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How to do game captures on the Steam Deck

One of the few things I like about the Nintendo Switch more than the Steam Deck is that the Switch has a built-in button for doing video captures. I hit that button, it records the last 30 seconds of what just happened on whatever game I’m playing. Super convenient! And I can yoink the resulting video right out of my captured data, right up to my computer.

While running Shenner’s playthrough, I really rather missed having that ability. I really like playing on a laptop, but don’t currently have a way to do video capture set up on my Win11 VM. Nor, until last night, did I have any way to do it on the Deck.

OBS Studio

I went googling about this (or whatever verb you want for when my default search engine is actually DuckDuckGo) to see if I could find a solution. And the one I found mentioned on a Reddit thread is a program called OBS Studio.

This thing is available for the Deck via the Discover portal in Desktop mode, so I installed it and gave it a try. TL;DR version of my findings: this worked, though it was a bit awkward to pull off. I was able to record two different videos which I used in Shenner’s final thoughts post, which I posted last night.

Specifics on what I did

Here’s a step by step walkthrough of what I did:

  1. Booted the Deck into Desktop mode
  2. In the Discover portal, installed OBS Studio
  3. Launched Skyrim
  4. Hit Fn+F2 on my Bluetooth keyboard to get back to Desktop so I could return to OBS
  5. In the Sources section of the UI, I added a source for Window Capture (Xcomposite)
  6. In the UI for the new source, on the Window dropdown, I selected Skyrim, and then hit the OK button to save those settings
  7. Over on the right of the OBS UI, I selected Start Recording
  8. Returned to the Skyrim window
  9. Did the activity I wanted to do (first time through, this was doing a sweep through Shenner’s skill trees, and the second time through, a sweep through her stats)
  10. Once more hit Fn+F2 on my Bluetooth keyboard to get back to Desktop so I could return to OBS
  11. Stopped the recording
  12. Chucked the recording into my Dropbox directory on the device, so it could automatically sync over to my computer

Changing what format the recording is stored in

By default OBS saved recordings in MKV format. I was not actually familiar with this format, and only realized it was a different type of file than what I’m used to once I had it up on my computer. I can open MKV files on my Mac, but they’re assigned right now to open in my install of VLC.

What I wanted, though, was MP4 so that I could edit the video in QuickTime. So I got into OBS’s settings and told it to save in MP4 format by default.

Mind you, OBS’s QuickStart guide explicitly recommends you record in MKV and then convert to MP4 when you’re done. For my particular use case, i.e., a roughly 20-second video of review of character stats in Skyrim, recording directly in MP4 seemed just fine. Your mileage may vary.

Things that need fixing

This process worked, but it definitely needed some finessing. First and foremost: getting between windows on the Deck the way I did was awkward. I only did Fn+F2 on my Bluetooth keyboard because I wasn’t aware of a better way to do it; I think I will need to figure out how to bind an Alt+Tab to one of the Deck’s back buttons, so that I can easily whip between windows on this thing while in Desktop mode. For this trial, at least, it worked well enough. Fn+F2 on my Bluetooth keyboard initiates search on the Desktop, so that automatically threw me back over to there. I just didn’t bother to do a search.

Secondly, I did find the OBS UI on startup a little intimidating, because it has a lot packed into the small amount of space that the Deck provides. I had to work out what to do by trial and error. But it did help that the instant I tried to hit the Recording button, it complained to me that I didn’t have a source set up. So that guided me into setting a source.

Doing that, though, was definitely a matter of trial and error. First thing I tried didn’t actually record Skyrim–it recorded the desktop instead. Not useful! So I tried again and finally stumbled onto the Window Capture (Xcomposite) option, which did give me the ability to tell it “I want you to explicitly record the Skyrim window, not the Desktop”.

By extension, this means a few things:

  1. If I want to do any potential recording in a game session, I need to launch the game first so that its window is available
  2. I need a cleaner way to switch back to the desktop so I can get to OBS
  3. In OBS, then I can set up the source to point at the game window and hit go on the recording

All of which means that if I want to do any recording of gameplay on the Deck at all, I have to set up for it in advance. And since this takes more prep than just hitting the capture button on my Switch, it means that I am still unlikely to be able to capture cool video in gameplay on the Deck–just because the kinds of things I like to capture in Skyrim, particularly the cinematics that run when you get in a critical kill on a dragon or other opponent, aren’t things I can plan for in advance.

Additional things to try

  1. Identify a better way to get back to desktop if I’m playing in Desktop mode and want access to OBS for capture purposes; can I bind Alt+Tab or some other equivalent to one of the Deck’s back buttons?
  2. Find out if I can actually save settings for doing a Skyrim capture so I don’t have to tell it “go record Skyrim” every single time, that seems awkward
  3. Find out if there’s some way to initiate OBS via a command line script, ideally bound to a button, so that if I’m in Skyrim and I know I’m about to do something that might be cool to record (say, I’m about to fight a dragon), I can get that going quickly
  4. OBS does have desktop builds so trying it out on my Win11 VM seems called for, it might be a smoother experience to record in the computer

One more item of note

In poking around with this, I did also install a program called Peek off of the Discover portal. This thing has a much simpler UI than OBS, and I did also try it. But two things knocked it out of the running for me:

  1. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to record my entire screen, as opposed to an area of the screen, so the resulting video I got out of it clipped stuff off the top
  2. It also didn’t record audio and that’s no fun, if I’m trying to record stuff inside a game!

But I haven’t uninstalled Peek yet. Arguably for the purpose I wanted to record for last night, i.e., review of Shenner’s skills and stats, I didn’t really need audio. So if you have a use case like that, if you’re recording something in a game that you just want visuals for, Peek might be fine.

Questions?

If you have questions, the comments are below! But if you have questions about how OBS actually works, I’m not a good source for that yet, I just now discovered it after all. You might want to check out their wiki for further info.

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.

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