Dark Forest DAO: Games as mediums of technological experimentation and exploration
Interview with Hank and cha0sg0d
Dark Forest, One of the First Games entirely On Blockchain
Dark Forest is a decentralised MMO space-conquest strategy game, where players must expand their interplanetary empire as far and wide as possible, fighting off invasions from other players and strategically gathering resources randomly scattered across the star map. It was inspired by and named after the famous sci-fi novel written by Liu Cixin.
Dark Forest is the one of the very first and only games built entirely on-chain, specifically on the Gnosis Chain, a Proof-of-Stake Ethereum fork.
Thanks to the game’s use of zkSNARKs, player moves are verifiable with exact details whilst still remaining hidden from other players. Each move the player makes represents a transaction on the blockchain. This application of tech relates directly to the premise and story of Dark Forest, which is that the full state of the universe is not disclosed, leaving players to explore the map and grind to find out what lies in the unknown.
Introducing the DAO
Dark Forest DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) came together united by a passion for the game, so you can imagine the quality of vibes they provide. As of a few months, they’ve been diligently working on developing game modes atop the original game. Oh the beauty of open source.
This brings us to the why of this story.
Why are DFDAO tweaking the game and adding features if it is already good? Well, due to its highly technical UI/UX, Dark Forest can be pretty intimidating for the average gamer or internet venturer.
This brings us to their ‘Arena Mode’ thesis: that designing short and composable games will help increase the appeal of such a game to players who may not have any prior blockchain knowledge.
Like what you see so far?
Latest Developments of the Arena: Grand Prix & Galactic League
A few days ago, I caught up with Hank and cha0sg0d. The last time I spoke with the DFDAO team, they were busy getting the basic primitive tools out for the player community.
After iterating on that for a couple of weeks, they released the first version of a usable game mode, Dark Forest Arena: Grand Prix. By rolling out playtests whereby members of their community could play and provide constructive feedback and ideas, they were able to improve features of the game.
Can you tell me about the Grand Prix game mode you created?
Hank: This was the first official game mode any player could use, featuring an assigned game map and set rules. What made it fun is that the fastest path [across the map] wasn’t necessarily based on the speed of clicks but rather dependent on strategy. Players had to collect artefacts around the map to help them win.
We started using blockchain tool The Graph which makes data easy to visualise – it’s basically an indexer of on-chain events. Using this, we made a live leaderboard that’s active at all times, anyone is able to see players’ moves. Which means you could play and immediately see your rank, something that has never been done before in the blockchain gaming space.
We kept the Grand Prix game mode open for 5 weeks, each week experimenting with different game design.
One week the game featured 2 target planets players had to compete in conquering, another week we added move count which means that the best scores were calculated using combined time and number of moves, and another week we required of players to make their own maps.
So what’s new with the Galactic League game mode?
Hank: Comparatively, Galactic League is more of a technological advancement than Grand Prix, and will only last 2 weeks long [still live at time of writing].
The new game mode features a fully decentralised dashboard and discovery platform: the Portal. The way it enhances the player experience is by giving the possibility to share games and instantly compete against other players. You can see all the live games in existence, the maps other players have created, how many people have played each map, and more.
What makes this platform cool is how we’ve used blockchain data and represented it in a way players can easily make a sense of.
I know you’re very focused on Dark Forest but I’d like to ask, do you have any imaginings for what the future of blockchain games may look like?
Hank: In general, there are a lot of people who are interested in the space, I think there’s a lot of focus on financialisation and player rewards. We’re [DFDAO] on a different path in the sense where our world is more about technical exploration and experimentation to see what’s possible on the blockchain. For instance, we also have buddies building an on-chain game engine.
We’re trying to see how far we can push blockchains to have utility outside of financial tools. We’re a DAO so as much as we’re interested in game development, we’re also concerned with social organisation and coordination. The end goal is to pull what we learn from gaming and apply it to areas beyond.
Creating games allows us to experiment in low-risk environments, we can fail and try new patterns without worrying about how a wrong line of code could cost billions of dollars lost like smart contracts used in other contexts would. We have fun integrating new stuff and seeing if it works.
The Cherry On-top
Now we all know the negative reputation blockchain-enabled games have these days amongst the traditional gaming community. Which is why a positive review coming from a traditional game designer really serves to hammer home the quality and genuine enjoyment that can be found playing when playing Dark Forest.
If you love games as much as we do, make sure to give Dark Forest Arena a go here, and let the DAO know what you think!
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