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Libplanet design

Libplanet is a network/storage library for peer-to-peer distributed multiplayer games. From the perspective of this library's user, it can be similar to a client library of a PaaS for games, except that autonomous nodes run by gamers communicate with each other without any authority of the centralized server.

Under the hood, because we need to prevent malicious nodes in the network from corrupting network autonomy, the library utilizes digital signature, BFT consensus, and data replication, or simply blockchain.

Implementing blockchain and BFT consensus for peer-to-peer distributed multiplayer games is highly complicated, requires a lot of code to be written, and is difficult and tedious to test. For the future of decentralized online games, rather than every single game making such redundant effort, it will be more cost-efficient to make a high quality open source library for commonly performed tasks.

Platform and packaging

Presently, Libplanet is a .NET library in order to be used along with Unity, one of the most popular multiplatform game engines. (We have a long-running roadmap to support other platforms, though.)

However, Libplanet is not only a Unity plugin distributed through the Unity Asset Store, but also a standard .NET library distributed through NuGet. Because, as block mining is indispensable for running a decentralized public network, mining-only headless nodes need to exist besides game clients that also act as nodes. A peer-to-peer distributed multiplayer game based on Libplanet can be packaged as both: a Unity based game application for multiplatform gaming devices (e.g., Android, iOS, macOS, Windows), and a mining daemon runnable on miners' machines (e.g., Linux).

For the maximum compatibility and portability, we currently target .NET Standard 2.0.

Transactions and actions

Every action that happened in a game built on Libplanet should be recorded in the blockchain. Although trivial things like chatting between players could be an exception as these do not affect rules or incentives of a game, actions such as a character's movement, battle, progression (i.e., exp), item drops, reinforcements, breakages, trades, that are non-trivial and affect game states should be recorded to the append-only log. Each log has its own digital signature to prove that the corresponding gamer is responsible.

We call the unit of such pair of log and its signature a @"Libplanet.Tx.Transaction1", and it consists of multiple @"Libplanet.Tx.Transaction1.Actions". How transactions and actions grouped is left to a game engineer's discretion. For example, if there are four actions like A to D, these can be grouped altogether (e.g., {A, B, C, D}), or be into two or three groups (e.g., {A} & {B, C, D}), or rather have their sole group (e.g., {A} & {B} & {C} & {D}).

The primary purpose of separating transactions and actions is to have the flexible granularity of synchronization between nodes in the network. An actor can at most put one signed transaction into a block. A transaction included in a block is confirmed by other nodes in the network when the block is mined. It is also known as consensus in distributed systems.

It takes 5 to 20 seconds to mine a block. It means that if we group four actions A to D into four distinct transactions like {A} & {B} & {C} & {D} it must take 20 seconds to 80 seconds until four actions are all confirmed in the network. On the other hand, if we group the actions into a single transaction like {A, B, C, D} it takes only 5 seconds at best to 20 seconds even at worst.

Does it imply the best practice is to put as many actions as possible into as few transactions as possible? Unfortunately it is not that simple.

Putting many actions into few transactions decreases the immediacy of each action. To other nodes (gamers), it looks like there is no change at all for a while, and then suddenly many things happening at once. Grouping actions into transactions is a balance between throughput and latency, so different strategies should be chosen for the goal that a game aims to.

There is another reason to group actions into transactions besides latency control. It is so that actions made by different players can interact with each other. For example, in a card game, right after a player ends their turn, they need to wait until the opponent ends their turn. Even if it is desirable to increase throughput, it is nonsense to group two turns of actions into one transaction. A player's next turn can start only after the opponent's current turn is determined. From this perspective, a transaction represents a unit of dependency, rather than a unit of throughput.

At a code level, another difference between @"Libplanet.Tx.Transaction1" and @"Libplanet.Action.IAction" is that @"Libplanet.Tx.Transaction1" is not extensible whereas @"Libplanet.Action.IAction" is. By design, an extension point for game engineers is @"Libplanet.Action.IAction". To sum up, @"Libplanet.Tx.Transaction`1" purposes to control synchronization on the network and @"Libplanet.Action.IAction" purposes to implement the actual game logic.

Accounts and addresses

Libplanet creates digital signatures to find which player node made each transaction, without relying on the authority of a centralized server. In the similar fashion to Bitcoin and Ethereum, a transaction is signed with ECDSA, and a pair of each player's sole @"Libplanet.Crypto.PrivateKey" and @"Libplanet.Crypto.PublicKey" used to sign transactions construct an account. Since a pair of keys for an account is chosen at offline, the process of so-called "account creation" can be omitted.

An account can also be identified through the @"Libplanet.Address" which is derived from the corresponding @"Libplanet.Crypto.PublicKey". It is shorter than @"Libplanet.Crypto.PublicKey" and follows the same form to Ethereum's. This means key pairs that have used for Ethereum can be reused for Libplanet-backed games too. For example, a game can raise funding or receive donations through Ethereum and then reward people when the game is released.

Actions and states

Every account starts with an empty state. The current state of the account is determined by actions that belong to the transactions signed by the account along with other actions that refer to the account. This means state is not stored in the blockchain, but only the actions that change the state are.

However, from a game engineer's view, Libplanet probably looks like its blockchain store states as well. Libplanet exposes methods to query the current state of an account by computing the effect of actions under the hood. Since Libplanet's internal workings to calculate states will be further optimized at storage and network levels soon, game engineers are encouraged to use Libplanet's states API rather than implementing a similar function.

Since all state changes need to be represented through actions, every object stored in states should be immutable. Although the storage API accepts mutable objects too, in this way collaborators might not understand that every state change needs to be represented by an action.

A state needs to be serializable as it is transmitted over the network and sometimes cached in storage. Therefore, every game object that represents states must be marked with @"System.SerializableAttribute".

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