Cell Specialisation and the Dimensional Shift

As we are on the brink of the implementation of multicellularity, I believe it‘s time to talk about the issues of scale and the 2D-3D shift.

Don‘t get me wrong, I know that anything three-dimensional is probably far off as of yet. But the transition still has to be considered even for implementing the most basic form of cell bonding.

As of now, as far as I understand, the plan is to have quiet an extensive degree of cell specialisation while still playing in 2D. Then, after the player reaches a certain size, the 2D to 3D transition takes place.

The problem with this order of events, however, is the following: The more complex an organisms body plan - that is its form and its degree of cell specialisation - is, the harder it will be to convert that organism from 2D to 3D.

The following spoiler contains a few failed attempts of mine at formulating some set of rules to convert more or less complex organisms from 2D to 3D:


I‘ve put a lot of thought into this problem over the years and others have done so too. I‘ve seen some similar concepts by other, more talented designers. But I have yet to see one concept which adequately solves this problem.

This is why I propose an alternative order of events: The dimensional shift should come before the specialisation of cells. This way the organisms which would need to be converted would be homogenous blobs made from only one type of cell. The exact shape of the post-conversion blob would essentially be irrelevant. Therefore we would avoid messing up the players complex 2D design with a messy transition. And believe me, with complex designs the transition will almost certainly be messy.

This way we would see simple multicellular colonies while playing in 2D, but we wouldn‘t see any 2D multicellular organisms with specialized cells.

AI multicellulars should probabably be able to reach and maybe surpass the transition size without transitioning. Only once the player reaches this threshhold all species that are at or above should be converted to 3D.

What do you think of this proposition? Do you like its simplicity? Or do you find it unrealistic? Would you rather not miss on some potentially interesting more complex 2D multicellularf gameplay? I‘m interested to hear your thoughts.

(If you think this belongs in the recently started The Aware Editor and Mechanics thread or some other thread which I‘m not aware of please tell me and/or move this post.)

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Ah, I see, I was confused by the earlier part what you meant by needing to talk about this now.

This is exactly my idea to solve the problem. Just do this when moving from placing individual cells to 3D organ sculpting:

  • Convert each cell in the body plan to a point with radius. These will be the initial organs
  • Connect the points with some algorithm
  • Then just switch to a meta ball or convolution surface type rendering

That way the player gets a sort of blob that is influenced by their earlier choices.
They can then edit it with the 3D multicellular editor.

I think it’s too early to switch to 3D before cell rendering (and compound clouds etc.) are ditched. Because otherwise all my points about the difficulties in converting the stage to 3D apply.

So instead the 2D -> 3D transition would happen the first time the player exits the editor after they have been converted over to be a multicellular creature composed of tissues.

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Exactly my thoughts. Maybe the AI unicellular organisms could still be displayed as simple 2D spirtes/particles though. Sprites so small and low-res you would only be able to see a dot. Many multicellular organisms of this size would still feed on unicellular organisms so you would still have to see them as a small multicellular. Maybe they can be displayed as a new kind of particle cloud akin to how plancton would look?

I originally wanted to include this issue of displaying smaller organisms in this thread but thought it would be better if I focused on my proposal about the order of events. But since you brought up the issue of scale and how to display smaller organisms we might as well talk about that too, it‘s very much related to this discussion after all.

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Nunz has been working on actual 3D cells relatively recently. So aside from performance concerns, I don’t think we will need to worry about converting unicellular critters into particles or sprites for early multicellular. Having 3D cells from the get-go should also hopefully make the transition between stages easier as everything will already be there.

Assuming everything works out, I can imagine that the player’s creature might not have to go through any sort of “conversion” and instead just have a new dimension of placement in the editor. That is, instead of placing cells in a top-down editor to make a relatively flat organism, they will now be able to pan the camera completely around their organism, placing cells anywhere.

I do agree with you about the player only being able to specialize after the transition to true 3D, as that is where specific part placement may become more crucial due to the newly introduced angles of play.

When it comes to size as a goalpost, I would personally prefer it being based off of total cell count in the player’s body-plan. I assume that would be relatively simple for the player to understand as a goal.
I’m honestly not confident in size being the progression gate between 2D and 3D however, as it kind of deviates from the previous methods of progression, but that may be a more minor concern.


I think it’s too early to become 3D if you can’t specialize cells without it. In my opinion the player should be only encouraged to add like 3-5 cells of their default cell type before working on specialized cells. The move to tissues and 3D would be around maybe 50 cells (due to performance reasons), at which point the player should definitely have been making specialized cells.

Interesting approach. This surely would avoid the challenge of having to 3Dify a 2D organism. A downside to this however would be that in every playthrough at some point all multicellular organism would be one cell thin pancakes, films if you will. This isn‘t quiet how it was on earth and it would be strange if it played out like this on every single planet.
Additionally, as you already said, many body plans that worked in 2D would be thoroughly messed up by this. Imagine you gave your organism some sort of mouth indentation at the front so it could accumulate food inside. This would be rendered useless when entering 3D space in the way you proposed.

Oh, in this case I missunderstood you earlier on. I thought you agreed that specialisation should occur only after the dimensional transition. Do you think the benefits of early cell specialisation outweigh the additional challenges we will face when working on the dimensional transition?
Or do you disagree with my premise? Do you think the dimensional transition won‘t be any more difficult than it already is by having specialisation occur before the transition?

I think it’s the wrong place to move to 3D tissue sculpting before specializing cells.

If cells are specialized before the flow is much better:

  • Player unlocks multicellularity
  • They place a couple of extra copies, which gives them experience with it a bit
  • They design now their first specialized cell and place it
  • The player keeps adding / tweaking their specialized cells and learning about the system
  • Only now the player moves to a tissue system. The player is already familiar with editing the different tissue types and is familiar with their differences.

I think that is way more smooth and gradually introduces new things to the player.

I don’t know what people are expecting for the 2D to 3D transition to do to their species, but I imagine it can be done relatively easily by just replacing each placed cell with a metaball that has the same radius as the cell, then a little bit of tweaking is needed to determine the connections between metaballs, and maybe shrinking the distances a little bit to not leave gaps.

Things are obviously much more difficult if big creatures aren’t made out of metaballs. But even with a sculpting system, I think you can get a reasonable starting point by replacing the cells with circular blobs of that tissue type, and merging adjacent blobs of the same type.


I don‘t disagree with your opinion that the gameplay flow is better this way. And now that you‘ve layed it out like this, I kind of see that this might be worth the additional complications we will (probably?) face when doing the dimensional transition.
That said, you didn‘t touch the subject of the dimensional transition at all. I agree, the transition should occur at the same time as the conversion of cells into meatballs. But up to that point the cells all were arranged on a plane. Do you agree with @Buckly that we should just leave the organisms flat and open a new dimension? Or do you have any idea of how the planar organisms might be made more three-dimensional?
If you’d just rather not talk about this at the moment that‘s ok too. I‘m just confused as to why you didn‘t mention it.

It’s much easier to just leave it flat and let the player take over, at least in terms of implementation.
If @Nunz has any energy left over after doing the new membrane generation system, then a similar kind of approach could perhaps be adapted to not make the first generation 3D species flat.


Alright, so you agree with Buckly. Thanks for clarifying that.
This approach is a lot simpler and therefore having specialisation before the transition shouldn‘t be a problem. Issue solved.

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Okay so at this point, I believe everyone has a rather loose but expansive idea on how the transition from a cellular colony to a true multicellular creature will play out. However, the exact process is still pretty ephemeral so I have decided to attempt to create a sort of rough draft on how I believe things aught to play out.

From what I recall from previous discussions, the general idea was that in order to achieve multicellularity, the player must hunt down other individuals of their species to bind with until they reach a certain number of cells in their colony. This is a rather simple proposition, but how will we handle it from there?

I have two relatively imperfect ideas on how to handle this.

  1. Upon reaching the requisite colony size, the player’s evolve button will become unlocked (assuming they have the necessary resources.), allowing them to evolve while still bound to other cells and bringing them to the next phase of gameplay.

The problem here is that we may have difficulty communicating this goal to the player when bound evolution was previously impossible. There is a real possibility that players could easily miss this event and unbind their colony to reproduce as normal.

  1. Upon reaching the requisite colony size, the player will unlock a new “junctions” upgrade to their binding agents part. This would require an upgrades system of sorts, as well as a conditional unlocking feature that would permanently grant access to a part once the condition is met. The newly upgraded binding agent would allow players to reproduce while bound in a colony, and bring them to multicelluarlity.

I feel better about this idea compared to the first, but it is far more dependent on alot of features we currently do not possess, and could potentially be rather convoluted to program as a result. There is also still a matter of conveying the conditional requirements to the player’s understanding to worry about.

One more problem I would like to bring up is how we plan to handle the initial amount of cells the player will possess once they reach the multicellular phase. Will it just be one cell? Or will we need to find a way to transfer the player’s current colony into the editor as their new body plan?

Phase 1; Body Plans:
Once the player has fulfilled the beginning condition, the next editor session they enter will have a new layout dedicated to the placement of entire cells instead of organelles. I feel that it is at this point we could introduce the more freeform placement of parts that is intended for later stages instead of the familiar grid that the player has been using until now. The reason for this is that the initial 2D perspective should serve as a great introduction for the player to steadily dip their toes into as the game transitions to the more complex organism editor. It will also be much easier for the system to utilize the dynamically shaped player cells in this manner, instead of trying to fit custom shapes and sizes into a noncustom grid.

At this point the player will have two editor tabs. The Cells and then Behavior tabs. Ideally I would prefer to keep the amount of tabs identical throughout all stages but I don’t know what a 3rd tab would be. The Cells tab is functionally similar to the parts tab, it is where you will select a cell to place onto your organism. This tab will initially feature the player’s initial cell until they create new variants by copying their cell and editing the copy. (Just like the tissue creation I proposed for aware.) The behavior tab will be unchanged, but could potentially include new features relating to an entire organism instead of singular cells.

The transition from this phase to the next could be tricky and there’s a few ways we could do it. I have proposed two potential methods.

  1. Should the transition be based on the number of cells within the player’s body plan?
    This might be the more appealing option as it makes sense that a multicellular creature will become more complex as it has more cells in it’s structure. It will also be familiar to the player at this point as it will mirror the requirement of possessing a certain amount of parts within their organism to progress.

  2. Should the transition be based on the number of specialized varieties of cell within the player’s body plan?
    This method would require the player to have somewhere around 3 specialized cells present within their body plan in order to progress. While not as appealing to me as the first option, this condition would ensure that players have a beginner’s understanding of cell specialization which will become important in the later aware stage.
    Edit: I now realize that this would basically be covered by the later requirement for a neural cell.

Phase 2; The 3D Perspective
After the player has reached the previous condition and reproduced, the next editor session will now be in full 3D perspective, allowing the player to pan over, under, and fully around their organism. Nothing in particular will change aside from the navigation of the camera, as well as the ability to place parts on the top and bottom of your organism. It is at this point that the player has effectively become a fully fledged multicellular organism.

From here, the next condition will be a transition from multicellular to aware which is most likely to include the development of a nervous system. We are going to need to think about how we will classify a cell as a nerve cell in particular, as well as how the player’s positioning of such should be detected or matter.

For now, I would like to see what others think about this general idea.

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I’d prefer it to be explicit “go to next stage”, like an additional button that appears above the normal editor button, to highlight that something big is going to change.
Though, if the early multicellular editor is simple enough and doesn’t yet the force the player to, it might be fine to not tell the player. But then the explicit new button would also serve as a way to tell the player “hey, your colony is big enough now”. And also the idea is that the editor button is explicitly disabled (cells won’t grow) in a colony.
So all in all, I think that a separate, go to multicellular stage button is better.

I think a single cell is good. This is also the perfect time to show a tutorial that asks the player to place a second copy of their default cell in their body plan.

I have a problem with this: the later sculpting of tissues, is really different from placing single cells. I think the hex layout (where each hex represents a cell, or maybe multiple hexes for bigger cells?) is preferrable to not require us to write an intermediate editor. Though, we might have to do this anyway if we want to have different cell types take different amount of space.

The early multicellular species will still be rendered as individual cells, so this is not a concern really. At that point we’ll have the working cell rendering code which will be used.

Will creating the cell types be the third tab then?

I find this approach better, as we can show like a good progress bar and it’ll be easy to understand. Also the idea is to move away from cell rendering when the game can’t handle too many more cells on screen at once.

I find this pretty arbitrary. I’d imagine that the player would have more specialized cell types than 3, when they would hit the size condition. So I don’t like this approach and also think 3 is too low of a number.

I think this should be coupled with the change to tissue types. So once the player hits a thresshold of cells in their body plan, they’ll have a button to go macroscopic. This is because I still fear that our cells will never fully look good from all angles. So to me it makes very much sense that you would couple moving to 3D with switching to tissue editing.

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Hmm curious, I was under the impression that such an explicit “advance” button was unwanted so I was thinking of ways to avoid having such a thing. It’s a little on the nose, but having such an alternate button reveal itself when the time comes would be fine by me.

I was thinking that the single cells would be converted to tissues once you hit that point but I am not confident about how that would work out.
You are right about avoiding making a specialized “intermediate” editor but it is also important to consider that a hex layout might be rather awkward in a 3D environment as opposed to 2D. This is certainly something to be discussed in greater detail eventually.

My concern here was that the player’s cell could take on many shapes and sizes which wouldn’t fit into a uniform grid. Of course, I now realize that the current cells do infact already fit into a uniform grid (atleast in 2D) so I suppose this is a moot point.

My idea is to basically allow the player to enter the microbe editor and edit the chosen cell directly via clicking tabs/buttons located near or on each icon representing a cell. This is exactly like the tissue editor I proposed for aware, and effectively mirrors the other in function. The only difference is that you will be placing single cells instead of tissue. I am unsure what making a new tab for this would achieve. Unless you mean a new evolution screen tab, and not just an editor tab specifically.

Hmmm if I recall correctly, Narotiza may have pondered a bit on a way we could have visible cells in a larger multicellular critter.
We could potentially “cheat” a bit and give the organism’s parts a bumpy texture that would effectively mimic the appearance of a large amount of cells in a cluster, while remaining as one physics body, bone, joint, whatever. The effectiveness of this would definitely depend on the talent of our artists though. Infact, I think I actually saw a graphics artist post a 3D texture of something exactly like this a while back before disappearing into the void, and I cannot for the life of me find it.

Edit: Narotiza Found it.

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I suppose I should put my 2 cents into this.

When it comes to the actual transition from a 2D arrangement to 3D arrangement, I find at that point MetaBalls/Convolution Surfaces will be the most intelligent method for us to use since I figure the troublesome mechanics of constant cell division will not be an observable thing by then. I forsee it working something like the code I have for cells where it finds patterns in the hex grid but, instead of plopping a predetermined shape on top of certain organneles, it will place a MetaBall object scaled appropriately to certain clusters of cells in the colony.

I can draw/map this out later if anyone wants.


My point is that the change to 3D happens at the same time as the move to tissues. So there’s never a time when the player is controlling, from a 3D perspective, a flat disk of cells.

If the cell editor is not a separate tab, I feel like it might be too restrictive for the player if they want to refer quickly back to the body plan and then go to the cell editor again. Having it be a separate tab allows that really nicely.
Also in your idea, how does the player go back from the cell editor back to the early multicellular editor?

This would be the intelligent way the code could work.
I think that people would be happy enough (initially, so the game can progress) with plobbing just uniform metaballs at each of the existing cell points. So the code could be very simple to go from 2D to 3D.


Okay so after a bit of discussion I think we have a better idea on how things will play out. I’m gonna go ahead and lay it out the revised rough draft of progression.

In order to begin, the player must reach a specific colony size. Once this size is reached, a new progression button will reveal itself near the evolve button. This button will allow the players to choose when they are ready to move on, of if they want to continue playing as a colonial cell. We should probably figure out an exact number of cells required, but that isn’t an immediate concern.

Phase 1:
Entering the editor after using the new button, the player will be brought to the early multicellular editor where their entire cell now acts as the initial part.
From here, the player will be able to place down entire copies of their cell instead of proteins and organelles to form a bodyplan. This editor will possess 2 tabs; The cells tab where the player selects their parts, and the behavior tab.
This editor will include a new feature that will allow the player to create new variants of their species’ cells for specialized purposes. By clicking the corresponding buttons located on the cell icons within the editor, the player’s part window will be temporarily transformed into a miniature cell editor where they can clone or directly edit each of their cell types. Once done, they can save their cell and exit the cell editor to return their view of the cell tab where they can place down their newly created specialized cell.

The editor itself will likely use the same grid placement layout as the microbe editor at this stage to avoid having to create an intermediary placement method for what is essentially a transitory and intermediate phase. I would personally prefer a more freeform placement method at this point in order to help players grow accustomed to it before moving to full 3D editing, but at the same time I can understand that it would be a lot of work best used elsewhere.

Once the player has reached a certain amount of cells or parts in their organism, they will move on to phase 2.

Phase 2:
At this point of multicellularity, the organism will no longer be comprised of visibly distinct cells. Instead, the player’s part layout will be converted into a sculpted torso section comprised of tissues corresponding to the specialized cells they possessed previously.
The editor will now provide a fully 3D view where the player will sculpt their organism using their specialized tissues as materials. This is where the multicellular stage will remain until the player manages to form a sufficient neural structure within their organism, thus proceeding to the aware stage.

Does this seem right? There are definitely some features we will need to figure out how to pull off but I think having a good idea of the general layout will be really helpful. Again, let me know if this is a suitable plan, or if there is anything disagreeable or missed.


It seems about right, though I I’m still of the opinion that the cell editor should be like a sub tab in the early multicellular editor, as it would be nice to be able to refer back to the body plan without having to save the changes. Though, that might be a bit more work as the cell editor GUI needs to be reworked to work as a sub GUI like that. So maybe this is something to leave for later.

This could be put in the backlog, but I think we should leave it outside the scope of the initial implementation, so that it is faster to make, and requires less design work.

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That’s actually what I was trying to convey in the post, but instead of being an entirely seperate tab in the editor, clicking the edit buttons on the cells/tissues would replace the parts selection window with the microbe editor so you could still view your bodyplan as you describe.
My issue with using a full-on seperate tab as you describe is that it would just be a more awkward way to do it. I am assuming that it would work by selecting a cell in the cells tab and then moving over to the edtior tab? Anyway, I agree with you regardless.

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