed, but I can give insight doing my best to speculate.
I trust my audience to know a good or bad game when they see one, but I see this as more of a shared experience than me passing judgment. I want people to be able to come on a little bit of a journey with me as I try my hand at a game that I already know. I expect it’s going to be something a little different when I move onto something else.
This extends to the type of game you’re playing, as well. Titles with a lot of grinding (RPGs, Final Fantasies, etc) don’t do well with Let’s Plays because it’s a one-way street in terms of entertainment. You’re having fun because you’re playing. Going through the same random battles isn’t fun for the average viewer unless they really need something on in the background. Zelda games work because there’s progression without a need for experience points or strengthening up. You play, you explore, you gather items, but you don’t need to do anything extraneous.
So here it is: my first attempt at a Let’s Play. This is the first video in the playlist, and it’ll play out if you let it. At the time of posting, I’m only three videos in, with another two on deck to be uploaded; I’ll likely get them online in the next couple days, and finish the game ASAP.
You can also check it out on my YouTube channel; I’d appreciate the feedback and subscribes.