In 2020 and 2021, Ethereum and the applications built on top of it were growing increasingly sophisticated, but there were major gaps in both developer tooling and the kinds of projects that were being deployed. DeFi was growing, NFTs were in their nascency, but there were few applications that were forums for play, emergent behavior, or the kind of complexity that could one day give rise to autonomous worlds. Ethereum was becoming the world’s financial computer, but was it becoming the world computer?
Amid this period of contentious DeFi forks, yield farming, and early games that incorporated NFTs, a new experiment arose. This experiment was called Dark Forest, and it was unlike anything that had been deployed on the EVM before. Dark Forest was the first fully onchain game — the game logic, and all of its data was written onchain, and game state could be derived from chain history. No servers, no intermediaries, just pure groundtruth, facilitated by the blockchain and accessible to anyone. Dark Forest also was the first game to use zkSNARKs to create an incomplete information game onchain.
Dark Forest attracted hundreds of players, who were intrigued first by the gameplay, but then began building clients and plugins for the game itself. There were marketplaces for in-game NFTs, plugins to automatically schedule moves, a “remote SNARKer” which sped up the rate a player could hash unknown parts of the map, an exchange that permitted users to reveal the location of one of their Dark Forest planets every day, in exchange for bounties, and dozens of other community-created augmentations to the core game. Dark Forest was becoming a complex, emergent network.
In 2020, Lattice’s founder, Ludens, sent a message to a stranger named Gubsheep, one of the developers behind the game.
Soon, Ludens was on his way to Mexico, where he began collaborating with the Dark Forest team. It was the beginning of the ideas and challenges that would give rise to Lattice and MUD.
In the Summer of 2021, Ludens wanted to make a new game. He was joined by Alvarius, and the two got to work on zkDungeon, an onchain game that was a cross between a board game and a battle royale. After months of tireless iteration, the team had a working demo running.
But, there were problems. At the time, Ethereum developer tooling wasn’t equipped to handle ambitious applications. Ludens and Alvarius wanted developers building clients and plugins on top of zkDungeon to have a seamless and intuitive experience — but there was no framework that made contributions to the world approachable. Something needed to change.
Ludens and Alvarius, with the help of other collaborators, realized that they needed to build an operating system before they could launch a game. They needed a framework and a protocol to handle the inevitable complexity of game code, and to counteract the developer-unfriendly patterns inherent in the way smart contracts are traditionally written. After exploring numerous frameworks for game development, the team discovered the ECS (Entity, Component, System) pattern, which became the foundation on which MUD v1, the team’s game engine, was formed.
In the spring of 2022, at the D.E.F.C.O.N. conference in Amsterdam, Ludens announced Lattice, the company and Alvarius introduced MUD and the ECS framework in more detail. Soon, Lattice was joined by Kooshaba, one of the core developers on the Dark Forest team, and Biscaryn, who came aboard as our Chief-of-Staff. In the Summer of 2022, we officially incorporated.
That Summer, the team began a full sprint on developing MUD. We held a summit in NYC, began developing the chains, infrastructure, and services that would become the MUD testnet and MODE, and also started hacking on a game called MUD War, which would eventually become Sky Strife.
In August 2022, Ludens published Autonomous Worlds (Part 1) which would become the touchstone for any team looking to build complex, emergent systems on Ethereum.
In the Fall of 2022, with MUD v1 in a relatively stable state, we invited over a dozen teams to London, to participate in a residency focused on building games and applications using MUD. We were blown away by the complexity and innovation that we saw. Our intuition around the need for a robust operating system to enable onchain applications was validated.
In-house, the Lattice team was hard at work on a new game called OPCraft, a voxel-based onchain game that pushed the limits of both MUD, and Optimism, the EVM-equivalent rollup upon which OPCraft was deployed. In the ten days that OPCraft was live, the game played host to emergent life onchain — new plugins, custom smart contracts, and even a Supreme Leader, all surfaced when the game was live.
In October 2022, at Devcon in Bogota, the team debuted MUD v1 for a mass audience. Directly after, we held an 80-person Autonomous Worlds Symposium to demonstrate the capabilities on MUD v1 in more detail. In November, Frolic, one of the most prolific plugin-builders on OPCraft, joined the Lattice team full-time.
In the new year, we welcomed five more people to the team, across Engineering, Operations, and Product Management. Sky Strife development hit a stride, and we launched new tutorials for MUD to give new developers an easy point of entry to the MUD ecosystem.
Our focus intensified on improving MUD, and we began building out features to bring MUD v2 to a stable state. MUD v2 is a modularization across the entire stack: we modularized our data model to bypass Solidity’s compiler-driven data storage. We modularized our plugin system, to give developers flexibility in how they use MUD. We modularized our sync stack, to allow for synchronizing contract and client state, with support for querying the client and our automatic indexer in SQL. Our MUD v2 feedback loop was informed by our own work on Sky Strife, and by needs of those building applications using MUD.
In Spring 2023, we partnered with ETHGlobal where we saw over 400 hackers submit over 100 different projects, built on MUD v2. We continue to work on MUD v2, as well as many internal initiatives related to EVM infrastructure.
Throughout all of this, our focus remains the same: build developer-friendly and Ethereum-aligned products that make it easier for everyone to push the frontier of onchain systems further.