I have two projects recently I've started working on that double down on lots of past work involving video, live streaming while playing the games here at Reclaim Arcade, and recording a publishing a weekly update video on what's going on here at the arcade. I'll save the latter for another post but I want to talk a bit more about the former and what I've found so far works. As always it's a work in progress and what might work for one thing doesn't for another but in some ways I appreciate that challenge and this one has been pushing me for sure.
Streaming the games here has always been an interesting goal in that we have the opportunity to make Reclaim Arcade a destination spot and reaching a global audience can help us expand our reach beyond Fredericksburg. There are challenges inherent in atttempting to stream a physical game whether it be an arcade cabinet or a pinball machine that don't exist for regular game streamers. For one none of these games have HDMI output so you're often pointing cameras at screens. And of course with arcade games those screens are CRT monitors adding an additional challenge to properly capturing them. Thankfully the popularity of streaming has led to a lot of great advancements on the hardware and software side for this world. But before we get into the kit I had to think about where I wanted to stream. Twitch is always a natural choice given the association with gaming and the fact we're an arcade. I've used it in the past and likely will continue to, but then I had an interesting idea specifically for streaming pinball that turned into something bigger.
We have a TikTok account that has grown quite a bit in the last 2 years thanks to the work of one of my employees that knows how to do all the things with it (I personally hate TikTok and don't have an account). As much as old video heads like me hated the rise of vertical video it's clearly not going away with the explosion of people using their phones for everything. So I got to thinking about how a pinball stream's main focus is pretty much perfect for vertical video. Now this idea isn't unique by any means, Zach Meny at Flip N Out Pinball has been doing these produced video tutorials recently as vertical videos which I thought was really cool and took a lot of inspiration from.
So with almost 15k TikTok followers and the support for live video there, as well as the lack of good pinball content on TikTok, it seemed like an opportunity to push the limits and see what it would take to do a similar type of layout live and online. To start I had to get approved to stream on TikTok with a computer which requires having a certain threshold of followers and a commitment to stream regularly (twice in the first 7 days and then a few times a month) so that wasn't too hard and I got access to their app. I would need that because while it's easy to stream yourself on mobile, it's pretty much impossible to do what I did next. Here's a picture of what I'll describe as a hair-brained plan that actually worked.
Now I'll geek out a bit about the software and hardware before showing you how it all came together. On the software side TikTok has it's own application called TikTok Live Studio which is what I used here. It's PC only but I have a gaming PC I wanted to use for this anyway because has more horsepower than anything else I own. I'm pretty sure the software is maybe a port of OBS but if not anyone comfortable with OBS or Streamlabs will be just fine here. Layers, Sources, Scenes, all that jazz. It supports multiple cameras, unique layouts, and green screen effects which I'd end up using here.
Now on the hardware side like I said I used my gaming PC I got last year primarily because it has tons of ports, a beefy processor, and a great Nvidia graphics card which would all be necessary for this setup. Ultimately I'd like to find a laptop that can fit this bill as it would simplify the setup quite a bit. The pinball streaming rig I wrote about in more detail here so I'll just link to that if you want those details. I added two LED lights for highlighting myself but I think I could also just get two more of those smaller LED lights I have clamped to the rig and point them at myself and be golden. I'm using a Yeti Blue mic, Stream Deck, and I have a vertical mounted TV that I positioned behind the camera I'd be looking at so I could monitor chat (which is overkill but we actually use this vertical TV for a high score list in the arcade and it's already on a rolling stand so it was easy to borrow for this). On the capture side I'm using an Elgato Camlink for the playfield and a very cheap USB HDMI capture card for the facecam (because it's what I had and as small as I am any compressing happening is not gonna be a dealbreaker). Combining all of those elements allowed me to setup a stream where I'd be in the bottom right of the playfield and the score would be in the bottom left and the pinball would be the rest of the show. Here's how it looked on TikTok:
Trippy right?! I had a blast doing this and I already have a few ideas for improving the setup to make it a bit more mobile, which would make setup/teardown a lot easier and potentially even allow me to switch up the games I'm playing within a single stream. The nice part about streaming to TikTok is I can go back and clip things for YouTube shorts, Instagram stories/reels, etc. So yeah, I'm basically embracing our vertical video overlords and pouring a nice glass of the Kool-aid. But most of all, I'm exploring stuff that builds on things I'm comfortable with along with a whole lot that's brand new to me and that's a fun space to be in. If you're a TikTok user consider giving us a follow and maybe you'll catch me live there sometime soon!