Neon District Exclusive Interview – Gaming and Beyond with Ben Heidorn

Neon District Exclusive

As part of our CEO Series we give you a Neon District Exclusive interview with Lead Developer Ben Heidorn.

Looking for something grittier than CryptoKitties? You might want to try Neon District, the Ethereum-based RPG trading card game set in a dystopian future. Think cyberpunk meets choose-your-own-destiny. Every decision you make, and every action you take will affect the overall storyline and evolve your character. You’ll begin with a base character and build them up through battles and a series of choices you’ll have to make. These will affect the character traits, experience (XP), attributes, sub-paths, and more.

Learn more about the game here.

Neon District is the product of a team of developers and is being fully funded by Blockade Games, LLC.

We sat down with the lead developer of Neon District, Ben Heidorn, to learn more about the game and what to expect from this dark twist on crypto gaming.

Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved in Neon District. What is your role in the game’s development?

I’ve been developing software for the past decade, and I’ve been playing with cryptocurrency since 2015. I fell much deeper into the crypto rabbit hole last year when Charlie Lee and zd3n  put out a puzzle to celebrate Litecoin’s integration of Segregated Witness, which I spent two weeks on before our team found the answer. From there, I discovered Marguerite, the famous coin artist, through her legendary Bitcoin puzzle, and we worked on a Decred wallet explorer late last year. She recruited me a month later to join the Neon District project as lead developer, and shortly thereafter as the technical lead for Blockade Games.

What has served as inspiration for the game?

All of us have different sources, but most of our shared inspiration comes from the cypherpunk ethos, which takes several cues: playful applications of cryptography, a love of creating and solving puzzles using steganography, the hacker mentality (both to create new things and to seek flaws in existing systems), cyberpunk and steampunk genres, classic card and role-playing games, and our childhood pastimes of night-owl gaming and coding.

Why make this a crypto game on the Ethereum blockchain, instead of a regular game?

Cryptokitties kicked off a new wave of Ethereum applications, and Marguerite and Courtney realized the potential for building games with blockchain assets. We see a really fun opportunity to combine two things we love – RPGs and cryptocurrency – and to explore the limits of full games with on-chain components. Building on Ethereum provides a full trustless system for owning, trading, and bartering assets digitally – something that couldn’t be done before on the Internet. We also believe that by publicizing the assets, that it will open up the door for others to build their own applications and use their cards in ways we haven’t imagined.

The ability to transfer your character into another game entirely is really cool. What sort of games do you think people will be moving their characters into?

I don’t really know yet. I imagine people will want to create their own stores and markets, and run their own side quests or guilds within the Neon District universe. Outside of Neon District, you could pull in the characters and equipment as additional assets in any other game, or even just as a “Proof of Play” mechanism to give new players valuable assets, like an air drop. Age of Rust, a game built with Counterparty assets, integrates cards from both Spells of Genesis and Book of Orbs. CryptoZombies, a Solidity tutorial, shows you how to import a CryptoKitty and merge them with the Zombies, which I find hilarious. The potential is huge for other developers to use Neon District characters in their own games.

Do you believe that blockchain is the future of gaming?

It’s a bit early to tell, but established companies will definitely try new ideas in this space. Idealistically, we’ll see dedicated public blockchains built for this purpose – there’s no real reason
that a company like Blizzard would use a blockchain internally if they already have the rights and options to reuse accounts and user progress across all of their games. The real magic comes from allowing developers to use any available assets without restriction and gamers to actually own their characters and progress, something that a company can’t revoke.

Why should people play Neon District instead of any other crypto games out there, or other comparable RPG games not on blockchain?

I’m a bit biased, but I think we’re creating a kickass universe and game structure. Since we published the white paper, we’ve formed a few collaborations that fit and expand the Neon District world perfectly. We’ll be releasing a series of mini games and additional puzzles leading to and following the official release. Playing Neon District isn’t just playing the RPG – it’s also playing everything else that comes with it, which should be a very unique experience.

Why did Blockade Games decide not to do an ICO?

Ultimately, we want creative control over the direction of Neon District and the company as a whole. We’re going to take a lot of risks and do plenty of unconventional things that would make both individual investors and traditional VCs balk, such as our current puzzle worth 15 ETH.

How do people start playing Neon District? Is there something they need to sign up to?

A player will need to install MetaMask in their browser, and they’ll also need a bit of ETH to purchase a starting character. Once you have the character, you’re ready to play the game. The website will use your Ethereum address (provided and protected by MetaMask) as your account, and you can play the game right from there. If you’re interested in joining the alpha or beta, we’re currently working out the details for the early asset drops.

How many players are you expecting? How has the community reacted so far?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, but we’ve also received healthy constructive criticism, which we’re taking to heart as we develop the game. We’re not sure how many people will play, but we’re planning for at least a few thousand participants at launch, and aiming to grow that community fairly quickly.

Will the game ever evolve beyond crypto? For example, will people who do not own any crypto assets be able to purchase cards and play the game?

We haven’t fully explored this yet, but nothing is off the table. I think it’s unlikely that people will be able to play without interfacing with cryptocurrency in some way, but we might find ways to hide the fact that you’re playing with assets on Ethereum. The exceptions, however, are any mini games that don’t require cryptocurrency to play – those will be accessible to everyone.

How much will players be able to influence the Neon District storyline? Does that affect everyone’s game or just the player’s individual game?

Our plan is for an open-world narrative where the players fill the world and influence the story. Each character has their own history, which the player has free rein to develop as they want. However, the interplay of characters will grow a lot as we build out group games, and guilds and collectives naturally develop. We’ll guide the story through major arcs that affect the entire District, but how the characters react is entirely up to the players, and will impact what course the next story arc takes.

What’s your favourite character archetype so far? Favourite upgrade/sub-path?

My favorite archetype is definitely “The Twins”, solely for the art that Diego created for it – it depicts two characters, one holding a baseball bat with nails driven through, and the other hacking away on a laptop. It feels like my ego and alter-ego combined on a card. We’re still working on all of the upgrades, but the sub-path I personally prefer is The Scientist, partly because I spent my undergrad studying physics and math, and partly because that type is going to have some rad “mad scientist” abilities.

(“The Twins” are pictured below.)

After Neon District is released to the public in May, will there be further features added? Ie. more base characters, more abilities, more sub-paths, etc.

Absolutely. The game that we will initially release is the earliest proof-of-concept we can deliver while still presenting a full game. We have many more characters and equipment to deliver, a few new game modes, and a new card type called “Familiars”, which are companions that join your character in play.

What kind of games do you like to play?

I’m a huge Legend of Zelda nerd, so I’m currently working through Breath of the Wild. I also played Hearthstone for the better part of the past two years. Beyond that, I play a lot of card and board games with friends, and my wife and I play old games on a Raspberry Pi hooked up to our TV.

“The Twins” – two characters from Neon District

Neon District is set for a public release in May.

Thanks so much to Ben for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us at

Check out Ben’s Twitter and the Neon District Twitter for more updates on the game. Dive further into the game by checking out its website and white paper.

Featured image: Twitter

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