A Free and Simple In-Game Recorder that Works

I’m signed up for the Quake Champions beta, and I’m playing Elite Dangerous while recovering from an illness. A good game recorder would be a useful asset in both cases and my previous set-up isn’t working right now, I need a replacement.

I know enough to know that the functions I’d like to have are:

  • Start / stop recording
  • Save previous ‘n’ minutes of gameplay
  • Screenshots
  • No log-in!

Nothing is Ever That Simple

…Especially where tech and gadgets are concerned. After messing about in a sea of frustration while I chased down several alternatives, it was time to study the possibilities. I have an nVidia card on a Windows 10 PC setup so having thought it through, the options are:

  1. Continue to use the nVidia graphics card ‘GeForce Experience’ software because it is already generating the image which must give it a big advantage when it comes to in-game recording.
  2. Use the Windows ‘Game Bar’ I’ve heard about since Windows is providing the framework for presenting the game world display. There must be an advantage there too.
  3. Use some free software if it’s any good.
  4. Pay for software that makes use of the GPU rather than the CPU
    (i.e. use spare processing on the graphics card rather than in the PC CPU which is busy creating the game world already).

The nVidia GeForce Experience

nVidia GeForce Game Recorder Interface
fig-1: nVidia GeForce Interface

More like inexperience really. They just don’t seem to learn. The original software was ropey and now it’s worse.

In the past, I recorded a few combat scenes using the nVidia Game Shadow. Having realised that the old key binds were not actually working right now, I had to delve a bit deeper and relearn how to use it. That meant opening up the GeForce Experience. As soon as I did that, it offered an update that I then installed. Eventually, I ran the updated version which leads me to the screen shown (fig-1).

This is new…

…I used to be able to inspect and edit the settings straight away, but not anymore! In order to make progress, I had to create an account with a strong and fiddly password and nVidia wouldn’t let me get away with anything less. All I wanted to do was look inside the app though, so this feels like being mugged. Since I don’t intend to do anything other than record a video locally, this extra effort is not welcome.

It won’t remember your log-in details locally either, so you’ll have to keep a note of that or else leave yourself logged in at all times, and I’m not going to do that if I can help it.

Game Recorders - GeForce 'sharing' controls
fig-2: GeForce ‘sharing’ controls

Having gotten inside, I’m wondering where the recorder settings might be. As is more usual than not, there is nothing particularly intuitive about that the first time through. Just keep clicking. When I found the controls, they maximised themselves across the desktop in a puzzling mess (see fig-2)  as if either:

  1. Expecting the GeForce interface to be maximised underneath it (which it wasn’t) or else
  2. Overlaying an active game. Seems more likely, but I still have no idea how that is supposed to happen and it’s not something I want anyway.

What it did actually do was mask the entire desktop with a translucent window so you can see but not interact with whats beneath it. I have little idea what its supposed to have looked like, but what I do see is not good.

In the privacy control, you have to agree to allow replay, record, broadcast & screenshot capabilities. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea to have that permission option, but it drew my attention to the possibility of an intrusive hack attack leading to clandestine screen recording or screenshots of bank details. And its one more thing to forget you had enabled, leaving a back door open.

The Reason ‘Why’ Gets Clearer

that light-bulb moment

It became clear that the reason a lot of these changes have been introduced is that game capture software in general now has extra layers for live broadcasting and uploading.

However, the linear and short-sighted thinking of the programmers who created the nVidia app dominates every facet of it. For me, this interface is quite messy. Their setup requires me to log in to make screenshots and recordings, after which I’d have to remember to log out again.

Window Game Bar

Next on my list was to give the Game Bar alternative another try, but more methodically. Although the message

‘press Windows Key + G for Game Bar’

had been appearing when I started a game, I had little idea who owned it. It soon fell into place with a bit of Googling but pressing that key combination as it suggests does nothing, even with the game running. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You need the XBox app from the App Store to be installed.
  2. The Game Bar only appears for games running inside a Windows window, not in full-screen mode.
The XBox App settings will configure the 'game bar' capabilities.
The XBox App settings will configure the ‘game bar’ capabilities.

Installing the XBox app was straightforward. After it’s installed, find it in Start > Search and pin it to the taskbar. Once again you will need to make an ID, this time for XBox.

The main issue with the initial set-up is that this is when you have to create a globally unique gamer tag that you can live with for a long time, and that’s not something you can do in a few minutes. It can be a real headache if it concerns you at all.

I accidentally hit a few a wrong key and was given an avatar like a child’s drawing and a random name. Microsoft Support says you can change your gamer tag once for free, so I used that up correcting the fumbled entry. But once you are past the log-in phase and are happy with your gamer-tag things get better.

After opening and logging onto the XBox app the main thing you will need to do is visit the ‘menu’ icon (three horizontal lines icon at the top left) and go to Settings > Game DVR. Once I’d gotten this configured I found mostly good.

Pros:

  • You can log out of the XBox app and the recorder hot-keys will still work.
  • You can enable background recording in games. That allows you to save the previous ‘n’ minutes of video at any time. Mine is set to 3 minutes and the difference in CPU usage was small enough on my rig (4%) to forget about.
  • You need to enable audio recording explicitly. I don’t know why it’s useful to remove the audio, but the option is there.
  • You can engage recording of a microphone for commentary separately.
  • If you are logged in, the XBox app will allow you to see, delete and trim video files if you want but they will be stored in your Video folder for editing anyway. The trim function is excellent.
  • Screenshots appear in the same location as your saved videos.
  • Videos are saved in MP4 format, which is perfect as far as I’m concerned.

Cons:

  • The notification options keep turning themselves on again after I ask for them to be turned off. Another reason to log out.
  • It doesn’t always log out when you click the button in Settings > General. It can take multiple tries. One time I killed the XBox task, reconnected and could then log out and see it complete properly.

Summary

nVidia has persisted with an unusual design that assumes you are doing exactly what the developers were doing when they made it. It also would like you to connect with everyone and transmit your videos to multiple platforms and have made that the priority. The interface is noisy and inconsistent. I like it so much I’m going to shut it down permanently, even if I have to buy an alternative.

Microsoft has provided a sane tool with a quieter interface and you can log out of it once your settings have been made. From then on, your games will respond to your recording commands. Since I’m not a power user, I’m happy with that.

Are There Alternatives?

Because I was satisfied with the Game Bar, I never properly got to the alternatives, but I can tell you

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