The Making of and Post-Mortem of Our Extra Life 25-Hour Marathon

For years, I’ve batted around the idea of putting together an Extra Life marathon. It always seemed like a cool way of partaking in an activity I loved while making a positive impact on the world. After sitting on the sidelines for many years, I finally decided to give it a shot while bringing my friends and family with me.

So glad we did it! We raised a lot of money for a wonderful cause and had a great time doing it. My body might still be reeling from the stress and adverse effects from all of the work that went into it, which culminated in a day of virtually no sleep. But it was all worth it in the end.

Right now, I’m itching to write down a bunch of the behind-the-scenes stuff that made the show what it was. Join me as I peel back the curtain a little bit on our Extra Life marathon!

My vision for this event has evolved over the years, but two key principles have been constant. One, I wanted to share this experience with friends and family. Beyond the joy that comes from playing with others, there were also the logistical benefits. It opens the door for local and online multiplayer with people I know and have chemistry with. Also, being able to sleep while others continue the action is a huge plus. Though I ended up not sleeping much during the marathon, there was no way I could have stayed awake for that long.

Accommodating for others meant that the basement where I normally stream from wouldn’t be a suitable venue. We could use the living room, but that required a major rework of the room. The couch had to move up considerably in order to be closer to the camera. I had to build a separate desk in the living room to accommodate for the computer. We needed raised seating behind the couch that I borrowed from my mom to allow for more people to be in the scene. Extra lighting was also required in order to brighten up our otherwise dimly-lit room. Shoutouts to my cousin Aia for the lights!

Two, I wanted to live stream the whole event. Streaming has never been a requirement for participating in the program, but I wanted to spread the word to as wide of an audience as possible. Until relatively recently, I did not have the hardware or technical knowhow to broadcast anything, let alone an event of this scale.

Before I even got the hardware ready, the scope of the event I wanted to create grew. After befriending Jason through our Recurring Bosscast show on Splitkick a few years back, I wanted him to be involved in some shape or form. With him living on the other side of the continent, I would need some sort of technological solution to bring him in. The importance of solving this would be amplified once Kris & Rachel from Double Jump came into the picture.

Furthermore, I developed a taste for board games and wanted to incorporate that into the show somehow as well. Not even knowing how to solve for streaming video games, how would I live stream a completely different medium with its own unique set of challenges? I couldn’t really solve any of these problems until I at least had a computer capable of streaming at all. My old laptop was just good enough to record gameplay videos, but it melted as soon as I tried to create a custom layout with a webcam. Without the finances to purchase a new computer, all of this was a pipe dream. Granted, I have learned in hindsight that there are many other ways of contributing to the cause, but my heart really wanted to bring this particular idea to fruition.

At the end of 2017, my work was giving away old development PCs. They may not have the horsepower to compete with the latest and greatest, but it was a step above my old laptop and worth giving a shot. In my head, I figured that if this PC was good enough to stream solo, I could figure out the rest from there.

Going into 2018 with this desktop computer, I thought the answer of whether it would be capable enough of streaming would be clear after one stream. As I have learned with streaming, it’s never that simple. Over the course of many months of mistakes, iteration, and gradual improvement, I think I finally got a hold of what my computer could and couldn’t do.

Even with all of the tinkering, I hadn’t fully made up my mind on whether this was the year until I stumbled upon the Extra Life Toronto booth at Fan Expo. Answering my technical questions to the best of their ability, it was enough motivation to sign up. From here on out, all of my efforts went into finally bringing this show to life.

One of the major hurdles I needed to tackle was how to mic up the room and/or participants in my house. My Blue Snowball Ice works great when it’s just me talking directly into it, but we’ve run into issues where the microphone would pick up the gameplay sound coming from the TV. This muddies the audio in a way that is unpleasant to hear. After finding a sale on wired lavalier mics, it sent me down the rabbit hole of thinking that I could run multiple wired lavalier mics on the players, which should solve the issue of the TV sound leaking into the room mic.

Over the course of a few weeks, this proved to be a fool’s errand. I would discover relatively late in the process that OBS only supports up to three unique microphone inputs, so unless I were to spend a lot more on an external mixing board, I was always going to be short on inputs. Furthermore, the mics that I saw on sale were all compatible for smartphones and not PCs. My YouMic has an adapter to make it PC-compatible, but the moment you try and attach that same mic to an extension cord, it no longer works. Even if I did figure it out, the fluidity of movement within the room would have made all of those wires a massive hazard.

By as late as the night before, I was trying to find a way to at least have me mic’d up separately from the group to at least have my voice come in consistently. Sadly, as we tested it in the living room where the actual marathon was going to take place, there was no way I could speak without my voice being registered on the lavalier and on the Snowball mic for the room, creating an unwanted reverb. At the last minute, I scrapped it, choosing to go with the one mic for the whole room.

I think I made the right choice in the end. We were able to seamlessly have players move into and out of the playing area with little fuss. The sound quality was good enough, considering the circumstances. Glad that the TV audio didn’t really leak into the mic in any meaningful way.

Not to say that my setup was without fault. In hindsight, I really should have found a way to place the microphone either on a separate stand, or on a surface that wasn’t the coffee table. The constant placing of controllers and glasses created a lot of loud noises on the mic that I could have done without.

The bigger challenge with one mic for the room was balancing the sound for all involved. Those sitting in the back row were harder to hear than those up front. Also, this one mic setup made it difficult to tune on the fly based on whose in play. Mat and Jon are larger-than-life personalities whose energy could not be contained by the room…or the mics. Despite my best efforts to gradually reduce the mic volume as the show went on, they were constantly pushing the meters into the red. Not at all their fault, as I wouldn’t want them to reduce their genuine excitement. It’s up to me to capture that without destroying the viewers ears. I’ve played around with some of the compression features in OBS, but couldn’t get a setting that wouldn’t cause the audio to become overly distorted. Should play with that further.

On the other end of the spectrum were those who are soft-spoken by nature. Certain individuals were really hard to hear even when they were in front of the mic, and almost untraceable when sitting in the back row. Unless someone is constantly monitoring the sound, which I tried my best to, but I had lots of other places to be throughout, it wasn’t going to be as consistent as I would want it to be. My options here might be limited, as equipment to properly mic a room aren’t cheap, but I’ll keep looking for ways to make this better for next time.

The decision to go with one room mic had ramifications for those calling in remotely. With practice, I was able to get Jason, Laura, Kris, and Rachel’s audio and video onto the stream. What new problem that arose from this was getting the rest of the room to hear them. Normally, I have headphones on, preventing their sound from leaking into the mic. However, with only one headphone jack, this solution wasn’t going to work. Unlike the TV, which was far enough away from the mic to not get picked up, the computer was right by the microphone for logistical reasons, making a headphone-free solution problematic.

I bought a cheap 5-way headphone splitter and instructed everyone to bring wired headphones. What I failed to account for was the fact that standard headphone cables aren’t that long. This led to all of us being crammed together or choosing to not hear those on the other end. In a world where I can’t get everyone to wear lavaliers, a better solution to splitting the audio along with extra long extension cords is a must for next time. Unless I’m flying everybody out to my house (and believe me, I’d do it if I had the money).

The one thing I don’t think I had a reasonable-enough handle on was the board game side. I came to the realization that the setup you would need to stream most board games in a compelling was beyond my means at this point. To do it right, you would probably need at least one overhead camera for the board, plus multiple cameras to capture everyone sitting around a table. With only two cameras at my disposal and no means of propping up a camera in an overhead position, I instead mounted the 2nd camera onto our coffee table and had two vertically-oriented games planned: Animal Upon Animal and Tetris Link. It was a lot easier to make this work, as these games didn’t require an overhead camera to be set up or removed during the show. On top of that, the coffee table cam had its uses during other parts of the show. Really glad that Animal Upon Animal made it on stream, as it is one of my faves and I think it looks great on stream. Due to the flow of the night, we didn’t get around to the latter.

If I were to try and incorporate board games next year, I think I would want to do it in such a way where the board gaming setup is completely divorced from the video game side. It should have its own cameras, mics, and table to best capture that form of action.

Off camera, there was a lot to consider as well. What do people want to play? I tried my best to accommodate, the point where almost everyone who came on had their “own” segment with something they wanted to play. I feel bad that I shut down Jascha’s request to stream NBA 2K, but after getting my previous stream with that game muted due to copyright, I’m scared to stream anything with licensed music.

What are people eating? Where are people sleeping? Steff helped me a lot with this side of the experience. She put together a menu and executed on it while I took care of the technical elements of the show. One aspect that I know we can improve on was the sleeping situation. With some adjustments to how we organized our stuff, we could have accommodated for even more people who wanted to sleep than what we currently had.

There’s so much to consider when planning a gaming marathon. Even if it was just me with my regular streaming setup, expecting me to put on an entertaining show for that long without any forethought on what I would play, how I would eat, or how I would rest would be a disaster. Making it even more difficult were the extra wrinkles I wanted in there to make the show what it was.

It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. Never expected to raise as much for charity as we did. That alone made this a worthwhile endeavour. On top of that, it was fantastic to share that experience with family and friends old and new, near and far. Learned a lot going through this the first time, and the experience will make the 2019 edition even better!

Thank you all for everything you contributed to make this show a success ❤

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