Nifty Newsletter #12: Hacking the Planet with the Chain Runners
November 18th, 2022

Hello, howdy and welcome to the twelfth edition of the Nifty Newsletter, a Blitmap community-run bulletin! This issue focuses on a project that just celebrated its first anniversary: Chain Runners. But before we hop into the highlights of my conversation with Knav, BRAINDRAIND, Dozer and St. Stereo, there is a bit of news to highlight from the Superverse! HOLY LOGOS, BATMAN!

In a recent announcement, Dom Hofmann linked to a Notion site with a ton of information about the upcoming drop, including these details: (i) the Logos will come in three different fidelities that can be toggled in the marketplaces, (ii) keys will be delivered to Blitmap and Blitnaut holders with additional keys available in a public sale and (iii) the team is introducing a “revert” feature that allows the owner to revert back to a key and craft a new character prior to locking a Logo into place! The only drawback: we’re going to have to wait until the new year to start making our Logos! Dive into the full announcement here, give the tweet some retweet love and get ready to look forward to something this New Year besides breaking your resolutions!

In other news, long-time holder WrongNebula is in the process of releasing a project called huweb3, seemingly a reference to the “Humans of Web3.” An accomplished photographer who has worked for many international publications, WrongNebula has not only captured photos of the “developers, founders, artists, anons, [and] users” of web3, but also has recorded in-depth conversations with them about their thoughts on the space.

The first interview, with Sup founder and original Blitmap artist Totally, includes a fascinating discussion on the accelerated pace of innovation in the crypto world (see the 5:30 mark). Also available in WrongNebula’s series are conversations with performance artist, Blitmap artist and bagel aficionado Mike Varley, Blitmap OG artist and Chain Runners pixel perfector BRAINDRAIND as well as artist and musician SaintStereo of Chain Runners (more on the latter two individuals in our story below)! Looking forward to seeing, and hearing from, more voices in the web3 ecosystem!

So without further delay, let’s hop over to the interview with the Chain Runners team. We’ll talk a bit about their origin story, the storytelling meta, the influence of CC0 on their project and some other projects they’ve got coming up on the horizon.

Chain Runners: Hack the Planet

The Blitmap project has become influential for many technologists and teams in the web3 space when it comes to on-chain art and licensing assets in the public domain. And there may be no project more philosophically aligned with these concepts than the Chain Runners team.

The Chain Runners landing page.
The Chain Runners landing page.

Chain Runners is the brainchild of three individuals who were friends in the physical world, with Mid as the connecting glue among the trio. Mid befriended Knav some seven years ago after they met at a hackathon; Mid also was the connection to Dozer where the pair worked together for five years at a web2 company. The group was beginning to explore the web3 and NFT world, and when Mid discovered the Blitmap project; all three were part of the Blitmap mint and have been holders to this day.

(A quick aside for some Blitmap history: Mid made the first ever Blitmap trade, sending over his first mint Jess Boombox #168 in exchange for Dom Hofmann’s Glitcho original #90!)

Chain Runner co-founder Mid's first Blitmap, Jess Boombox #168, to the left that he traded to Dom Hofmann for the original Glitcho #90.
Chain Runner co-founder Mid's first Blitmap, Jess Boombox #168, to the left that he traded to Dom Hofmann for the original Glitcho #90.

Within the Blitmap community, they started vibing with the pixel art of BRAINDRAIND, one of the original 17 Blitmap artists, and he introduced them to his long-time creative collaborator and colleague in AAA game development, SaintStereo. Inspired by the momentum building in the NFT world, the team decided to launch their own pixel art project based on a cyberpunk aesthetic. Chain Runners was born.

“We wanted to be a bit different than maybe traditional cyberpunk that is overtly dark and dystopian,” Knav said. “Sure, we have those elements in Chain Runners, but we also are a bit optimistic and lean into the self-expression part of cyberpunk, pushing the bounds of what normal humanity might offer.”

At its core, Chain Runners is a classic 10k, PFP project that borrows on many tropes that are popular in the space. There’s something for everyone in this project. For those that “do a little hacking,” there are dark black hoodies (which became an instant hit after power collector flashrekt began scooping them up), different styles of Chainspace decks that a character could use to plug into the Metaverse and a synth wave sunset background that has become emblematic of the project.

For sci-fi fans, there are traits like the Geordi visor from Star Trek, Zorg hair from The Fifth Element or a pill on an outstretched tongue that’s a callback to Neo’s scene with Morpheus in The Matrix. And for those firmly rooted in the NFT space, there are riffs on the classic Cryptopunks pipe, the divine robe from Loot (for Adventurers) and those square Nouns glasses.

Chain Runners with Blitmap traits.
Chain Runners with Blitmap traits.

But some of the most endearing callbacks came in the form of different Blitmap traits that were built into the project, including the Logo Hat, Genesis Hat and Dom Rose. “I love Blitmap,” BRAINDRAIND explained. “I'm from Blitmap, and all of the Chain Runners founders knew each other from that project. Many of us worked together to crank out the Blitnauts, so there's this really strong connection in our group. When we were crafting traits for the genesis Runners, we wanted to bring a lot of love back to Blitmap.”

These Runners inhabit a world called Mega City and are revolting against Somnus, the AI architect behind this remote physical world. According to the official lore site, “With Somnus in complete control of the city and the number of Somnites growing, liberating Mega City from these oppressive systems may only be possible by uniting the Runner counterculture and directing their abilities against Somnus and its followers.” The minting process drew on this very cyberpunk origin story, as users had to access the mint from a computer terminal.

Empowering Digital Self-Expression

As the line between our physical and digital worlds becomes ever more blurred, the Chain Runners team understands that the importance of digital identity and self-expression will only grow. And while many PFP projects were criticized for having primarily male-dominated, cisgender traits, the Chain Runners team purposefully chose to fill Mega City with inhabitants that had a full spectrum of identities for individuals to choose from.

“So much of the cyberpunk aesthetic is about self-expression, and so much of the NFT space is about digital identity,” offered Knav. “With a digital identity, you can become who you want to be, which may or may not reflect who you are in real life. We wanted an individual to be able to find a Runner they identified with and become that Runner.”

Grenades that were airdropped to holders—these are the first items in the Chain Runners Gear collection.
Grenades that were airdropped to holders—these are the first items in the Chain Runners Gear collection.

As if anticipating the question of whether a 2D, pixelated profile picture can truly serve as a form of digital identity, the team has extended their vision beyond a 32-by-32-pixel canvas. Chain Runners has entered a higher-fidelity realm with the XR collection, a series of native 3D avatars of each Runner that can be plugged into virtual environments such as Nifty Island. And after the team released a set of grenades with which to equip Runners as part of their Chain Runners Gear collection.

The team has also created a Discord prompt meme generator and face filters that can be used for video conferencing and VTubing, enabling the owner to become their Runner and use it as a form of self-expression. The Chain Runners project is clearly leading the pack when it comes to empowering individuals to adopt their chosen identity in the digital sphere.  

The Chain Runners meme generator works in the project's Discord server by typing the command /rsay
The Chain Runners meme generator works in the project's Discord server by typing the command /rsay

“I'm from the male-dominated video game industry, and it's exhausting and bland,” BRAINDRAIND explained. “It's also generally the same in our web3 and NFT space. So when we were making the Chain Runners we wanted to ensure Mega City was inclusive. We wanted females, non-binary and transgender people to want to be involved in this story.”

Storytelling and CC0 from the Start

It’s no secret that the meta changes at a breakneck pace in the crypto world—at the time of this interview with the Chain Runners team, the storytelling meta was quite en vogue. And while many projects slowly gravitated towards building narratives, this was part of Chain Runners’ DNA from the beginning. 

“There was already that context for a compelling narrative right out of the gate with the mint process,” SaintStereo said. “There was a universe that was established before you even had a token.”

After the mint, holders could go in and write lore about their Runner through an online terminal. This was a page out of the Forgotten Runes Wizard Cult playbook, and while not stored on-chain, it gave holders the ability to begin telling their stories. Later, the team released a wiki for canonical lore where they explained the origin story, locations and traits in the universe.

By placing Chain Runners in the public domain via the CC0 license, the projects’ creators encouraged holders and non-holders alike to contribute to the lore and to develop derivative projects. The team’s foundational decision to give the community permission to adapt, remix and create with Chain Runners IP has in turn created a very vibrant community.

“The combination of CC0 with the cyber punk ethos attracted a lot of builders, artists and people who wanted to continue to flesh out this world with us,” Dozer said. “From the beginning of the launch, we showed this community that we were pushing the bounds of blockchain technologies to create a high-fidelity, on-chain art project. And providing a few guardrails to this world that we're building—along with a permissive CC0 license to let people extend it themselves—attracted a high-caliber set of people. I love to see it!”

Nifty’s Nook

Who’s ready to hack the planet with me!?!? While time seems to move at a rapid clip in the web3 and NFT world, it is also interesting to reflect on milestones. I cannot believe that Chain Runners has been released for over a year! Seems like just yesterday that Mid posted the following message in the Blitmap Discord—it’s crazy to think how far Chain Runners has come since his post, seen below.

One thing I find fascinating is the “breadcrumbs” that have led Chain Runners holders over to the Blitmap community. This phenomenon is a testament not only to the fact that the founding team coalesced in the Blitmap Discord server, but also to the way they strategically employed Blitmap traits in the Chain Runners project. Knav echoed this observation in our interview.

“In many ways this is the promise of CC0,” he said. “I feel quite good whenever I see somebody who started with Chain Runners join the Blitmap community because they became familiar with Blitmap through our project. Dom has always been extremely supportive of us, and clearly Chain Runners got a boost from being associated with Blitmap, so it just feels good to see the interaction between the two projects.”

This is a core tenet of CC0: driving awareness—and ultimately value—back to a project by granting holders the freedom to use those assets in any way imaginable. It’s exciting to see these experiments and ideas around intellectual property play out in real time!

NiftyPins is a member of the Blitmap community and a comms professional—you can find him frequently hanging out in the Blitmap Discord or on Twitter at @niftypins.

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