The newest games on the oldest hardware: an interview with LowSpecGamer
The PC-centric channels on the platform usually revolve around the most expensive hardware running games at the highest possible settings. LowSpecGamer, as the name suggests, takes a different path, trying to optimise games as much as possible so those with lower-end hardware can still run newer games.
We spoke to the man behind it, a 26 year old from Venezuela who studied to be an engineer, but now makes his living creating videos.
htxt.africa Tell us the story of how the LowSpecGamer channel came to be.
LowSpecGamer I spent a good amount of my life in the South American country of Venezuela before moving to Spain. Venezuela, like many other developing nations, has a lot issues with importing goods so finding good PC components was nearly impossible and consoles were (and continue to be) prohibitively expensive in these territories. I was always trying to find ways to game on whatever computer I had for school or university.
The idea for the channel initially came to me while thinking about YouTube and about how often PC gamers in YouTube pushed the “master race” narrative of gaming at the highest presets and framerates. I wondered if there where more people like me that did not feel that those videos represented their gaming experience and wondered why more people had not tried channels centred around low end gaming.
The idea was floating on my head for years. After I had graduated from university and had moved to Spain I found myself with some time for experimentation and decided to give the channel a go. My intent was for it to be an experiment where I could learn something about audience creation, but the initial reception was much better than I expected and it encouraged me to continue.
htxt.africa At what point did you know that people were enjoying your videos and you were on to something special?
LowSpecGamer Very early on. I made threads on a couple of subreddits I liked explaining my idea and showing the first couple of videos I have done experimenting with the concept. I expected users to be very critical of what I do and I intended to take note of that criticism to improve, but the overwhelming majority of the reaction was people praising the idea and suggesting games or concepts for me to explore.
There have been a couple of rough moments in the channel history, but this kind of reception has helped me power through them.
htxt.africa Is YouTube currently your full time job?
LowSpecGamer Yes. I realised I was so passionate about the channel that I could barely focus on any job alternatives. Making a living out of YouTube it is extraordinarily hard but I tough it was worth the risk for doing something that I find so fulfilling.
Regrettably the recent situation with advertisers in YouTube has severely affected channels like mine. I am currently working on reinforcing my Patreon campaign as well as contacting sponsors in order to compensate and keep the channel going.
htxt.africa How do you go about choosing games?
LowSpecGamer It is a mixture of what games I am interested in, what games my Patreon contributors are interested in, what people request over social networks (or comments) and whatever is on Steam sales! I am always testing about three to four different games trying to figure out what they allow. Half of those never make it into video (many games simply do not allow any tweaking) and I am always betting on the fact that I will have a breakthrough in at least one of those that I can transform into a weekly video.
When I get exhausted of the format I do videos testing odd low end hardware or experimenting with other low end related formats. Those are always fun to make.
htxt.africa What’s the process of testing a game?
LowSpecGamer First step is researching what engine the game runs on and checking if there is any documentation for that engine. Does it have a configuration file? Where is it? Does it take launch commands? Is there a modding community? What tools they use?
The process is very different for every game, but it usually starts by figuring out answers to those questions.
htxt.africa Once you’ve settled on a game and done the needed testing, how do you turn the results into a video?
LowSpecGamer Usually when I am testing and figuring out some useful tweak I will already have a good idea of the direction I want the video to go. After I am done testing I do a script to see what kinda of footage I require, I record that footage, I record the narration for non-live parts of the video, edit the audio and the put the video all together.
Most of my viewers can be really surprised of how time consuming the whole process is. I very rarely take days off in order to keep up. Judging by other YouTubers I have spoken with, this is not uncommon.
htxt.africa Which games were the easiest and most difficult to optimise?
LowSpecGamer I occasionally run into Unreal Engine 3 games that will accept all the typical UE tweaks I have tried in other videos. Those are always fun because you can reduce them to some ridiculously low levels and I do not have to spend a month trying to figure out what works. Also, some older games with plenty of documentation are easier to work with.
Recently released games are always harder to work with due to lack of documentation. Console ports usually have no configuration files whatsoever, which always bothers me.
I have a special love-hate relationship with Unity base early access survival games. People passionately request them all the time but they are specially hard to work with.
htxt.africa How important do you think modding is for optimising games?
LowSpecGamer Extraordinarily important. Games with official modding support always have tools or mods that make them easy to downgrade or graphically reduce. It is one additional reason for games to support mods, as they can extend the range of people trying them out.
Also, when people discover ways of modding games that have no support for it they usually develop tools that can help people like me figure out further ways to change game variables or settings to make them low end friendly.
And there are also cases like the FAR mode of DSfix who straight up save games from being unplayable in some setups.
htxt.africa When you play games that aren’t for videos, do you play them at max settings on a more powerful PC?
LowSpecGamer Not really! I am not really a graphics person. I am happy to play games on medium. Also, I have never owned anything that can pull max settings on a recently released game.
htxt.africa What can we expect from the channel in the future?
LowSpecGamer There are many many ideas I want to try out in the future. I have greatly enjoyed doing videos on the GPD Win and Smach Z and I want to continue dedicating time to making games playable on handheld devices for maximum portability.
I also want to start a series dedicated to reviewing indie games that already work very well on very low end setups. I have always believed on the potential of the indie community and want to figure out ways of helping promote games that deserve it.
Regrettably my time is currently 100% used by just my regular videos, so I am going to need a bit of help to make those ideas happen. I am working on it.