Environmental Tolerance Adaptations

I could not find if such a thread already existed. If it does, let me know and I’ll merge this with that.

The topic of environmental adaptations has come up many times now in the past years, but I’m not sure if any concrete concept has been laid out for it. What we do know is that we want each cell to have a range of values, for each environmental variable, that it can survive in normally. The question is what penalties does it face when in a biome outside of those ranges? Here are some of the suggestions for it, and my thoughts on each approach:

  1. Damage over time. If you live in a biome outside of your environmental tolerance, you take damage over time. The damage over time scales up based on how far out of your range it is, and how many of the environmental variables are hazardous to you.

    • I think this one is an easy way of preventing unadapted species from living outside of their range. The downside is that even living even slightly outside of your range means damage over time, which probably will lead to your death (unless you are very small and reproduce very quickly).
  2. Increased osmoregulation cost. If you live in a biome outside of your environmental tolerance, your cell’s osmoregulation cost is scaled up. The amount it’s scaled up depends on how far out of your range it is, and how many of the environmental variables are hazardous to you.

    • This is a technically more realistic approach, since cell membranes are reactive to the environment, so for example if the surroundings become more acidic they will spend more energy preventing that acid from getting inside the cell. A benefit of this system is that it means that highly energy efficient cells can live slightly outside their range without much issue.
  3. Reduced efficiency of all organelles. If you live in a biome outside of your environmental tolerance, the efficiency of all your organelles is scaled down. The amount it’s scaled down depends on how far out of your range it is, and how many of the environmental variables are hazardous to you.

    • Again, I like this approach because it allows for energy efficient cells to survive slightly outside of their range, making it easier for successful species to colonize adjacent patches. The way this differs from 2) is that this gives a bigger penalty to living outside of your range. In 2), you simply have a higher ATP expense but everything else is normal. Everything is less efficient, from your motion producing organelles to your energy producing ones.

Let me know if I missed one of the past suggestions.

Although I was originally for Option 1, after thinking more about it I think I’m more in favour of either Option 2 or Option 3. Plus, Option 2 or Option 3 would result in damage over time anyways if the penalties are severe enough.

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I think that for the player just preventing them from going to a patch they aren’t adapted to would be good.
That also means that there isn’t much need to have penalties during swimming around applied for the species.
That just leaves auto-evo to add some population penalty for all species in patches where they can’t survive. I’m thinking that something like reducing their energy in-take exponentially based on how un-adapted they are (if we go with tjwhale’s model). That should pretty quickly make other species outcompete them and drive them out of the patches.

Oh okay that’s interesting, I don’t know how I had not even thought of that approach yet haha.

So basically, any patch outside of your range would be inaccessible, and so environments adaptations would act to increase your tolerable range right?

I’ve watched enough Kinesis’ streams to be sure that he would definitely try to play in a patch where you slowly died, and maybe get lucky once in 20 attempts to succeed there. I don’t think that’s a very good mechanic. So instead I suggest that the player is just not allowed to go and play in a patch where they can’t survive.

Of course if the patch changes or you change your cell so that you can’t survive anymore there, we’ll need a mechanic where you are thrown back to a previous patch (or maybe go extinct if you were only in a single patch). We’ll need this mechanic anyway once dying is fixed so that you get kicked out of a patch if you exhaust your population there by dying.

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I feel like suddenly being booted out of your patch like so could be pretty jarring though, but then again I suppose it would be similar to our plan of booting you out of patches once your local population reaches zero.
Personally I prefer the idea of players being able to enter a patch before being particularly adapted to it, so long as they can at least survive that is. My justification for this being that it will give players a better feeling of choice as to where they want to go without being bluntly gated out of areas because of their stats. Also as far as I am aware, species in reality usually don’t adapt to an environment prior to moving into it. Instead they are often pushed into a less favorable environment for whatever reason where they then begin adapting to thrive in it.

I’m not against the idea though, it is doubtlessly the easiest and quickest option out of those presented which is pretty good when we have so many other things to work on. We also wouldn’t have to worry about communicating to the player how adapted they are to the patch quite as much.

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I imagine it would work so that it pops up a panel showing the patch map and telling you to select alternative patch to play in.

That’s a good point. What would you suggest the penalty would be for not being adapted to the conditions in the patch you are in? Increased osmo costs, decreased process efficiency, less health?

Ah I see. I personally would not be entirely for such a mechanic for the reasons Buckly explained right above me. My personal preference would probably be for Option 2, increased osmo costs, but I feel like option 3 would be pretty solid too.

Woops, I suppose I forgot to mention that. When I first brought up the topic in our discord I was in support of making organelles less efficient in production (proteins denaturing and preventing the cell from functioning at peak performance) and I would still prefer that method out of the three Nickthenick provided. However, simply increasing osmoregulation cost would probably be easier and quicker to code and balance and have close to the same effect so I’ll think about which one might be better. I’m not a big fan over damage over time as while it would provide the player with a strong sense of urgency and danger it probably wouldn’t be fun. However, as you worded it, just having reduced max health could provide a similar effect without effectively being a timer.

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It wouldn’t be super difficult to add like a Microbe wide parameter to the process system to multiply the process output values by. That could be lowered to something like 0.9 to reduce all process outputs in that cell by 10%.

Showing these effects in the editor or somewhere is probably the harder part. In the end it might be clearer to reduce the process outputs as those are dynamically computed for the editor tooltips. Explaining in the editor that osmoregulation is suddenly higher probably needs a bit more work. Though even the tooltips showing lower process outputs might be too confusing without some indicator that environmental conditions is lowering it.

Now that I thought about it, I thought of one difference between options 2 and 3. Option 2 allows high energy production to be a strategy to avoid environmental penalties (to a reasonable limit), since the only penalty is a higher ATP cost.

Option 3 would be more punishing, because it’s a reduction to efficiency of ALL your organelles. This means your flagella, your agent secretors, and your energy producing organelles all get hit. This could be a good thing though, if we want it to be more challenging. A problem I just thought of though is this: If you’re in a biome that is too hot AND too acidic for you, and you have a heat resistance protein, does the acidity reduce the effectiveness of your heat resistance protein, in effect further reducing the effectiveness of your organelles?

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In the event of multiple inhibiting environmental factors, I would be in favor of them effecting your cell in separate ways. For example we could have excess heat and cold reduce your organelle function, where as acidity and alkalinity could do something like reducing your cell’s max health. Doing this would make the effects on your cell easier to measure and understand, while still being the double trouble it is.

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Ah yeah interesting, that’s true. Perhaps increased osmoregulation cost could also be a possible penalty among the list? I’m undecided now between Options 2 and 3. If we were to choose option 3, what penalties would we want each variable to incur? I know the current list of environmental factors is:

  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Light

Acidity and salinity are planned but still not implemented. I don’t believe there are any others.

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Oxygen would also be a hazard in the future once we get the great oxygenation event.
As the game world turning from a place without oxygen to one with, would be an interesting change.


Right I totally forgot about the environmental gasses, which could also present hazards. Do we have enough unique penalties to cover all of them? Do we want some of them to share similar penalties? Or do we want one, unified penalty. This is something I’ve barely thought about so I have very few opinions.

I found this thread (Compound Toxicity) from last year, it should have some good ideas.


Thanks @Narotiza that’s a useful one to have on hand. I wonder if compound toxicity is a big enough discussion to warrant its own discussion in that thread to finalize the concept.

After thinking about this, I’ve come to agree with @Buckly’s original thought that penalties should just give a reduction to organelle efficiency. I feel like different penalties for different environmental variables might get hard to design, and hard to remember as the player, but let me know if you guys feel otherwise.

Specifically, when I say efficiency I mean the rate at which the organelle operates. This will apply to all organelles that process compounds (so environmental tolerance organelles are exempt). This in effect reduces the ability of a cell to sustain and reproduce in foreign environments. If more variables are out of range, the penalties will stack. Here would be some sample numbers:

Temperature: -10% efficiency for every 5°C out of range.
Pressure: -10% efficiency for every 20 atm out of range.
Light: -10% efficiency for every 5% out of range.
pH: -10% efficiency for every pH 0.5 out of range.
Salinity: -10% efficiency for every 1000 ppm out of range.

These numbers are based on my latest post in this thread.


Based on the polls:

It looks like players largely agree and look forward to a system that allows entering biomes you are not tolerated for, with associated penalties. So if there are no objections to this concept, I can update the related wiki page with the list of penalties I put in the post above this one. @Buckly what are your thoughts on the system. Once finished with the penalty system, we can design the organelles that grant environmental tolerance:

Here is a working list of the adaptations, from the "Differentiating Microbe Biomes" thread:


  • Heat Resistant Proteins
  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Cell Wall (Cellulose, chitin, silicate, etc.)


  • Higher/Lower Internal Osmotic Pressure
  • Contractile Vacuole
  • Cell Wall (Cellulose, chitin, silicate, etc.)


  • Pigment Proteins
  • Cell Wall (Cellulose, chitin, silicate, etc.)


  • Acid Neutralizing Proteins
  • Alkaline Neutralizing Proteins
  • Cell Wall (Cellulose, chitin, silicate, etc.)


  • Halophilic Proteins
  • Cell Wall

Is there a reason why you didn’t include oxygen resistance on that list?

I wanted to tackle compound toxicity and resistances later, since I presume it wouldn’t just be oxygen that could damage you (hydrogen sulphide and perhaps other compounds can be toxic as well).

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These values and hazards seem like a good start as we can fine tune them once implemented, I’m fine with them. I remember suggesting light be a hazard in the past as a counter to photosynthesis and the active theorists at the time declined the idea, stating that water acts as an effective shield against UV radiation and heat so make of that as you would.
One thing I’m somewhat worried about is the player feeling overwhelmed by all these barriers. It doesn’t seem like much right now but it can quickly add up once we move on to hazardous compounds next. It’s certainly something we will have to experiment with a bit to make sure it’s fun.
Otherwise I feel there could be some satisfaction to choosing to specialize and adapt to a specific environment for greater returns as it’s sure to provide the player with a nice sense of progress.