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Topology presents Isaac
StarkNet's first physics-powered onchain reality
This post documents Topology's presentation at DEFCON '22 - the high level design philosophy of onchain realities at Topology, and an overview of Isaac - Starknet’s first physics-powered onchain reality.
Design philosophy at Topology
1. Real depth onchain
Video games cut corners in their code to optimize for believability under performance constraints (e.g. frame rate). Video games also make abundant use of "shallow" complexity, such as the proliferation of perlin noise, which short-circuits complexity and places an impenetrable bound on complexity once players discover the algorithm and its particular parametrization. Onchain realities strive for real depth and leave performance irrelevant to its essence. A caricatured analogy is: transaction per second : blockchain ≈ frame rate : onchain reality. Building onchain also implies radical transparency and, if desirable, strong immutability, meaning its developer can choose to be an equal participant upon smart contract deployment; for video games, developers play the role of their gods, capitalizing on their exclusive access to backdoors. As history has proven time after time, developers are susceptible to their own biased perception of market forces and investor expectations that sway their creation from excellence to irrelevance.
2. Multi-ingress / inclusivity
Onchain realities shall be built around the philosophy of multi-ingress and inclusivity. First-person-shooter games target players’ skill in hand-eye coordination and fast tactical thinking. DeFi "games" target players’ skill in quantitative and game theoretic thinking. These talents represent a tiny fraction of the vast majority of human talents and curiosities. Onchain realities strive to provide a space for creative expression for a great multitude of talents.
3. Permissionless expansion of game boundaries
Video games may provide character editors, map editors, game mode editors, and scripting interfaces as tools that players can utilize to customize their experiences, yet the resulting expansions, in all their permutations, are fundamentally bounded and bottlenecked by the game developers behind them. Onchain realities strive for enabling permissionless expansion of game boundaries, where any programmer can permissionlessly participate at the bare metal level i.e. smart contract, deepening the rule sets and mechanics of these realities and providing flexible tooling and interfaces for architect, sound designer, environment designer, fashion designer, screenwriter and so on to enrich these realities. A useful mental model is: the initial creators of onchain realities merely seed these realities with robust initial conditions and rule sets; participants of these realities co-evolve the scope and richness of these realities far beyond their origins. This is fundamentally a technical challenge, to which we eagerly seek a solution in the emerging field of general purpose ZK programming on ZK / Validity Rollups. Finally, being built onchain, these realities can be forked easily and should embrace forkability.
We strive for nonskeuomorphism. We challenge our preconceptions, disassemble the myriad of acronyms we may have taken for granted, and investigate the native properties of this emerging medium we work with. Another way to look at this is heterodoxy: onchain realities are blatantly heterodox to video games, yet precisely because of heterodoxy, onchain realities carry powerful counter-positioning. In retrospect, the counter-positioning of decentralized finance against traditional finance is clear: it is extremely difficult for entities and processes in traditional finance to embrace permissionless participation, strong finality (lack of recourse), programmability, composability, and innovating in regulatory gray zones; to pursue those positions requires them to destroy their foundations first, posing great strategic and psychological barriers. What layer 1 did to the financial industry, layer 2+ will inflict on the game industry. Topology is setting out to create a whole new industry of Onchain Realities.
At a high level, Isaac is the combination of the three body problem and the Factorio game mechanics. Isaac is a massive-coop game, with physical and metaphysical laws enforced onchain (in Cairo smart contracts deployed on Starknet; will be fully open source at launch), where players play "Factorio" on the surface of a cuboid planet to direct the fate of their planet in the three body problem.
Fascinated by Liu Cixin's work, Isaac takes inspiration from both The Three Body Problem (2008) and The Wandering Earth (2000), where the former provides a scaffold for the game, while the latter presents a solution to the game.
All players form a civilization that resides on the same planet, which is situated in a trisolar system - a solar system with three suns. The planet is susceptible to crashing into suns, upon which the civilization is annihilated. All players must collaborate to build factory pipelines and power grids to transform natural resources into various devices and, ultimately, into Nuclear Driller & Propulsion Engine (NDPE). NDPE, mounted on the ground, drills the planet and propels the mass upward (along surface normal) with the energy generated from nuclear fission, exerting a reverse momentum kick to the planet. Players must position their NDPEs and time the launch strategically, with respect to planet’s rotation and relative position to the suns, to either:
1. change orbit to evade annihilation, or
2. escape the trisolar system by driving the planet to escape velocity along a safe escape route.
A handful of values are pronounced with the design of Isaac:
1. Information asymmetry without hidden information
Within a single Isaac civilization, there is no player-versus-player incentives. Information asymmetry is positioned between all players collectively and the unknown future dynamics of the trisolar system, which is a chaotic system. Determinism is destroyed, thus recovering the chaos, by employing Fiat-Shamir heuristics: non-negligible randomness is derived from player actions and injected into the physics simulation enforced in smart contract.
2. Onchain enforcement of physical and metaphysical laws
The laws are coded in smart contract and enforced by the rollup, laws including the numerical method (Runge-Kutta 4th order for v.1) that integrates and forwards the dynamics of the celestial bodies, as well as the algorithms by which resources are transported along the factory pipelines and energy are distributed along the power grids.
Isaac presents multiple problems at once, attracting players with different talents and interests. Isaac presents a circuit layout problem because of the finity of space on the surface of the planet coupled with the lack of support for entity-crossover in v.1; a throughput optimization problem, essential to the Factorio mechanics; an orbital mechanics problem, where players must predict the future dynamics of the suns and the planets, and plan courses of evasion or escape; a human coordination problem, where players of different talents and focuses must coordinate to maximize the survivability of their civilization. Finally, in the spirit of Dark Forest, Isaac is client agnostic, presenting a client-building problem, where different views and interfaces need to be built for solving all of the problems above.
4. Autonomous governance
Isaac will be released together with Isaac Protocol, an experiment for minimal autonomous governance and open game development of the canonical Isaac instance.
Details to be announced on Isaac Discord: https://discord.gg/X486n7wa