My friend @heydahoon and I make up a small game studio named Contingent99. We’re currently working on a fast paced dungeon crawler called Wizard of Legend. When we started this venture back in 2014, we knew that as first time game developers, we were at a huge disadvantage. We didn’t have the network, the marketing power, or the experience that seasoned veterans could leverage.
Because of this, it was important that we didn't develop a game in isolation. We wanted to get feedback and build a following as early as possible. As we began sharing our work, we quickly realized that our game looked great in motion, but fell flat in screenshots. We found it is extremely difficult to convey the “feel” of an action game in still images.
Still vs in-motion
Although it took a lot of extra work, it became clear that using a gif had clear advantages. They accurately captured the action and were most likely to catch people’s attention while they scrolled through a feed. When we realized this, we began exclusively sharing fully animated gifs of Wizard of Legend’s gameplay. The resulting feedback and the number of responses we got indicated that gifs were the way to go.
A year later, we’ve learned a lot about what makes a compelling gif and wanted to share with you some of the tips and tricks that we picked up along the way.
Focus on One Thing
As developers, it's easy to get excited over the features in your game, but your gif should show off a single concept or message. Don’t try to explain your entire game in one gif. If you’re showing off a new spell, cut off long cast animations and highlight the spell's effects. If you’re showing beautiful environments, don’t add noise to the scene with a massive battle. Your goal is to highlight an aspect of your game that makes the person want to learn more.
An early gif of Wizard of Legend that lacks focus
Focusing on a single signature spell
Zoom and Crop
Setup the scene and eliminate all dead space so that you have only what you need. This has the side effect of making it easier to create the gif since you have the chance to hide all the rough edges in your game. Gifs are, on average, smaller than screenshots, so zooming in makes it easier for people to see what’s going on. Your game may look great in 1080p, but it doesn’t help if you’re squinting to see that animation resized into a 600px wide gif. Unless it's a big part of your gameplay, you should also consider cropping out the UI or hiding it completely.
Original view of Wizard of Legend vs a cropped and zoomed in focus on the action
Keep it Short and Sweet
Your gif should optimally run around 3–4 seconds. Any longer and you run the risk of losing people's interest and causing longer load times. The gif should be short and interesting enough so that most people will watch it loop a minimum of two times. It's always better to reinforce your message in a concise manner than to show off more. If you're having trouble cutting the length of the video, you may be trying to show too much at once (our first point on focus).
The resulting action after cutting the casting and cooldown animations
Keep it Moving
Movement is eye-catching and it's now harder than ever to grab someone's attention as they browse through endless feeds. For this reason, it's always best to keep the momentum going throughout the entire gif by starting on action and ending on action. Just from watching the first few frames of the gif, it should be clear that it is animated. It is also very rare to see characters stand still in a real playthrough and it will tend to look very unnatural if you do this in the gif.
Motion is always eye catching!
It’s OK to Mess with the Game
Don’t limit yourself and just mess with the dials. If you’re recording raw footage of your game and find that it’s not playing out exactly how you want it to, it's ok to temporarily adjust the game. For example, we conceptualized a gif that shows off the destructive power of a new spell we had created. However, we found that a few of the tougher enemies would consistently survive the spell if we didn't engage them earlier to lower their health. Instead of taking the time to hit all the tougher enemies before casting the spell, we simply went into the game's data and tweaked the healh of all enemies so that the spell would instantly cause the destructive aftermath we had in mind. The resulting gif was easier to create and emphasized the impact of the spell. As a quick warning, please have your project properly version controlled or backed up before you do this!
The result: Clearing the entire room with Homing Vortex!
Some More General Tips
- If possible, try making the gif loop perfectly by making the start and end of the scene the same.
- Avoid text when possible. It's hard to read, takes too long, and requires a lot of skill to do well.
- If you’re showcasing multiple gifs, the order matters. Always start strong and end strong. Try to vary the type of content you’re showing so viewer doesn’t get fatigued.
- Implement input recording and playback to avoid having to play the game until you get the perfect results.
- Add a simple developer menu that lets you reset the entire scene for recording.
Now Go Make Some Gifs!
Not all of this may apply to you and your game, but we hope that you found a few of these tips useful in your own efforts. We applied a lot of this knowledge into our Kickstarter campaign for Wizard of Legend, where almost all the images on the page are gifs.
Thank you for reading! If you'd like to learn more about the Contingent99 team or Wizard of Legend, you can follow us here:
Contingent99 Twitter: @contingent99