Category Archives: Video

The Making of Indie Van Game Jam: Pre-Pro

Indie Van Game Jam is a reality web series about the challenges three indie game developers take to create video games in a van — in a compressed amount of time — as they road trip across North America.  Special guests (seasoned indie devs) play the games and provide helpful feedback and suggestions for improvement along the way.  The team learns valuable lessons about game design and teamwork along the way.

Our plan was to travel to 7 cities in less than 90 days.  In fact, for two weeks back-to-back we shot three episodes and traveled to three cities!  That’s three playable games in 2 weeks — and a lot of coffee!

This is the definition of BADASS.

Here’s what the team’s January calendar looked like this year:

shooting schedule for January
Shooting schedule for January

Step 1:  Buy a van.

van

blue van is a GO!
Blue van is a GO!

Diego’s brother (who is fortunately a mechanic!) helped the team out by sending us Craigslist links to about 8 conversion vans in the DAL-ATX-HOU area, as well as tagging along to inspect its quality and driving performance.

Once we procured Big Blue and had it brought to our mechanic, Art, for repair and winterization, the series’ biggest missing component had been solved.  The van was a Dodge B2500 High Top Conversion Van with over 100,000 miles on it.  She turned out to be gentle and kind to us even as we racked up another 100k miles.

(We toyed with the idea of painting her with the IVGJ logo, gutting her insides pimping our ride, but we fell short on funds… Six seasons and a movie?)

Step 2: Contacting Studios

While the logistics were being ironed out for purchasing a van, I was reaching out to indie studios and gauging their interest level in being part of the web series.

In my opening emails, I would try to address questions that I felt indie devs would inevitably ask, such as, “Who are these guys?  What is the web series about?  Why should we [the indie studio] let them film here?  Why do they specifically want us in an episode?”  I wrote that in exchange for access to their studio for a day or two to film and demos/beta keys/etc. to play their games and capture gameplay footage, we’d provide them with high quality marketing material that would showcase their latest and greatest games.  Plus, we’d take them out to lunch.

I was surprised by how welcoming people were!  Here are some of the emails from the indie devs:

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.59.16 AM

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.23.14 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.24.29 PM

Reading these emails again made me feel incredibly appreciative of how welcoming and receptive the indie devs were to our pitch.

Once we had all seven studios on board (we tried in lock in all filming dates with studios before traveling), it was time to get serious (not that we weren’t up until that point!)

Step 3:  Prepare!

We set out to procure what we didn’t have: hotel room reservations and/or lodging with friends, episode travel itineraries, emergency supplies, equipment purchasing/rental, equipment insurance, car insurance, release forms, beta codes and/or demos to play the indie games on Steam, driving directions, packing equipment, hard drives, etc. We actually got really lucky and only had to do the hotel deal twice.

We researched what news had already been covered on the developer/studios.  Doing so forced us to familiarize ourselves with the company’s culture, history, and the surrounding indie scene in each city (for example, this Polygon article on Klei: http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/5/29/4362838/the-birth-and-re-birth-of-klei) , as well as generate interesting interview questions if we ran out of ones to ask.

I’d like to state that we followed through with all of these plans as a team of FOUR people working at a startup.  Again, that’s badass.

Step 4: More Research!

The components of any single episode ideally include:

  • Intro Animation
  • Binary Solo HQ: Game Analysis
  • Studio Intro
  • Travel: {Whiteboarding, Art, Coding, SFX, Pit Stops, etc.}
  • Studio Game Jam Playthrough
  • Game Jam finish (in the van)
  • Wrap-up
  • Credits
  • Link to download the game

I then set out on to put together a kind of “look book” for the series based on web series with similar content, tone, and aesthetic for reference.  In retrospect, this was a tedious task but a necessary one, IMO.  I wanted to understand what other web series were doing, the aesthetics they embraced and how we could possibly differentiate ourselves from similar ones.

The series we looked at for inspiration were Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Man Vs. Food, Mythbusters, Penny Arcade, and Indie Game: The Movie.

In addition to assembling a look book, I started to create a shot wish list, breaking down the scenes into their visual components.  For example, under the Whiteboarding scene, I wrote down “packing, tracking shot of van, GoPro dev cam, pitstop commentary, computer screens, keyboards, eyes, interviews with the team.”  I knew that at the very least, if I captured a majority of these things on camera, we could stitch together an arc to the episode.

One of the last components we had to film as a team that I still consider pre-pro was the Binary HQ scene for all episodes.  This segment consisted of having the team meet at Zeb’s place on a Friday or Saturday and spending time sampling the indie studio’s gameography, then thinking about the common threads their games exemplified and finally developing the central game design question for the episode.  For instance, the game design question in episode one was: How can we remove an essential element from a game genre and still have people think it’s that genre?

And with that, like when Captain Picard took the helm of the Enterprise and set sail to Farpoint Station, we started the drive to Chicago, IL in December to visit Rob Lach.

Engage!

This is Part III of V of a series about the making of Indie Van Game Jam. See Part I about the Gear used in Indie Van Game Jam. We will also be posting about our filming (production) phase as well as the editing (post-production) phase.

Indie Van Game Jam is currently performing their Steam Greenlight campaign. To help them get Indie Van Game Jam on Steam, consider donating a Yes vote now on their Steam Greenlight page.

The Making Of Indie Van Game Jam: Gear

Today’s post is all about the gear and tech for Indie Van Game Jam.

indievangamejamtitle.png

Here’s the complete list of gear we used for Season 1:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mk. III
  • Canon EOS 25-105mm. f/4.0 lens
  • Canon EOS 100mm. f/1.8 lens
  • Canon 5D Mk. III batteries (5)
  • Canon 5D Mk. III chargers (2)
  • Kingston 266 x 32 GB CF cards (5)
  • Manfrotto MA561BHDV1 Fluid Video Monopod and Head
  • Shoulder Rig Support
  • Flashpoint LED light with bracket
  • Zacuto Zwiss Cage
  • GoPro Hero 3
  • GoPro Suction Cup Mount
  • GoPro Hero 3 batteries (2)
  • SanDisk Class 10 x 32GB microSD cards (2)
  • CF/SD Card Reader USB
  • ElGato HD Capture Device
  • Zoom H4n
  • Rode VideoMic Pro
  • Rode NTG-3 Shotgun Mic
  • Shotgun Mic accessories
  • Mic stand
  • Sennheiser Wireless Transmitter/Receiver Packs (2)
  • Skullcandy Headphones
  • Rycote Lavalier Undercovers
  • Photoflex 5-in-1 22’’ Multidisc Reflector
  • Seagate Backup Plus 4TB 3.0 USB External Hard Drive
  • 500 GB external hard drives (3)
  • HDMI cables (2)
  • PortaBrace travel case
  • Tons of AA/AAA batteries
  • Gaffer Tape
  • 50’ extension cord
  • Pens
  • Notepads
  • Clipboard
  • Release forms
  • Bandana

 I’m borrowing heavily from the gear list posted by the filmmakers of Indie Game: The Movie here: http://www.indiegamethemovie.com/news/2010/9/18/gear-games-james.html

My experience with filming run-and-gun short documentaries has taught me that it’s imperative to pack as light and as efficiently as possible.  I wouldn’t have the space in the van to store lighting equipment, we wouldn’t have the production crew/manpower to stage and clear the equipment quickly in the indie studios, and finally we would be driving during winter, which of course meant direwolves and traveling on foot through snow and ice — not so good when you’re carrying around expensive candy.

 TL;dr Make sure you pack light and can move quickly with equipment in order to keep up with the team.

When choosing a camera for any production, there are a couple of important deciding factors for me that go into renting or purchasing one: (a) weight, (b) dynamic range, and (c) environment.

A. Weight

Will the camera’s weight slow you down?  If you like to move with subjects by using a shoulder mount, if you need to fit through tight spaces,  you probably won’t be carrying Red Epic around with you.

The cost of energy expended from putting the camera down and setting it back onto your shoulder means that your ability to press record in time to capture spontaneous moments is that much slower.  One of the primary objectives of a good cinematographer IMO is to minimize his chances at missing moments that typically happen in the blink of an eye (and thus can’t be repeated without some degree of acting and inauthenticity).

B. Dynamic Range

What is your lighting situation going to be?  With documentaries, it’s hard to predict where your subjects will move and how to light them properly and persistently over time.  This means that I must be able to punch in my ISO as fast as possible.

When the team returned home to Austin from Chicago in episode one for example, they had a post-mortem on the game jam process inside the van.  It was 2AM and pitch black out.  So we strung a couple of Diego’s camping lights up onto the side panels to give everyone some light, and I bumped up the ISO on the Mk3 to maybe 10,000.  It’s hella grainy, but you make out their silhouettes and it gets the job done.

C. Environment

How well will the camera withstand traveling and weather conditions?  Fortunately the 5D’s batteries never froze, but a better choice may have been a Sony or Panasonic HDV cam.

Tl;dr There are many factors that go into choosing a camera and its support, such as weight, dynamic range, environment, S-Logs, stability, etc.  Don’t let the analysis paralyze you from going out into the field and experimenting with one or the other.

Most of the gear fit into a single PortaBrace that I slung over my shoulder and one Osprey backpack!

scottbandana.png

(War mode + epic beard ftw)

Editing happens on a Macbook Pro using PluralEyes to sync sound, Premiere Pro to edit, Photoshop and After Effects for designing stuff (mostly tweaking Diego’s awesome animations he’s shipped me!), Audition for sound editing.  We use the El Gato Capture HD device hooked up to 2 laptops and 1 TV to record various development stages and Screenflow to capture a plethora of other things: missing gameplay footage, scrolling code, character animations in Unity, etc.

beekeeperAnimation

In case you’re interested in learning more about what goes into choosing a camera, check out this awesome post over at No Film School with thoughts from Still Motion:

http://nofilmschool.com/2014/01/joyce-tsang-stillmotion-choosing-best-camera-to-tell-story/

Feel free to ask any questions about the gear!

This is Part I of IV of a series about the making of Indie Van Game Jam. Read on to Part II about the Pre-Production phase, Part III about filming, or Part IV about editing.

Indie Van Game Jam is currently in the middle of their Steam Greenlight campaign. To help them Vote Yes on the Steam Greenlight campaign and by sending out a tweet, facebook message, or tumbl!

Episode Two Update

Hey Everybody,

 Scott here.  I’m Binary Solo’s resident filmmaker and editor for Indie Van Game Jam.

 Much like the characters in Game of Thrones promise that “Winter is coming,” I also promise that episode two is coming soon.  You probably won’t see it coming.  It will knock you off your socks, then knock you out of them again when you’re putting them on the second time.

 jonsnow.jpg

This week, we experienced a huge morale blow when our 4TB hard drive, the hub of all Indie Van Game Jam data, failed to boot up.  But we sent it to an IT Recovery Service, and now it’s back up and running!

 In the meantime, I have been working off another external hard drive with backup files and have synced picture and sound for episode three(!).

The main reason that episode two is really taking a while to release in addition to all the tech and software troubleshooting — is that we want make the best possible episode for you!

 Each episode (~ 22 minutes) is somewhat unique in terms of its story beats, adding to the time it takes to crack it.  To the extent that we know roughly the chronological outline of each episode (you can see that below), we really don’t know for certain where the pieces fit inside those scenes and how they develop/payoff until we open some Topo Chicos and discuss.

 The episode’s story starts making more sense when we view a rough cut of everything that could be in the episode (the rough cut is anywhere from 1 – 3 hours!)  From that point forward, our meetings involve making tough choices related to cutting lines or entire scenes, generating a master assets list of things we usually don’t have but need to generate for the episode, designing and/or revising animations and title cards, creating voice over scripts, and re-sifting through A LOT of footage to make sure we’ve chosen the crème de la crème in terms of jokes, gameplay content and interview material (roughly 10 hours of footage per episode).  Phew!

  • Intro Animation
  • Binary Solo HQ: Game Analysis
  • Studio Intro
  • Travel: {Whiteboarding, Art, Coding, SFX, Pit Stops, etc.}
  • Studio Game Jam Playthrough
  • Game Jam finish (in the van)
  • Wrap-up
  • Credits
  • Link to download the game

In the meantime, we’ve read through everyone’s generous feedback from episode one (thank you!) and are confident that this episode outshines the previous one.

Additionally, we hope to provide some exciting extra content as soon as the episode releases.

We even have a tentative title for you (spoiler alert):

 Episode Two: Wizards of the East Coast

 wizardpuppet.jpg

This is Part I of IV of a series about the making of Indie Van Game Jam.

Announcing the Premiere of Indie Van Game Jam!

Have you been waiting all your life for the first episode of Indie Van Game Jam? Wait, don’t answer that. We are going to pretend you have.

LaunchHeader

Well, you are in luck! We’re proud to say that we will be showing off the first episode at http://www.IndieVanGameJam.com on Friday, April 4th! It will be completely free and after you are done watching the episode, you can download the game for free! That’s 100% free on free action.

To tide you over, check out the intro or our press kit!

Indie Van Game Jam: Update 3!

We just posted our third kickstarter update (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/binarysolo/indie-van-game-jam/posts/629987) and we’re pumped! Not only is this a video update, but it sets a new precedent for us. We now have a youtube channel that we plan to keep active with video updates. (In fact, we plan on posting another video tomorrow with some Indie Van Game Jam footage!)

Check it out on the kickstarter page and as always, spread the love far and wide!

See you, Space Cowboy.