How to record PC games for YouTube in 2012

written by Ortoslon

[Warning: this guide hasn't been updated since 2012. Windows XP is no longer supported. Today I record games with MSI Afterburner on Windows 7, but not often enough to write another guide.]

This guide distills my experience of recording over a hundred indie games on a low‑end desktop. It does not cover recording narrated Let’s Play videos or making trailers.

Laying out tools

Boot into Windows XP (steps described below shouldn’t be too different for other Windowses, though). Install Peak Level Meter, Huffyuv, x264vfwVirtualDub (all free), Extensoft Screen Capturer (free registration required) and Fraps (paid but optional).

Sound check

Set your recording device to be the same as your playback device (Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices > Audio tab):

Open Volume Control, change it to Recording Control in the options and choose to record from your output channel, usually called “Stereo Mix” or “What U Hear”:

If you don’t see such channel, bad luck, you may need to install another sound driver or use a workaround to record ingame sound.

Run Peak Level Meter, right-click its window and set it to monitor the same sound device:

Run the game along with it and check that you record sound from it:

Change volume and recording levels so that these green bars aren’t too small but don’t reach the top even at the game’s loudest moments (usually explosions). Close the meter when you’re satisfied.

General tips for better recording

  • Reduce the resolution of the game
  • Play fullscreen instead of windowed
  • Close unnecessary programs running in background
  • Disable your antivirus for the time of recording
  • Disconnect from Internet and other networks if you don’t need them
  • If you have two hard drives, record to one while running the game from the other
  • Defragment your hard drives
  • Adjust the game’s options to use simpler graphics. If you’re recording a Flash game, sometimes you can right-click the game and lower the quality there
  • If the game has both a browser and a downloadable version, record the downloadable one. If it’s a Flash game in a .swf file, run it in the standalone Flash Player (Projector) instead of browser
  • If nothing else works, reduce the screen’s color depth to 16-bit. This may make the game look worse, try and see yourself
  • Codecs used for video capture are optimized for speed, not compression. Free up disk space in advance (gigabyte per minute of recording is not uncommon)
Two recording programs with different strengths and weaknesses are suggested below. On one hand, when Fraps works, it usually produces smoother videos. Extensoft Screen Capturer, on the other hand, is free, works for almost all games and allows to capture a fixed region of the screen.

Recording with Fraps (skip if you don’t have Fraps)

Run Fraps along with your game. If a yellow number appears in the corner of the game window, you can record it with Fraps. (If it doesn’t, you can’t; skip to the next section.) That yellow number is the framerate of your game (how many frames per second (fps) it shows). If it is 60 or lower, set Fraps to record at the same framerate, otherwise, pick 60 or 30 fps:

Also check “Lock framerate”, set Fraps to use Windows input that we’ve previously set and choose if you want the mouse cursor to appear in your video. Select “full-size” capture for now.

Switch to the game and press the video capture hotkey (F9 by default) to start recording it. Press the same key when you’re done to stop recording. The resulting video will be in the folder where Fraps saves movies (split into 4 GB pieces if it’s large). Play it to check that video is smooth enough and audio is in sync with it. Skip to “Processing and compressing with VirtualDub”.

If Fraps slows down the game, try recording “half-size” instead.

Recording with Extensoft Screen Capturer

Run Extensoft Screen Capturer. Let’s go through the options:

Check “Include pointer in movies” if you want the mouse cursor to appear in your video.

Select Huffyuv for compression and AVI for the container. Set framerate to 30 frames per second. Choose your playback device for audio source and leave audio uncompressed. Press “Config.” and change Huffyuv settings for faster compression:

Select “Resizable rectangle window” here:

Now, for example, if you need to record a windowed game:

Select “Region”, “Animation”, “Movie File” and press “Capture”.

Drag and resize the selection rectangle with mouse or cursor keys. Notice that I have selected two extra pixels from the left. That is because Huffyuv requires horizontal resolution to be a muptiple of 4.

Press Enter to start recording. Press the stop hotkey (Ctrl+F10 by default) to stop recording. The resulting video file will be in the directory that you’ve set in the options. Play it to check that video is smooth enough and audio is in sync with it.

Processing and compressing with VirtualDub

Run VirtualDub and open your video file in it. If Fraps left you with several segments, open the first segment and then click File > Append AVI segment... for each other segment, in order.

Uncheck “Prefer internal video decoders...” in Options > Preferences...:

Cut out unnecessary parts of the video as shown in PixelProspector’s tutorial.

If you’ve recorded with Fraps in 60 fps or 50 fps, you should halve that framerate because YouTube would convert that to 30 fps anyway. Select “Process every other frame” in Video > Frame Rate...:

Remember that I’ve recorded a 600×238 video with two extra pixels from the left? To crop in VirtualDub, add a “null transform” video filter (Video > Filters..., “Add...”):

Select the filter and press “Cropping...”:

Adjust offsets and press “OK”.

If you want to achieve YouTube’s 360p, 480p, 720p or 1080p quality (each has better video and sound quality than the last), your video will have to be at least 360, 480, 720 or 1080 pixels high, correspondingly. To achieve that, upscale and/or letterbox with the “resize” video filter:

Here, I upscale the video to 200%, choose the “nearest neighbor” filter mode to disable smoothing (so that pixels will turn into 2 pixel by 2 pixel squares) and add thin black stripes from top and bottom to make the video 480 pixels high.

That makes two filters:

Click Video > Compression...:

Select x264vfw and press “Configure”:

Select “Single pass - lossless” under “Rate control” and check “VirtualDub Hack”. “OK” out of both windows.

Finally, click File > Save as AVI... to process and save your video. Upload the resulting file to YouTube.