Macroscopic Editor, Progression, and Principles

I had this thought train about how we can deal with developing playstyles in the late-multicellular/Aware Stage. I think this stage will be Thrive’s cool “gig” in a way, considering there are no similar games representing player-controlled evolution in as scientific of a way as possible. It is also the stage of life where evolution will happen the most quickly and lead to the most diversity of playstyles, so it is important to get it down right.

There isn’t much of a concrete mechanic suggestion here; rather, it’s a suggestion on how we can think about things going forward.


We would be interested in representing the evolution of metazoans (animals) and plants in this part of the game. Given just how much diversity there is in the body-plans of macroscopic organisms, this is a vast undertaking. So we need to be deliberate and methodical in how we approach the implementation of various unique adaptations. If we’re too shallow with what we implement, then there will be very little replayability in Thrive and many shallow mechanics - if we’re too detailed in everything we implement, nothing will ever happen.

In my mind, the best way to address things is by looking at phylogenetic trees and focusing on a specific clade as we work through upgrades.

(skip this paragraph if you understand the diagram above) Just to review phylogenetic trees quickly in case anyone in the larger community reading this is rusty on them, they basically map out the evolutionary relationship between different groups of animals. The number of “splits” there are between different groups indicates how closely related they are. So in this diagram, you can see the line leading to Cnidaria (jellyfish & coral) and Ctenophora (comb jellies) indicates that Cnidaria and Ctenophora developed pretty early in the evolution of metazoans, splitting off from other metazoans very quickly. Here is a basic introduction to the topic: Phylogenetic Tree Basics - YouTube

As far as I’m aware, this particular image isn’t necessarily the “definitive” phylogenetic tree of metazoans - there are various phylogenetic trees online, with various levels of detail. The important thing though is that these diagrams present us with a clear understanding of how different animals relate to each other.

There are also phylogenetic trees for each group of metazoans. Here is a phylogenetic tree for Cnidarians…

So essentially, by looking at the larger eumetazoan phylogeny tree, we have the complete tree of life in our hands. So, what I think will work best is to focus on a specific part of the tree for a specific series of patches. We can determine what to focus on first based on how early in the evolutionary history of eumetazoans a specific group appears.

We obviously cannot represent every single species within a family, so our job will be determining what collection of cool adaptations will best represent the phylogeny of a specific clade, and then choosing a collection of cool traits from the various subphylum within said phylum to adequately represent a given species.

So for example, this can be how we breakdown the Cnidaria…


Cnidarians include Medusozoa, the group which includes all the” traditional” jellyfish and Anthozoa, which includes coral and other sessile organisms. We will likely want to focus most on Cubozoa and Scyphozoa (Medusozoans) to represent the two forms of major forms of jellyfish. We will also want to focus on coral, though they are more adequately represented by sessile gameplay and should be considered there.

Hydrozoans are the most numerous group of Cnidarians, though many are characterized by their tiny size (might not need many dedicated parts) and colonial nature (something we probably won’t simulate). There are also other forms of Medusozoans, though they are largely sessile, so there might be overlap with coral.

Medusozoa (Primarily Cubozoa and Scyphozoa)

Medusozoa tend to be motile, are radially symmetrical, and have nematocysts which allow them to sting. Some use their appendages to poison prey, though others have minimal predatory capacity and instead prefer filter-feeding using those appendages.

How to Represent Medusozoa

Their “floating” nature can be represented by allowing players to alter their mesoglea/buoyancy, and their stingers and tentacles can be represented by allowing players to develop appendages. Many of these appendages are like the familiar tentacles, though some are larger, expanding surface area.

How to Represent Scyphozoa

Scyphozoans are known as the “true jellyfish”. There are roughly 3 orders of scyphozoans, and perhaps up to 400 species. They tend to be larger than hydrozoans and contain a slightly more complex movement pattern which allows them to move at their size. Variance within Schyphozoa can focus on the presence or ratio of tentacles and oral arms. Some groups have many tentacles and no arms, some have arms and tentacles, others have no tentacles and only arms. Behavior variances also exist.

Thus, we can probably adequately represent Scyphozoans within Thrive by allowing variation in the number of tentacles and oral arms. Size will also naturally play a factor.

How to Represent Cubozoa

Cubozoans are box jellies. They are characterized by their potent toxicity and their more box-like shape. Cubozoans are known for having a rather complex nervous system and more capable sensory than other jellyfish. They can also swim pretty fast for jellyfish.

Thus, box jellies can be adequately represented in Thrive by allowing customization of the effects of jellyfish stingers (nematocysts). They will likely naturally emerge as players with Cnidarian-esque body plans enhance their nervous system and sensory capabilities.


Hydrozoans exhibit a good amount of diversity in the capability of their appendages. For example, some projectiles are merely grabbing/restraining rather than poisonous. That could be a relatively simple inclusion to diversify combat, akin to the toxin system in the Microbe Stage. They are also known to be rather small at times, though this can vary.

There are various types of sessile Medusozoans. These can be used to diversify sessile gameplay, though they aren’t necessary in my opinion.

Here we have a pretty simple way of representing an entire group of animals in Thrive with just these steps…

  1. Allow mesoglea and customization of buoyancy/density.
  2. Include appendages akin to oral arms and stinging nematocysts.
  3. Allow customization over the number of these appendages, the effects of these appendages, etc.
  4. Implement other global mechanics, like the evolution of sense and such.
  5. (Bonus) Implement some sessile gameplay capacities with Cnidarians.

That’s much more manageable than going through every single living jellyfish and throwing out some ideas, no? We can implement these and go on our merry way to represent other organisms.

I understand that doing this for every clade can look daunting, but we definitely can simplify things. For example, did you know that “worms” are represented across a huge variety of clades? There are mollusc worms, annelid worms, nematode worms, platyhelminthes worms, etc. Many shared traits exist between many groups of organisms, so we can oftentimes knock out various clades at the same time. Or atleast, be able to repackage various adaptations/mechanics for future traits. Jellyfish appendages can translate to octopi appendages eventually. It also helps to realize that players will have a lot of fun in combining various traits from various clades; we don’t have to necessarily think of things as being so specialized.

Of course, there are certain clades that will require a lot of focus. Vertebrates, Crustaceans, Molluscs, and Hexapoda as examples. But if nothing else, I think this approach to developing the macroscopic stages will be the best way to approach this daunting task from a design perspective:

  1. Research a clade. Familiarize yourself somewhat with the orders of said clade.
  2. Find out the defining traits of the clade and its various orders. There are many of course, but simplify your list to the least amount of traits for the most amount of diversity. Identify some traits which might be bonus objectives as well.
  3. Then, we start developing this group of animals, focusing on them for a series of updates.
  4. Once all “bottom-line” traits are implemented, repeat the cycle with a new clade.
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