ICON Spotlight
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ICON Spotlight

Project Nebula: ICON’s Space-themed Collectible Strategy Game

To those who have been following cryptocurrency and blockchain for an extended period of time, the concept of “non-fungible tokens” or “NFTs” is probably familiar to you by now.

During the 2017–18 bull market, one of the projects driving a lot of use on the Ethereum network was “Cryptokitties”, a game that allows players to purchase, collected, breed, and sell virtual cats. The game launched in November of 2017 and at one point accounted for about 25% of Ethereum’s traffic, according to VentureBeat. The game grabbed significant attention when it was reported that a single virtual cat sold for 600 ETH (about $170,000).

Putting aside the mania that powered Cryptokitties is the underlying principle of the game: “Each CryptoKitty is unique and owned by the user, validated through the blockchain, and its value can appreciate or depreciate based on the market. CryptoKitties cannot be replicated and cannot be transferred without the user’s permission even by the game developers.”

This is ultimately the promise of NFTs. They provide the end user with an ability to actually own the digital asset.

Here’s a helpful overview from PhantasticPhantasma:

As well as art, music, poetry, books and land, NFTs can be applied to in-game assets in gaming. Until now the companies designing games have held all the power. If you want to buy an item to use within the game you’re playing, you pay money, get your asset but you don’t actually own it. The moment you choose to give up playing the game and walk away, your purchase is gone. All those hours battling clans, or mastering race tracks are gone as the gamer finds their next game adventure to immerse themselves into. NFTs can shift the power back into the hands of the gamer. NFTs can not only be bought, auctioned and traded in online marketplaces, but in the future it’s expected they will be transferable between games too. That rare sword you levelled up in one game may just be a very useful item in your next game. Imagine being able to own an asset that was once owned by one of your favourite gamers or YouTube influencers. Blockchain tech can show the provenance of an item giving it value and making it collectible.

Enter Project Nebula

NFTs, along with Decentralized Finance (DeFi), have been drawing more and more attention from within the blockchain industry (as well as from outside of it). So it’s encouraging to see a significant project being built on the ICON network that will serve as an initial use-case for NFTs on ICON’s blockchain.

In a recent AMA conducted on the ICON subreddit, the Planet Nebula team laid out three different ways their game could appeal to potential players:

- Strategy game fans can enjoy the process of building the most efficient and powerful space empire.

- The investor type can be interested in aquiring rare planets to later sell them with profit (which, considering the current trends with NFTs, doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all).

- And on top of that our universe will be filled with immersive creative content for those who just want to spend some time and wander around in the universe.

Accordingly, I’ll break down each category in the order its listed.

Gameplay

Project Nebula describes itself as “a blockchain based game of interstellar exploration.” Fundamentally, its gameplay mechanics will be built around what’s commonly referred to as a “4x strategy game”.

4x is an abbreviation for “Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate”. As part of their reddit AMA, the creators of Project Nebula cited a number of PC games they drew inspiration from, including Heroes III, EVE Online, the Civilization series, the Endless series, along with tabletop games such as Magic: The Gathering, Eclipse, Dungeons and Dragons, Stars Without Number.

If you’ve played any of these, you can probably get a good idea of just how this style of game works. Here is how the creators described the Project Nebula gameplay mechanics during the AMA:

Project Nebula is played online in real-time together with all players in a shared universe. Players will be building their interstellar empires by exploring Project Nebula’s hex-based universe and colonizing and upgrading planets. To do that successfully they will need to manage their resources and economy as well as research new technologies that make them more efficient and powerful in the game. The individual unique planets in Project Nebula are non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which players can collect inside the game and trade or sell to each other. The planet NFTs and many other assets in the Project Nebula universe can contain high quality digital art, soundtracks and lore pieces, created by talented artists all over the world.

Although it will not happen with the very first release of the game, it is our goal to establish a player driven economy in Project Nebula by allowing players to start crafting new NFTs with various functions inside the game from the resources they are gathering from their planets. And add a PvP layer to the game that will introduce a whole new level of interactions between all the players.

Project Nebula is essentially a never ending game. The first releases are laying the foundation and expanding our game universe (and already allow the first players to start exploring the “New Galaxy”). With future releases we are planning to gradually include more complexity and PvP interactions into the game.

An uncolonized and unclaimed Project Nebula planet.

Let’s go into a bit more detail on the exact mechanics of the game.

Planets, which each player must posses at least one of, ultimately produce three important points of categories: credits, industry, and research.

Credits are essentially a form of currency: “credits are earned naturally in the game when owning planets and can be used to upgrade your planets or even purchase new ones. You’ll acquire credits through natural accumulation once you’ve acquired your first planet. Each planet has a set amount of credits that it can earn per day.”

In addition to earning credits, each planet will also accumulate industry points: “Your planet will thrive as its industry grows — this is done organically as soon as you purchase a planet. Below each world’s daily credit value you’ll see its daily industry score as well. Each day, your planet will gain this amount of industry points which can be used to upgrade infrastructure and construct new buildings and technologies.”

Finally, your planet also generates research points:

Unlike credits and industry, explorers will need to task their planet with specific research tasks. Based on your planet’s type, new and exciting research opportunities are achievable.

The more a player researches, the more the power of their planets increases and so their colonizing capabilities as well. Colonising more difficult planets will become easier as explorers research more advanced technologies.

Each planet’s daily research value is shown below its industry score. This too can grow as a planet’s infrastructure is built-up. Research increases the power of industry on your existing planets and can help you more quickly upgrade new planets that come into your collection.

In short, each category of point accumulation allows you a greater ability to colonize more planets, growing your intergalactic empire and your NFT portfolio.

In terms of how colonization will work, here’s the current vision of the team:

There are several ways for players to acquire new planets in Project Nebula. Apart from purchasing planets from other players via our in-game NFT Marketplace, everybody can explore the galaxy and colonize planets that they find. Some of the planets will require players to spend some ICX in order to be colonized. Some of the planets will require only in-game resources, and for some planets, there will be no colonization fee. Colonizing planets will take time, and if two players are trying to colonize the same planet simultaneously, the fastest one will win the planet.

And how do you go about finding planets to colonize?

Project Nebula’s universe is hex-based. Every player will have a limited amount of hexes that they will be able to explore each day (24h). There will be several ways for players to increase their exploration capacity in the game, either by researching new technologies or by collecting special resources that increase their exploration speed.

Players will only know exact information about the hexes they have already explored, although scanning nearby hexes before venturing into them will also be possible with limited accuracy. The accuracy of scanning distant hexes can be increased by researching respective technologies or by constructing observatories.

A partially explored portion of the universe.

It’s important to note that there are different types of planets one can acquire and colonize:

Common and Uncommon planets are good things to get your hands on. Owning multiple types of planets, from lava to ice, will assist your overall research, colonization, and value. Being able to grow these planet’s infrastructures will mean your intergalactic assortment of worlds will only stand to be more desired among other explorers who find their way through Project Nebula. You never know what you may find in these unique worlds.

Still, there exist some worlds that our earliest explorers have deemed to be Rare, Legendary and even Mythic. Though many hidden treasures exist throughout the entire universe, these worlds have been known to hold some Special Resources in addition to their base values. A total of eleven Special Resources were discovered among the first generation’s travels. These resources have been used to gain major research advancements, increase explorer’s overall credit gains, give interplanetary boosts to industry growth, and even aid in exploration of undiscovered space.

Obviously, the more powerful planets will be more rare and difficult to acquire.

The various planet types in Project Nebula.

The ultimate goal of Project Nebula, from a player’s standpoint, is to have the most extensive and impressive colony in the game.

If you’ve ever found yourself hundreds of hours deep in a typical strategy game such as Civilization, you can understand why this in itself is a rewarding game element. You are ultimately creating something impressive that takes a good amount of work and skill. Even if nobody will ever see it, and even if it exists in the form of digital pixels behind a screen, it’s still exceedingly rewarding and what makes the game fun.

Fortunately, when it comes to Project Nebula, it’s more than just “pixels behind a screen.”

The NFT Aspect

As has been explained earlier, what separates Project Nebula from “typical” games is the fact that you actually own the assets you aquire in the game. In traditional games, as soon as you finish the game or exit for the last time, that’s no longer the case. The assets are simply pieces of code on your computer that can vanish easily.

This is not the case with non-fungible assets. Just look at the definition of “fungible”:

able to replace or be replaced by another identical item; mutually interchangeable.

Here’s what the Project Nebula creators told me about how they view the NFT aspect:

One of the problems of gaming that we are trying to address is that — players who invest their time and money into playing a game, should be able to get something back from it. This has not always been the case, but thankfully in recent years the blockchain technology has provided us with plenty of ways for giving “power” back to the gamers.

We are constructing Project Nebula to be heavily focused on NFTs so that each player can truly own their game assets. We are not planning any restrictions to players who might want to “cash out” from the game and sell some of their digital assets when they no longer want to play any more, in fact, we are also unable to do it, since after someone acquires our NFT, we will no longer have control over it.

When you play Project Nebula, you do so via your ICON wallet. That means the assets you acquire in the form of planets are permanently imprinted on the ICON blockchain. As long as you control the keys to that wallet, you and only you are able to control those planets that you’ve bought, cultivated, and colonized.

That means that, if you’ve built the game’s most impressive colony, not only are you satisfied with that achievement on a personal level, but you now own something of value that other people may be willing to purchase from you.

Perhaps you want to sell off a slice (or the whole thing), and rebuild from scratch, testing your ability to build an empire not once, but twice. In traditional games, you’d simply delete your old game and start a fresh one. With Project Nebula, you can receive compensation for “deleting” your old game when you sell it on the marketplace.

So what’s the process for starting to build your colony?

Beginning in October, Project Nebula launched a pre-sale of planets. Based on the original structure of the pre-sale, a set number of planets would be available within the first week, followed by a subsequent set the next week, and so on for 10 weeks.

However, this plan was quickly changed after a fact became immediately clear: there was significant demand for planets. “The first week of the Project Nebula’s Planet Presale is almost behind us,” the team wrote. “Using the word “ week” is not actually the most accurate way of describing the event — all of the planets with fixed prices were sold out in about 4 minutes.”

“The presale has by far exceeded our expectations,” the team told me. “We had been marketing our project for a while in the ICON community and had received some pretty positive feedback during our first months. But in reality we had no idea whether people are willing to actually buy our products or not. The fact that the first presale weeks sold out within minutes was a very positive surprise for us.”

Ultimately, the team switched to more of an auction-style pre-sale, with planets gradually added over time to allow more people the chance to purchase planets.

As of this writing, a number of planets remain available for purchase/bid, for those who are interested in getting in early.

The Role of Art

The third element that makes Project Nebula enticing is the role that creative content plays in the game.

Part of this of course is the enjoyment factor that a well-designed aesthetic brings to any gameplay experience. But beyond that, there is also the added benefit of being able to further expand your NFT portfolio:

We will continue creating a game that’s visibly awe-inspiring from load to launch. Using blockchain tech takes that a step further as unique collectable art can be obtained through exploration of the galaxy. Each piece of digital art can be owned by players thanks to the power of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

As players acquire planets, these art collectibles too become a part of the Nebula universe, growing your collection’s overall worth. With each piece of digital art comes the information of the artists themselves — lifting the veil between beautiful imagery and the artist behind it.

Spread across multiple planets, players have the chance to find an endless array of pieces from various art collections. Some planets will also have unique works of art that stand alone and can only be discovered by one player.

A collection of digital art released thus far by the Project Nebula team.

Similar to the image-versions of art, there will also be collectible soundtracks:

Though the entire game will have delightful soundtracks, various planets will offer players even more — you’ll be able to discover new music when finding planets of a rare class or higher. As you burst through the atmosphere of a new world, we recommend having your headphones readily available for an experience unique to you.

Any decent quality game needs to be pleasant to look at and listen to. So it’s encouraging to see Project Nebula recognize this fact.

However, the ability to turn these experiences into collectibles is yet another added bonus. There are plenty of traditional games that have some sort of “side quest” or set of collectibles that is separate from the primary storyline but that adds additional depth and discovery to the game itself, increasing satisfaction.

The model that Project Nebula lays out offers a similar approach. Not only can you obtain planets as core assets, but you can also obtain — as NFTs — other assets throughout the universe, creating a more impressive and envy-inducing portfolio.

The types of collectible artwork found in Project Nebula.

The Future of Project Nebula

According to the current roadmap, Project Nebula’s closed beta will begin in January 2021, with the game launching in March of 2021.

However, the team has made clear that the development progress won’t stop there.

One element the team hopes to add is an expanded multiplayer feature:

In the first release you will likely just be competing with other players for colonizing new planets and unlocking achievements and earning rewards from that.

However we do plan to gradually add more and more content to the game that will increase player interactions — our goal is to enable a player driven economy in the form of players crafting new NFTs with various functions that will eventually lead to PvP competition, alliances being formed etc..

The planet NFTs however cannot be conquered, destroyed or stolen by other players, so this is something that you don’t have to worry about.

What is especially exciting is Project Nebula’s desire to transition Project Nebula from not just a game in it’s own right, but to a broader platform that can allow others to build on top of it:

We are designing Project Nebula with the intention of it being extendable beyond the original game. Be it expansions and connected games from our own team or second layer solutions from external parties. So essentially we are building Project Nebula as a foundation to build upon and expand the game universe.

We welcome others to build upon the Project Nebula NFTs and build their own games using our assets. A good example of it already happening elsewhere would be CryptoKitties KittyVerse, where others have built games using cryptokitties.

The team behind Project Nebula plans to ramp up marketing efforts soon. “The bigger marketing campaign will happen next year as we get closer to the end of the development, have some demos and a beta ready,” they told me. “We will try to get Project Nebula featured in some bigger blockchain/gaming publications as well as introduce a referral system in some form (Cointelegraph for example has already requested access to our beta).”

And what would be the ideal outcome from the perspective of the Project Nebula team?

Our dream is that in 5 years time, Project Nebula is an MMO game with a 6-digit player base, stepping on the toes of giants like EVE Online and many others. The Project Nebula Universe hosts hundreds of different types of NFTs and a thriving player-driven economy with a kick-ass Play-to-Earn model.

On the way we will have collaborated with hundreds of talented artists all over the world to build a UNIQUE online universe and there will be dozens of other games/projects that are in some way or another using or building on Project Nebula’s Universe, our NFTs and/or our creative content.

To learn more about Project Nebula, be sure to read through their various Medium articles and their AMA (both of which have been quoted in this piece).

And of course, be sure to check out the website and follow the project on Twitter and Telegram.

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