How to Make On-Chain Gaming Competitive: 'Procedural Generation' [Part 2]
0xc140
September 20th, 2022

MatchboxDAO is a collective of developers, artists, and designers building the infrastructure of on-chain games with StarkNet.

This is the second article in MatchboxDAO’s series on “How to Make On-Chain Gaming Competitive”. A new article will be released Tuesday every fortnight and will cover different topics around how developers are shaping on-chain games to become more intuitive and entertaining for gamers. This can include new features, games, onboarding tools and just about anything that improves the on-chain experience in a gaming context. 

It’s part of our ongoing efforts to reduce stigma around blockchain gaming and to show the benefits behind keeping these features on-chain in a trustless, accessible manner. We hope this series can drive adoption from new developers and gamers because the future of on-chain gaming will be collaborative. Join us each fortnight to learn where this space is heading and how we’re preserving integrity and most importantly, fun in gaming. 

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Introduction

While on-chain gaming has its differences from the trad gaming world, it’s obligatory for us to consider what features need to be ported over to make blockchain games more palatable. A feature that’s become increasingly important to gaming environments is procedural generation (ProcGen). Procedural generation in gaming is the use of data to algorithmically produce elements such as terrain or level design with computer generated randomness. Certain genres (i.e. “roguelikes”) rely on procedural generation to add difficulty, replayability, and also easier computation to game designs. 

Bringing this feature on-chain is an essential piece of infrastructure to allow permissionless access to a game, whether for players or for developers. In general, keeping data on-chain maintains its integrity regardless of servers or other centralized bodies. It’s one of the key points that we’ll reference throughout this series of articles.

One key point of the divide between centralized and on-chain gaming is the existence of a decentralized frontend with terrain to interface with the game. Giving users and developers access to the procedural world generation stack allows for greater composability. Sharing customized designs or game elements is a defining feature for the modern multiplayer game. MatchboxDAO works hard to bring this infrastructure.

How does the on-chain map Gen currently look & How does it work?

The most popular example of procedural world generation is without a doubt Minecraft. However, integrating the procedural generation of 3D voxels on-chain takes up an incredible amount of render time. In its current format, generating a detailed three-dimensional map as large as Minecraft, wouldn’t really be playable due to this constraint. 

When we look at other instances of procedural generation in traditional games, maybe Dwarf Fortress or Binding of Isaac as examples, these are much more feasible states that are achievable in on-chain gaming environments. Developers in MatchboxDAO community are producing a game called Age of Eykar that uses procedural generation in a unique way to produce an on-chain strategy game. 

Eykar World map
Eykar World map

Instead of storing the map data directly on-chain, they’re using an algorithm to interpret the way the map looks. From there, your browser does the computation and translates data into the image of a map. This way, the produced data (which is much more taxing) does not have to be directly stored on the blockchain. Computation is cheap, but storage is more expensive. In order to scale this process, developers are making solutions that prioritize computational methods of game design. 

Why is having procedural generation on-chain so important?

Procedural generation allows game developers to compress terrain and make it easier to store. Developers can make games with high replayability and diversity in terrain, dungeons, and overall experiences in a way without being computationally taxing. Roguelike games are one of the most popular game genres, and have elements that are adapted by numerous games.

For game developers porting their ideas to the blockchain, this is an important requisite. Molding this style of terrain generation into a process that is achievable by a smart contract is a massive leap forward for open-source development. Integrating this to the infrastructure standard for on-chain games makes the development process of different games interoperable with one another. 

With the advent of ZK rollups and their use in StarkNet, the transaction throughput and speed of these contracts will be much greater. This increase in throughput and open source generation can be extended not only to the game environment, but to the in game objects and elements as well. Think randomized item drops, events and other in-game instances. Perlin noise generation is a commonly used technique in procedural methodology. 0xPARC has a great article about how the technique plays into on-chain ProcGen.

How does this bring on-chain gaming forward?

We’re still in the early stages of on-chain gaming, but bringing this type of terrain generation on-chain gives developers a whole new set of possibilities to work with. Creators understand that there is an expectation and current zeitgeist around the gaming space. Players expect certain features that maintain their idea of gaming as we know it, what has lasting value, what makes a game boring or fun. Procedural generation is vital to bringing familiar and entertaining elements to on-chain gaming.

A layer 2 solution that uses Zk rollups like StarkNet will allow developers to deploy these contracts at a much cheaper and quicker rate. Game design is a creative exercise that’s been pushing the boundaries of computational technology since its inception. Deploying new infrastructure pieces like ProcGen will accelerate people’s ability to innovate on-chain, and bring us the next set of inventive ideas.

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