I’m posting this here with regards to predation. Spawning has rightfully taken the spotlight currently, as a proper spawn-system will tremendously help not only predation but every other aspect of the game. But when we consider game design changes in the near future with spawning fixed, this can serve as a bulletin board of ideas.
Limited Benefit to Mass – Many in the community point out that becoming bigger generally isn’t worth it. Although it allows you the ability to engulf larger things, size costs a lot of energy to maintain, and thus is a resource sink. This post here provides some detail regarding the player experience (the second list of bullets and before is what I’m looking at specifically): 0.5.7 Feedback thread - #10 by Sentiant - Current Game - Thrive Community Forum
Speed is Difficult – It’s difficult to maintain a build fast enough to catch up to prey, with a large amount of flagella needed to catch up to smaller organisms. See this post here: 0.5.8 Feedback thread - #3 by AstralArcher - Current Game - Thrive Community Forum
Not Enough Resources From Predation – This one is a bit multi-faceted, but predation generally doesn’t provide enough reward for a lot of energy. Aspects of this involve the prey being too small, the search cost for prey being too much (difficult to find cells), and not enough resources being dropped from a successful kill (I think this can be solved through other means besides just arbitrarily bumping up drops).
No Need to Adopt a Predation Build – Because there are usually rather accessible phosphate and ammonia clouds, some players mention that they never feel the need to adopt a predation build, as they can otherwise get their nutrient needs through compounds. Not necessarily an issue, but a factor to be played with in the future if we find that predation isn’t as incentivized as we want it to be. Feedback on Predation - #3 by blackjacksike - Current Game - Thrive Community Forum
CONFOUNDING VARIABLES TO CONSIDER
There are certain factors at play here not directly related to things within the player’s control affecting predation, which could mean we have an imperfect understanding of how exactly predation is hampered in terms of gameplay.
Auto-Evo – Auto-Evo seems to punish size heavily – for instance, a nucleus, which doesn’t currently give a benefit in itself for AI, is rarely evolved due to the massive uptick in regulation energy cost. This means that the size of cells is oftentimes limited to that of prokaryotes, with no sizable prey items for eukaryotes.
Upcoming Spawn Revamp – The environment can be rather inconsistent at this point, resulting in either a bustling ecosystem or a sparse expanse with no cells. As such, it’s a challenge to find prey items in the first place a lot of times. As such, we will have to reassess predation when the spawning system is revamped in the near future.
Upcoming Engulfment Revamp – Kasterisk’s work on the way engulfment works, featuring a simple digestion system where a cell will gradually be broken down, will undoubtedly change the nature of predation as well. Balancing and additional features will likely have to be considered.
PERSONAL COMMENTS FROM A GAMEPLAY PERSPECTIVE
Predation doesn’t have to be complex, but I think it is too simple at this point. I think there are generally three existing predation strategies…
Engulfing Prey – Get as close as you can to a prey item and press G in an attempt to consume it, keeping up with the creature at the same time.
Toxins – Shoot projectiles at an organism, remaining close enough so that your projectiles are able to hit the target.
Pilus – Swim close to an organism and stab them with your spike, inflicting enough damage to make them burst.
I think there’s enough variety here, but each option doesn’t have a lot of depth to it and are flawed in some way. Toxins tie into the agent system discussion, which I think should be saved for later and in its own concept separate from predation itself. I think worthwhile discussion can be directed towards engulfment and the pilus however.
Both the pilus and the engulfment methods of combat are similar in that they contain a pursuit aspect and a direct contact aspect. They differ a bit, however, in that the pilus has a defensive aspect to it, at times preventing engulfment.
I feel that the “pursuit” aspect of predation is too simple because it ultimately is basically pointing your mouse in a direction, pressing W, and letting the game take it from there. If your base speed is faster than the organism’s, you’ll catch it eventually (either pretty soon or in a while depending on how much faster you are), and if your base speed is slower than the other organism’s, there is absolutely nothing you can do.
I think we should add another potential input for the player to interact with in their gameplay, so it isn’t just pointing your mouse in a direction and pressing W; this makes the pursuit aspect of predation rather monotonous and not as engaging as it could be. For example - as Buckly suggested, a sprint button, although rather simple, can make pursuit more engaging.
Funny enough, my mind drifts to God of War when considering ways to spice up direct contact (get your mind out the gutter). In it, you have two weapons – an axe enchanted with frost, and two blades enchanted with fire. The axe is potent against fire-based enemies, and the blade is potent against frost-based enemies. You play through half of the game with only the axe, familiarizing yourself with the base mechanics of combat, but eventually, you unlock the blades. And although simple, that small of a mechanic adds some much-needed spice to gameplay. Instead of blindly hacking your way through hordes, you now have to pay a bit more attention and switch between two weapons depending on the AI you face.
I think a similar distinction could be valuable in Thrive, where certain aspects of an organism require the player to adjust their pilus/engulfment strategy within the editor. For example, regarding the pilus, a certain length/girth is more effective against a specific type of membrane or a specific rigidity/fluidity, meaning the player will have to adapt their pilus and behavior based on their surroundings. And certain enzymes in the passive-effects system can speed up digestion against specific types of membranes.
Notes from Maxonovien: In addition to pursuit and contact, we also should think of the effort a player puts in to learn more about their prey and adapt their organism in light of this information. Two aspects of this information search were mentioned…
External Factors - Observing the parts on your prey item and deducing information - a nucleus means more mass and more abilities, pilus means close contact is dangerous, toxins indicate ranged ability, etc. Related to the skill of observation.
Internal Factors - Memorizing aspects of your prey which might not be readily apparent, such as aggression levels, skittishness, endurance, membrane flexibility, etc. Related to the skill of memorization.
These two factors interact, resulting in the player discerning which viable strategies would be best to a specific prey item. For example, a heavily-armored bacteria might require a different pilus, or an incredibly aggressive prey item might require more defensive measures meant to mitigate their weapons. Depending on how much we want to prioritize strategy and predation, we should bring focus on these aspects as well.
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS AND FIXES
Not everything has to be implemented of course, and certain options might be better than others, but here is a list of solutions brought up previously we may consider. I organized it loosely from what I think needs less programming effort to more programming effort. Also, just to make sure it is known: I didn’t come up with a lot of these.
NOTE: I feel spawning and Auto-Evo’s treatment of size should be prioritized before the implementation of other features regarding predation so that we have a more clear understanding of predation.
Drop FLAGELLA_ENERGY_COST Constant from 7 to 4 – Mentioned by Thim in this post: https://forum.revolutionarygamesstudio.com/t/game-design-discussion/867. Essentially, makes larger cells quicker without making smaller cells quicker. Already merged with code.
Damage Delay on Pilus – Will help with the general bugginess surrounding pilus physics, where a certain angle and flick of the wrist can absolutely devastate a cell instantly.
- Buckly mentions “even just a 1-tick delay should negate that issue”.
Increased Mass = Increased Health – Addresses the issue relating to little benefits in being bigger, where a cell’s health increases as they obtain more size.
Have Chemoreceptors Target Cells - Have the ability to track a specific prey item (species), reducing the search cost in finding prey and giving the player some sense of direction.
- I imagine this might be replaced with something a bit more nuanced than just “find x species” but it should be relatively easy to implement and update in the future.
JPG. Files of Microbes - Creating images of AI cells to use instead of referring to them by name in the report, which can rather easily lead to the player forgetting what a species looks like. Otherwise a generally useful feature with many implications, but in relation to predation, this should represent the beginning of the mental aspect of predation.
Have Auto-Evo Consider Activity Levels - Maxonovien states that according to how Auto-Evo is currently set up, it is unlikely that the player will encounter a cell which “tires out” because the system generally heavily penalizes an inability to sustain mobility+osmoregulation while at the same time not scaling the movement energy penalty with the activity level of the cell. He mentions that tweaking Auto-Evo should allow for cells which display noticeable differences in movement patterns, which should lead to endurance hunting.
Future Features to Consider
Enzymes, Membranes, & Engulfment – Spicing up the “direct contact” aspect of predation with engulfment, have enzymes corresponding with engulfment in the passive enzyme system (outlined here: https://forum.revolutionarygamesstudio.com/t/passive-enzyme-protein-slots-system/698/32), with certain enzymes speeding up the rate of digestion for different membranes.
- For example, a certain enzyme speeds up the digestion of cellulose membranes better, while a certain enzyme speeds up the digestion rate of chitin membranes better.
- For the immediate future, the implementation of lysosomes as a placable part will deal with this aspect more generally.
Pilus – Spicing up the “direct contact” aspect of predation with the pilus, have certain girths/lengths of pilus be more effective against certain rigidity levels.
- We’ll have to be careful with lock-and-key mechanics - several features, like agents and potentially pilus, are candidates for such a system, so we need to pick and choose which systems would work best with a lock-and-key method to prevent the player from being overwhelmed.
Sprint Option – A solution related to the issue of speed, have a sprint function attached to the flagella. According to Buckly’s concept, a “strain” system will also be implemented with sprint, where the longer your cell sprints, the less effectively it generates ATP. In other words, turning the ATP bar into a stamina bar. See here: Organism Stamina Mechanics
- This spices up the “pursuit” part of predation, where instead of deciding instantly that an organism is too fast for a player, they now have the option of burning more energy in exchange for faster speed. Players will then also be discerning whether or not a prey item is worth that energy, adding another layer of simple yet impactful decisions they will have to make as opposed to just seeing if their base speed is faster than their prey item or not.
- Also deals with the issue of placing 8 flagella or so just to have a usable amount of speed. Now, a player will just need to have enough flagella to reach their desired sprint speed for predation.
- Can easily lead into modification and customization for flagella options. For example, a slider in the modify menu… one side being faster sprint speed but strain being built up faster, and the other being slower sprint speed but slower strain build up. The first strategy is probably more preferable for players who only want sprint speed as a predation strategy, while the second strategy is more useful for players who want flagella more broadly to get around quicker.
- Maxonovien mentions that a sprint function attached to bacteria could be bending the realism optic a tad too much, so perhaps the sprint function should be relegated to eukaryotes? Prokaryotes on the other hand will focus more on dealing with the agent system; predation is more of a eukaryotic strategy anyways