Switch Off


[The following blog contains mentions of bullying.]

My gullibility in my earliest years knew no bounds. I don’t even want to think about how often I fell for the old trick of someone holding out something nice to me (like a piece of candy), cajoling me to grab it, and then taking it away at the last second. (My lack of physical coordination probably made me a prime target for that sort of thing.) No matter how often I got tricked, I couldn’t stop myself from going for the candy, and on the super-rare occasions when I actually got the candy at the end — often because the person playing the trick on me took pity — it was never worth it. That was just the start of the trust issues I’ve been plagued with throughout my life, and which I still have to fight against regularly.

I was reminded of this over the weekend as I was working on being able to use new software for the video game streaming I do on my Twitch channel. I’ve been using a very basic piece of software for that purpose called Gamecaster, which doesn’t have every feature in the world but is still enough for me. I deliberately keep my streams free from graphical gewgaws and other distractions, since I want the focus to be on the games I’m playing and the effort that went into making them. Since streaming software is often made for the “typical” streamer demographic — loud personality, louder colours, and still-louder sounds — this often requires more work than you’d think, because most of the built-in templates for streaming are for those kinds of streamers, but I’ve spent a couple of afternoons working through the software’s issues and getting everything how I like it.

That was a huge problem for me with Gamecaster a few months ago, because the relatively simple changes I wanted to make in it wound up taking me hours due to the fact that the design tools in Gamecaster are incredibly broken. I lost track of how many times I would edit one graphical element, only to have three other elements change position on me for no reason whatsoever, other than bad software design. Despite the simplicity of what I wanted to do — making similar changes in something like a web page would only take me two minutes — I spent hours trying to figure out the steps I needed to take in order to change one thing without breaking everything else. I got the work done, but I’ve been incredibly loathe to make any other changes since then.

Unfortunately, as well as Gamecaster was working for me when I was playing games that were running on my computer, it wasn’t so good when I wanted to play games on one of my consoles. I have to use an audio/video capture device to send the audio and video from my game consoles through my computer to stream them, and even though that device was working well a couple of weeks ago, it’s progressively had more and more problems with Gamecaster (especially after a software update last week), despite the fact that my laptop is barely two months old now. My streams were being plagued with more and more technical issues, and I got to a point where I just didn’t have the willpower to keep fighting the same fights over and over again.

My instinct was to try a different piece of streaming software, so I downloaded another widely-used application for that purpose, Streamlabs OBS, this past Saturday, and spent much of an evening trying to get it configured to work with my setup. The good news is that Streamlabs OBS is much more friendly with my capture device, so that problem seems to have disappeared. The bad news is that Streamlabs OBS has so many of its own quirks that trying to design in it felt like the worst of the problems I had building graphics with Gamecaster earlier this year, and trying to deal with these headaches while I’m in the middle of teaching a full load of classes is more than I can handle right now.

Despite Streamlabs OBS having such a strong reputation, it’s lacking in features that I’m used to having in Gamecaster, like music player integration and background noise cancellation for my microphone; the latter is a big issue, since it’s forcing me to turn my air conditioner off while I stream with Streamlabs OBS, and Wisconsin has still been hot enough in these first weeks of autumn for me to need to keep my air conditioner on. More annoying is the fact that sometimes when I close a pop-up window, the original window that I go back to has changed size from when I last used it. I have no idea where this could be coming from, but this kind of simple glitch feels like something that should be ironed out long before a piece of software is offered to the public in any form, much less a purportedly finished one.

The worst part, though, is that the designer in Streamlabs OBS just randomly undoes a couple of seconds’ worth of changes out of nowhere; I believe this is related to how all user files are saved online instead of on the user’s local computer, but this is easily the most problematic aspect of doing any kind of design work. When typing in a text box, it’s common to not only have several typed characters just suddenly vanish, but for the cursor to be moved to the end of the text box, so that even if I stop typing a split-second after the move happens, my text box becomes a complete jumble. What really gets me, though, is that sometimes I’ll toggle a switch off, only to have the software turn it right back on, and I’ve sometimes had to flip a switch eight times in as many seconds before the software finally agrees to keep the switch off. This is what reminded me of the childhood bullying I mentioned at the start of the blog, and I don’t understand how any software developer could think that something this infuriating might be acceptable.

I try to be sympathetic to the complexities of developing software for the computers of 2021 in their near-infinite variety, and many people will quickly point out that these pieces of streaming software I keep mentioning are offered for free. That’s not an excuse for such colossal, rage-inducing bugs, though, and the frustration of using the designers in both Gamecaster and Streamlabs OBS is often enough to make me feel like despite them being free, they aren’t worth the cost of the stress they add to my life, especially when things like the COVID-19 pandemic and teaching so many courses this semester already have me stressed out to start with. (The streaming software that Twitch themselves came up with, Twitch Studio, doesn’t have these kinds of problems, but its design options are so limited that it really doesn’t suit my graphical needs, as pitiful as those are.)

A couple of years ago, just before I bought my Playstation 4, I realized that I needed to spend more time video gaming to help my brain take a break from all my teaching and writing and research and other professional tasks, and if I’m going to game anyway, then taking the couple of extra minutes every day to launch a stream of my gaming isn’t that big of a deal. I’ve made some wonderful online friends from streaming on Twitch, and as my channel has continued to grow, I’ve tried to use the tools at my disposal there to connect awesome people with each other, and to help new streamers grow their own channels. All the struggles I’ve had with Gamecaster and Streamlabs OBS have been worth it in the end, but there have been a lot of days when I’ve doubted that, especially when I’ve tried to use their design tools. Maybe those tools will get better over time, but right now I’d be happy if I never had to use them, and deal with all their bugs, ever again.

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