Quick Behind the Scenes in the Creation of My Xbox

Bill Loguidice's picture

As you already know, after completion of Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, which comes out in July, I'm now knee-deep with Christina in writing and developing My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE, which comes out in October. The "My" series books are extremely colorful and visually oriented, with some of the chapters we've written thus far having more than 50 images (in fact, one has 73!). I thought I would briefly share how the development process works from the author side, with some accompanying visuals.

First off, despite some romantic visions to the contrary about manuscript creation and to the frustration of Microsoft haters, all five of the books I've worked on thus far have been based around very specific Microsoft Word templates. You may be able to get away with using a program that claims compatibility with Microsoft Word, but the reality is you and the publisher are best off using the real thing, preferably under Windows, to minimize issues. Particularly for books with heavy formatting, like "Dummies" and "My" books, applying the correct style to each line is critical. In fact, getting comfortable with these templates and applying the right styles at the right times is initially one of the slowest parts of the writing process, and that has certainly been the case for this book. We're now getting into Chapter 4, and only now do we truly feel comfortable with all the formatting requirements.

While Christina and I do occasionally use earlier versions of Microsoft Word (2007 to be specific) depending upon the system we're on at the time, on our two main writing systems, pictured below, we each have Microsoft Word 2010. Nevertheless, most of these templates - and these particular templates are no exception - are based off of the .doc standard, not the newer .docx standard.

So how do we capture screen shots? The only reliable device I've found for capturing high definition video is the AVerMedia AVerTV USB HD DVR Digital Video Capture Device, which are those little black boxes you see pictured below. They can capture video over composite, s-video, and the all important component, all the way up to 1080i. Naturally, the Xbox 360 can do up to 1080p (1920x1080p) over component, but for the purposes of in-book screenshots, the higher resolution would make text a bit too small, so both of our consoles remain in 720p, with screenshots further cropped to just the important info. While we have TechSmith's SnagIt to do sophisticated screen capture, since we're just capturing the full 1080p screens off our respective Windows 7 computer systems (even though we're only outputting 720p from the console through the AVerTV) and need a good place to store and backup everything, we're using the capture feature found in our shared Evernote account. Each screenshot automatically goes to a specific "My Xbox" Evernote notebook, which is regularly synced to the cloud and across all of our systems everywhere. This, in conjunction with working on the files through a shared Dropbox folder, ensures we have automatic backups and access from any computer we might be at (and even in a pinch, our iPhones or iPads). Of course, the AVerTV's included Arcsoft TotalMedia Extreme software is used to control the capture parameters.
[As a side note about the AVerTV, there is naturally a slight delay when capturing from the console, so you can't play the Xbox 360 in real-time while trying to record live audio/video in hi-def. Luckily, when that need arises, the AVerTV has both a component and HDMI pass-through, so you can connect to an external display while your computer worries about the capturing. Good stuff, though since we're simply doing still shots, the slight delay between pressing a button on the Xbox 360 controller and seeing the action on the screen is irrelevant.]

PowerPoint (2010, but again, occasionally 2007 is used) is used to indicate to the publisher how to crop the images and what call-outs to make, which is very time consuming, since each image goes on its own slide. So that's it, Word, Evernote, TotalMedia Extreme, and PowerPoint are the author software tools required for the creation of this particular book, along with an assist from Dropbox. Besides our Windows 7-based computers - both of which have 1920x1080 resolutions for consistency of capture (I use my gaming laptop, Christina uses her main Dell desktop--my main HP desktop is used for the actual writing) and the two AVerTV devices, we each have our own Xbox 360's. It was important to me that we focus on the Xbox 360 S, which is the only model presently available, but once you pass the setup stuff, functionality is essentially identical, which is why I am using the pictured original Xbox 360 (HDMI model). Our main Xbox 360 (an original HDMI model) remains hooked up to our family room TV with Kinect (yes, we now have three Xbox 360's, each of which will have a home in the house once the book is done). All of this Xbox 360 system redundancy works out well, because it's a good way to verify different login scenarios and functionality.

Bill's main work area:
Bill's Workstation for My Xbox book

Christina's main work area:
Christina's Workstation for My Xbox book

A sample Xbox 360 screenshot, 720p from the console, captured on a 1920x1080 computer screen:
Sample Xbox 360 screen capture