Kept ya waiting, huh?

One of the ideas I wanted to work on for an article here was the History of Netplay in Emulation; a topic which is fascinating to me not only because of how emulators took a big part in allowing certain games being played with others through the internet (unofficially), but also the way it made hundreds of communities have a way to enjoy their favorite games with others, cooperatively or competitively.

Now, while that’s the general gist of the planned topic, that would be split in three factors: The emulator, the netcode/netplay method (which could be brought down to a few as some shared these), and the communities. While the netplay implementations were brought through either emulator-designed methods (ZSNES, Dolphin, Slippi), an middleware implementation (GGPO and Kaillera), or an method external to the emulator (Parsec), as well as tricks varying to make it work better, like Hamachi and the Frame over Delay Input approach for NullDC in recent times.

Of course, online is only possible if emulators have a netplay function, which is given to the emulator developers, either trying to develop their own way, or implementing a pre-made base. But the most important thing that gives emulators online feature a purpose, are the communities. And with this said, after interviewing the developer of the CyberPad plugin for ePSXe and the owner of FGC Arcadia, the interview with Dumian has finally got here!

Dumian is the founder and owner of Honmaru, a Polish FGC-dedicated site and community, which not only had quite an important footprint in its native country through several Tekken and other game tournaments, but also was one of the earliest instances of netplay and emulation usage; while the CyberPad PSX plugin made in 2001 would be predated by Nesticle and ZSNES in age, Honmaru would be one of the earliest known communities with surviving material to have thrived with online emulation.

It particularly focused in Tekken 3 through ePSXe and Kaillera with the CyberPad plugin (and I had interviewed its developer too), and many videos exists on Youtube of online Tekken 3 matches since 2006, as well as custom colors and costumes in the game that were also promoted by Honmaru. Of course, they also played other games with ePSXe, as well as dabbling in occasions with GGPO for arcade games, and organizing local tournaments. While the main section was in Polish, there was an English section dedicated to bringing international players into the fray.

Personally, the idea of Tekken 3 being playable online really piqued my interest since many years ago when I found out about this community, but I never was able to play it online as I was too young to know how to use it. However, both the dedication poured here as well as the fact that it actually worked at the time and the customization provided made me get fascinated with this certain site; and so, having got this chance to interview its sole founder and owner was quite a treat. Now, without any further ado, please enjoy!

Q: First of all, since when does Honmaru exist?

Honmaru exists since 2005.

Q: Got any story about how Honmaru came to be?

Actually, I do, a really nice one. It’s connected with the beginning of the previously unplanned and still lasting journey with web development.

Let’s take it from the top. I’ve been a fan of the Iron Fist Tournament since I can remember. My friends or other kids from school who were players used to play only on a regular PC, not mentioning Tekken, which some of them only had a chance to hear of. It’s been hard to find any players and even if there were, they were simply pressing random buttons. It did not give many chances for sensible combat and quickly lead to the statement “I won’t play with you again”. If you know a stereotype of a typical Eddy or Hwoarang players, then you know what I’m talking about 😉

The reason why I’ve mentioned it is simply to shine some light on the realities of the isolated so-called “Local Master” of Tekken. Tekken was PlayStation exclusive for a long time, and back then it was impossible to play online on consoles. The alternative of playing games with players from the closest area were only national tournaments. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend them considering travel costs, accommodation, and other expenses.

You can easily imagine my excitement when, during one of the conversations with an internet friend, we started talking about the existence of emulators and plugins, which allow playing online. Of course, we were speaking about the ePSXe emulator and Kaillera plugin. In the past, we did not have any experience with that kind of solutions, so we weren’t sure if it actually works. It simply seemed too good to be true.

Without further ado, I’ve started digging more into the subject, gaining knowledge. Long story short, it turned out that it’s possible and a key to success was to have the right setup of the emulator including turning the sound off. If the setup was incorrect, there were consequences like losing sync so having a situation where both players see different realities. For example, each side thinks that they are winning – famous “out of sync” icon, which was constantly going back and forth on the Honmaru forum. 

Honmaru was released online after a few sleepless nights, accurate tests, and creating a guide. First, it was a very simple website with step by step tutorial written by me on how to configure the ePSXe emulator and all required plugins to play Tekken 3 online.

Back then I didn’t have any skills or plans for the development of a bigger project, the type Honmaru currently is. The first edition of the website was a simple HTML export from Word editor hosted on a free server. I posted the information about Honmaru and of course about the possibility to play Tekken online on a few popular forums dedicated to fighting games.

My main goal was to find other players for online sparrings. To achieve it I had to, in the simplest way possible, present playing Tekken online and to show that it’s not only possible but also easy. Many people, even people who had heard of emulators or online plugins before, had doubts about setup or sync.

I remember that in the initial phase of Honmaru I messaged all new members to simply say hi, chat, or to see if they seek any assistance, just to make sure that everything works perfectly and is ready for some online battles.

Even though in the beginning there were some problems with trying to convince people just to give it a try, it turned out to be successful and way more popular. It also gave me motivation and a necessary pressure to do more and also to make sure that the website is quite easy but at the same time functional for users. I added more features like the list of players, forum, tournaments or news. So, regularly, I was gaining skills on how to create websites and more, which helped me to respond to emerging needs, while realizing my passion related to Tekken. I remember that developing Honmaru took a lot of time filled with endless conversations, ideas, and sparrings online.

At this point, I have to add that even though Honmaru was created thanks to my commitment, devotion, a lot of work and a great desire to promote online games in Tekken 3, further development of the website would not have been possible if it weren’t for a large group of people, whose help was invaluable. I stopped dealing with everything by myself, and I had a helping hand in most areas such as news, forum moderation, tournaments, tournament scripts, etc. Together, we’ve created quite a large community of players, editors, creators, organizers etc. 

The first Tekken 3 Online trailer from Honmaru. Dated August 6, 2006

Q: How would you describe the local Tekken 3 scene in your home back then when you founded Honmaru?

By the time Honmaru was created, people were already playing Tekken 5 in tournaments. Tekken Tag Tournament and Tekken 4 happened earlier. Tekken 3 was most often a memory of the iconic PSX era title, not a regularly played game at tournaments, but it’s worth mentioning that back in 98/2001 we had a huge TK3 community with lots of tournaments.

We can say, that a new community focused on playing Tekken 3 online with regular tournaments, guides, exchange of knowledge etc. was created on Honmaru.

Q: What can you comment about the community when Honmaru was first started?

Back then, participating in the fighting games community was primarily participating in offline tournaments in the current installment of Tekken. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t participate in such tournaments, due to the need to travel and the costs connected with it.

My tournament experience was limited to a one-time performance at the tournament, which happened in my city in Bydgoszcz in 2004, so about a year before creating Honmaru. I realized that the level of Tekken players in Poland was very high and it didn’t have much in common with my image of a high-level game. In other words, I was convinced that I am not as good as I thought after the sparrings in the neighborhood 🙂

The atmosphere of the tournament was amazing! I was very impressed by the skills of other players and the whole event itself, where so many Tekken fans gathered in one place. During this tournament, I also had my first real-life contacts with other Tekken fans, and it even turned out that there was a small group of players in my hometown.

Interestingly, the community that was founded on Honmaru isn’t just a group of active players from the offline community, but it is quite the opposite. The vast majority of active players on Honmaru were people who didn’t take part in offline tournaments and in this sense of the concept of the community, they were not active members. However, new times of online fighting games were coming, of which Honmaru was lucky to be a pioneer in Poland, so the concept of the scene/community had to be rethought 😉

I would even say that a completely new community was created on Honmaru, which was focused on fighting games online.

Considering the specificity of the fighting genre, which requires very high precision and timing, even the slightest delay or lag can affect the result of the fight. It was very painful for people who play Tekken regularly offline or in tournaments. Such people often treated online gaming as a curiosity and just the addition to the offline game, which shouldn’t be taken seriously. This problem occurs even today, on the latest generation consoles and PCs, where online modes are no longer an advantage, but a necessity.

Q: How often did you see the international community interact with Honmaru? (As in, how many foreign users hopped in).

At first, Honmaru was only a community of Polish players, but with the increase in popularity, the most important sections on the website were also translated to English. I cannot tell a specific number of foreign players, but in the following years of Honmaru’s development, there were more than a few, for example players from Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, UK, Turkey, Vietnam or India. At some point, we even organized a tournament called “Tekken 3 Online non-Polish Cup” especially for foreign players, precisely for 16 participants. In regular tournaments there usually were no more than a few foreigners.

I have a very pleasant memory of a message from one of Honmaru’s foreign users who said thank you for the files shared on Honmaru. It turned out that in his area hardly anyone has equipment for personal use, but thanks to TK3Online, the local community has an opportunity to meet in Internet cafes and play Tekken together.

Q: Do you remember the highest amount of players/active users/etc at a time?

Hundreds, if not thousands of players have visited Honmaru. I think it is worth making a distinction between active players in general and active players in tournaments. One of the biggest challenges on Honmaru was to encourage players to participate in tournaments. While there were a lot of players themselves, it was much more difficult for the participants of the tournaments. I often met “I like to play, but I’m too weak for the tournament” approach. I have always tried to convince such people that there is a place for everyone in tournaments. The emotions and the experience, which can be gained during such games are priceless. And of course, playing with others is a great way to become a better player.

Anyways, the best attendance happened in one of the Tekken 3 Online ranking editions, where about 100 players participated. The ranking lasted a certain period of time, e.g. a month, and a player could join at any time.

On the other hand, standard tournaments, where enrollment lasted about a week or two before the beginning without the possibility to sign up later, usually had the attendance from a dozen to several dozen players.

Q: I always was intrigued about the customized things, like the custom textures and such. Can you talk to me about that?

I came across the topic of custom textures for the first time accidentally when, while I was browsing through various Tekken related videos, I found a YouTube video from luc_october, where I noticed modified characters outfits. I thought that this can be a great advertising feature for playing Tekken 3 Online. I thought that eventually, any Tekken fan who sees something like that will be at least a tiny bit interested, which is a step closer to getting a new person to play online.

I wrote a message to luc_october, where I briefly introduced Honmaru, and of course I talked him into trying to play Tekken 3 Online (at that time I would never miss a chance to convince someone to Tekken 3 Online!). I asked if he would agree to share his work on Honmaru so that others could play with modified costumes. Luc agreed and that’s how it all started.

On Honmaru we had a fairly popular topic “Tekken 3 modding tips ‘n’ tricks”, from where many players could gain knowledge and ask questions, and then test themselves in creating something. A good example of such a person was Mr_Editor. We can say that luc_october is the “father” of modding Tekken 3 because it all began from him. Mr_Editor, on the other hand, was a continuator of this idea, and even took it to a whole new level by creating a new section on Honmaru called Customize Arena, where everyone could view and download outfits and request new ones. That was exactly what happened, new modders, including foreigners, appeared and started reworking not only on costumes but also arenas.

Interestingly, everyone could apply any set of costumes or arenas and the modified game still worked online (e.g. you could choose Yoshimitsu’s snow arena or play as King from TTT).

From today’s perspective, it may not sound very impressive, but a dozen or so years ago, where playing online fighting games could have been just a dream, not mentioning modifying them, was definitely something!
Customize Arena exists to present day and can be found here:

Q: What was your favorite character?

My favorite character was Jin Kazama because of his design and story but also Forest Law because I’m the fan of Bruce Lee 🙂

Q: Can you talk me about the method used for playing online? From what it looks like, it was through ePSXe and Kaillera; but would like to know what you have to say about it.

That’s right, we used the ePSXe emulator and Kaillera plugin to play online. In addition, ePSXeCutor, which allows easy management of various configurations, so you could have a ready configuration to play Tekken online and separate one for offline games or other games. It was very useful. At that time in Poland, there was also an active community of online players in Winning Eleven (ISS Pro Evolution) on ePSXe, so this solution was very convenient if someone played other titles than just Tekken 3 Online.

I have already written about problematic and error-prone configuration, including the need to turn the sound off. There was also a memory card available on Honmaru with all characters and tournament settings unlocked. The same memory card for both players was another element needed to keep sync on both ends. There were more such unobvious things and there were still problems with synchronization. “Game is out of Sync” was the most common topic of problems on the forum.

To prevent this, I decided to prepare the installer “TK3Online by Honmaru”, which will perform the entire configuration process for the user. The installer aimed to collect the tools, files, and solutions needed for an online game in one package to finally solve the recurring configuration problems so that everyone could start playing practically right away, without getting into technical issues. Looking back, I think it was a bull’s-eye, which, like nothing else, contributed to the popularity of Tekken 3 Online.

Q: Was any game outside of Tekken 3 played online here?

Over time, Tekken 3 was joined by other 3D fighting games on PlayStation such as Soul Edge, Bloody Roar 2 and Dead or Alive or even Tekken 1 and 2.

Soon after, Honmaru naturally developed towards all online fighting games, also on other emulators such as MAME, etc. There were a lot of titles, and the big advantage was the possibility to play online games with sound, including series such as Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, Garou, Guilty Gear, King of Fighters and many more.

We did not only play fighting games but at some point there even was an online tournament in Crash Team Racing. Our YouTube channel has videos from this tournament 🙂

Later years brought official support of online fighting games on consoles and on PCs, and we also played them (e.g. the latest installment of Tekken series).

Q: Two rounds or three rounds per match? :]

Three rounds per match, just like in offline tournaments 🙂

Q: Did you host the Kaillera server used for Honmaru? Or did rely on an separate/unaffiliated server?

Initially, we used the available servers, but over time we also hosted our own server dedicated to fighting games.

Pings and delays associated with it were a problem. Here, the Kaillera P2P Client project turned out to be the solution. We recommended this connection method as the default in tournaments and it significantly increased the comfort of playing the game. Sometimes it was associated with other problems, e.g. direct connection of players. It also happened that a user had to use additional tools to connect e.g. Hamachi.

Q: About what time could you say about on what year the activity peaked and then on what year it was when activity fell off?

When it comes to Tekken 3 Online, the best years happen to be from around 2006 to around 2011. Later, due to the increasing popularity of official support for online fighting games on PCs and consoles, the popularity of the game on emulators has consistently dropped.

The following years were the growing dominance of communication methods such as social media or instant messages added to specific platforms and games other than discussion forums. There was no need to search and socialize to find sparring partners, all you needed were tools and search engines available from the level of the game itself.

On the other hand, after “the emulators’ era”, games such as Tekken 6, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (followed by Tekken 7), Soul Calibur 5, Mortal Kombat 9 were quite popular and we hosted tournaments for them.

Over time, it has become clear that the phenomenon of Honmaru is not only Tekken 3 Online, but above all, people gathered around the idea of online fighting games and our openness to new users. Many people used to visit Honmaru without actively playing fighting games. We were connected by very broad interests going beyond the genre of fighting games itself. The time of internet forums, unfortunately, has come to an end, and with it the specific and unique atmosphere of our community.

Most editor and moderators were slowly stepping down because of studies, work, and other personal matters, in different words – they started stepping into adult life. Along with decreasing editorial activity, there were also fewer users. It was hard to keep up the pace in times where gaming websites had their professional editorial staff and development budgets. We remained simply a group of hobbyists working after hours.

Q: What can you say yourself about the story of Tekken 3 Online?

For me, the story of Tekken 3 Online is an unforgettable adventure, and considering different things, a very busy time. It’s also my own history of learning how to create and run a website, being editor-in-chief, creating and maintaining a community, organizing tournaments, etc.

In the end, this is making my youthful dream of playing with others come true. It’s also a lot of sleepless nights and late sessions with players like me.

This is the story of meeting many interesting people online, but also meeting them in reality later or having first trips to offline tournaments. Thanks to Tekken 3 Online and Honmaru in general, I have gained many skills that I use to the present day.

I think the story of Tekken 3 Online shows that passion, commitment, and consistency can lead to many amazing things that we would not even have thought of before.

It is definitely an unforgettable and very important time of my life, which I remember and will remember with great sentiment 🙂

Q: Do you keep in contact from previous players of Honmaru?

Yes, I still have contact with some people I met on Honmaru years ago. Usually, these are online conversations, but sometimes we meet in person. I am still a Tekken player and I try to take part in meetings or tournaments from time to time. I know a few Tekken professional players who began their careers and had their first successes on Honmaru. They still play and have great results in official tournaments.

Personally, meeting players or watching games of people I met on Honmaru is a nice experience.

Q: Would you still play Tekken 3 online if you had the chance?

Maybe just a quick match, but I’m afraid that a quick match would turn into the whole night session. Just like the old days 😉

Q: What can you say about your experience with playing online on Honmaru?

I was very happy with the opportunity to play Tekken 3 Online. The enthusiasm lasted for many years from the discovery that it was even possible to play it, until the end of the finest hour of Tekken 3 Online. As I mentioned before, the possibility of playing Tekken 3 Online was my youthful dream. I will never forget the huge emotions I felt while playing in online tournaments.

I have many great memories of countless hours of game sessions with other Tekken fans and endless conversations until late. Speaking of which, I’d like to mention Krelian, one of the first players from Tekken offline community who saw potential in playing online on Honmaru and also participated in our tournaments. It was my ambition as an unknown face in the offline community to keep up with him in terms of Tekken skills. For some time we regularly ended up playing finals in most of the Tekken 3 tournaments on Honmaru. This competition of ours and also his support throughout the years had a big impact on me as a player and also contributed to my motivation in developing Honmaru for so many years.

In the beginning, my motivation to create Honmaru was the desire to play with others. With time I played less and less in favor of creating the opportunity to play for others. Mostly by organizing online tournaments and by taking various additional activities on Honmaru. Just like some part of the Honmaru editorial team I had bigger joy from organizing and taking initiatives than from playing. 

Tournaments were held regularly with only short breaks between them. In addition to standard tournaments in the Double Elimination system, there was also a more chilled form of ranking matches. There was always something going on, there were plenty of players and activities.

At some point, there were so many tournaments that we came up with the idea of organizing unusual tournaments, e.g. Mokujin Cup or others, where you could only play one character or even tournaments in modes such as Tekken Ball. There were also “mandatory” rankings of Survival and Time Attack modes.

The organization of tournaments was not easy at first. From tables to ladders to lists, etc. Everything was done manually on the forum. For some time, we also kept the tournament history and results manually. Any help with such activities was invaluable. Over time, the tournament system and ranking script appeared and it was a big relief, which opened up a number of new opportunities.

Q: What did you think when I requested an interview about this?

I got very excited that you found the story of Honmaru and Tekken 3 Online interesting and thought that it is worth interviewing. I also got scared a little that I will write way too much and too many memories will come back 😉

Q: Did you feel proud of everything done in Honmaru?

Yes, I still feel great pride and joy from what I have achieved on Honmaru. It was an incredible time of intensive work and development connected with meeting a lot of people, increasing my skills as a player, and much more.

It was great to see how Honmaru has changed and grew over the years. From a very underground project to a community, which co-organized offline tournaments (e.g. two TK6 nationwide tournaments which gathered some of the best Polish players).

I am very pleased to remember the publication in the nationwide magazine Playbox, in which the things we do on Honmaru were described.

And finally, I feel proud that throughout all these years so many people decided that it is worth to support the project and make a contribution to Honmaru. I am very grateful to everyone who made the existence of Honmaru possible.

Like I mentioned before there were many tournaments and other activities for players. Articles and summations, news, commenting on the results, etc. I don’t recall that in the fighting games community something like that has ever happened. Even in the latest installment of Tekken series, where playing online is much easier and everyone has easy access to it. The same goes for the availability of ready-made tools and platforms. And we carried on setting everything manually, full of passion and joy of playing together. Of course, I also realize that the times were different, we were younger and we had more time, but it’s still something!

Q: Got anything else to add? Can be anything, final words, personal experiences, etcetera.

Now, when I think about it, about all the things we did on Honmaru just to play online in fighting games, I think that currently we have pretty cool times, where many things just work out-of-the-box and you do not need to use many tricks. You buy a game, start and play. On the other hand, I miss the specific atmosphere of discussion forums or the IRC channel and the ritual of looking for players, saying hello, inviting them to play, etc.

I admire people who create projects such as emulators, Kaillera plugin and others that have made playing together online possible. Respect!

Finally, I would like to say thank you to all those who have left a mark on Honmaru, by simply leaving a comment, participating in the tournament or by co-creating the projects as editors and organizers.

With some of the questions I had a big dilemma whether to mention specific nicknames or not. I am very happy that I was lucky to meet people who made the development of Honmaru possible for so many years. In that kind of situation, I am always a bit scared that somebody not mentioned will feel left out. People who are particularly “deserved” are highlighted in the “editorial” section of the Honmaru website and it is probably the safest to give directions there 😉

Currently, Honmaru exists mainly as a fanpage with the fighting games news, but from time to time there is also some activity on the forum.

I was very happy to recall all the information in my memory. Especially that, some pieces of information I share with the public for the first time.

When browsing your blog, I feel the breeze of passion that I myself experienced years ago on Honmaru, so I keep my fingers crossed for the further development of ARCADEX MACHINA.

Thank you so much for the interview and best of luck!

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