Phantasee is both the writer and the protagonist in his fantasy short stories.
Greetings and salutations traveller,
Come pull up a chair and grab yourself an ale for we are about to embark on a literary journey of great portent. A tale filled with magical wonder and wonderful magic. Welcome to the Tavern Lectures where we will follow the adventures, stories and lectures of our beloved hero Phantasee as they journey through the Metaverses.
These stories and discussions are intended to impart knowledge to the reader about a variety of topics related to the emerging fields of blockchain gaming, Metaverses and NFTs. The unique format of the articles has been intentionally designed as a means of bridging the divide between the worlds of fiction and non-fiction or storytelling and article writing. It represents the fusion between the art of storytelling, with all its attendant rich language, cast of curious characters and interrelated plotlines, and the art of article writing, with its educational parcels of knowledge. In essence, it is an attempt to communicate theoretical knowledge in a more engaging medium whilst also paying tribute to the fantasy origins of the gaming content itself.
We shall commence with a discussion within one of the first and most iconic of the Metaverses, the Sandbox. And without further delay, let us jump in.
A single light flickered fitfully in the distance, beckoning the three weary travellers. It promised a respite from the palpable darkness through which they had been trudging for the past few hours. The night in this land was full of unseen terrors and the sounds of beasts battling in the dark dogged their every step. The roars and snarls were punctuated intermittently by the odd shrill death cry.
They had wandered on, guided only by a spell of Way Finding and the weak light cast from the staff of Kajit, the female mage of the party. Even the leader Baza-Enoin, a laser-eyed CyberKongz, had been unable to pierce the shroud of darkness that had descended upon the forest. Few beasts intruded upon their small sphere of light and any creature that had stumbled unwittingly on the party had quickly departed. For their instincts had whispered to them that only swift death awaited any foolish enough to challenge these visitors to the wood. The trio was rounded out by Poke, a mountain of a CyberKongz woman who acted as the Tank for the small party and who even now was muttering curses whilst her left hand compulsively weaved tribal warding gestures against the looming dark.
It appeared, however, that at long last they had arrived at their destination and with a collective sigh of relief, the small party released long clenched fists from their battle axes. The urgent parcel they had received the day prior from a courier Turtle Pigeon had contained a hastily scribbled note and a scroll with the spell of Way Finding etched into its parchment. It was only for the urgency conveyed in the message that they had set out an hour before sunset on such a perilous journey through Dimknot Wood. The note had read: I call upon you to join me post-haste for I have information of the utmost importance to impart to you all. I implore you to drop everything and travel by whatever means possible to the location indicated by the Way Finding spell. Have the courage to seize your future. The note had been signed simply with the name Phantasee in a flowing script that glowed green.
The party of CyberKongz now stood facing the doorway of what appeared to be a tavern with roughly carved oversized beer mugs surmounted atop the entry door frame. Within the gloom above the left mug, they could just make out what appeared to be a carved statue of a duck caught mid-motion, head reeling back from the mug with streamers of ale pouring back from the head as if the face had only recently been submerged within the mug. The artist had somehow even captured the expression of delirious confusion on the obviously inebriated waterfowl, its eyes crossed and mouth agape as if gasping for air.
Poke grunted in amusement at the image then peered quizzically at the torch beside the portal which cast a grey-green light in a sphere that encompassed the doorway.
Kajit snorted and reached a hand into the sphere of ethereal light. "Ether Flame. Clever. It’ll burn any undead and certain demonic abominations like those cursed Axie creatures. And zombies. So I guess no Walking Dead will be coming to this meeting tonight," she said as she removed her hand, observing intently as the green light clung for a few moments to her gloved fingers before dissipating.
"I don't actually mind that,” she continued. “The Walking Dead give me the creeps. I mean who wants to be friends with a dead person anyway. All they do is moan and groan all day about how they are missing this finger or that toe. The worst is when you are talking to one and then all of a sudden a grub crawls out of a hole in their face. I hate grubs!" Poke screwed up her face in revulsion and unconsciously began wiping a metal gauntleted hand on her leather breeches.
"Okay gang, let's go inside and find out what this Phantasee chap has to say that was so important it required us to travel through Dimknot forest. And at night at that," rumbled Baza-Enoin as he stepped forward to push open the door.
"Couldn't he have arranged the meeting to be in a tavern inside a nice hospitable town instead of the middle of a nightmare filled forest," grumbled Kajit as she followed her leader into the tavern. As they crossed the threshold they were met by a wave of sound and light from within. Spells of Containment had evidently been cast to hide the building's presence from any uninvited guests. The floor of the tavern was strewn with an odd assortment of tables and chairs at which sat an even odder assortment of curious characters and creatures.
At the far end of the tavern was a raised platform that typically served as a stage for musicians or actors. On this particular day, the stage had only one occupant. A blue-skinned Cool Cat sporting a red beret and brown Viking shirt with Mononoke tattoo markings below the eyes. This Cool Cat was standing atop a wooden crate, surveying the scene before him. The party immediately knew without a doubt that this was Phantasee. Despite his diminutive size - relative to that of the hulking CyberKongz - he stood with an air of supreme confidence that bordered on arrogance. At this moment his gaze was averted and concentrated on a group of Crypto Punks who were arguing over whose turn it was to go next in a game of darts. His soft paws were clasped behind his back and his features were settled in what appeared to be a smug expression of self satisfaction.
Baza-Enoin with his laser eyes, however, was able to pierce beyond the mask that Phantasee was presenting to the world. He could see that the feline eyes of Phantasee twinkled with a playful light that belied the facade of arrogant leadership. Baza-Enoin saw before him the archetypal joker who had for this particular day taken on the role of omniscient hero-leader but who could as easily shed this guise to take on another. For the joker had a fluid identity that adapted to the needs of the moment.
Even as Baza-Enoin came to realise all this, Phantasee’s gaze pulled across to fix on him, eyes looking back in an equally piercing manner. Phantasee winked and gave the slightest nod of acknowledgement before moving on to scan the room.
Poke snorted and nudged Baza-Enoin. "The coolest cat in town hey? Well, he doesn't look like much to me, to be honest. I'd crush the mewling kitten in a fight any day of the week. I mean look..." Poke stopped mid-sentence and began frantically scrabbling at her throat as an unseen crushing pressure gripped her neck. Eyes bulging and tongue lolling she crashed to the side sending streamers of spittle to careen across the room from her gaping mouth. Unfortunately for Poke, she landed amidst a group of elegantly dressed Bored Apes who were sitting around a table smoking thin cigars and playing a game of poker. The table collapsed beneath the weight of the massive CyberKongz which sent the Bored Apes’ whiskey glasses and stacked coins crashing to the floor. A pair of Gutter Rats immediately swept in to snatch up the falling coins as the Bored Apes reared back in affront. By the time Poke hit the floor the pressure on her throat had eased but she now found herself in the midst of four enraged Bored Apes who were fitting brass knuckle dusters to their hands in preparation for a brawl.
Kajit smiled and commented to Baza-Enoin, "Now there's proof if any was needed that you should never cross a Cool Cat, especially not that Cool Cat. He is evidently a mage and I would hazard a guess that he has cast a Listening spell across the room allowing him to listen in on every conversation separately. Takes some concentration though to manage that kind of incantation. But the choking spell was something else entirely. Did you see how it pierced right through all the tribal wards around Poke as if they were nothing more than cobwebs." Kajit shook her head and looked down at her prone companion, who was only now recovering her wits.
Baza-Enoin sighed. "And now it is left to me to placate the Bored Apes," he said. But before he could take a step forward a voice cut through the noise.
"Greetings and salutations. Please take your seats as the discussion is now about to begin," Phantasee said, raising his palms up before him. He flipped his palms to face down and as he slowly lowered his hands, the crowd involuntarily found themselves sitting on the nearest chair, as if guided by invisible hands. One of the Bored Apes flashed a menacing look at Poke, eyes promising later retribution.
"I thank you all for joining me here for this most momentous occasion," Phantasee said, now turning his hands and arms out in welcome.
"What's so momentous about it anyway?" cried a female Gutter Cat from the crowd. This was followed by several laughs and an absurdly high pitched giggle from a Super Yeti. The giggle was abruptly cut off as several characters turned to stare at the Super Yeti who now ducked his head in embarrassment.
"Fair question. This and many other questions will no doubt be answered in due course but first I would like to give thanks to our ever welcoming and accommodating host Gargles for allowing us the opportunity to use his delightful Drunken Duck Tavern," said Phantasee as he tipped his beret in the direction of a bedraggled duck who crouched on the bar counter. Gargles was indeed the proprietor of the establishment, however, it was unclear whether he still remembered this fact. At present Gargles was staring murderously at a puddle of ale on the counter and muttering incoherent statements. These rambling monologues had recently become a near-constant feature of Gargles, with the mutterings only ever being interrupted by intermittent squawks that appeared to surprise Gargles just as much as they did any nearby unsuspecting patrons. The outbursts would often cause Gargles to jump up and look around with a wild look of confusion. But at this moment Gargles was content to merely mumble obscenities at the offending pool of liquid.
"And now to business," said Phantasee as he clasped his paws behind his back, drawing the attention of the crowd back to himself. "I will preface this by saying this will be the first of many tavern discussions with the overarching aim of educating you all on..." he paused for dramatic effect. "... the Metaverse."
"Awww, I came all the way here to the middle of nowhere to listen to poetry verses? That’s it, I am out o' here," cried the voluble Gutter Cat, who went by the name of Rosanne.
But Rosanne got no further for Phantasee had resumed talking. "Whilst there is a certain poetry to the Metaverse, in the same way that there is poetry in all aspects of life, this lecture is not focussed on poetry my dear, deluded and thankfully very very distant feline cousin of the blockchain. No, no, tonight I reveal to you the nature of our world.” As he spoke he lifted his right hand up and a sphere of light began to manifest above the upheld hand.
The light then began to stretch out into a grid of light composed of countless lines. The light matrix hung in the air above the crowd as Phantassee resumed his speech. “Metaverse relates broadly to the concept of persistent, shared digital worlds or digital universes where human participants are able to interact with each other and with the intelligent software that forms the substance and backbone of these worlds. But these new Metaverses are being built on emerging blockchain technology that allows for novel function and utility.”
“Digital worlds where humans interact with software you say? Sounds just like any other computer game I have played before. How is this any different?” asked a Pudgy Penguin.
“The key difference is that these new games and worlds are being built on blockchains which, as I said before, allows for unique properties and functions to emerge,” said Phantasee as various muted battle scenes of combatants locked in struggle began to crystallise out of the light matrix.
“So you mean that... like... the software... that the games are kind of built on... is different? Using this chain of blocks technology?” queried a Rumble Kong League member.
“That is one major point of difference, yes. A blockchain is essentially a data storage system composed of blocks of information that are connected via cryptography and spread across a decentralised network of nodes,” Phantasee said as the battle scenes collapsed to then coalesce into a series of light blocks connected via thin lines and surrounded by tiny numbers. The ribbons of numerals swirled around the lines in an endless dance like some protective ward. “It is like a massive decentralised network spread across the world with the intention of creating a reliably stable reliable system for trustlessly and immutably storing and transmitting data. A common one that is being widely used at present is one called Ethereum.”
“I think I understood maybe five percent of what you just said,'' quipped a Gutter Rat who sat scratching at a mangy ear. “Something, something block and then something, something crypto.”
“Well let’s put aside the technicalities for a moment and look at the functions it enables. What are the benefits of building a game or Metaverse on a blockchain?” Phantasee asked the crowd.
“Transparency, security, traceability, improved efficiency and speed and reduced costs,” answered a Wicked Cranium from the crowd.
“Good response. And what might your name be?” Phantasee asked.
“Of course. How appropriate. Good response Mister Brains,” continued Phantasee. “Now let us examine this as there is definitely some truth in what you say, but I think these characteristics relate more broadly to advantages of blockchain technology in other sectors and industries so I will focus on the aspects that most directly relate to the field of blockchain gaming. The first point mentioned was transparency. The beauty of using the infrastructure of blockchain technology for gaming is that there is an immutable and public ledger of all transactions that occur. This point, as well as traceability, go hand in hand.
“Let us take an example from the Sandbox. Let us say that a player decides to visit the 6x6 land estate of yours truly. Which would be a fantastic decision, I might add, as this estate will one day host a truly extraordinary and unique gaming experience. So the player arrives in the central building and then heads north to participate in a quest to defeat, oh I don’t know… maybe a Skeleton Champion found in a hidden crypt within the Dusk Graveyard located behind the abandoned Chapel of Light. Upon completion of the quest, the player is rewarded with a… golden goblet,” Phantasee said and with a twist and flourish of his hand, he was suddenly holding a goblet. “That event, the acquisition and transfer of the golden goblet to the player’s account, would be recorded on the blockchain as a permanent and immutable record of the transaction. This is the foundation of true player ownership of assets. Some examples of in-game assets would include weapons, clothing, property, land, avatars, jewellery, buildings, companions... the list goes on.”
The Pudgy Penguin, known as Pong, spoke up again. “How is that any different to a line of code in a game saying my character just acquired an item? I owned all the items on my account in the MMORPG that I used to play. No one except for me could access those items and many of them I purchased with real money. I could sell the items in the game or trade them with other players. I would say that that was player ownership.”
“Not correct,” Phantasee countered, shaking his head. “It is but the pretence of ownership. “All game content in traditional games are the sole and exclusive property of the relevant game developer, even player-generated custom modifications and things that you paid for. You pay for the right to play the game and basically borrow these items but they never actually leave the hands of the game developer. Your access to the account itself could be revoked at any time by the game developers due to real or perceived breaches of their terms of usage. In fact, the account itself, along with all its characters and all their collected items, could be deleted by the game developers and then whoosh...” said Phantasee as a puff of smoke materialised before him. “... all those possessions you thought were yours are now all gone. And they can do all of that legally as those are the terms of service that we all unwittingly agree to when we play a traditional game. So... no. I would argue that this is quite different. And the reason for this is due to the fact that these in-game assets are associated with what you call non-fungible tokens or NFTs for short.”
“Here we go again with the technicalities,” drawled the Gutter Rat before yawning widely.
“Correct!” Phantasee said. “Thank you for the introduction. Indeed, now we delve into some technicalities but I will keep it as high level as possible so as not to overtax your limited faculties Ratty.”
“The name’s Ratatouille!” the Gutter Rat snapped.
“As I was saying,” Phantasee resumed. “NFTs are units of data that are stored on the blockchain. These tokens are correlated with assets and in the case of blockchain games they can be associated with in-game items. For instance, that golden goblet would have an NFT equivalent on the blockchain which at the time that the player receives it in the game, there would be a corresponding transfer on the NFT from the wallet of the game to the wallet of the player. And that transfer would be recorded as a transaction on the blockchain,” said Phantasee.
The golden goblet that was still in his hand now began to drift up towards the network of light that still hung in the air of the tavern. As it ascended, a block began to form around it. The block encapsulated goblet then joined a line on the network before travelling along the line to its destination. The crowd watched intently as the block finally reached a glowing point on the matrix. This point of light then began to grow larger and larger until it formed what appeared to be an image of a wallet within a safe.
“Now before you interrupt me again Ratatouille,” Phantasee said. “I will answer the question in your mind. How is that different to coding in a traditional game? Well the difference lies in the fact that the blockchain exists outside the game and a major blockchain, like Ethereum, is not owned or controlled by the game developers. And I should mention here that not everything is stored on a blockchain like Ethereum, however, we will not go into the details of what will be on-chain and what will be off-chain. That being said, an easy way to think of it is that any event that permanently changes the properties of a player’s Avatar, their items or other possessions would need to be an on-chain event, which is to say on the blockchain. Naturally that would mean that many of the countless behind the scenes AI processes like weather control, NPC behaviour or computations used in battle mechanics etcetera would be off-chain, typically on custom built proprietary chains designed specifically for the needs of that particular game. But each game is going to be different and have their own unique approach to tackling these challenges.
“What this means though is that even if the game itself were to, for whatever reason, fail, the record of the fact that the NFT is in the player’s wallet would remain in perpetuity on the blockchain. It also means that the game developers do not own your assets and cannot prevent you from trading or selling them to anyone else. This is true player ownership of assets,” Phantasee said. A Smurf raised a cheer at this and a Crypto Kitty clapped her paws in appreciation.
“Right. I think I get the difference now,” said Pong excitedly. “I honestly had no idea that traditional game developers were operating that way. This system where players actually own the items and assets and are legally allowed to sell or trade them makes so much more sense. All games should be made like that.”
This statement from Pong was greeted by murmurs of agreement from the crowd. But Ratatouille was not convinced and he loudly cleared his throat before saying, “I still don’t really get it and, to be honest, I don’t really care either. As long as I enjoy the traditional non-blockchain games and get to do what I want with my items in the game then I don’t care about who legally owns what. The experience is the same. So you can take your bloomin’ blockchain and go shove it-” but Ratatouille got no further as he was abruptly cut off by a Super Yeti who cuffed him over the head.
“Thank you BigFoot,” Phantasee said. “As much as I disagree with what Ratatouille is saying, he raises a good point which is that not everyone is going to agree that true player ownership is important. It may only be a philosophical point of difference for some but for me, it makes the world of difference...” Phantasee said, the sentence trailing off for just at that moment Ratatouille had pulled out a knife and was even now lunging at BigFoot. The large Super Yeti in turn was desperately scrambling backwards in an attempt to keep clear of the rusty dagger.
Phantasee started speaking rapidly: “Okay then. Well, I must say whilst I encourage friendly and even sometimes heated debate about a variety of topics and freely acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I will not brook senseless violence in this establishment… and especially not during one of my lectures. Thus it is clear that Ratatouille has overstayed his welcome and therefore his time of departure is imminent. In fact, it is right now!” Phantasee clapped his hands and with that the enraged Gutter Rat disappeared.
The crowd took a few seconds to register what had happened, including BigFoot who was still trying to scramble over a loudly objecting MoonCat. Then everyone started talking at once.
Phantasee waited another ten seconds before clearing his throat and resuming: “So just a final point on the NFT discussion. Mister Brains also mentioned security. The use of cryptography and the various validation systems that they use ensures the ledger is secure and immutable and acts as a reliable record. What this means is that the player-owned assets are extremely secure as there is no single centralised system that can be hacked. Now, before I let you all go for a fifteen-minute intermission, I just want to remind you that Milk is on the house and available at the bar. Second, I remind everyone not to wander around the cellars below the tavern as I have been informed that the tunnels connect with other tunnels leading to… other dimensions, the majority of which are not particularly friendly to visitors.”
“What kind of insane creature would build a tavern on an interdimensional portal to other hostile dimensions?” asked Pong incredulously. Phantasee’s expression remained blank as he stared at Pong until comprehension dawned in the eye's of the Pudgy Penguin. “Oh! That insane creature,” exclaimed Pong, looking across at Gurgles who was dancing with a mop on the counter. Gargle’s face was pressed deeply into the mophead whilst his free hand waved in the air to imagined tunes.
Thus ends Part One of the Tavern Lectures. Come back next month for Part Two.
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