When it comes to blockchain games, one stands out as a trailblazer, attracting players such as Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and crypto venture capital Paradigm co-founder Matt Huang. That game is Dark Forest.
Dark Forest is a decentralized, massively multiplayer online space conquest game currently deployed on Ethereum and Gnosis Chain. Created by MIT graduate Brian Gu under the pseudonym Gubsheep and his friends, the game was inspired by the "dark forest theory" from the science fiction "Three-Body" by writer Liu Cixin.
Dark Forest takes place in an infinite, procedurally generated universe containing various types of planets and space entities. The popular Dark Forest Showdown mode is a week-long melee where thousands of players, bots, AIs, and even smart contracts compete head-to-head for galactic supremacy. Players begin on a tiny home planet and must harvest resources, conquer nearby planets, and interact with neighbors through alliances, trade, negotiations, and even war to expand their empire.
Groundbreaking Innovations: Fully On-Chain, zkSNARK, and Permissionless Interoperability
Dark Forest has pioneered blockchain gaming by being the first fully on-chain game, utilizing the non-tamperable, traceable, and decentralized features of blockchain without sacrificing the fun of "Incomplete Information" game theory. It also creates room for players to customize their gaming experience.
- Fully On-Chain Game
Traditional blockchain games store only part of the game data on the blockchain, such as in-game assets in the form of tokens and NFTs, while other data is stored on back-end servers. Dark Forest, however, was the first game built entirely on the blockchain, with all game logic deployed on the chain in the form of smart contracts.
Being fully on-chain provides players with a truly decentralized gaming experience, making full use of the openness and transparency offered by blockchain. Every player's action is recorded on the chain, and game results cannot be manipulated by the platform or any third party. Additionally, players have complete ownership of their game assets, which exist forever and cannot be tampered with, even if the game developer stops maintenance.
- "Fog of War" Based on zkSNARK
The universe of Dark Forest is vast and infinite, but upon joining, each player can only explore a small section of the star map. The positions and states of other players remain hidden, creating a "fog of war" effect, which forms an integral part of the Dark Forest gaming experience.
"Fog of war" is a common feature in traditional games, particularly in classic real-time strategy games like Warcraft, Red Alert, and StarCraft. These games employ fog to obscure player information, adding an element of mystery and strategy.
However, in blockchain-based games, incorporating the fog of war is challenging due to the open and transparent nature of blockchain technology. Data stored in smart contracts are accessible to everyone, making it difficult to create an information barrier. For instance, Axie Infinity, an NFT game built on the Ethereum blockchain, allows players to access specific information about their opponents, such as the owner, attribute values, and skills - making it a "complete information game."
To overcome this limitation, Dark Forest utilizes zkSNARKs (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) to create a "fog" in an otherwise transparent blockchain game. zkSNARKs protect sensitive information while enabling complex mechanics and interactions. This technology allows players to submit verifiably valid actions publicly while maintaining privacy. In Dark Forest, players cannot uncover other players' coordinate information by inspecting the game's smart contract. Instead, they must use computational power to clear the "fog" and reveal hidden information.
Fog of war is common in traditional games but rare in blockchain games, as blockchain is entirely open and transparent. Dark Forest uses zkSNARK (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) to create fog in a transparent blockchain game. zkSNARKs protect sensitive information while allowing complex mechanics and interactions, enabling players to submit verifiably valid actions publicly while maintaining privacy.
- Permissionless Interoperability
The Dark Forest game is built upon a smart contract deployed on the blockchain. This design enables any player to interact with the game through programming, regardless of whether the address represents a real person, a robot, or another smart contract. Game creator Gubsheep refers to this feature as "permissionless interoperability." Smart contracts establish the fundamental laws governing the Dark Forest universe. Players have the freedom to do as they wish, as long as they adhere to these basic rules: they can create their own in-game trading markets for buying and selling assets, develop tools to expedite task completion, automate all game operations, and even create new games within the game. To put it succinctly: In the Dark Forest, players can not only play games but also customize them.
Numerous Dark Forest-related plugins, third-party clients, and automation tools have been introduced to the market. As of October 2022, nearly 100 open-source plugins for the Dark Forest have been released. Players can leverage these plugins to visualize opponents' territories, automate warfare, conduct transactions, and more. Some players have even developed third-party clients for the Dark Forest, enabling gameplay on any device.
The "permissionless interoperability" of the Dark Forest has inspired the developer community to create innovative tools, form alliances, and build DAOs. The blockchain game development team, DF Archon, is one such example.
DF Archon's Blockchain Gaming Experiment: DF ARES
DF Archon is a development team specializing in blockchain-based games. They are dedicated to creating a user-friendly gaming environment and contributing to the Dark Forest game ecosystem. Moreover, DF Archon is highly invested in the overall development of blockchain gaming. Their recent NetherScape game, developed using the mud.dev game engine, has entered the Top 10 of the Autonomous Worlds Hackathon organized by 0xparc, Lattice, and ETHGlobal.
The team has currently open-sourced several projects related to the Dark Forest ecosystem, including:
- DF GAIA: A plugin development library based on the Dark Forest v0.6.5 core interface, which provides 90% of the strategic functions players need in just three user panels.
- DF ARTEMIS: A planet-targeting bounty mercenary system for Dark Forest.
- DF APOLLO: An automated assistant operating system for the Dark Forest.
The original version v0.3 of Dark Forest was launched in August 2020, with the latest iteration, v0.6.5, released in February 2022. DF Archon has decided to initiate a blockchain gaming experiment - DF ARES, a community-driven event within the Dark Forest ecosystem.
In fully on-chain games, the boundaries between developers and players are increasingly blurred. "Dark Forest" has attracted a loyal following of players and developers. This ecosystem allows players to explore, combine, and create various emerging technologies and gameplay experiences, fostering an organic community. Its open and highly composable nature significantly expands gaming possibilities, enabling gamers to contribute to the game experience rather than solely relying on the official team.
This is why DF Archon selected "Dark Forest" as the platform for their decentralized experiment. They aim to collaborate with other blockchain gaming communities to test innovative ideas and disruptive game mechanics within the Dark Forest game. During the event, they plan to develop scalable products, such as NFT trading markets, decentralized ticket and incentive issuance systems, and decentralized chat software. These products will be integrated into other blockchain games, enriching the Dark Forest game ecosystem and promoting blockchain infrastructure development.
According to DF Archon, the DF ARES project is currently under development, and the team plans to launch the first round of activities by the end of June.
Blockchain games will undoubtedly introduce more revolutionary gameplay in the future. DF ARES is just the beginning of these gaming experiments. As the development engine and toolkit for blockchain games mature, even players without programming experience may one day create their own games.