Interviewed by Doug K
Hi there, please introduce yourself and give a short description of XLink Messenger.
Hi. TheDaddy (TD) and TeXLink (TL) here :) XLink messenger is a tunnel for xbox syslink games. It provides the same basic functionality as all the others, but its nice and clean and has some nice features. It's free - and always will be. There might be a pro version, but non-pro won't get restricted in anyway at all, because that would just be dull.
What drove you to create XLink Messenger, as there is of course the official online service provided by Microsoft, XBox Live!
TD: Hmm.. 2 ways to answer this one. I suppose we should just say that it was something we though of one day, which started off as a pet project and just grew and grew into what it is now. But, the truth is that recently TeXLink bought an XBox and I wanted to kick his arse on TimeSplitter2 Mexican Mission.. We tried every other tunnel application out there and while most worked, they usually lagged and were often populated by arseholes who have strange names like "__(()()**Andy??" who talked in strange words :) Despite spending ages, we could only get a decent 1v1 game going a couple of times - and it pissed us off, so we made our own.
TL: I actually bought my xbox to kick mexican mission dirt in TheDaddy's face. Live is fantastic, but it wouldn't let me do that to him, so we had to find a way to humiliate each other.
What sort of issues/problems did you run into while developing XLink Messenger?
TD: Hehe.. where to start.. winsock.ocx :) loads of weirdness there but the MSDN came to the rescue.. Also, initially the xserver was getting swamped because it was really badly written. That's obviously fixed now. I suppose all the problems come from the nature of networking a large packet stream across such a diverse network as the internet. At this point, it would be good to say the the WinPCap libraries which we used were written by Politico in Italy - and represent some of the finest work I've seen in the field of networking in quite some time.
TL: The skineditor code could really do with a pacemaker fitted, it could curl up and die at any time. I might fix it, but then it wouldn't be as fun to use.
What features of XLink Messenger stand out from your only real competitor (aside from Live!), XBConnnect?
TD: Again, difficult because the products are so different. Although its contentious, XLink has been proven to use less bandwidth to play the same games - which means less lag. Also, we go quite a lot further with the packet stream itself - things like packet caching and pointcasting (yet to be unleashed) make a significant difference. Also, we like our UI. It's nice and clean :) Finally, the WGN is good for a lot of people who have their PC's in different rooms to the Xbox.. As far as I know, no other tunnel allows people like that to just sit at the box and play different games without having to go back to the PC.
XLink also seems to have a more even balance of games (ie not all Halo) and a much more even balance of PAL / NTSC players.
TL: XLink is a lot cleaner looking and easier to use. The 3 different modes for setting up/playing games mean it should cater for more users tastes.
Are there any legal implications of the program? You must be undercutting XBox Live! by allowing those with modchips to play online, albeit not actually utilising the 'Live!' functionality of games, only those that have system link.
TD: No legal issues are outstanding with XLink. All the MSN Messenger looking icons were taken from the SDK - so they're fair game. If anybody has problems with the images used in the client or on the site they can just email us. It's not a problem.
As for what XLink actually does - routing packets from your own private LAN to another private LAN is totally legal... so we don't expect any problems there :)
TL: There shouldn't be any legal issues. We're good boys.
I noticed that the interface looks very similar to MSN Messenger, what was the reason for this?
TD: We just like MSN Messenger. It's good, clean software. One day we were talking in a window with a few other ppl and though "what a great way to line up xbox games" ...
TL: XLink was originally going to be a plug in for msn messenger, but the way the development went and from the feedback/feature requests it seemed more sensible to have it as a separate app.
Can you describe to the readers exactly what 'Packet Caching' (one of the main features that sets XLink apart from XBConnect) is and how it affects gameplay?
TD: The packet cache is relatively simple. The best way to describe it is by analogy. Lets say for example you constantly sent letters to your friend at the other side of the world. Lets say you send 1 letter every minute :) and lets say they all HAD to arrive in order. If you just posted each letter as soon as it was ready, they would all probably arrive - but some might get lost and they would almost certainly not land in the same order. Now, lets say you didn't post the letters but kept them in a box, in order. Then, at the end of each week, you just mailed the box to your friend.. He would get all the letters - in the right order - and the postal service would probably like you a little more :) That's the theory behind the packet cache. Nothing used is nonstandard - google for temporal adjunctive caching :)
TL: Fire brimstone and a lot of roadkill make it work. And it works really well.
Do you plan to have a 'Pro' version or something in that vein, where you will charge for the program?
TD: Yeah we will - but not until the client is totally stable. Also, the decision has been taken not to limit and current functionality in the non-pro clients at all, and never to have any sort of advertising in the client at all.. So we aren't exactly sure what you're gonna get for your money yet - but it will probably be good ;)
TL: Maybe, we haven't decided on anything like that really. If we do ever do anything like that, it will be a pitiful charge for a fancy program.
What plans do you have for the future?
TD: More of the same really. At present, we're working on 2.1.9 ? adding features like voice chatting in groups / teams using the PC soundcard, being able to change your XBox name from XLink, PointCasting and lots of other smaller bits.
TL: Theres a lot of fancy requests and saucy ideas flying around, the major ones at the moment are pointcasting and the voice. After that we'll find something to keep making all the people happy.
Did anything funny happen during the development of XLink Messenger?
TD: One quite good one was when me and Tex were trying to fiddle with the Halo packets to see if we could extract the X,Y,Z position of a player and mess with it. It's fair to say that it didn?t work at all - Tex ended up shooting what looked like 400 meters in the air then spinning round.... heheheh. Apart from that, some of the error messages from development editions were left in the code for some builds - which resulted in me getting emails from unhappy users saying things like What does it mean when the client says: "Something is bloody wrong again" or "It's all gone wrong - really - just close it down".
TL: We took an IQ test and I pissed on thedaddy.
Finally, have you anything you'd like to say to the Gamer's Hell readers?
TD: Yeah.. actually we do :) Firstly, thanks for reading this. Secondly, give the client a go - as it's still beta, documentation is rubbish but there's always someone on the EFNET channel #xbox-link who will give you a hand and not insult you for having setup problems. The Ops on this service are NORMAL PEOPLE and won't ban you for using a rude word :)
TL: Try it, come to the channel and bring some cakes and tell us what you think about it.
*NOTE*: Shortly after this interview was completed, the boys released XLink RC1 which includes the following features.
RC1 Current Feature List:
> XS2 Skinning Engine (See here).
> Background mode (See here).
> Status rewrite - you can now tell who is hosting / looking.
> Room Ping / Player Ping.
> Room Passwording.
> Kick from rooms.
> Add to contacts from rooms.
> WET11 Support.
> Email offline players (Without exposing email address).
> New ports 34518 and 34519 (Enabling FastWeb players to play).
> Tweakable cache options.
> Improved UPnP Auto-Router-Config.
> Dockable Rooms Chat.
> Better detection of dead rooms
> XBoxName shown in user list.
> Complete support for all recent games (Brute Force etc.).
> VoiceStream improvements in rooms mode.
> More friendly error messages.
> Log straight into website.
> Tournement support.
> Now WinPCap3 based.
> Multiprocessor support.
> Support for Inktomi / Transparent proxies.
> Chooseable bandwidth for progress bars.
> "Ring" operator system (Website)
> Forum (WebSite)
Get it here! XLink download @ Gamershell