Comprehensive Combat Revamp

COMBAT

In accordance with the roadmap, a combat revamp is due for 0.6. Here is a comprehensive plan on how we can make player interactions with the AI very engaging, broken down in a way that I think is comprehensive and self-containing. I introduce a few new concepts, but most of this is more of a reorganization of thought than anything.

Combat in Thrive can broadly be thought of as any interaction between the player and other cells, but it is most directly expressed through physical confrontations between the player and the AI, usually via predation.

What Makes a Good Combat System?

Using the resource linked above, most games with great combat systems usually have these qualities…

  1. Abilities - Various fun and distinct powers given to the player.
  2. Enemy Archetypes - Different varieties of enemies with their own abilities.
  3. Risk and Rewards - Benefits and risks associated with abilities applied to the above two elements to provide a layer of strategy.

Risks and Rewards

I’ll address this first because it is applied across the other two qualities. Risks and rewards essentially present a balance and strategy across the abilities a player or enemy have. “Rewards” can be thought of as desirable effects for a player, such as damage inflicted, stuns, damage over time, and other effects that generally leave the player in a better position against their opponent. “Risks” on the other hand can be thought of as the trade-off which comes with the benefit. For example, certain abilities might require a cooldown, might cost a resource, or might leave you vulnerable to being attacked, or might otherwise weaken you. As such, the player must consistently gauge which ability is the best one to use in a given situation.

Good combat games set up their risks and rewards so that players often have to consider these factors in deciding how to approach their enemy…

  • Distance - How far away am I from the enemy? How close to the enemy’s threat will I end up if I perform an action?
  • Time - How long will it take to set up this ability? How long can I use this ability? How long am I vulnerable to attack?
  • Anticipation - What is this enemy vulnerable to? What combination of abilities will help me the most in my situation?

Abilities

Abilities are the tools with which players engage in combat with their enemies. They should be be distinct enough to warrant that certain abilities are better used in certain situations, but viable enough that all abilities are able to achieve the desired result.

Enemy Archetypes

Most good combat games have different types of enemies which have different abilities, warranting unique responses from the player. It is important that these enemies have clearly defined options for the player to both attack and defend themselves from the enemy’s abilities. Using the previously mentioned resource, here are some common enemy types…

  • Normal - The default enemy.
  • Speedy - These enemies are fast, but usually are more delicate.
  • Shield - These enemies are able to block damage, but have vulnerable spots.
  • Heavy - These enemies dish out and take a lot of damage, but are oftentimes slow.
  • Ranged - These enemies are able to dish out damage across a wide distance, but are rather vulnerable up close.
  • Bombers - These enemies dish out a large amount of damage if they get close to the player, but are otherwise useless and perish when attacking.

I’ll list a few games that I have played and personally think have good combat systems, and their features organized into the above three traits…

  • Batman: Arkham Series: Batman’s default ability is traditional fist-fighting combat which can be used at any time. He can use various special unique abilities if he has high enough of a combo, such as a finisher move. He also has various gadgets with their own unique and situational abilities, such as batarangs which can be thrown, a voice synthesizer which can trick the enemy, and a smoke grenade which can make him disappear. If Batman uses a combo ability, he must chain another combo to get another combo ability, and if he gets hurt, he loses his combo. Many of his gadgets also have a cooldown. There are heavy enemies, speedy ninjas, enemies with riot shields, enemies with assault rifles, normal enemies who fight with their fists, and snipers. Each are more vulnerable to certain abilities: riot shield enemies are hurt by a specific combo, heavy enemies require a certain move to take damage, and enemies with guns can be disarmed by a specific gadget that has a cooldown.
  • God of War: Kratos has two weapons: an axe that can be thrown and retrieved like Thor’s hammer and two blades chained to his arms. The axe has a frost effect and is more damaging to fire-elemental enemies, and dishes out heavy damage up close. The blades has a fire effect and is more damaging to frost-elemental enemies, and dishes out less damage but has a much wider area of effect. Kratos can attach two powerful runic attacks to each weapon, but they have cooldowns and can leave Kratos vulnerable for a bit, so you must time them properly. He has a sidestep dodge which doesn’t cover a lot of distance but lets him attack immediately, and a rolling dodge which covers a lot of distance but doesn’t let him attack as quickly. There are heavy enemies, ranged enemies, bomber enemies, speed enemies, shield enemies, and normal enemies.
  • Ghost of Tsushima: Jin has a short dodge and a long dodge, and a light quick attack and a slower heavy attack. There are 4 stances; one works best against swordsmen, one works best against shields, one works best against spears, and one works best against heavies. Attacking an enemy without the right stance debuffs damage, meaning the player has to constantly switch across stances. There are also archers.

COMBAT IN THRIVE

Things to be Mindful Of…

  1. The Player and AI Have Access to the Same Tools - Both the player and AI have access to the same abilities, so they must be properly balanced across the two. Perhaps we might buff AI abilities in the future if balancing for the player makes the AI too weak, but for now, things appear to be working fine like this.
  2. Choice Through the Editor - The player makes their choices through the editor, meaning they can decide at any moment to adapt or ditch an ability. Balancing should be mindful of this, so that the player can’t easily have every single ability at hand.
  3. Grounded in Science - We obviously can’t attach guns and jet-engines to cells. Everything we add must be grounded in nature and fact.

Advantages…

  1. Dynamic Archetypes - Realistically, the AI and player can be multiple archetypes at once. You can be a speedy-ranged cell, a shielded heavy, a ranged heavy, etc. If we are able to emphasize this customization so that cells have the options of specializing into a specific archetype or blending abilities to create their own archetypes, this will spell out amazing news for combat replayability.
  2. It’s All Relative - We are heavies to flies but speedies to elephants. If we ensure that these archetypes work loosely like a spectrum, one playthrough can vastly differ from the next depending on the player’s choices.
  3. Easy to Manipulate - Because the player is able to explicitly place whatever parts they want, they can clearly define what combat niche they want to fill. They can also choose to adapt a niche whenever they want.

Disadvantages

  1. Explicit Archetypes are Difficult - We should be wary of allowing most cells the ability to adapt all abilities. If every cell has every ability, then the result could be a messy system with limited replayability.

Archetypes

Currently, we honestly don’t see that many AI cell archetypes for the player to hunt or engage in combat with. I think we should try to ensure that atleast these types of cells show up…

Default

Default cells are a bit difficult to define because the whole idea of evolution is that nothing is a default, but we should define which abilities are accessible by all cells. Default cells should be able to present some threat, but should largely be predictable. Thrive establishes engulfment as a default tool capable of being used by most cells, and I think that is fine. Because engulfment is very powerful, it forces the player to consistently pay attention, but it is such a close range weapon that the player can easily avoid being engulfed.

I think pilus-bearing celsl may also be considered “default” because of how much overlap there is between engulfment and the pilus (perhaps the pilus is a “brawler” archetype).

Ranged

Cells able to inflict damage across a wide distance. This role will likely be taken up by cells who utilize toxicity. Ranged cells likely should have a decent cooldown so that players are able to time their attacks. The optimal strategy in fighting against ranged cells is learning its cooldown and adapting immunity, though the extent of the latter option should be limited so that the player isn’t able to nullify every type of shooter.

We already do have toxins in game, but the problem is that these toxins aren’t very effective because the projectiles are rather slow and have a very small hitbox. Toxins also only show up in one form so they are rather easy to predict. Existing concepts for methods of delivering toxins should do a good job of defining this role, making toxin cells more threatening.

Ranged Abilities:

  • Toxin Clouds: Accessible by both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, the default method of transmitting toxins will be through expelling clouds in an area around a cell. This cloud should probably move somewhat quickly through the environment and should linger, but it definitely should dissipate quicker than other compound clouds. Modifications should focus on providing customization for the total area covered by a toxin and total damage potential, with a tradeoff between the two occurring. So toxins which spread across a wide area should inflict less damage, while toxins which spread across a smaller area should inflict more damage. Toxin clouds aren’t very stealthy and only have a set range of effect, so they can be countered by speed, alongside with immunity.
  • Nematocysts: Accessible only to eukaryotes, these probably will be the closest thing to a pure projectile in Thrive after the toxin rework. Instead of a toxin cloud, nematocysts will essentially be rapidly extendable stingers which get discarded after use and eventually get replenished. I think the player should be able to modify the length of their stingers, with longer stingers having greater range but having slightly less damage and a longer cooldown, and shorter stingers having less range but slightly more damage and a shorter cooldown. Cooldowns should take some amount of time regardless to prevent spamming, which is a balancing act we can determine upon implementation. Alongside immunity, nematocysts can be countered by whatever we implement as a “shield”.
  • Mucilage: Accessible to bacteria and eukaryotes, these will work similar to toxin clouds, but will instead slow down movement of affected cells rather than inflicting damage. Similar to toxin clouds, mucilage clouds should be able to move through the environment somewhat quickly and should linger, but should dissipate quicker than other clouds. Modifications should probably provide an exchange between the potency of the effect, spread of cloud, spread speed, and cooldown time.

I’d like to add that pseudopodia might be considered a range archetype if eventually implemented as a substantial weapon, but having the above three options should serve as a good base.

Heavies

Cells that are able to absorb and dish out a lot of damage, but aren’t very agile. They should be rather difficult to take head on, requiring consistent firepower and strategy to approach, but the player should be able to run away from them. This role is a bit harder to define in Thrive because we separate the “attack” from the “defense/health”, but there are various ways in which we can approach it…

  • Attach Size to Health - We previously had discussions about this, resulting in the nucleus halving damage from bacteria, but I seriously think we should have further conversations and more strongly consider this. We should make it so that bigger cells are able to absorb more damage, so that players have a “heavy” archetype to be on the lookout for.
  • Buff the Health Bonus From Membrane Rigidity - I (and most other players I think) universally go for a more fluid membrane because the HP bonuses are too weak to justify the cost in speed. We should make rigid membranes grant more HP.

We can consider finding an ability which dishes out a lot of damage but comes with a heavy cooldown/a lot of mass, but I think even adding health bonuses would do great things to create a “heavy” enemy archetype. Ultimately, I think we would benefit from having certain creatures that a player should absolutely stay clear of. I’m not really scared of other cells in the game because I know we all have the same HP, so I feel like I have no true predators.

Shielded

Slightly different from heavies in that they still have “normal” HP and don’t necessarily inflict a lot of damage as well, but are able to completely nullify attacks with a “shield” of sort. They should have an external part which completely nullifies damage, but they should still be vulnerable in other areas. This shield should also slow their movement, and likely, their resource absorption.

There are no current analogues to the shielded enemies (pilus can deflect toxins and deter engulfment but that isn’t really their main purpose). I’m sure we can find a real-life adaptation which serves similar roles as a shield. For example, thecal plates (found on dinoflagellates) are plates of either cellulose or polysaccharide microfibrils which protect dinoflagellates from external damage.

Speedies

Able to whip around the map at considerable speed, these cells are lightweight and difficult to catch, but are usually rather delicate. These enemies should be difficult to target with abilities, but should be rather low in HP so that once they are caught, they can easily be damaged.

Flagella and cilia are currently implemented. We should emphasize their upgrades to reflect this archetype. Attaching HP to health can also reflect this archetype as well; you want to stay small if you want to be speedy, unless you want to spend a lot of energy on flagella, so speedy cells would naturally have less HP.

Mucilage jets, which will be implemented soon, will also serve this role and will likely be the most discrete example of this archetype. When conceptualizing upgrades for mucilage, we should have this archetype in mind.

“Bombers”

I put this in quotation marks because I really doubt that a bomber-archetype as seen in most games would actually evolve (that is, an animal literarily evolved to die), but I think we can still somewhat simulate them through the toxin system. We have concepts for endotoxins - toxins which aren’t ejected but are instead generated internally as a deterrent to predation. Perhaps we can make it so that upon death, these cells can rapidly expel their toxins.

These enemies should be able to inflict a lot of damage upon death, but should be rather delicate and otherwise should not have many abilities. We can make this so by defining endotoxins an ATP-intensive adaptation, so that it is harder to adapt more combative traits. Players should be able to combat them by either avoiding them, attacking at range, or adapting immunity.

Abilities

Eventually, I think we should implement these abilities. I think anything else should be a bonus to combat, but these should be the baseline

Default

  • Engulfment - High-risk, high-reward default ability.
  • Pilus - Allows damage to be inflicted in close-quarters.

Ranged

  • Toxin Clouds - Great area of effect, but not very fast.
  • Nemotocysts - More unpredictable and quick than toxin clouds, though with a smaller area of effect.
  • Mucilage - Similar to toxin clouds but slows down cells instead, allowing traps and quick engulfment.

Heavy

  • Size - Connecting HP to size will create threats the player should avoid.
  • Membranes - Enhancing the HP-bonus effect of membranes and membrane rigidity.
  • High-Damage High-Cooldown Part(?) - Whatever this is, should have a sizable cooldown.

Shielded

  • Thecal Plates - Should block all damage from a direction, but prevents engulfment and compound absorption so that players can’t just encase their whole cell with no detriments.

Speed

  • Flagella - Constant but energy-intensive speed bonus.
  • Cilia - Decent constant speed bonus, strong agility bonus, energy-intensive.
  • Mucilage Jets - Less energy-intensive, strong speed bonus, limited time.

Bomber

  • Endotoxins - Damage-intensive yet avoidable and purely defensive.

Ultimately, we don’t need much to create a solidly engaging combat system. The good thing is that our game isn’t necessarily a beat-em-up/brawler. So if we implement a combat system that is decently replayable, that would mean great things for this project. The above breakdown is built on good fundamentals, and I think is a well-informed approach to making cell-to-cell interactions very fun.

4 Likes

An archetype system is interesting, and I suppose plays into a similar role as biological niches so I can see how this way of thinking can still apply to Thrive.

I agree the rigidity needs more going for it, but I feel like just adding more health isn’t the way, especially in tandem with the idea of health tied to size. Instead, increasing the physical defense might be a more preferable solution.

I’m gonna have to disagree with this. Endotoxins should not be more expensive to maintain than the other options (In comparison to other toxin methods). Quite the opposite infact as you won’t have to worry about replenishing toxins over time.

I think being poisonous to eat fills out it’s own niche just fine, and gives players something more to be weary of should they be blindly eating everything in their path. I don’t think there is an express need to try and mold this particular feature into your orthodox “bomber” archetype.

That can definitely work. Having rigidity increase HP and size correlate with HP would probably lead to bloated health bars, so this can minimize that. But it definitely needs to be substantial enough to justify a loss in mobility.

I just worry about having literarily everything become poisonous and inedible if endotoxins are made to not be resource intensive. If it doesn’t take a decent effort to maintain, it becomes less of a unique adaptation and more of a default. Unless of course we attach some other detriment to it.

I think it would be fun if alongside being toxic to consumption, cells with endotoxins release their toxins in a cloud upon death. This will visually emphasize their toxicity to the player and creates more potential interactions. But it isn’t necessary if people feel it becomes too gamey.

Very interesting proposal, although I’d like to point out a very essential element: your references are combat games, where it is generally agreed that the point is to kill enemies. In Thrive, the fight is not always a given! One may, as an example, decide to flee heavies; but at the same time, speedies might flee the player instead. Conversely, cells may attack unexpectedly.

This has to be kept in mind: enemies not only have to be defeated, but they also have to be engaged (or not). If no interesting engagement happens, it will be boring to the player. Conversely, if the player can’t help and is always engaged, it might be a difficult situation (but that would be e.g. the main activity in plant gameplay).


Small remarks on the rest:

  • membranes can offer specific damage reduction, so that can count as shielded;
  • a viable evo strategy could be active scavenging, that is helping another cell (e.g. through mucilage) to get part of their food; pack mechanisms could be of interest here (even though it isn’t properly a pack as there are different species);
  • don’t cells with toxins shoot some upon death? maybe it was patched;
  • bombers exist, e.g. bees are evolved to die when fighting; but that is not really something I can imagin in bacteria as they have little “kinship awareness”;
  • I foresee this resonating with @NickTheNick’s latest proposal for auto-evo
5 Likes

Good points. I was trying to bring up the idea that direct combat isn’t necessarily the default in player interactions with AI, but I was too lazy in reinforcing it throughout this entire post. I was focusing heavily on combat however because I felt I could make the best argument for the system in that way. But these archetypes would make for interesting interactions as a whole with the AI I believe - pursuing, fleeing from, and coexisting with a shooter, heavy, or shielded organism would all entail different strategies.

And just so I make it clear to all reading, these archetypes wouldn’t really be “explicit”; in other words, we aren’t referencing certain cells as heavies, speedies, or whatever in gameplay. This is simply a convenient way to organize thought in regards to interaction with the AI.

3 Likes

I think Thrive would benefit from a good amount of unique abilities. I’m going to start listing out some cool adaptations that I find as I read more and more material here and provide a basic gamified version of them. I hopefully will find a good amount, so I would like to emphasize the fact that we don’t need to implement all of them. In fact, many adaptations heavily overlap in function, so we really wouldn’t benefit if we want to implement everything with little consideration of game design. So think of this more of a broad list which we sift through.

I of course encourage other developers to post unique cellular adaptations they find here and try to relate it to the archetype system described in the initial post for this thread. Ciliates seem to have the most unique abilities, it’s just difficult to parse through all of them.

Here are some preliminary ideas…

Haptocyst (Close-Quartered) - A bit difficult to research, but they are essentially tentacles that are able to drag prey closer to the organism. More specifically the organelle at the end of this tentacle-structure, haptocysts are able to attach to a prey item and perform hostile resource transfer before dragging the prey item towards its prey. Here is a video of an organism with haptocysts, them being the two long stalks with circular looking objects at the end of them: What is this microorganism? - YouTube

In game, they can be an ability with a shortish cooldown which damages another cell slightly and stuns another cell momentarily, essentially acting as a short-ranged surprise weapon. I am the most iffy about this one out of the organelles mentioned here, but who knows.

Mucocyst (Shield) - Essentially a vacuole containing a material - oftentimes a mineral or mucous substance - which can be rapidly expelled, coating the cell with a protective exterior. Most references to these organelles are brief, but here is one (Ctrl+F for mucocyst): Extrusome - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

In game, this can be a toggle button which completely blocks the player from taking damage and being engulfed for a short period of time, but disables other abilities, slows down the player a lot, and has a noticeable cooldown so that it cannot be spammed. Essentially, an incredibly defensive adaptation.

Axopodia (Ranged-ish) - Long, hair-like rods which can rapidly contract upon contact with a food item, bringing the item closer to the organism. They require some time to set up, but can cover a decent area.
It happens very quickly (most specifically around 14 seconds into the video), but here is a video of an organism with axopodia consuming a flagellate:

In game, they can be a placeable external part. The player can press a button to make the axopodia retract or contract. If a cell bumps into this axopodia, it is pulled towards the player rapidly. In real life, organisms with axopodia tend to be slow because it’s hard to move well with such protrusions adorning the cell’s membrane, so we can attach a lot of mass or something to this external part to make the player slower. It can also be less effective for retrieving larger cells.

A possible upgrade involves changing the length of these axopodia. Longer axopodia have a greater area of effect, but have more mass and are slower to retract and contract. Shorter axopodia have less mass and are able to quickly contract and retract, but have a smaller area of effect. Considering these axopodia could accidentally hook to a predator or an undesirable prey item, this can be a nuanced organelle for the player to play with.

Cilia (Ranged) - Cilia are widely used and adapted, notably increasing agility and surface area. In terms of predation, they can generate suction, drawing prey items into a cell for consumption. Here, a Stentor coeruleus catches multiple prey item with this technique: Stentor Eats Arcella - YouTube

Concepts for this already exist, it’s just a matter of reworking currents. Once that happens, we’ll continue discussing cilia.


An offensively-minded cilia upgrade is already planned as mentioned above. I think axopodia and mucocysts are cool and worthwhile abilities to implement. Maybe someone else can come up with a better concept for haptocysts than me, but as of now, I don’t think they’d be necessary.

EDIT: On second thought, I think axopodia shouldn’t slow down a cell too much when contracted fully, but should slow down cells a good amount when extended. It would probably be too costly if the speed debuff was constant.

Also I think haptocysts could be meaningfully integrated into Thrive not as a specific part but as an upgrade, perhaps as one to axopodia. Perhaps it reduces the amount of pull exerted on a caught cell, but allows a bit of hostile resource transfer and deals a bit of damage. This can be a slightly less risky, but less rewarding strategy. We of course would have to confirm that it is reasonable that haptocysts evolved from a structure similar to axopodia, but considering the amount of convergence across external parts, this can be very feasible.

2 Likes

Apologies for how close my posts have been in this topic, but I have two more ideas which, when combined with the previous ideas, gives us a very good selection and baseline of abilities to implement in Thrive to demonstrate unique cellular abilities. This leaves us with a solid conclusion in this topic I feel.

Holdfast Organelle (Ranged) - This one is a pretty interesting one because organisms observed with this feature typically use it alongside another tool to become effective predators. A holdfast organelle allows a cell to attach to an object and extend itself to great lengths, up to 20 times its normal size. Stentors commonly utilize it in combination with current-generating cilia to capture prey. Here is a stentor extending itself and filtering for food:

In Thrive, the holdfast organelle can essentially serve as a surprise-based spring. It would attach the player to an object (iron, procedural terrain when implemented, other chunks, etc.), and once attached, will allow the player to rapidly extend, surprising other microbes and catching prey items. It essentially works through phagocytosing organisms at range. It can be combined with cilia to create a current similar to Stentor, and perhaps with other abilities as well.

This ability depends on procedural terrain and an extensive amount of floating objects to actually be viable, so we shouldn’t consider it until those features are implemented.

Trichocyst (Ranged Toxin Variant) - Trichocysts are organelles which eject tiny, needle-like threads in response to physical stimulus. They are found in various ciliates/protozoans, such as Paramecium and dinoflagellates, serving to confuse and deter potential predators. Here is a video of a Paramecium ejecting trichocysts:

Considering their overlap with toxins, trichocysts wouldn’t need to be incredibly distinct from the toxin system if implemented in Thrive. They can essentially operate as a toxin variant “alternative” that inflicts damage no matter a target cell’s immunity, but at much lower of a damage level than toxins. So they’d serve the “maximum applicability, minimum damage” upgrade that you oftentimes see in many games.

I also want to revisit the concept of thecal plates. Since they are made out of cellulose, if we wish to preserve the current system of membranes (where you can’t have multiple types of membranes on the same cell), we should probably limit thecal plates to cellulose-bearing organisms. As NickThe Nick mentioned before, pellicles can serve as a widely accessible part for most cells, which essentially is an extra layer of protection: reducing damage, but not outright blocking it. Then, we can have thecal plates as a variant only accessible to organisms with cellulose, which serve as the outright damage-blocking part previously described. And if we want to be ambitious, these thecal plates can also be customized to protrude akin to dinoflagellates, which can increase the size a predator cell needs to be to phagocytosize the player at the cost of increased mass.


All in all, here is a list of the parts mentioned throughout this thread, formatted in archetype format. I have attached some general notes as well:

Default/Brawler

  • Engulfment - Default ability accessible to all cells, unless it is conceded in exchange for greater defense. High reward, so should come with considerable risk, hence the value of introducing endotoxins and countermeasures.
  • Pilus - Easily placed part accessible to both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Makes cells difficult to engage with up close, but otherwise useless at range. In my opinion, blocking ability should be nerfed a tiny bit in the future, especially if we introduce shielding parts. Will probably happen regardless since we plan to move away from traditional projectile toxins.
  • Probiscis Pilus (Pilus Variant) - A variant of the pilus, doesn’t deal as much damage but can be similarly destructive, allowing cells to steal resources from targets. Forces cell to get up close, meaning the potential for wasted energy if prey item is too fast or danger if prey item is unpredictable.
  • Toxin Pilus (Pilus Variant) - A variant of the pilus, significantly reduces initial damage, but introduces toxin effects. Immunity can make this variant useless.

Ranged

  • Toxin Clouds - The “default” form of utilizing toxins available to both eukaryotes and prokaryotes, involves the emission of clouds into the environment. Easily noticeable, so it might end up serving better as a defensive measure rather than a predation strategy, unless modifications are a factor.
  • Nemotocysts - A quicker, more aggressive measure of transmitting toxins, where a rapidly extending “spike” will damage and then poison a target cell. Unpredictable and more direct, but has a cooldown.
  • Mucilage - Slime clouds, which slow down potential prey items and predators. Not necessarily offensive, but can be used creatively.
  • Axopodia - Long, hair-like extensions of the membrane which essentially serve as a trap, dragging in other cells. Requires time to set up, slows down the player, and has the potential of capturing a predator, so risky strategy.
  • Suction Cilia (Cilia Variant) - Cilia which generates currents, potentially trapping prey items. High energy cost, so must be used wisely.
  • Haptocyst (Axopodia Variant) - A variant of axopodia, allows hostile resource transfer upon contact and slightly quicker to set up, but doesn’t pull in prey as much.
  • Holdfast Organelle - Makes a player attach to a substrate and allows rapid extension, akin to a predatory venus fly trap. Requires the player to wait for prey items, but quick and decisive. Can be combined with other abilities.
  • Trichocysts (Toxin Variant) - A toxin variant, expels threads which apply damage regardless of immunity, but at a noticeably reduced level.

Heavy

  • Size Attached to Health - Having health attach to size works to create large cells which the player should avoid.
  • Rigid Membranes Reducing Physical Damage - As Buckly suggests, more rigid membranes can reduce damage received from abrasive forces, such as nematocysts and pilus.

Shielded

  • Pellicles - Widely accessible external part which essentially thickens membrane, not outright nullifying damage but reducing it noticeably. Slightly slows down movement and reduces absorption.
  • Thecal Plates (Pellicle Variant) - Upgrade variant accessible to cellulose-wearing cells, can outright nullify damage, but significantly reduces absorption and slows down movement. Can be modified to become spike-like as seen in dinoflagellates, significantly increasing mass but making it more difficult to be engulfed.
  • Mucocysts - A togglable ability which temporarily blocks the player from receiving damage and being engulfed for a short time, but disables other abilities, slows down resource absorption, and significantly slows down the player. Noticable cooldown and only for a brief amount of time.

Speed

  • Flagella - Constant and powerful but high-energy speed bonus, most viable in a straight line.
  • Cilia - Less energy intensive and multidirectional speed bonus, but doesn’t increase speed to the extent of flagella.
  • Mucilage Jets - Allows the propulsion of slime for a more dramatic but unsteady speed bonus.

Bomber

  • Endotoxins - Makes it damaging to ingest an organism without immunology. Upon death, can release a burst of toxins.

That is a pool of 21 unique abilities, which absolutely is enough for the Microbe Stage. And a good thing is that a decent amount of these abilities are variants of pre-existing parts. But for all intents of purposes, this should definitely provide a good amount of customization and diversity in terms of interactions with the AI. So, besides addressing upgrades, I think we have a good selection of actions we can take to make Thrivian microbes more engaging and unique.

A minor thought I wanted to make sure was discussed and remembered beyond Discord:

I think we should make it so that a player is able to engulf things even if they have no energy. Nothing is more frustrating than reaching a chunk, marine snow, or another cell successfully but not having enough energy to consume the item. Especially as a heterotrophic organism, I feel it is entirely unrewarding and annoying - you successfully caught an organism on the brink of starvation, but instead of being rewarded for this success, you have to watch your organism die with your prey right next to you. Heterotrophic players should be allowed to save themselves from the brink of death if they earned it.

If you couldn’t tell, this happened to me just now and I got annoyed