Interviews:TheGypsy

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This interview with TheGypsy was taken by Maturion on April 22, 2008.

Why did you release GypPlay, what kind of problems have you had and how did you overcome them?

I wrote GypPlay simply because I thought it would be interesting and fun to work on something for the Dreamcast. I had previous Windows coding experience, so the availability of the WinCE libraries on the Dreamcast made the learning curve much more gradual for me than would have been the case for non-WinCE development.

Of course, one of the problems was simply lack of available details related specifically to the Dreamcast. I had some access to the leaked "official" devkit documentation, but even that was light on detailed information. There was some decent sample code, but most of it was very specific to one particular feature that they were trying to demo in that code snippet. Therefore, doing any real application that was complete still took a great deal of "guess and check" sort of development.

Of course, that directly related to the second big problem: lack of any real development hardware. Developing for the Dreamcast at that early stage meant burning a lot of CDRs for testing. I probably went through 70-80 CDRs before I finally took the time to modify my Dreamcast to be able to read CDRWs. Also, at that time, a disc swap was required to boot the discs, so it put a lot of wear and tear on my Dreamcasts. I had one that I kept almost completely dismantled the entire time during development so that I could more easily do disc swaps and other such things.

Later, the Utopia Boot Disc was released which did make development a bit easier (although it also opened up the world of game piracy that I was not overly fond of). If I recall, the first version did not work for booting WinCE-based discs, so it wasn't until a later boot disc release that I could actually make use of it to aid in development of GypPlay.

How long did it take you to release GypPlay?

I actually looked back through all of my notes and emails from that time period and was unable to determine exactly when I started development of GypPlay. I first started working on a WinCE boot loader that was intended to be used to download applications via a serial cable for testing. In the middle of that, I started with on GypPlay. My guess would be that I worked on it for around three weeks to a month before v1.0 was released about 3am on August 14, 2000. v1.1 followed about 12 hours later on the same day.

Have you done anything else than GypPlay for the Dreamcast?

I actually did some work on Boob!boy, which was CyRUS's Gameboy emulator for the Dreamcast. To be honest, I have never been a big fan of emulators, so I did not want my name associated with it at the time. CyRUS was having some trouble getting the controls to work smoothly, so I rewrote most of the controller code. I then asked him to not mention me helping with it.

I should probably explain myself a bit about emulators since I know that they are very popular and stating that I am not a fan of them might not go over well. I'm actually a bit of a "purist" when it comes to certain video games. I actually collect the classic full-sized standup arcade games. I can't help but see things such as MAME actually hurting those old classics. Because of MAME, there are less people interesting in collecting the original machines. Granted, I understand that a lot more people can PLAY those old games now -- which I do see as a good thing -- but there is a price to be paid for that easy accessibility.

Therefore, I've simply never been a big fan of emulation except in some rare circumstances. That being said, I will admit that I've become a bit of a hypocrite in that regard over the years. If I want to play a quick game of Mappy or Galaga, it is just easier to plug some current console into my HDTV upstairs and just starting playing than to go into the basement and try to fire up the actual arcade machine. But, now and then, I still do it just for that classic experience.

How was the feedback of the scene to GypPlay?

Initial response from most people was excellent. The ability to easily play MPEG video from the Dreamcast and have it be relatively smooth and stable was something that a lot of people were very interested in. That, of course, was mainly from an end-user standpoint though. From within the development community, there was some backlash from people that would prefer that no SEGA or Microsoft libraries be used. Of course, I would have preferred that too but, at the time, I simply couldn't have done it without using those libraries. Non-official SDK based information was scarce and just beginning to be discovered. Plus, I did have a "real job" that I needed to attend to, so my time was limited. In the end, I made friends with many of the ongoing homebrew Dreamcast coders and long-term feedback about GypPlay seemed to remain encouraging from both them and the end-users.

Did SEGA ever try to contact you?

I actually made the first move and contacted SEGA. After GypPlay had been released to the public and was getting quite popular, I started to worry a bit that it might have developed a large enough following that SEGA or Microsoft would take an interest and pursue legal action against me for distributing some of their libraries needed to use it. I found a post from John Byrd, who was the Director of Development Technology for SEGA at that time. I sent him an email from my real email address telling him that I was the author of GypPlay and asking if SEGA would be willing to discuss some sort of licensing agreement so that a hobbyist release like GypPlay could be distributed without legal issues. While working out the distribution rights would be difficult, they at least wanted to get me legal as far as having access to the SDKs was concerned. So, they sent me the paperwork that included the SEGA NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) and Developer Tools Agreements from SEGA and M icrosoft. They signed me up as an official independent Dreamcast developer. As far as I know, I was the only such person registered that way. This was in late September of 2000.

SEGA stated that they were working on a "kind of hybrid open-source license" that would allow hobbyist developers to release software such as GypPlay. Unfortunately, this never came to be. Microsoft had released information regarding the XBox by this point, which meant that SEGA had very little pull with them to try to encourage additional development on their competing hardware -- especially for open-source hobbyist projects that would make neither company any actual money.

In any case, it took several months to get all of the paperwork taken care of. SEGA of America had to send all of the Developer paperwork to SEGA of Japan and to Microsoft to be signed. So, by the time everything was done and I was an "official" developer, it was January. I was then given access to SEGA's developer web site and their developer tools ordering system. I didn't have a lot of money at the time, so all I ever bought were a few DC mice to experiment with.

Unfortunately, over the next six months, things fell apart at SEGA as far as Dreamcast development was concerned. John Byrd, my original contact, and most of the others had been terminated or otherwise left that part of SEGA. By July, there was officially no longer any engineering support from SEGA for the Dreamcast. I attempted to see if I might be able to get some of the leftover development hardware to continue and SEGA did make an attempt to do this, but the details could not be worked out before everything related to DC development was terminated. A few months later, even the official developer web site was closed.

Why have you stopped developping (or at least releasing) new versions of GypPlay?

Mainly lack of time. Plus, since no legal agreement could ever be arranged to be able to release a licensed version of GypPlay, it meant that any future releases would also technically be violating the law. I was no longer in a place in my life that I wanted to risk that on an ongoing basis. Plus, I had won Lik-Sang's "y2kode" competition -- which included a free trip to Hong Kong for a week! That was really the culmination of everything related to GypPlay. I had done my best at the time, released that final version, and just felt that it would be best to move onto other projects (none of which were Dreamcast related).

What do you think about the Dreamcast scene now?

To be honest, I haven't followed much for the past few years. While I loved the platform itself, I can't help but feel that it is mainly past its prime even for homebrew development. There just aren't enough end-users left to appreciate an author's work. Someone could release an excellent game or application for the Dreamcast today and there simply wouldn't be enough people around to really use it. There is still a great cult following, of course, but nothing like those glory days when you could release something and see hundreds of downloads that very first afternoon and thousands over the next few days.

Do you plan to return to the scene one day and maybe release a new GypPlay version?

This would be very unlikely. Life just happens and people find that they have other things that they would like to do. Now and then, I like to dabble in some console development just to see what is out there, but it is not something that I dedicate a great deal of time to any more. I really had a great time working with the Dreamcast and with the many people that contributed a great deal to make homebrew development possible (Dan Potter and Marcus Comstedt immediately come to mind), but most of us have since moved on and will have to simply rely on our fond memories of the machine.

I would like to thank TheGypsy for this nice interview!