Originally from a Slack discussion, copied here so we can continue in public.
Tjwhale where did you get with your combat mechanics concept?
What do you mean about combat mechanics concept? I think we're all agreed (right?) that there'll be pilli and agents and you'll swim around stabbing and spraying things to damage and, hopefully, kill them. Agents will be coded to only work on certain organelles in certain species (bit masks ala moopli) so you'll need to make sure you have the right ones for the job.
Personally, and this is more about preference than anything, I think the combat should be quite fast. Think more like bullet hill twitch gameplay with pausing to sort out whether you have the right agents loaded (if that's even how agents work) or to turn on and off internal processes (if we have that, like turning off protein synthesis in a fight to save atp - this is the basis of the movementless prototype I made so I guess it blends the playstyles well). So a life might be as little as 10-30 seconds and you just madly rush around trying to get enough compounds to reproduce. It's a race against time more than an RPG where you spend hours playing one life and caring for it carefully.
But as I say none of this has been discussed (and I totally understand other people may want a completely different, slower, more thoughtful, style). Pilli and agents yes, how it will feel to play them (and precisely how they will work) not finalised.
I was playing Reassembly last week, and that feels a lot like how the cell stage could play. It's fairly fast paced, both in game, and in terms of editing and improving your ship between plays. More importantly to me, the 'galaxy' your playing in feel very alive, there's multiple other factions with various designs of ships going about their business, and resources are generated by the green plantlike things you see growing on asteroids, so there's an element of territory control involved.
Not all of this translates well into a game about microbes, but if we can capture that feeling of business, and a continuous process of redesign, I think that might be fun.
Sometime last year we were discussing how what the player does should feed back into auto-evo. We never really came up with an answer, but one of my suggestions was that it shouldn't, that playing should function as a way for the player to experience their creature, and that it should be the player's experience that feeds back into how they evolve their creature, with what they actually achieve in game being of relatively little consequence, outside of gathering resources to reproduce, and possibly new organelles. This would work fairly well with reassembly's gamestyle, or what tjwhale suggests above, with relatively quick games where you simply experience life as your cell.
I meant more along the lines of how pili, agents, etc. would be used. Would it be as simple as just going along to an enemy and pressing a button to stab them with a pili if they're within range? Things like that.
Personally I'm not partial to a "rush around trying to get enough compounds" sort of gameplay, but as you say we all have different opinions so it's difficult to say what it should actually feel like. Spore's cell stage aesthetic (minus the eyes, squeaky voices and twirly dances) was actually pretty good in my opinion. Sometimes you'd be running away from predators but at others you'd just be collecting food, which gave a balance to the two levels of engagement. It was both "floaty" and tense, but not always rapid.
I like the idea of having an alive-feeling environment. There needs to be a lot going on within relatively short distances, but for me not all of it should be out to get you. The player could choose to get involved if they want, but I think they shouldn't be forced into constant hair-raising situations. Perhaps certain attack or survival strategies would lend themselves to different speeds of gameplay, which would cater for both. Large photosynthesising microbes probably wouldn't have much to worry about from most predators so gameplay would be nearly leisurely, while small agile predators with agent attack methods would have to both hunt prey and avoid larger predators, making their experience far more involved.
I agree it shouldn't all be hostile. Some cells will be too small, they'll run away from you, but probably not be worth the effort to go after, or they might be entirely passive if they 'know' your won't bother them. Others will be autotrophs, or too big to bother with you, and yet others will be largely immobile, even though they might eat you if you get too close.
I do like the idea of having very short sessions be an option, though they shouldn't apply to all species (it definitely wouldn't work for proto-plants). Maybe highly r-selected species would reproduce very quickly, and in large numbers of small/weak cells, so that a gameplay session only lasts <1 minute... the risk there is that this becomes very repetitive. Equally on the longer end, if it takes 4-5 minutes of fairly monotonous gameplay (like the recent versions) to reproduce, you'd wish for something shorter. We need to find a balance of having enough to do, and it being interesting enough to spend the time doing it.