Reference this page via GameTrailerDebugTools.com!
Good debug tools are essential for making high quality game capture for trailers. I've worked on a lot of trailers, and here are the ones that helped me most; I'll do my best to keep this updated as I discover new ones.
I'm putting them into a simple list at the top of this post in case you don't need explanation for each one, but read on for details as to what each of them are, and why they help for game trailer capture.
The items at the top are the most important; it's up to you to decide whether the resources and time required to implement them are worth it.
The Bare Minimum
- HUD on/off Toggle
- Object Highlights Toggle
- Cursor Visibility Toggle
- Music toggle
- Level skip
- Inventory management
For Saving Time
- Level number/name display
- Level/puzzle reset
- Character strength/stats control
- Spawn enemy
- Fast mode
- Tourist mode
- Time of day controls
For Good Looking Shots
- NPC Control Toggle
- Time Freeze/Resume with freecam
- Slow Motion (in whole number increments)
First Person Games
- Headbob toggle
- Camera speed sliders
- Dead zone size slider
- Camera smoothing slider
- Move sensitivity based on thumbstick position
Third Person Games
- Player visibility toggle
- Freecam that follows positionally
- Freecam offset options to:
• Change field of view
• Track in/out
• Pan left/right
• Pan up/down
• Detach camera from character
• Separate camera on 2nd or 3rd controller
• Adjust focus
• Adjust depth of field
- Freecam that follows positionally
- Camera smoothing
- Kert Gartner's Post on Virtual Cinematography
The Bare Minimum
These tools I consider to be the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM requirement of debug tools for game capture. If you remove any one of these, you're creating A LOT of work for the capture artist and video editor, assuming that you're aiming for what I consider a baseline level of game capture quality.
1. HUD on/off Toggle
9 times out of 10, the audience doesn't need to see the HUD in order to understand what's going on in the game capture. There are some very specific cases in which the HUD is necessary to properly communicate what's going on in a shot, but the vast majority of the time, it's just visual clutter that distracts the audience like if you were driving and a leaf was suddenly stuck to your windshield.
2. Object Highlights Toggle
Object highlights are only necessary for people playing the game, it's just more visual distraction for a trailer viewer.
3. Cursor Visibility Toggle
This is mostly for point and click games. Most of the time you don't want to see a mouse cursor. It's very distracting, like a little virtual fly moving around your game footage.
4. Music toggle
If music can't be turned off, it will be mixed in with in-game sound effects and dialogue; this means all of those elements will have to be replaced manually, which is a very menial and time consuming task.
5. Level skip
For level based games, it's essential to be able to easily move between the levels or areas; the entire process is time prohibitive if this function isn't there.
Especially if your game is very skill based or difficult, this saves time spent resetting. In addition, if the game screen is affected by player damage (e.g. a red vignette around the screen), that can ruin an otherwise good shot.
7. Inventory management
If the game has a large number of objects like costumes and items, it's essential to be able to get any of it at will if you want to be able to showcase it in the trailer.
For Saving Time
These tools are some more tools that saved me a lot of time, but are possible to live without.
1. Level number/name display
This helps for a workflow where you start by doing some exploratory capture where you're scouting out the levels you might include in the trailer. Having a level number burned into this capture means it's easy to recapture footage later.
Similar to level skip, this is especially important for games with large contiguous spaces. Or for 2D puzzle games where areas cannot be navigated until puzzles are solved.
3. Level/puzzle reset
For games where enemies don't respawn or puzzles get solved, having a reset button makes it very easy to retake shots.
4. Character strength/stats control
Being able to very specifically adjust your character's strength means being able to control how many hits it takes to kill an enemy. Sometimes it's advantageous when capturing to be able to kill in an enemy in one hit or two or three!
5. Spawn enemy
This is a great tool to have if you're very tied to capturing in one aesthetically pleasing section of a level, but need to do multiple takes.
6. Fast mode
For games where you don't move very quickly, this just helps save time moving from place to place.
7. Tourist mode
This is a function where enemies don't react to your presence at all. This is very good for scouting out a level.
8. Time of day controls
For games with a day/night cycle, being able to adjust it at will and freeze it when you find a look that you like. This is a great way to try out the multiple looks for each environment very quickly.
For Good Looking Shots
These tools aren't essential, but they can really help get good shots in some very specific situations.
1. NPC Control Toggle
For games with NPCs, an option to control them will help for shot composition, especially if the NPCs are particularly bad at positioning themselves relative to the player character.
2. Time Freeze/Resume with freecam
This is an option especially good for 3D 3rd person games or games which have time sensitive events. For example if you're controlling something that is difficult to move around at alternate angles, freezing time, repositioning the camera and finishing the shot can help you create good match cuts.
Or, if there's an event you have to trigger from one area, but then have to reposition the camera to a different spot to film it happening; the ability to freeze time to then reposition the camera makes getting a good shot much easier.
3. Slow Motion (in whole number increments)
I don't typically use this as a stylistic choice, because it risks misrepresenting the game if there's no slow motion in-game.
That said, another good use for slow motion is if there are a series of actions you need to perform in quick succession, slow motion gives you more time to execute them. Then, later you can speed the footage back up to normal speed, and if necessary add some motion blur to the footage so it looks correct.
If implementing control over the time scale, it's best if it's done in whole numbers like 1/2, 1/4 or 1/8 speed. This is because in the editing software, you can then speed it back up by typing in 200%, 400% speed etc.
First Person Games
These are tools specifically for first person games. Many of the previous options also apply.
1. Headbob toggle
If there's no separate freecam, walking slowly is the only way to get environment shots, but if there's no way to get smooth movement if headbob can't be deactivated.
Freecam in first person games is very important for a number of reasons, but the goal is being able to get shots of the objects and environment from any angle that you want, and have the camera move SMOOTHLY.
Typical first person controls work well with freecams, but additional controls to move up and down using the triggers help a lot both for usability and for shot options.
Here are the options necessary to optimize how smoothly the camera moves. The goal for these options is being able to use a controller to gradually start and end a camera movement. Sudden, jerky camera movements will look like mistakes in game capture.
Also, sliders are much better than manually entering numbers into a console, because across multiple games, everyone's numbers will mean something different.
Camera speed sliders
Options to change how fast you move with the left thumbstick, and how fast you look with the right thumbstick.
Dead zone size slider
Option to control how far the thumbstick has to move before input is registered. If movement starts too close to the center of the thumbstick's radius, it will be harder to make smooth movements.
Camera smoothing slider
This option averages out the inputs over a set period of time. The higher the number, the more gradual a camera can start/stop moving.
Move sensitivity based on thumbstick position
It's best if the move and look sensitivity are on a gradient where movement is less sensitive closer to the center of the radius, and more sensitive as it nears the outside of its move radius.
Third Person Games
3rd person games are where it starts to get more complicated since there's a character on screen. Most of these controls are from the debug version of Ooblets!
1. Player visibility toggle
The ability to make the player character invisible, for when you need to get shots of the environment without the character getting in the way.
2. Freecam global or relative position cut/paste
This is a function where you press a button to copy the freecam position data to the computer's clipboard, and then can press another button to paste it back in, thus returning the freecam to the exact position it was before. Bonus is if the data is pasted in as a global coordinate or a coordinate relative to the player position. This is great for saving a good shot that you find or if you want to do a jump cut montage of objects that you're placing in the same spot in the world.
3. Freecam that follows positionally
In the debug version of Ooblets, when you activate the freecam, it always follows the player character positionally, so if you move the character, the camera moves with it.
While freecam is activate there are options to offset the position of the camera. I could either offset the camera and leave it in a fixed position relative to the player, or while moving the player I could hold down or constantly adjust the camera in order to get a more interesting camera move.
There were also CAMERA SPEED controls that I could raise or lower with keyboard hotkeys; these were especially important for camera offset buttons with no analog control, like the face buttons.
Here are all the camera offset options that are best (most pictured in the above video for Ooblets)
Orbit Using the right thumbstick
I could orbit the camera around the player character.
Change field of view
This is a zoom option where the focal length or field of view of the camera is changed, but the camera is stationary.
This is an option where the camera physically moves closer or farther away from the character.
This allowed the camera to move left/right.
With this option the camera physically moves high or lower, but doesn't change its angle.
Detach camera from character
For when I wanted to lock the camera in place, and move the player around. This is especially good for jump cut montages.
Separate camera on 2nd or 3rd controller
In Ooblets, there was a separate flycam controlled by the mouse and keyboard. This meant that the camera could move and be controlled completely independently from what the character is doing.
(The 2015 Mad Max game also had this option where the second controller was the camera, while the other person played normally as Max.)
- Adjust focus & depth of field
For games with focus and depth of field options.
NOTE: Ooblets' tools work great because in the game, the player only moves and interacts with one button. For a game with more complicated controls, this isn't a possibility, and hooking up a second controller only works if the capture team has multiple people.
The ideal situation for a solo capture artist working on a 3rd person game would be the ability to toggle the freecam, offset the camera, then untoggle the freecam, have the camera stay in its new position, and allow the player to control the game like normal from that position.
Most 2D games don't require as many debug tools, and since sprites are typically optimized for the size they're displayed on screen by default, zooming in would mean a loss of detail/resolution. That said, if the assets were able to scale without degradation, here are some good options to have:
A very specific use case that doesn't come up already, but freecams in 2D games let you capture the level art.
2. Freecam that follows positionally
This would only work if the 2D art doesn't degrade when zooming in, but could be advantageous if the game is more sharp when zoomed in-game versus if it was scaled using editing software..
The goal for these tools are mostly to create shots that happen outside of the VR headset camera. Trailers that are restricted to the headset can lack visual interest, so anything that can be done to diversify the shots will make for better trailers.
1. Camera smoothing
This is ESSENTIAL for VR game capture. Your head makes tons of tiny micro movements that are imperceptible to our own eyes, but will look shaky at best, and nauseate the audience at worst.
All the previous options about the freecam mentioned above apply here. You want smooth movements with gradual start/stops. If there's a visible player avatar in the game, a freecam will help get you some great shots if you have a 2nd person to pilot it.
3. Kert Gartner's Post on Virtual Cinematography
Fellow trailer maker Kert Gartner is the go-to guy for virtual cinematography VR trailers. I say with no hesitation that he's made the best looking trailers for VR games out there, so I highly recommend absorbing every ounce of information he has to share about his process!
That's all for now! I'll be adding to this list if/when I think up some more debug tools that prove useful. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me!