How I Record Retro Gameplay on PC

Monday, January 14, 2019
By: Matthew Doucette

(To see how I record my old-school game consoles, such as NES, please see How I Record My Gameplay.)

SUCCESS Example:

Quake in 4K 60Hz, preserving original 800x600 output quality:

Quake (1996)
From: 800x600 60Hz (original recording)
To: (4K) 2880x2160 60Hz (YouTube)

So, how do I do this?!


How To Record Retro Low-Res Gameplay on PC:

Lots of text. Just read. Detail is there to help.

  1. Use Nvidia ShadowPlay (comes with GeForce Experience).
  2. Set Windows to be in 800x600 target game resolution from my default 3440x1440 21:9 widescreen resolution.
    • WARNING: When I skipped this step, ShadowPlay somehow recorded a stretched 1920x802 60Hz (why this resolution?), even though I only started recording while playing inside Quake at 800x600. When recording would start, by pressing ALT-F9 from in-game, I would jump out to my 3440x1440 ultrawide desktop resolution. Stranger, YouTube upload converted it to 640x268 30Hz. Whatever the case, this is not what I wanted. I'm curious if inside the .mp4 the game is recorded properly but only messes up due to the beginning.
  3. From a Windows desktop of 800x600, launch the game in 800x600.
  4. Ues ShadowPlay to record a smooth 800x600 60Hz, by pressing ALT-F9 to start and stop.
  5. Setup VirtualDub:
    • Use Xvid codec (Xvid compression), default settings.
      • WARNING: Without using Xvid codec for compression, VirtualDub will create ridiculously large files, likely to fill up your whole computer. A 500 MB file of a 640x480 60Hz recording by ShadowPlay will produce about a 500 MB file at 2880x2160 60Hz with Xvid codec, and somewhere around 200 GB (not 200 MB) without compression.
    • rescale to 2880x2160 60Hz, with nearest neighbour to perseve old-school low-res squared pixels.
      • WARNING: When I skipped this step, YouTube would covert my 800x600 60Hz video to 640x480 30Hz, which does a number of horrible things: 1) It loses resolution, 2) it loses square pixel quality, and 3) it loses the smooth 60 Hz. See in the video below. YouTube will only respect 60Hz in videos that are 720p or higher.
  6. Upload to YouTube.
    • With all the above steps, YouTube will produce a 4K 60Hz video, preserving the square pixel quality, as seen in the video above.


FAIL Example:

Quake in 480p 30Hz, losing the original 800x600 output quality:

Quake (1996)
From:  800x600 60Hz (original recording)
To: 640x480 30Hz (YouTube)

Happy Recording. Feel free to share your footage with us.


That is all.



About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $190,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.