Bitcoin has seen two developments in the last nine months, and combine the two together, and we can be in a world where your latest AAA game of the year could be inscribed directly onto the blockchain.
While bitcoin (BTC)’s primary goals have been as a digital currency and, more latterly, a store of value, there are now two (slightly controversial) features that allow data to be stored directly on-chain.
‘Bitcoin ordinals‘ allow data to be inscribed directly into bitcoin’s tiniest unit, satoshis (or SATs), a 100 millionth of 1 bitcoin. The data that can be inscribed on sats includes text, artwork, images, or videos. As an example, this gives bitcoin the ability to be used for non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
But with a hard cap of 4MB, you are limited to what you put out there — if we are talking gaming, we’re limited to perhaps the early 90s for commercial games, which came on a few floppy disks.
So let’s bring in ‘recursive inscriptions‘, and if you pause to think through that name, you may intuitively understand what they are.
Recursive inscriptions can extract existing data encoded in ordinals and can use that data in future inscriptions. This prevents the need to duplicate data in related inscriptions, saving space for more unique data.
By creating a web or puzzle of interconnected inscriptions, which have no limit, recursive inscriptions break the hard cap of 4MB — transforming coding abilities on BTC into a playground with gigabytes to play with.
Put the two together, and you can have files or code of any size immutably inscribed into sats, opening up a fascinating new side to bitcoin that has never existed before.
A History of Ordinals and Recursive Inscriptions
Bitcoin ordinals were introduced in January 2023 by software developer Casеy Rodarmor.
You can think of them much like NFTs in that they draw their value from the inscriptions made on them. However, unlike common NFTs found on other blockchains, bitcoin ordinals are completely on-chain — inscribed directly on satoshis, making them immutable.
This new use case for bitcoin has received a lot of enthusiastic adoption from the bitcoin community, seeing as it unlocks new potential for the cryptocurrency. So far, creators have inscribed text, videos, images, GIFs and even launched NFT collections.
One such NFT collection is the OnChain Monkey which has 10,000 one-of-one images of 2D monkeys. Each monkey is made up of a combination of seven traits: fur, mouth, eyes, clothes, hat, earring, and background.
So far, so NFT, but anything created was limited to its silo of 4MB until June of this year.
Recursive inscriptions work by creating a series of inscriptions, each of which references and utilizes information from inscriptions that had been made earlier.
The referencing is done through a complex call mechanism that allows running of software with bitcoin blocks to function as anchors.
This enables the creation of a more complex data structure that can be stored on the bitcoin blockchain.
Considering that there is no constraint on the number of calls that can be made, the result is an arbitrarily large data structure with more information and data that can sustain the running of software.
This ability to reuse data stored on other blocks by way of recursion could very well eradicate the need to store duplicate file copies, resulting in a significant surge in storage efficiency.
With most of the data already stored on other inscriptions, it has now become easier to create 10k profile picture (PFP) collections such as OnChain Monkeys.
Instead of inscribing each one individually, developers inscribe the fundamental and common traits of all the pieces on a few inscriptions and then inscribe the distinguishing traits for each one while calling on the preexisting ones.
By doing so, creators upload smaller inscriptions that require less space and programmatically render the image, which is faster than uploading the entire image bit by bit.
Courtesy of the interoperability and storage effectiveness brought about by recursion, it opens the door to directly host larger files, like movies, video games, or complex software, on the blockchain.
The Impact of Recursive Inscriptions
Recursive inscriptions have been a ground-breaking advancement from bitcoin ordinals, already a ground-breaking advancement in its own right.
Aside from quashing the size limit, recursive inscriptions have solved some of the major concerns and issues caused by the rise of bitcoin Ordinals.
By allowing for smaller inscriptions that reference other inscriptions, recursive inscriptions have reduced the amount of space needed to store new inscriptions, leaving room for other transactions to be stored on the blockchain.
Uploading smaller inscriptions has also prevented the bottleneck that was experienced when bitcoin ordinals were first launched. As a result of congestion on the blockchain and scarcity of space to store transactions, Binance had to stop bitcoin transactions until its mempool was cleared of the pending 400,000 transactions.
This congestion also increased gas fees making it more difficult and costly to facilitate major transactions on the blockchain.
But recursive inscriptions have alleviated this issue by reducing the size of transactions hence consequently reducing transaction fees.
In addition to solving problems caused by bitcoin ordinals, recursive inscriptions have also opened the bitcoin ecosystem up to films, 3D graphics, or entire software packages on the Bitcoin blockchain.
As such, OnChain Monkey, for instance, has been able to elevate its NFT collection from simple 2D images to 3D animated pieces.
The project has since created a new NFT collection called OCM Dimensions consisting of 300 3D animated Bitcoin Ordinals that were created using recursive inscriptions.
Developers can also store third-party software, such as video games and movies containing gigabytes of data without worrying about the limit.
This potentially puts the Bitcoin blockchain at a similar level with ethereum (ETC) which currently has the largest number of blockchain video games.
Video Games on Bitcoin
Creators in the bitcoin community have been toying with the idea of having video games on the blockchain. This is because, despite being the world’s largest crypto, bitcoin has been seen to have fewer use cases compared to ethereum, which currently hosts the largest number of smart contracts in the world.
Aside from pioneering NFTs and video games, ethereum has become the go-to blockchain for many other utilities including decentralized apps and software. On the other hand, bitcoin has mostly been used to store BTC transactions, a status that has stirred mixed feelings across the community.
The launch of ordinals began the experimentation and research on how to introduce video games on the blockchain. With the 4 MB limit in place, only extremely simple games were able to be added to the chain, and they have been made available to play on the Ord.io marketplace.
However, the vision for video games on bitcoin is much larger with developers looking towards complex 3D video games with higher quality graphics and even a more immersive experience.
Seeing the impact and uses of recursive inscriptions thus far, the community believes that this advancement will be the vehicle that will carry the vision to actualization.
While it is too early to tell — given recursive inscriptions are barely three months old — there have been developments that show that video games might be imminent in the future.
Using recursive inscriptions, Brandon Marshall, an ordinals enthusiast created the first website on the Bitcoin blockchain using recursive inscriptions and HTML.
Marshall shared a HTML template that would enable other developers to do the same even though the website is a simple landing page that could contain a card or a quick bio.
At this speed of discovery, it is only a matter of time before video games show up on bitcoin.
The Other Side of Recursive Inscriptions
Despite holding the door open for other inventions into the bitcoin blockchain, recursive inscriptions come with their set of challenges.
First, while recursive inscriptions reduce the size of single inscriptions, they complicate the process of rendering the final product resulting in a trade-off of performance for efficiency. Due to the calls made to other inscriptions scattered on other blocks, there is an increase in rendering time which increases latency.
This creates the possibility that playing video games on the blockchain might be difficult based on the number of calls made to other inscriptions resulting in a low-quality gaming experience.
Secondly, creating recursive inscriptions is more difficult and complex than it sounds. Calling on other inscriptions requires a lot of care and an in-depth understanding to ensure developers do not impact other transactions or damage the blockchain.
A situation that has emerged from recursive inscriptions is cursed inscriptions where an inscription calls on itself resulting in a loop making it impossible to redeem the inscription, as there would be no way to break the loop.
This kind of inscription could be used to steal funds or execute malicious code on the bitcoin blockchain, threatening the security for which the blockchain is known. Notably, cursed inscriptions are not unique to recursive inscriptions and can also be created from ordinals.
Depending on the use case, however, cursed inscriptions are not entirely frowned upon in the bitcoin community. One embraced implementation is in the OnChain Monkey’s Dimension Collection where both cursed and recursive inscriptions were used.
The efficiency promised by recursive inscriptions has also been put into question. Although each inscription might benefit from these savings, as the system as a whole obtains widespread acceptance and onboards millions of users, the net result of their functioning may increase overall transaction fees.
The mempools of bitcoin could fill up with images, videos, repositories, computer code, and many other kinds of fresh data inscriptions — risking those ordinary users who simply want to make a purchase using bitcoin, who find themselves paying exorbitant premiums as investors bid higher and higher fees to confirm their transaction.
Other than the technical concerns, recursive inscriptions have also attracted criticism for not being as decentralized as bitcoin is structured to be.
Since they rely on Casey Rodarmor’s ordinals theory, which is neither a component of the bitcoin core nor is it activated by network consensus, this technology fails to meet the decentralization requirements for the bitcoin network.
As a result, the community fears that a centralized team of developers might arbitrarily alter settings in the future, interfere with software, or misdirect file storage hashes while maintaining ordinals. This could result in a few people having more power in controlling the platform than is prescribed.
Regardless, the benefits of recursive inscriptions so far outweigh the disadvantages it brings. Given that the technology is still very new, more research into recursive inscriptions and how best to adapt them to some situations inspires hope that it may indeed be the gateway that will usher video games into the bitcoin ecosystem.
Recursive inscriptions are the technology expected to enable the bitcoin blockchain to be employed for far more creative uses than the current state of play.
Some of the community is waiting to launch large 3D video games on the platform, making it comparable to ethereum which currently hosts the most number of games and other software.
However, before this developers have overcome some of the challenges the technology poses including understanding how to implement it well enough to prevent unwanted results like tampering with other transactions.
They will also have to solve issues such as the latency that stems from having to call data from other inscriptions to enable video games and other applications to be rendered more seamlessly.