Improving Thrive's Fun

So we’ve made it quite a ways since the days Thrive’s vapourware childhood, so I think we should all give ourselves a pat on the back for that. But, now that we’ve got the barebones of the game in place, we need to work on making it fun. I think the next release is a prime candidate to be a release to focused on gameplay and new features (though if we can slide in as many of the minor graphics changes that I suggested on this thread as possible that would be awesome).

So, in the same vein as that linked thread, I think we should use here to brainstorm features and changes we could implement to make the game more fun. I’ll begin, but let me know what suggestions you guys have as well!

Improved Tutorial and Tooltips

I think many players have trouble understanding how the game works, what certain organelles do, etc. and this makes it very difficult to enjoy the game’s features if you can’t even make sense of them. I think we should add tooltips to the organelles in the editor, and add some additional info either in the tutorial or the help button about how the new reproduction system works and anything else people might be confused about. It would also be good to add some way of conveying to the player that they are in engulfing mode versus not.

Species Mortality

Currently, you cannot lose the game. You can die countless times and will always respawn. If we add some form of mortality not only to the player’s organism, but to their entire species, putting them at risk of extinction if they die too many times, I think that would help a lot. We don’t need the full CPA system in place here yet to track their population, we can just use a simple placeholder algorithm for now to determine extinction.

Predatory NPCs

The NPC cells in the game are currently very docile. The worst I’ve seen is a cell that tried to engulf me but only because I was right beside him. The toxic cells are mightily annoying, but they don’t actually hunt you down, they just congregate in certain areas and pump out poison. We need to make an AI for predatory cells that will make them actively hunt down the player cell and other cells around.

Compound Cloud Changes

I think we should make compound clouds bigger, but more spread out. By this I mean the clouds should be harder to find, but when you do find one you get more out of it. This makes finding a cloud more challenging and more rewarding, and means you can last for longer between the clouds because you get more from them. This also means that instead of having to swim through 5 different clouds of glucose and 5 different clouds of ammonia to heal, 1-2 should be enough.

Also, in my opinion, the compound clouds disappear too fast. Sometimes I see an ammonia cloud, but by the time I turn and swim to it it’s gone, so it’s actually more efficient to just swim in a straight line and just swim over the clouds you want by chance because you are moving so fast, than to sacrifice your momentum to turn and potentially miss getting the cloud.

Fluid Mechanics

Your cell, NPC cells, free floating organelles, and compound clouds should all be subject to motion from fluid mechanics. Not only is it a little odd to see a cell without flagella perfectly motionless, it also makes things more challenging, and in my opinion fun, if currents will carry you around. Now obviously, the currents will not have to be strong enough to overpower flagella or make you feel powerless, but it should definitely be a factor in how you move and plan where to go, sort of like a ship that aims its sails to go with the wind but could still go against the breeze if it wanted to, just with more difficulty.

Cell Generation Changes

I think currently too many cells spawn with toxin vacuoles, and it gets quite frustrating, because when you get damaged all reproduction progress stops or even reverts until you can heal again. In my opinion toxin predators should be a rare and exotic predator, not an abundant cell type, so that when you do run into them it’s much more of a “OH BELGIUM” moment. In addition to more aggressive predatory AI, it should make running into toxin predators exciting/intimidating.

Organelle Upgrades

Yes @TheCreator I think it’s finally time to bring your brainchild to life. I think adding in the ability to upgrade your organelles adds a level of progression to the game that it doesn’t have right now. There is a little bit of progression with unlocking chloroplasts and toxin vacuoles, but that’s it and once you get them it’s over. However, with the ability to upgrade organelles, you can always improve this mitochondrion, upgrade that flagellum, etc. And if the environment is dynamic enough, then that should provide a relatively consistent motivation to the player to want to reproduce, to adapt to the changing surroundings.

Combat Improvements

Adding in new systems like agents, predatory pilli, and bacteria will definitely add to the fun of the game, but I don’t think I really need to explain why.

  • Improved Tutorial and Tooltips
  • Species Mortality
  • Predatory NPCs
  • Compound Cloud Changes
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Cell Generation Changes
  • Organelle Upgrades
  • Combat Improvements
  • Agent System
  • Predatory Pilli
  • Bacteria

I’m not sure if “organelle upgrades” is a good idea, since it would mean that a microbe (with an upgraded organelle) is objectively better than another microbe (woth a non-upgraded organelle) in every possible scenario, which would result in safe-but-boring mutations both for the player and the auto-evo’ed ai. Maybe organelle specialization could be a thing?

The compound clouds spawning changes you mentioned should be super easy to change and test (literally tweaking some numbers), but i have died by not getting into my first cloud in time, so i dunno.

Finally, an idea i was having was to introduce the bonding organelle but instead of making it just a thing you press and go to the next stage, making it instead produce an agent that it’s consumed while you are bonded to other cells (sorta like a temporal buff), and separating/killing cells when that agent runs out. That way the player can try to create the biggest clump of cells it can and see what designs are more efficient for each biome and ecosystem.
No idea how biologically accurate this is tho…

Also stats like “other microbes killed” or “times reproduced” could be fun to read.

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Oh yeah the organelle upgrades aren’t pure benefits, it’s more like specializations as you said because it’s benefits to certain traits of the organelle while penalizing others.

I guess in that case give more compounds to start with to minimize that from happening.

Yeah that’s what we had planned actually! It’s actually an agent not an organelle, and it allows you to bond to other cells of your species. A second agent, a signal agent, is needed to coordinate your movements once bonded together. It will actually be a pretty iterative transition, so hopefully it’s pretty seamless.

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Tooltips are in the game already. Unless there’s a bug for some people I’m not sure why they’re not seeing them. They’re pretty garish at the moment (white text on black background) but it means they’re clearly legible and everything. They don’t really convey much information at the moment, especially within the editor, so I’m with you there. I imagined having something like this eventually:

Where clicking on an organelle gives you detailed information on its game functionality, available processes, a short biological description (the one above is taken from Wikipedia) and a button leading to an upgrade panel. Since it might not be clear to the player how to open this, I think it should open automatically whenever you place a new organelle.[quote=“NickTheNick, post:1, topic:313”]
It would also be good to add some way of conveying to the player that they are in engulfing mode versus not.

I’m not sure about the way engulfing is handled full stop at the moment. Every cell being able to engulf seems overpowered and unrealistic, especially once we add cell shaders like cilia and lamellipodia. While I like that the engulfing mechanism can be activated by the player, it still feels clunky for some reason. Not sure how to fix it.

Agreed. The second might be a little difficult though, considering that cells now have random mutations.[quote=“NickTheNick, post:1, topic:313”]
Your cell, NPC cells, free floating organelles, and compound clouds should all be subject to motion from fluid mechanics.

This is in my opinion the most effective gameplay change we could make to improve immersion and fun. At the moment the game is frustrating rather than challenging. There is an end goal (reproduce) but the actions involved in working towards it feel more like grinding than anything because there’s no real difficulty. Just collect compounds for a long time without dying, and that’s it. With currents in the game, you’ve always got a challenge to deal with on your way towards the other goals, and that challenge is (hopefully) both fun and visually appealing. And this could introduce the first play style differentiator - some players might brute force their way through currents, using up large amounts of ATP, while others could be more strategic and swim more efficiently.

It also gives evolutionary pressure for having more flagella. Each flagellum you add will make you better at fighting against currents. And it you are a motionless cell, it would mean you can actually collect compounds and explore. This gives the player a choice - do they want to have their own agency to explore, or are they content to go with the flow?

In my opinion it’s a little too early for this. I think combat mechanics need to be ironed out before anything like this has any meaning. I personally like the idea of organelle upgrades, especially the way @TheCreator built them, so I definitely want to see them eventually, but right now it wouldn’t add much.[quote=“NickTheNick, post:1, topic:313”]
Adding in new systems like agents, predatory pilli, and bacteria will definitely add to the fun of the game, but I don’t think I really need to explain why.

Also agreed. This should be our number one priority for the next update.

For the issue of species mortality, does it make sense to just census the species and when you or AI members of your species die/are born we just update this and if the total population reaches zero that’s endgame. For this to work we would need to find a good game play balance for AI members of your species dying, too rapid and you are the only one left or too slow and you have unlimited lives, however that may be taken care of by simply needing to evolve fast enough to compete with other species.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the gameplay of the microbe stage recently and I think I agree with a lot of what Nick is saying.

A thought I would like to introduce is that the starter microbe is actually a bit of a problem. When the game starts the player has a microbe that has no way of getting sugar other than finding clouds of it. It doesn’t have any weapons to be a predator and it doesn’t have chloroplasts to make sugar itself.

Because of this there needs to be clouds of sugar floating in the environment. However because of this it means there isn’t really a challenge. Any microbe can thrive in an environment where there is an abundance of nutrients. So what is the incentive to modify your microbe at all? The starting microbe is a scavenger which, I think, is actually going to be a very hard niche to be successful in.

I think if we gave the starter microbe at least one weapon (I guess it already has engulfment but it’s not really big enough to use it) then it would be able to hunt. With this we could then have the microbe start with a good stock of compounds but actually have to fight for survival. If we removed the clouds of anything except the basic compounds (CO2, O2 etc) then you need to kill another microbe to get enough nutrients to reproduce.

The simplest way of doing this is just to give it an oxytoxy emitter at the beginning.

Moreover, in terms of ai, we already have code for predators to approach the players cell. If we reversed this code we could make weak cells run away (by simply putting a minus sign on the approach direction to make it a flee direction). If we had ai such that any cell with less weapons tried to run away and any with more tried to hunt the player then I think it would make the game a lot more dynamic and interesting.

I think it would give you a good incentive to modify your cell too. Do you add chloroplasts in order to make sugar without fighting? However this means you will be hunted more by being slow. Do you try to make yourself faster so you can hunt more effectively and run away more? This requires burning more fuel and not having a lot of storage. Do you try to be the biggest, toughest cell around but risk having all your food flee from you? I think it makes all the questions more interesting.

Anyway what do you think? Do you think the starter cell is a good place to start? How scarce do you think resources should be (of course there could be a slider in options)? Do you agree that if resources are abundant then it’s hard to see where the challenge will come from?


This is probably an idea that would be annoying to code, but could we start by dropping the player into the microbe editor and having them decide to either add in OxyToxy or adding cytoplasm to be a better engulfer? Perhaps have a selection of starting cells? I’m very much in favor of putting tools in the hand of the player early on.

In terms of rarity for compound clouds, for both realism and challenge I think that many compounds should be incredibly hard to come by. As @tjwhale said, excessive amounts of free floating glucose would not only make it fairly un-challenging to succeed, but by the time eukaryotes arrive, there likely wouldn’t be an abundance of free floating energy reserves. And of course, tempered with sliders, but still with a general sense of “the environment does not give glucose freely”, if that makes sense.


We could make glucose be less common as times goes on, so your initial cell can survive but have to adapt quickly or die.
Another option would be to make it start on a volcanic vent and give it a chemoplast, which produces sugar.

A problem i’m seeing with making the player choose between predator and producer is that a well defended producer would be hard to counter (if a player starts becoming a predator and then spams chloroplasts for example).

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Having been gone for a while, I don’t know where we landed (if indeed we have) on projectile pilus organelles, but those would be pretty effective at countering prickly plants. Presumably the producer with a lot of defense would be quite slow and unable to avoid projectiles.

I think there are two natural draw backs to trying to have lots of organelles (for example having chloroplasts and a lot of weapons).

As @The_Wayward_Admiral says you would be very slow and this means that you can’t catch prey (because they always run away) and you always have to fight predators that find you (because you can’t run away). Moreover you would spend a lot of energy to move which means it’s hard to find the compound clouds you need.

The other is that the cost to replicate is very high. So you need a lot of resources to make another one of your species (because you have to replicate so many organelles). This means that you may well get out competed by a smaller species which specialises. For example if you need 100 protein to make a single cell then if your species has 1000 then you get 10 members but if you cut your cell in half in size you get 20 members.

I think it’s interesting in general to ask “why don’t animals on earth have the ability to photosynthesize?” I think the answer is that being a photosynthesizer is a strategy which involves being very slow and not using much energy (and later, as a plant, having a very high surface area) and therefore being able to live on a small sugar income. Being a predator (even something like a cow) means you need to eat loads and loads of grass just to survive but you get the ability to move around and think etc.

So yeah in game terms I think this would equate to “the energy it takes to drag chloroplasts around at high speeds is greater than the energy they produce”. Meaning you need to choose whether to use energy in a low and slow way or high and fast.

I agree completely @crodnu that we don’t want a cell which has everything on it to be the best option. I personally think making chloroplasts quite heavy would accomplish this. However I don’t know how heavy they need to be and whether that is too artifical.

When i said “defended” i meant more like “able to produce a lot of agents in order to blast any attacker into extinction”.

While the cost of replicating is probably going to be high, that’s not really a big problem but more of an inconvenience, unless we add some life span to the cells.

Also that’s only photosynthesizer cells, thermosynthesizers would need to move to produce energy (at least if i understood how thermosynthesis works), which would make that kind of “plants” different in regards of movility.

The thing that kinda sucks the fun out of the game for me is how movement is handled. It feels kind of unresponsive.

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