The Orthoverse Goes Heraldic
This weekend, for a break, I read all about heraldry.
FTL;DR: Orthoverse tokens now each have their own heraldic shield.
Heraldry is defined by Wikipedia as, “a discipline relating to the design, display and study of armorial bearings”, and by me as “those colorful shield thingies that you see on old buildings in Cambridge”. I never realized how formalized the construction processes of those escutcheons (see — I learned a new word) adorned with unicorns or lions actually are.
There is a whole language and grammar for the creation of a crest, with rules determining what color combinations are and are not allowed, and an obscure vocabulary with terms such as “charges”, “ordinaries”, “bend sinister” and so on. There have even been court cases where noble families sued one another for trying to appropriate their coat of arms.
Being the computer nerd that I am, I wrote a program to generate coats of arms. Not just one. Nine thousand one hundred and seventy three of them, to be precise, because I like large numbers. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on generative art, and of course this is, again, a work of generative art. But what to do with it?
There’s plenty in heraldry to spark an entirely new and individual NFT project in its own right, tapping into the the desire of some people to have a crest of their own. But that seems a rather one-dimensional NFT project to me (like most art and collectible projects out there, although at least it’s not a straight-up copy of an existing one-dimensional animal profile picture NFT project with the images flipped or some nonsense like that). So what to do?
Slap it onto the Orthoverse, of course!
Because land and castles is not enough. We need titles, and crests, and cabbages and kings!
Playing kings and queens
And so, tokens now support their own heraldry. If you have an Orthoverse token that you have leveled up, go to the Orthoverse.io site and you’ll see your crest displayed. Or you can visit OpenSea, if you must. View your token, hit refresh metadata (the curly-arrow button) … and reload the page. Because “poll for refresh” is beyond the technical capabilities of that $4 billion dollar company.
People seem to want to know what the practicalities and impacts on their token are — I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked, “But what does the level of a token actually mean”, and the answer “it puts a bigger castle on your land” didn’t cut it, apparently.
There are now three categories of tokens:
- Level 0: commoner, or landlord. No shield.
- Levels 1 through 3: the upper classes, consisting of steward, squire, and knight. You are randomly assigned assigned a shield consisting of geometric divisions and you keep it until you go past level 3.
- Levels 4 through 7: the nobility, consisting of baron/baroness, earl/countess, duke/duchess, and king or queen. When you level up your token from 3 to 4, the shield will change to one that has an animal on it.
- From earl onward a crown is also added to the shield, getting bigger and fancier as you rise through the ranks.
No two tokens should have the same shield.
If you flip your token into futuristic mode, the shield remains the same. Why? Because even the future will have heraldic shields. Just look at Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series for concrete evidence.
And that’s basically it. For tokens that are leveled up the shield won’t appear immediately. I could add some backstory that the “heraldic committee is required to convene in order to allocate the relevant shield”, but in actual fact it is due to a script needing to be run on a regular basis to update the back-end database, which ensures uniqueness of shields per revealed token.
The crowns, on the other hand, are immediately visible. Again, I could claim that this is out of respect to the august position held by such tokens, but in reality it is down to the crowns being non-unique overlays.
If you haven’t leveled up your Orthoverse token, you can do so at the website. If you haven’t revealed your token yet — same link (and shame on you!).
The mechanics of heraldry
The first rule of heraldry is: you do not talk about heraldry to your wife. If you are me. In fact, the rule is more general and applies to any technical construct I find on the web on a Saturday afternoon and that I consider to be fascinating.
The second rule of heraldry is that the color palette is very limited. There are five proper colors, and two metal colors, and they have weird old French-sounding names. Seven colors is not really enough to play with when trying to generate a large number of shields, so I invented a couple more — copper, and brown. To continue with the weird French names I labelled them cuivre and brunâtre.
The second rule is that whereas divisions can be any color combinations, overlays, which are called charges, must be metal-on-color, or color-on-metal. This relates back to medieval battles, where it was best to have light on dark or dark on light to ensure that the shields had contrast, ensuring the identity of the combatants was clearly visible. Charges can themselves be geometric figures, and have another bunch of odd names, like pile, pale, chief, bend and bordure, or they can be symbols or animals.
Because I only produced the animals in copper, silver and gold, creating the noble shields just meant ensuring the underlay was a color rather than a metal. But for the charges (and I selected a group known as the “honorable ordinaries”) I had to carefully cycle through the palette rejecting invalid combinations.
If the unthinkable ever happens, and more than 2807 tokens are leveled up to level 4, I will have to generate colored animals and put them on metal backgrounds. There are six animals in total: deer, eagle, griffon, lion, lion rampant, and wolf, and so making red, blue and green (sorry, gules, azure and vert) versions of them will open up thousands of more crests. I leave the number of extra noble shields that can be generated through this as an exercise for the reader.
In the last final hour of browsing the topic I discovered an article on the crowns that are sometimes added to the top of crests, so I thought I’d throw in a few of them for good measure. Although they look rather fancy, it only took about ten minutes to design them and another ten to put the code in place to add them to the tokens, which is probably an apt metaphor for monarchies in general — initially impressive but ultimately simple.
Finally, I broke one of the cardinal rules of heraldry, and put two copies of each shield on the image of each Orthoverse token, with one mirrored. This is because it looks more aesthetically pleasing that way.
You should always break the rules of art if doing so produces better art.
The mechanics of fomo
Now that I have lost all but the most die-hard fans through a shallow detour into heraldry (I didn’t even get started on the method whereby a blazon: a succinct code-like verbal description of a heraldic shield can be constructed — perhaps that’s something for a later sub-project that can go into the token metadata), I feel that it’s time to pull a Penn and Teller stunt.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Penn and Teller are a pair of magicians who managed to upset the Magic Circle by building their act around performing magic tricks, and then performing them again with the curtains pulled back so the mechanics of the trick are on full display. Their work is entertaining, educational, fascinating, and there’s always a kicker, in that their “reveal” also provides a further, more sophisticated trick at the end that is not explained.
One of my favorite Orthoverse supporters, Demetrio Wazar-Santana, produced this meme that neatly encapsulates one of the problems that an Orthoverse token collector currently faces:
What Demetrio didn’t realize is that as 50% of the Orthoverse marketing, architectural design, and development team, I face exactly the same problem from the other side. I’m like Vizzini (albeit with more hair) facing the Dread Pirate Roberts of project advancement, over a table of iocaine.
- Should I promote revealing tokens? That is akin to growing the user base, and without a larger more diverse growing community owning and subsequently wanting to own Orthoverse more tokens, the project is ultimately going to be doomed. Especially since, until 10 000 tokens are revealed, there is no reason to engage in trading.
- On the other hand, engaging the existing community is vital. If people get bored and wander off to the next shiny thing, then the project loses its champions and knights. There are only so many people I can reach through my own network, and there is a tipping point just over there beyond the horizon, where connections of connections are casually mentioning the Orthoverse to people I have no way of even knowing about let alone communicating with. That tipping point is something the project needs to reach before it has true brand awareness.
So I need to keep the faithful engaged by ensuring the project continues to mature and develop in ways that are interesting and fascinating to them. But I also need new converts, and there is a tight-rope of promotion and development that needs to be walked.
This is, of course, a problem that all modern software startups face until a venture capitalist throws cash at them and invariably tells them to grow the user base. Hence, in true Orthoverse style I have done the opposite, and added more features to, hopefully, delight the existing user base. Walking a tight-rope with a blindfold on is, after all, the Orthoverse way.
Adding heraldry to the existing tokens is definitely a “community engagement” ploy, and a psychologically sound one too. As children we all grew up watching Disney movies about princesses (and the occasional prince) growing up to rule the kingdom, Arthurian legends of knights and the holy grail, and history lessons with vikings, Roman centurions, medieval crusaders, and so on, all with decorated shields. Even the Harry Potter novels mention crests so they must have wide appeal.
What utility do crests add to Orthoverse tokens? None. They are purely decorative, but … they do add something extra that the token owner feels they own. They provide a richer back-story to the whole space, like Tolkien obsessively drawing maps for his Middle Earth. One of the first comments I received on Twitter when pre-announcing them, was “I’ve always wanted my own coat of arms!”, which was a clear indication to me that I might have struck gold with this one.
I’m playing into the “traits” game here — some of the tokens are going to end up being rarer, and more “special”. But unusually, token holders can pay to make their token more special. You don’t normally see that in an NFT project, where the standard way to end up with a “rare trait” is either to luck-out on the minting process, or to drop large bundles of cash on a trade with someone else who lucked-out.
Will it work? Only time will tell, because NFT enthusiasts are a fickle bunch and hard to predict.
As a teenager, I used to spend a lot of my school lunch breaks playing Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of friends who were equally fascinated by computers, mathematics, fantasy novels, and discussing our respective inability to ask the members of the opposite sex in our class out on a date (or indeed the same sex in some cases as it turns out: it was the 80s and that was frowned upon in my old homophobic school).
One of the interesting things about our role-playing game sessions was that the group could be split into two distinct sets. One of players were there to role-play, and I fell into that group. I recognized the necessity for tables and dice to give the game structure, but ultimately, if I was playing a character I would do things that were detrimental to the future success of my character, purely to play the part properly.
The second group would pore over the tables of armor classes and weapon hit adjustment figures in their spare time to determine exactly what the optimal equipment selection for their character was.
It took me a while as a teenager to fully internalize the fact that different people like different things. It’s not just a matter of education, it’s a matter of taste.
And as with a restaurant offering a menu of different dishes to their clientele, it pays for an NFT project to offer a smorgasbord of features, art, and concepts too.
Variety’s the very spice of life,
That gives it all its flavour. We have run
Through every change that fancy, at the loom
Exhausted, has had genius to supply,
And, studious of mutation still, discard
A real elegance, a little used,
For monstrous novelty and strange disguise.
 Did I just compare myself to Vizzini back there? He makes the wrong decision and dies! From this we can conclude but one thing: clearly the Orthoverse is doomed!
 “The Task”, William Cowper, 1785