Warp Pipe Technologies - The Road To Demasked
Interview conducted and written by: Dean Bergmann
As regular readers of N-Sider.com, many of you may remember a little scandal that went on many months ago. This created an influx of readers and forum members to our fair site, which caused havoc and wild speculation when we helped fuel a viral marketing campaign for a product called Demasked. An explanation of the clues, imagery, and video that were released are included in the last page of this interview.
On Wednesday April 6th, 2005, I was able to sit down with Chad Paulson, Founder and CEO of Warp Pipe Technologies and project manager of Demasked, to ask him about the project and why they've been so secretive about it. The following is the full unabridged interview that lasted well over three and a half hours.
N-Sider: Hello Chad , I'd like to firstly thank you for doing this interview with us.
Chad Paulson : It's my pleasure.
N-S: For those who don't know, Chad Paulson is the founder of a company called Warp Pipe Technologies - a company which, until recently, was best known for a product called "Warp Pipe" (A tunneling software for the Nintendo GameCube). Can you give us a little history about yourself and how Warp Pipe came to be?
CP: Warp Pipe started off as a personal research project of mine after leaving Warner Bros. Records to return to school. During this time, the broadband adapter had only one use; Phantasy Star Online . Although there were rumblings about games with local area network support, there existed no concrete facts. As soon as I heard that Kirby's Air Ride , the first LAN-enabled game for the GameCube, was arriving in Japan , I quickly pre-ordered and due to good luck and the fact that Play-Asia received inventory early, I received the game on street date. During this time, a good friend of mine in Chicago imported the game shortly after discussing my idea. Within a week, we were conducting tests and I drafted a specification document, detailing the GameCube's handshaking protocol, as well as a video and explanation to get developers interested.
Shortly after publication, the document was featured on slashdot.org, attracting a plethora of interested developers. Upon receipt of several applications, I cherry-picked a well-rounded team that would be able to develop a cross-platform application, which was very important to me, allowing anyone with a computer to play their Nintendo GameCube online. The logic being, the requirement threshold was so high (you needed a GameCube, a broadband adapter, a LAN-enabled game, etc.) we wanted to make it as easy as possible otherwise.
Keep in mind, during this time, there were zero LAN-enabled games in North America , where all of our developers, including myself, resided. Further, I was the only one, along with my friend in Chicago who was not involved in the development process after the initial testing for the specification write-up, who had a broadband adapter, no less a LAN-enabled game. It wasn't until the fall of 2003, when Kirby's Air Ride was released in North America , that we were able to fully test things and provide our first stable build.
During this time we were met with a harsh reality, Nintendo's method of networking the Nintendo GameCube was less than accommodating when it came to tunneling that communication over a wide area network. The GameCubes communicated with each other frame per frame. Meaning, sixty packets of data was sent and received every second. Further, because the data was crucial for every frame, we couldn ' t randomly drop packets to speed up the game. That meant our software's ability to give people the experience they desire was controlled by the ping value, basically the speed packets could travel between you and your opponents networks.
By this time, we had a moderate following and a very strong community. Something we are very proud of to this day. When Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was released, Warp Pipe really grew. Due to the limitation of Nintendo's local area network protocol imposed on us, we were never able to give gamers the experience they deserved with the tunneling software. And although the tunneling project is not an official project of Warp Pipe Technologies , the company, we are very proud of crediting it as our genesis. In retrospect, it's sad to have seen the Warp Pipe tunneling project retire. I recently received a letter from Germany from a person thanking us for bringing Mario online. I read the letter, and saw photographs he sent of him and his friends using Warp Pipe to connect their neighborhood, and it really felt good to see gamers coming together.
N-S: The influence is truly seen with the use of the project's name as the namesake for your company - recently, you announced a new project called Demasked, originally intended to launch with the [Nintendo] DS's North American launch of November 21, 2004. But this did not happen, what was the original intention for the Demasked project?
CP: Demasked, in total, was never and will never be a direct-to-consumer product. Much like the GameCube tunneling project, Demasked was met with a lot of foresight and methodical planning, most of which took place prior to and at the E3 Expo of 2004. We attended E3 2004 with a very generic idea of what I wanted to accomplish, the seed was planted, but it was far from a smooth ride. I was striving to transition the current development team into a start-up company. Unfortunately, I was not met with enthusiasm from half of our development team at the time.
Startups are not for everyone, having lived at one (yes, you live, eat and breathe work), I realized this from the start that a "work when I have to" attitude wouldn't carry over well. I am a very startup-oriented person by nature. The whole reason for returning to school was to eventually become involved in another startup or start one myself, given the right environment. I recently left one of the largest media conglomerates, AOL/ Time Warner , and even though I wanted to cultivate experience in a large corporate environment before I moved on, I felt there was so much to be done elsewhere.
E3 2004 was very productive for us in terms of research. We were able to gather a lot of information from developers and publishers in regards to issues with online gaming. It was very interesting, because we were able to go right where we wanted, behind the curtain, to the heart of the matter. We wanted to know what was hindering online development, what were the factors in laying out the feature set of online functionality, and even more importantly, what were the factors involved when discarding feature sets. We came back from E3 2004 with many of our theories correct when it came to the "cut and paste" feel of online gaming. During this time, the tunneling project was on indefinite hiatus, as the team started to split into two factions; GameCube tunneling and Demasked. At this time, Demasked was code-named "Magellan " after the segment we were interested in using as a launch-pad for our overall Demasked Suite.
When we saw the Nintendo DS at E3 2004, we were incredibly excited and I knew right away, what had to be done. As soon as we got back, we started to put a plan in play to launch the Magellan segment of Demasked to coincide the launch of the Nintendo DS as a way to showcase one of the multitude of possibilities that came with the entire Demasked philosophy. In late October, however, I was worried that the gaming audience was too focused on this release, that it would put a stigma on our project overall. As it was primarily a way to form a bridge of communication with developers, showing what could be possible with our underlying technology suite. After much thought, I decided to pull the plug on the concept launch.
N-S: The original intention of Demasked, to the best of my knowledge, was a communication tool for users to find places to meet up with other DS users in their area - how much of this original philosophy is still within the project, and what direction will Demasked take the end user, and developers alike?
CP : That was one primary aspect of Magellan, to bring gamers together and inject new ways to find games, find opponents, and share personality with each other for when you are playing in the same room or on a different continent altogether. These are examples when I say Demasked is not only a technology suite, but it is a philosophy as well. It is a philosophy on three levels, an economic level for publishers, a sociological level for gamers, and an ease of implementation and management level for developers. We were very excited about the Magellan launch, as we worked with several cellular companies and phone manufacturers, planting the small germ of our much larger Demasked concept. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was brutal. We could either support the Magellan launch / concept product, which would be a task in itself, or we could find another way to drive our message to the industry. I choose the later and thus far I don't regret a thing.
"... we have absolutely nothing to do with GameSpy Networks in any fashion. We are not interested in borrowing from the PC gaming culture and bringing that into the console space." - Chad Paulson, Warp Pipe Technologies.
N-S: So , can we assume the majority of what Demasked/Magellan originally was, has been retooled and is likely completely different than what it was last year?
CP: Not at all. Again, Magellan was simply a tiny slice of social possibility that the entire Demasked Suite could bring to gamers. It was a conceptual introduction that simply didn't make it past its final cost benefit analysis. The heart of Demasked has been unchanged, as publishers and developers will eventually use Demasked to implement these concepts, not us directly.