At one time or another, most of us have experienced some frustration with our PCs. Programs might seem to inexplicably freeze, crash, or simply perform poorly. How do we make Windows run as quickly and trouble-free as possible? How do we get the best performance from our games and other applications? Most importantly, how do we do all that without a Ph.D in computer science? From comprehensive guides to optimizing Windows to detailed guides explaining the finer art of "tweaking" videogames, Tweakguides.com has become a one-stop answer to these questions. GameCritics.com recently had the opportunity to talk to site founder and author Koroush Ghazi about this unique independent website and what it has to offer not just for gamers, but for PC users of all stripes.
For readers who aren't familiar with your site and column, tell us a little bit about what you do. Most PC gamers know that you can adjust game setting with in-game options, but you take it quite a bit deeper than that.
Basically what I do is fairly ambitious: I try to cover most everything a gamer would need to know to properly customize, optimize and troubleshoot their machine and their games. I put all that information into a range of guides which are complementary - for example you'll read the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for XP or
Within these guides I cover the full spectrum of basic to advanced information. The basic information may be obvious to some, but it helps clarify exactly what each in-game setting does, especially those which have unintelligible names or counter-intuitive impacts. Then I delve into the types of things you can do within the game engine to further customize and optimize the game, using advanced variables and settings which are usually hidden. I round out the guides with any general tips and links to resources which I feel the reader would find useful.
I guess the best way to put it is I try to write the manuals these games and applications should have, but usually don't.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started with Tweakguides, and how it's grown from a hobby to your full-time profession.
I started writing my tweak guides back in 2002 for a site called TweakTown.com, and my first guide was for the game Morrowind. After a couple of years at TweakTown, having proven myself and seeing the demand for my guides, I decided I really needed to head out on my own so I could write and present my guides exactly as I wanted, without compromise or commercial bias. Thus was born the inventively-named TweakGuides.com. I opened the doors on 1 April 2004, and over time the site grew in popularity. Last year I took the opportunity to quit my day job as an economist and try to make a living from the site. Of course I'm earning a fraction of what I was before, but the main reason for the career switch was that I wanted a better work/life balance, and the site lets me dictate my own hours and be my own boss.
Why should gamers learn about tweaking? How do you feel it can improve their enjoyment of a game?
Firstly I think the term 'tweaking' has gained a bad reputation because it's always associated with kids messing around with their PCs to get maximum framerates and in the process generally doing more harm than good-and that's not what my site is about. I suppose you could say I'm all about responsible tweaking through knowledge and understanding of your PC and its software.
I'm a really conservative guy, and what I've always promoted is tweaking as a combination of optimization, customization and troubleshooting. The reason I tweak is so that I can game without any problems whatsoever, secure in the knowledge that I'm getting the most out of my PC but not sacrificing anything in return for it. A quick look around any forum will show you that most gamers are confused as to why their games constantly crash, stutter or exhibit strange glitches. Learning to tweak the right way helps get rid of all these problems and things aren't such a mystery anymore.
What would you say to console gamers or tech-phobic PC gamers who might be a little intimidated about assimilating all that information, or just the act of altering a game's configuration files?
What I'd say is that no matter what you use to game on, a PC is a necessity in today's world. Even if you just use it for browsing and paying your bills online, you can't get around the fact that a PC is becoming an integral part of people's lives. So even as a console gamer, you're likely to be using a PC for other purposes. So are your parents, friends, relatives and colleagues. PCs won't go away anytime soon.
With that in mind, the information I provide is there to help people, from total newbies to experts, get a clear idea of how everything is working, how to configure their OS and software to get everything running as smoothly as possible. On my own system for example I'm running a dual boot of both XP and Vista (my XP installation is over 2 years old by the way), running without a hitch day in, day out. My system has had maybe a handful of crashes at the most in the past year, and never ever does anything "unexplained" or odd happen. It's incredibly responsive and a treat to use for gaming. This is because I took the time to learn how it all works, and I've configured everything optimally. If I can do it, other people can as well, it just takes a small investment in time but in return your PC is no longer a mysterious black box which behaves erratically depending on what phase the moon is in.
Have you always been primarily a PC gamer? What appeals to you most about the platform?
Years ago before PCs were really a necessity, I bought a Nintendo 64 to do my gaming on. I have to say it was a great little box, I have fond memories of playing games like GoldenEye, Turok and Shadowman. But by around 1999 I realised I needed a PC due to the rise of the Internet, and at the same time I switched to PC gaming. Back then games like Unreal Tournament were miles ahead of anything available on consoles, plus you could game online on a PC.
Nowadays I think consoles have evolved to be quite superb, I certainly have nothing bad to say about them. Ideally I'd love to have a console for some games, and a high-end PC for others, but I've chosen to stick with a high-end PC because of its multiple uses, and because to be honest I feel that gaming on a PC gives you better image quality and detail due to the higher resolutions possible, as well as all the configurable options, especially the ability to customize the appearance of PC games even further using advanced tweaking.
You get into some pretty complex stuff between the guides and your Windows Tweaking Companions. Are you self taught? What got you exploring these kinds of deeper optimization options?
Yes I'm self-taught, my University degree is in Economics & Political Science. I did do some formal study on computing in Year 11 and 12, but nothing more than learning some BASIC and Pascal, and a rudimentary knowledge of how PCs worked. I actually think being self-taught is a bit of an advantage, because it means I'm constantly reading and researching on various topics rather than just relying on my own existing assumptions, and I also think I can better relate to what the layman would likely want to know, and how best it could be explained to them.
I started tweaking back when I had an Amiga 500 in the '80s, and when I'd get bored of gaming on it I'd spend a lot of time messing around with it to see how things worked. But the main reason I got into PC tweaking in more detail in recent times is because I'm the kind of person who's really neat and efficient, and a bit of a control freak, and that extends to my PC as well. I want it to do exactly what I want, when I want, how I want-and be quick about it too!
What I enjoy about TweakGuides is that you take very complicated information that most of us would probably never figure out on our own, and write in an easy-to-understand format. Do you see tweaking being accessible enough to reach a large audience of PC gamers, or do you think it will remain somewhat niche?
Thank you, that's definitely my aim, to try to put together a range of useful information which is easier to understand than the average jargon-laden tech article. As I mentioned earlier, I really hope that the popular notion of 'tweaking' eventually goes beyond the stereotype of 15-year-olds messing up their PCs, or people looking for a quick fix solution to all their problems by editing a couple of Registry settings. That sort of thing always been a bit of a myth, and one I'm constantly trying to debunk. There are no quick fixes or 'top ten tweaks' which make everything faster or better.
I genuinely believe everyone can learn to tweak, as long as they read, think and take things slowly. I get a lot of emails which indicate to me that more and more people who are relatively new to computers are finding my material useful, so I have hope that more people come to understand what tweaking is really about-understanding your PC and configuring it optimally, not just a pastime for bored kids.
You've recently started writing a monthly column for Games For Windows magazine. What's the focus of the column, and how will you differentiate it from the content on the site?
The articles in Games for Windows are one of the ways I'm hoping to reach out to more people and preach my particular brand of tweaking. As you'd expect, the column doesn't focus on quick-fix, open your Registry and set MakeMySystemFaster=1 type tweaks, since these just don't exist. Instead, each month I look at topics of common interest to gamers, such as stuttering in games, or anti-aliasing, and try to explain why they things occur, and the practical steps you can undertake to counter them.
Fortunately the people at GFW Magazine understand that I wasn't about to abandon my own site or make my existing guides redundant, so the articles in the magazine complement the guides on my site, and indeed even link to relevant guides on TweakGuides.com to provide more information on particular topics for interested readers.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? What kinds of new features and growth do you envision for TweakGuides.com?
I'd love to say that in five years TweakGuides.com will be a household name, but I'm a realist and I highly doubt that will ever happen. Although it's quite popular, it's never going to be the next YouTube or Google, that's for sure. In terms of new features, well I'm definitely old-school in that respect. I think a lot of sites offer dozens of redundant and flashy features in the hopes of dazzling and amusing their audience in the short term, but in the long run the age-old question of 'Where's the Beef?' comes to mind. I want my guides to be the main feature of my site. Some people will read them, some won't, I'm not sure if anything fancy I implement will ever change that. My entire aim is to get people to come to understand their PCs and become self-sufficient, and as you can imagine there aren't too many ways of doing that other than plain old reading and thought.
To be honest I have no idea where I'll be in five years, or where TweakGuides.com will be. I might be doing something else altogether, who knows. I know that sounds odd coming from a site owner, but I've always been very honest about things, and also quite committed to keeping TweakGuides.com relatively ad-free and unbiased. As you can imagine those sort of values don't bode well for the long-term commercial viability of a website. Either way, right now I'm enjoying what I do, I'm doing what I believe in, and I'm doing it how I feel it should be done :)
Thanks to Koroush Ghazi for taking the time to speak with us. Readers interested in learning more about his unique approach to computing may visit his site at http://wwww.tweakguides.com, and may read his monthly column in the print mag Games For Windows Magazine.