ZeChrales is the hidden genius behind every network leak you have read on the Hub in the last two years. He is also, possibly, the last person on the planet who’s doing network traffic analysis for Pokémon GO. In this rare interview, Chrales shared his background, motivation and methodology with the GO Hub.
We hope you will enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed interviewing the French wizard of code. You can also check out his GitHub repository here and donate for his incredible work using this PayPal link.
How did you start your data mining career?
We were looking for all Gen 1 and Gen 2 pokémons sprites, and we discovered lot of unknown shiny pokémons. So, I wrote a script to retrieve all of them whenever there is a change. At this time, there were a famous addon on rooted phone to get live IVs on your pokémons, but it was broken by new Niantic’s security.
I started to play with the network traffic to display those IVs again, but also with things that are not live yet on my phone, and that’s when I started to post leaks on TheSilphRoad reddit.
What is your experience with coding and analyzing code?
I’m working as a developer, so debugging and fixing bugs are my daily tasks.
Why do you analyze specifically pokemon go network traffic? Is it because pokemon go is a very successful game or you love playing the game also ?
As a player, I love to read data mines of the games I’m playing. Niantic is not communicating correctly for a game as successful as Pokémon GO, so I think it’s great to help players to know how the game can be updated. Also, they are adding stuff days / weeks before announcing it, is it to let us build some hype about the game ?
How do you actually sniff the game’s network traffic?
Magic and network analysis. Let’s say it’s not as complex as it seems, but enough for it to be kept private.
In analyzing Niantic’s traffic, is there something you find fascinating about how they organize/code their data?
I still can’t understand why Niantic put so much investment in code protection in their game (obfuscation, encryption, root detection) without adding major gameplay updates. If Ingress was their alpha, then PokémonGO is still their beta.
What would you suggest for someone who is interested in doing what you do? Like would you be willing to take them under your wing?
Everyone involved in PokémonGO dev are lonely wolves, with big trust issues. So if you have really good knowledge in reverse engineering, you’ll find a way to contact directly right people.
Do you know about the hidden 3D model viewer in Pokémon GO ? How can it be opened?
I’ve never played with it, it must be something hidden in unity code, which is not really the part I’m interested in.
How can you get unused pokemon like you do in your livestreams ?
Niantic’s servers are sending a list of Pokémon in your storage and a list of recorded Pokédex, entries. I catch that and telling my phone “instead of this list, now you have all this Pokémon, or a full Pokédex”. As a result, the live game will display it normally on my real phone.
To your knowledge, who’s still left out there doing data mines and network sniffing?
Only a handful of people are still interested in private development and no one is doing real network data mining right now.
Most impressive datamine / reverse engineering feat?
Just before Gen 3 waves, encryption changed and I had to adapt to new code in a few hours. I’m also proud of my old Mew as buddy screen.
As a programmer, what do you feel will be the most valuable programming languages / skill sets to have moving forward in the tech field over the next 5-10 years?
Cyber Security is the biggest field those years, it’s really something you need to research if you are interested in computer science.
Has Niantic reached out to you in any way?
If niantic asks you, do you accept to work with them (for poGo) ?
I’m not sure I am the type of employee they are looking for.
Are you afraid that you could get sued / banned for what you do?
No, why? Since I started to be involved in Pokémon GO, my goal was always to provide improved gameplay experience for all players.
What is your experience with Pokémon prior to Pokémon go?
I started long time ago with Pokémon Blue! Getting all 150 with trading on our Gameboys, fighting versus others on Pokémon Stadium N64 with the Transfer Pak… I think I played the next 2 gens, but stopped to play on console just before Nintendo DS, so during gen3. I only know some of the new Pokémon thanks to the Trading Card Game.
How does your stats look for your regular Pokémon Go account? Team, level?
I’m level 38, Mystic. I’m collecting high IV pokémons and piling up stardust … while trying to raid daily.
Favorite Pokémon? What did you choose as a Starter in Pokemon GO?
Do you believe in the theory that Ash is in a coma the whole time?
I’ve never watched the anime.
Thoughts on talking Pikachu?
I liked this movie, especially because I knew already some of the “new” pokémons thanks to Pokémon GO !
Do you believe in the Lord Helix and our Savior Bird Jesus? (or are you a fan of TwitchPlaysPokemon)
I’ve read a lot about the background of this experience, I like to know how things are working, and here we had Pokémon and Twitch!
Is there a story behind “Chrales” (rather than Charles)?
Sure! It’s been my nickname since forever, from some french slang, and it may be related to my real name (hint : it’s not exactly Charles :spy:).