A former vision mixer casts his verdict.
It has been roughly five years since I was last sat down in front of a vision mixer as a director of a teleshopping channel. I was in charge of everything that went live for these broadcasts; commanding my camera operator minions to pan left or throw their focus, telling presenters to act surprised, shouting out timestamps for an upcoming VT, and consulting with producers on advert breaks ready to be crossfaded to the live broadcast.
The modern production room is a manic nightmare for those unfamiliar with a vision mixer. In front of me would have been a desk with just over 100 buttons, tens of faders, knobs, and switches. Surrounding me were over 35 monitors for different inputs and outputs; camera feeds, graphics, TV broadcast output, online stream output, a digital VT system, and more. Playing Not For Broadcast, sent me right back to a familiar environment, but how well does Not For Broadcast come off to someone who used to sit at such a setup daily?
TV Time Travel
Of course, a TV production room in the 2010s is an entirely different environment to one in the 1980s, no less an alternative universe in which Not For Broadcast is set. The concept of the studio is generally the same, giving you the ability to switch between live footage as you create pace, providing the audience with the viewing experience that they’ve tuned in for. The difference is that the desk and audience are rather dated.
The desk requires maintenance the further you progress and is also prone to frequent signal interference due to its analogue nature. Thank goodness we have digital signals now is all I can say. The audience is also less meme-aware than today’s audience is. During broadcasts in the game, there are many moments that you or I would share as memes, but instead, the audience in the game will turn off the show resulting in viewing figures plummeting.
Despite the entire procedure being gamified as expected, Not For Broadcast still keeps the core mindset of a director at the forefront. You’ve got four feeds to switch between, the master monitor shows you what you’ll broadcast, and the output monitor with a 2-second delay allows for censoring naughty words. There’s also an important countdown at the top of the screen which is used for advert breaks or switching to external broadcasts.
Does This Feel Like A Game To You?
The gamified elements do try to blend themselves as much into the game’s world as they can. The signal interference screen required me to navigate a dot while trying to broadcast, and I had to keep an eye on my desk’s temperature. These things I never had to worry about in a modern set-up, but they were enough to keep me feeling just as busy as if I were in a modern studio.
Not For Broadcast, similarly to real directing requires pacing and ensuring you’re getting the money shots. However, unlike reality, the game lets you know with distracting alerts on how your performance is affecting the audience. This means that there’s a constant pressure that causes you to overperform in the game to improve the score. In the real world, it was mostly just hoping that the output was going well.
First Day Nerves
The first day — the tutorial day essentially — brought back vivid memories of my training as a vision mixer and being given instant and overwhelming control of the desk. A reassuring voice from a phone guided me through the basics, just as I’d once had a director sitting at my side guiding me through a live broadcast. To make matters even more true-to-life, the FMV elements make the game feel more impactful and believable than if it were all CGI.
The second I was left with the desk alone; however, it became a chore of memorising every aspect that I needed to use to push out a perfect broadcast. I found myself making the same mistakes I made in my early years of directing; forgetting to keep eyes on timecodes, being focused on twiddling with desk elements, and forgetting to cut at key moments. My performance started dwindling, and I started clumsily cutting, trying to right my mistakes and seize whatever viewers I could retain.
Ratings Are Up
The bonus with my former job is that in teleshopping, it was easy to pull back from mistakes by simply taking a breather and getting ahead of yourself. Not For Broadcast has so much happening to keep the game engaging that too many mistakes that fudge the broadcast can see you getting fired, or pushing an agenda on the audience, whether intentional or not.
There’s a moment in Not For Broadcast where I had to live-edit a harrowing dance performance. This brought back even earlier vision mixer memories of being in my college’s TV studio directing a similarly tedious performance. What made this even more reflective to reality is the presenter’s off-camera reactions, which in the real-world is a thing that happens. Eye-rolls, confused squinting, and passive-aggressive comments are all standard stuff. It really did feel like being back in a television studio.
Communication Is Key
The one thing that I find is an important factor in a broadcast, is one that the game lacks, which is communication. I’ve directed studios with a full crew, and I’ve also directed a studio with one presenter and a robot camera. Something that remained consistent throughout both types of studios that kept the energy and focus alive was speaking the instructions out loud.
“Coming to camera 2, on 2.” is an example of something that’s said to inform the presenter(s) and crew, but also a way of keeping your own brain focused while keeping the plethora of tasks controlled. It was also a great way to feel human rather than a robot machine operating the desk, which is how you feel playing this game. I want to tell Jeremy how stupid someone we’re cutting too looks.
What Does This Button Do?
The process of directing in Not For Broadcast is, understandably, simplified for the purposes of the game, but it’s still a somewhat accurate and fairly humorous representation of what it’s like to be at the desk. The frustrated presenter’s performances are similar to what I’ve experienced in the past, and the details of the production room is a great reflection of reality.
The added bonus of being given control of a fake broadcast means that I can finally fulfil my dream of purposefully smashing every button on the desk during a broadcast. After 7 hours of directing, sometimes those buttons taunt you, but you can’t risk being fired. Thankfully you can, just like my old studio used to do, purchase fun items such as stress balls, or bobbleheads to spruce up the working area — We used to order pizza too, but you can’t do that in the game.
Not having anyone to speak to does cause overthinking and clumsiness when it comes to the output, but Not For Broadcast captures the frantic feeling of the production studio life. The lack of communication acted more of a reminder for me that having a crew to speak too helped tolerate being trapped in a small room for hours on end. Despite that, the requirements to create a good looking broadcast are relatively the same as reality, and I’ve actually sent off my CV to my old job to see if I can get back behind the desk again. Fingers crossed!
DISCLOSURE: This article is about an Indie Game Website partner game.
Ben is a freelancer that spends a lot of time moaning about bad subtitles in video games. He enjoys atmospherical horrors and once got a Victory Royale in Fortnite.