• Streaming from Gencon, Part 1, "What's So Hard?"

    As mentioned at the end of my Gencon events post last week, we will be recording Dice Masters games at Gencon, both for the WizKids events as well as for the Late Night Tournaments. What we haven't announced until now is that we are also going to try streaming these events live!

    Because of a very tricky set of constraints, covering these events--particularly live streaming the events--from Gencon is harder than you might think. It's something I've been obsessed with figuring out how to accomplish, in a quality way, for more than a month, (unfortunately to the exclusion of getting some other stuff done I need to do), but I think I've got it mostly worked out. If I don't, tune in next week during Gencon to watch me fail spectacularly!

    So read on if you're curious as to: 1) why I've been stressing for the past couple of months and 2) why a picture of a baby in boxes is relevant to any of this. If you don't want that peak behind the scenes, wait until part 3 of this series where it will morph from talking about our Gencon coverage tech into talking about lessons-learned and tips for helping you record your local Dice Masters events!

    Gencon Constraints

    So what's so hard? You might be thinking that. I know I originally thought that this should be pretty straightforward, but it does get harder the more you think about it. Let's start with some constraints that come with these being Gencon events, not your typical game store events:

    There is a lot of material to record. The Dice Masters events run for up to 13 hours a day. That's a lot of footage to record and while I'll be getting a hand from Randy on Friday, this is mostly going to be a one-man show on-site.

    With no power drop available, we have to run from batteries. Remember, as just mentioned, we're talking about thirteen hours of battery life.

    We want to live stream this and don't have on-site WiFi. We can't use the venue's Internet service. Yes, WiFi is available in Hall B (where the events take place), but it is very slow--too slow for streaming--and you have to play $100 per day to use it.

    The recording setup must be small. We can't clog up traffic at this busy event so we have to stick to a very small area to the side of one table and don't have any space on a table itself other than where they players are playing.

    The hall is very noisy, so getting usable audio is hard. I've recorded Heroscape games there in the past using a video camera. The noise was distracting and you couldn't hear the players talking.

    So the specifics of events makes them trickier than usual. But I can hear you saying, "No problem. You set video camera on tripod, buy a bunch of batteries and memory cards, point the camera at the table, hit record and you're done, right?" If we set aside the fact that that doesn't provide live-streaming then we can say, yes, that works, kind of. However, we're also attempting feel our way towards being able to provide you all with the best Dice Masters video coverage available. While we won't be able to do it all in one step, we're hoping that the Gencon events will be the start of at least getting all the tech in place to be able to provide you first-class coverage from basically anywhere.

    Self-Imposed Constraints

    With the previous paragraph in mind, that leads to some additional goals/constraints that lead towards making watching as enjoyable as we can:

    Nice video. Nice video picture using quality equipment. We want a nice clear view of the play area, from directly overhead (not above-and-to-the-side), and we'd also like some additional camera angles (most importantly, player cameras). Getting good video also means we're going to have to bring our own lighting (and remember--this is running on batteries).

    Being able to read the dice. You need nice video for this, but that isn't enough. We've all seen plenty of good 1080p recording where you can't make out what was rolled. We need to fix that.

    Good sound. Being able to hear the player's banter would be nice, and we are talking about a dice game here, so it would also be nice to be able to hear those dice rolling! When watching a (American) football game they have lots of mics to help you hear what's happening on the field. It does add to the experience.

    We'd like you to be able to follow along with what is happening at least as well as if you are watching in person. This implies lots of things, including those prior three items, but it also means things like always being able to know the current score and what cards are being played.

    It should be portable. While onsite we may want to hop from table to table on occasion.

    We have a budget. Despite recruitment attempts, we don't yet have Scrooge McDuck on staff here to help out with the finances.

    and finally,

    It has to be mailable! As stated above, "we're hoping that the Gencon events will be the start of at least getting all the tech in place to be able to provide you first-class coverage from basically anywhere." Well, "basically anywhere" means being able to reuse this setup over and over again by any of us wherever we might be. If we can fit it into a USPS flat-rate box, we can mail it around the country affordably. The picture at the top of this post gives you an idea of the sizes of flat-rate boxes that available and thus how small the whole setup has to pack down into (must fit in only one flat rate box).

    So how have we solved the above problems? Did we solve all of them? I'd be lying if I said we've got everything 100% nailed down, but we're getting closer. With only a week to go, I'm hoping to wrap up as many loose ends as possible and let you know more about our setup in Part 2 of this series, next week.

    Part 3 will happen after Gencon and should include lessons learned as well as recommendations on how you can up your game in recording Dice Masters matches...again, assuming I haven't failed spectacularly here and thus have nothing useful to report! Stay tuned!

    I'd be curious as to how all of you might handle the above circumstances. Maybe I'll be able to pick up some tips before the big event!
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Vapedaveb's Avatar
      Vapedaveb -
      @Ken You are the man!
    1. TheDoubleBursts's Avatar
      TheDoubleBursts -
      @Ken, we are so excited to have you there!

      I would like to stress JUST how much Ken has been working to make this a THING! We started communication nearly two months ago and the emails have been both lengthy and frequent. We wanted to ensure that we, the tournament organizers, are doing everything we can to support this calibration. We have discussed virtually every last dynamic of how this will go down from our group's table layout to the aesthetics of Dice Masters streaming.

      I would like to also point out to the masses that groups that provide recording for various collectible card games will typically drive in a van to events. What Ken is trying to do for The Reserve Pool is a whole is beyond amazing!
    1. Ken's Avatar
      Ken -
      Thanks everyone. I should also note that @TheDoubleBursts DID offer us extra table space for equipment during their events. As they said, we've had lots of good discussions back and forth. They've been a great sounding board for ideas and if something is in their power to grant (e.g., a dedicated feature table with extra space), they've been totally accommodating. Class act all the way! It is just that I have to plan for the more challenging situation of no extra table space during the WizKids events and the possibility that we will have to hop tables sometimes. That's totally understandable too given how WK has to run those events at GC.
    1. Bestia's Avatar
      Bestia -
      Hey guys

      Have you looked at the raspberry Pi as a wireless camera?
    1. Ken's Avatar
      Ken -
      @Bestia , thanks for the suggestion. Yes, actually I have thought about that. I have a Raspberry PI 2 with the camera module and did do some testing. It turns out the the camera we're using (Logitech C920) has a higher quality video video than the RPi one. However, for "version 2" of this setup, I would like to replace the small laptop computer we're using as the brains of this setup with a two Raspberry Pi's instead. One would capture the video from the 3-4 cameras and the second would composite/encode that video, sending it to the streaming server.

      We'll have to wait a bit before we can do that though. The software is just starting to catch up and make use of the RPi's on-board H264 video encoder. Without being able to tap into that, the RPi just doesn't have enough horsepower. Whenever we do switch, I'd actually like to switch the main playmat camera over to being the older Logitech C910 which has an even sharper image than the C920.
    1. Bestia's Avatar
      Bestia -

      Would love to see a write up so I can do something like for our Western Australian regionals next year
    1. TheDoubleBursts's Avatar
      TheDoubleBursts -
      @Bestia , at this point, you have likely hit a bit of a dead-end finding information about streaming of collectible games. In all honesty, in the past two months of speaking with @Ken , I have not found any how-to's by people who actually do it.

      From my own experience, I recommend learn the basics of streaming and post-event uploading. There is a lot more to it than hit record and upload (at least, if you expect people to watch it.) I learned a lot during the months I was playing the Pokemon video game competitively. From streaming on Twitch via OBS to making overlays in Photoshop, there is always room to grow.

      In the end, I am sure @Ken will agree that your budget will be your primary limitation to streaming event.
      @Ken , the older Logitech are know for having better sensor technology in them. So, no surprise there!
    1. Bestia's Avatar
      Bestia -
      Overlays - I know how to create - I have done a number of them for people streaming X-Wing (my other game)

      But I am interested in the Raspberry Pi being used as camera hubs that interests me