Ecosystem Density

One thing I noticed in my recent playtesting with the latest build was that the environment was surprisingly empty. I would go for long stretches of time running into no other cells or only a handful. It was also the same for compound clouds. One time I stored up 13 glucose, then went hunting for Ammonia and Phosphate to reproduce. I ran out of all 13 glucose without finding a single other compound cloud (in the hydrothermal vents biome). Perhaps this was just my bad luck, or perhaps it was by design, but I was thinking and I feel like the gameplay would be much more improved if the density of cells and compound clouds was increased.

What I Observed

  • Cells from my species, cells from other species, and compound clouds were pretty rare. I would swim for long stretches of time with no other cells or clouds in sight. This ended up making the environment feel pretty empty and boring at times (and is not very realistic).
  • Some lives I could not find any clouds and died of starvation, which I think is more frustrating since you know it’s just RNG (as opposed to death by other means like getting eaten by a predator).
  • I wanted to play as a predator, but cells were so rare I could not find anyone to eat.
  • It seemed like glucose was more rare than ammonia and phosphate, whereas I think it should be the other way around. Glucose is more necessary since running out means death, whereas ammonia and phosphate should be more uncommon and luxurious since they allow reproduction (and thus evolution).

Suggested Changes

  • Cell spawn should greatly be increased, for both the player species and AI species. If the number of cells that spawn on screen is tied to the population of the species in that patch, perhaps we should greatly increase the ratio.
  • Compound cloud spawns should be increased to match the above step.
  • Increase the abundance of glucose relative to ammonia and phosphate

Effects on Gameplay

  • With more cells on screen, the environment will truly feel like a primordial soup with multiple species vying for survival.
  • With both cells and compounds spawning more often, compounds will still be challenging to collect but now you are focused more on racing against other species to collect them, instead of wandering the ocean praying to RNG.
  • More cell spawning makes predator gameplay a lot more viable. When cells are rare, you always have to do long chases to catch them. But if cells are abundant, you can sometimes ambush large clusters of cells and more easily catch one.
  • With competition playing a larger role in survival, this gives a lot more importance to mutations that improve competitiveness. Now you are really incentivized to find a strategy to outcompete your rivals. Do you stay small and fast to beat other cells to the clouds, while escaping predators? Do you get large so that you can eat cells instead of clouds? Do you become extremely defensive so that you can play as a plant and not move? The gameplay dramatically opens up.
  • And finally, making glucose more abundant than ammonia and phosphate makes the latter more rare and enticing as ingredients for reproduction, while reducing the instances of dying of starvation while sitting on tons of ammonia and phosphate.

This is how I imagine a denser ecosystem affecting overall gameplay:

  1. In the first generation, representing the origin of life, it will still start with cells still being rare. Plus, they will all be of the player’s species, since it is the first species on the planet. This surreal emptiness of the first round is intended and represents the novelty of life appearing on the planet. The rarity of cells and the abundance of clouds will feel like a cell’s dream, and it will by design be too easy since the player is just being introduced to the game and we will probably integrate the tutorial into this first generation.
  2. In the second generation, the number of cells in the environment increases. The player now routinely faces other species members beating him to clouds, and has to act fast to secure nutrients for himself to survive and to reproduce. Perhaps there are some new offshoot species at this point.
  3. As the generations progress, the environment will fill with a lot more cells living in close proximity, and so eating clouds will become a race for survival. As planetary conditions change in response to the origin of life and compound clouds reduce, cells will have to adapt. Some will become predators, some autotrophs, some scavengers, and more.
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I assume the build you playtested this in was the latest public release, where the absence of… everything really, is quite evident and I agree that it needed alot of work. You will be relieved to know we have been working on fixing this issue as of late. Icedjuro has recently recreated the spawning system to work a bit differently, and it now spawns cells and compounds much more often and regularly. However, it’s not quite smoothed out yet and has a few kinks we need to work out of the system but it still remedies much of the issues you have pointed out in this post.
As of now the only issues of note that I am aware of in the new system are; Things still spawn around the player even when they sit still, which will ultimately result in a massive amount of things surrounding the player in time which can become fairly laggy. (Theres no spawn limit yet I dont think). And spawns are inconsistent between patches, things are super common in the vents but fairly rare elsewhere.

I plan on giving rebalancing the compound conentrations in all the patches a go after someone fixes the spawn limit issue.

Edit: That being said I largely agree with your idea of how the ecosystem’s evolution should play out.

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Oh okay that’s great to hear! Yeah this was on the latest public release.

In that case, it’s good to know that these issues are known and being worked on. I’m really excited to try it out once cell and compound spawning have been increased.

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If your wanting to get caught up to speed on what exactly we are doing these days these two pages should help you out.

This second one links to our planning page, for some reason the preview aint showing that.

Oh nice! I don’t remember us using the Projects feature on GitHub before, I’ll definitely have to check that out.