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November 21, 2021

What are Chain Runners?

Probably nothing, but there could be the kernel of something special here, maybe even a dominant new digital avatar and the beginning of a world. Chain Runners is a two-weeks-launched on-chain NFT generative art project, with 10,000 32x32 pixel images of cyberpunk inspired characters that live in Mega City. The images are generated as 11 layers, with 8 colors per layer. They are made by [mid, knav, braindraind, dozer], a team who has cred from Blitmap. After a quiet start, the project is blowing up, and (as of midnight on 11/22) is #2 for 24-hour volume on Opensea.

Why are people excited, and why does being on-chain matter?

Art that is fully on-chain (including mint) is...

  • DECENTRALIZED: lives fully on ethereum, with no other dependencies on centralized services/storage
  • FAIR: art is generated during the token minting process, not before (there's no reserving of rares for themselves and their early access friends). CryptoPunks live on-chain today, but they didn't start that way, and they weren't generated or "minted" on ethereum in a provably fair way.
  • ECOSYSTEM-ENABLING: you can build new things (derivatives) upon an existing smart contract that doesn't have external dependencies.

Why is making great, fully on-chain art hard?

  • You are using solidity to generate images, not just to host a hash of, or pointer to an image.
  • EFFICIENCY: On-chain art is constrained by compute, and there was considerable engineering effort to reduce gas cost in the mint process (and keep the mint accessible!).
  • UNKNOWN GENERATION: the creators don't know exactly what they're going to generate ahead of time, which means that they need to figure out all edge cases ahead of the mint. They had to come up with a unified trait/layer system, and be thoughtful about their alpha blending (compositing of the layers) such that they could have different traits coexist correctly e.g. face traits, eye accessories, and clothing, while still supporting unique and compelling combinations. They even needed to build tools simulate the token generation outcomes distribution. All of this work has led to really impressive, expressive art, and one of the highest compliments you can give someone in the Runner community is that theirs is "clean" or that the traits blend well. I didn't know the team personally before this project, but pixel me impressed.
  • UPGRADEABILITY: Most of the time, the downside of being on-chain is that everything is very permanent. The Chain Runners wizards have built in upgrade paths for their rendering contract, which is atypical. More to come here!

How much can you express with 32x32 pixel art?

A lot, apparently! Runners are both very accessible, and very resonant with the "very online" early adopter crypto crowd.

DEVS, CRYPTO ROYALTY: Their "command line" mint experience and aesthetic directly nods to developers, gamers, and work done previously in crypto. They're particularly close to Dom Hofmann's ecosystem.

Rare, desirable runner traits include "Dom Rose," "Nouns Glasses," "Blitmap Hats" and "Divine Robes."

CULT SCI-FI: They incorporate great sci-fi references, beyond the eponymous Blade Runner (an influence on CryptoPunks as well). Some of my favorites include: the Geordi Visor from Star Trek, Zorg Hair from the Fifth Element, Codelines background from the Matrix, Skeletor from Masters of the Universe, Scouters from Dragon Ball Z, and Cyberspace Decks from Neuromancer.

RELATABILITY: community members often fall in love with a Runner because it looks like them, or someone they know.

Doesn't this one look like Zoink?

One impact of all this creativity is that Runners isn't a market that operates on a pure rarity ranking -- micromarkets exist around specific traits (for example, Squid Masks) based on culture, aesthetics and personal resonance.

A launch with no marketing?

The Runners team has taken a very unorthodox approach to marketing, which is to do none. They've instead focused on enabling community participation and highlighting community creativity. They launched quietly without the usual spammy hype DMs on discord, or promises of "utility" or giveaways. While they "minted out" in 24 hours, they experienced a period of secondary price floor below mint. Awareness of Runners has since spread through word of mouth (DMs to friends, mentions in other discords, twitter profile pics), coordinated by the community expressing their enthusiasm

Because there's been a slower price build, they've attracted members that are more oriented to project success and creating themselves, than pump-and-dump marketing and "heat-chaser" investors.

Per the note above, Chain Runners is a project built to be built upon, and committed to a creative commons license. Derivative works are already at an amazing level -- with lore, other NFTs and sketches. Communities on the internet build tools to self-organize, and you can now vote for Runner lore.

The scaffolding for a universe?

Today, the team announced their continued work on Runnerverse and the Terminal, which will connect holders to "narrative driven experiences," and allow them to attach lore.

 While it's still early days, a project like Chain Runners is an incredible experiment in IP creation with a community, and is capturing the imagination of crypto and tech leaders and first time NFT buyers alike.

We like the Runners.