Visiting an Exquisite Land

Intro to Exquisite Land

Exquisite Land is a project of, a “publishing collaborative” (and I have met most of them through previous online conversations). More about the history of the creation of Exquisite Land can be found on the game page and numerous design and build sessions posted on their YouTube channel. When I saw that this group was working on a project involving Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), I was interested because I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how any of this cryptocurrency stuff works in practice.

How Does it Work?

Exquisite Land is an art game where participants are granted control of individual tiles of a larger canvas. Once they have control of the tile, they are presented with a pixel art UI and can draw a 32x32 pixel section that will be placed in the selected location on the canvas.

In order to prime the pump when the canvas is blank, there are “seed tokens” which can be used to grant control of a particular starting tile. At the moment, these are manually created by the project administrators, but this could be replaced by an automatic system in the future. There has been some discussion in the Buzzard conversation videos about the way in which the seed tokens are distributed and how that could influence the initial conditions of the canvas, a little like Conway’s Game of Life.

Pixel art tile depicting two creatures partying in a pool and diving for treasure.

My tile

After someone has drawn a tile, they receive a set of coin images representing neighbouring tiles that allows that person to share access to those tiles to other people if they want to do so (the holder could also use the coins themself). A neat drag-and-drop interface allows visitors to the site to drop the coin image into a slot on the website and obtain control of the associated tile.

Over time, the participants in the test canvases have made collaborative digital quilts which even seem to evolve their own stories over time. The game does not currently provide a direct incentive to players to collaborate, but I did notice that people tended to make tiles that fit with their surroundings. Some people drew tiles which heavily implied what their neighbour should look like and most of the time people played along quite easily. Because everyone involved needs to be invited, everyone is a friend of a friend. Fortunately that has meant that moderation or alteration of the art has not been necessary so far.

Behind the scenes, the equivalent of an API server is provided by a “smart contract” which doles out the appropriate NFTs to each participant’s “wallet” along the way. The creator of each tile on a canvas is cryptographically verifiable and there are currently some discussions going on about how collective ownership of an entire canvas might be handled. While these tiles and canvases may or may not be meaningful to the participants, it’s an interesting way to explore the handling of collective ownership that could be applied to other projects in the future.

As someone who has drawn a couple of tiles while the game was being built, I thought the experience was pretty fun!

Learning About Crypto

There is a lot of stuff in the cryptocurrency community that seems totally bogus at first glance. That being said, the technology and community structures being developed are pretty thought-provoking. Using NFTs as participation trophies or proof of fractional ownership of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) starts to make some interesting things possible that otherwise might require corporations and shares and contracts and a lot of lawyers. Maybe some of those would be a good idea if you want to try anything important, though? A lot of the details of how crypto ideas interact with the real world still seem unclear and unfortunately will vary from place to place just as laws do for everything else. Privacy is another concern – if you don’t want people to know every detail of every financial transaction you’ve ever made, for example.

My tour through Exquisite Land watching the Buzzard team and their friends build it from the ground up gave me a better understanding of the use of cryptocurrency for interesting projects. I am looking forward to finding out more about the details as time goes on!