I noticed that there has been renewed interest in our patches so I wanted to jot out some ideas related to biomes, as an excuse to write something about Thrive after some inactivity.
I’m not necessarily against the idea of “new patches”, but I agree with Hh in saying that it’s best to assess any new additions once our current patches are actually more fleshed out with features such as terrain generation and currents. With no complex mechanics implemented, gameplay across patches is largely the same save for some differences in compound availability. Therefore, I think a better question is to look at how we can change up gameplay across patches with tweaks rather than immediately jumping to new patches being added.
I’ll make a list here to entertain some discussion and review existing (largely) agreed upon concepts. Note that there already has been some discussion regarding differences between patches by @Buckly in regards to terrain generation and currents. Here is an example of such discussion: Microbe Stage Terrain Generation and Features - #9 by hhyyrylainen
So this will partially serve as a recap of prior discussions as well. I’ll discuss what has already been established for each patch, and then what “experience” we might be trying to aim for in each patch as an attempt to generate new discussion. I think we can vary gameplay effects with some rather “simple” tweaks (in theory) instead of adding new systems or patches.
I’ll attach a word to the patch which might accurately depict the gameplay experience to be expected from them. This word may also be useful in terms of sound design, music choice, and other art assets to make a player really feel immersed in their environment.
Hydrothermal Vents - Chaotic
We will likely be going for an element of chaos and hecticness in this patch. There are considerable environmental pressures that life near a hydrothermal vent contends with, as intense motion and geological movements literally shape the environment. Though, special care must be taken to ensure that players aren’t immediately overwhelmed, as this patch usually serves as the beginning of a playthrough.
Terrain will have a notable presence in this patch. It’ll have a notable impact on gameplay, but will not be overbearing. There will be barriers, crevices, and small outcrops, but players generally won’t feel boxed in.
It might be worthwhile to introduce some sort of environmental hazard here.
Tidepools - Energetic
Receiving a constant influx of energy, tidepools are almost boiling, and thus have a lot of ambient work and force. Nutrient inputs and productivity is constant, but extreme conditions force life to make some odd concessions. There is a sense of pressure, as if being in a teapot.
Terrain will be present, but will be somewhat incoherent and unpredictable. Currents will be strong, but will be incoherent and a mess, as if bubbling from pressure.
Ocean Floor/Abyssopelagic - Alien
The ocean floor will be an odd and bizarre place. As life spreads through the ocean, the ocean floor will contain more and more marine snow, represented by a surprising amount of free glucose and a significant presence of free-floating parts. The result will be an environment which, despite all odds, is a rather populated biome with organisms that depend on a sort of competition for scavenging and decomposition.
Currents will be rather slow and choppy, with some sort of ambient drift carrying parts across areas. Terrain will be a significant factor, providing many nooks and crannies for smaller organisms to reach. Some sense of claustrophobia might be present, where players have to navigate around barriers.
Deep Ocean/Bathypelagic - Isolated
Likely the largest biome on an oceanic planet, the bathypelagic is an immense and dark expansion of space. Microbial diversity tends to be somewhat low in these areas, with minimal autotrophic productivity. A lot of energy here depends on marine snow and ambient environmental nutrition, resulting in a relatively low energy existence. As such, we can aim to convey a sense of insignificance and expansiveness within the biome itself.
Currents can be relatively slow, but will be large and will meander and swirl for a relatively long distance. There will be no notable terrain.
Mid-Ocean/Mesopelagic - Expansive
Similar to the bathypelagic, the mesopelagic is an immense portion of the ocean. However, more productivity is expected due to an increased presence of nutrition and at least some light peering through. Due to similar environmental factors, the mesopelagic and the epipelagic will generally be connected and easy to transfer between for most organisms. As such, the mesopelagic might be thought of as the “backyard” of the epipelagic, with many of the same actors but not in as crowded of an area.
Currents here will likely be at their strongest, and will form long lines of force allowing organisms to hitch a ride if specially adapted so. Think of the turtle scene from Finding Nemo. There will be no notable terrain.
Ocean-Surface/Epipelagic - Productive
The most productive zone of the ocean, the epipelagic is responsible for a significant portion of the ocean’s biomass. An immense host of photosynthetic life is present. Combining this with the fact that much of the ocean surface is far away from any sort of geological features, and thus, nutritional inputs, and the result is an ecosystem which relies heavily on light and primary producers.
Currents here will be present, but won’t be as expansive and will be more choppy and segregated. This will represent the business of surface ocean currents; flowing and powerful, but not monolithic, and rather erratic. Organisms will have to get used to this brackishness.
Coastal Shelf/Shallow Ocean - Bustling
Having as much light as the epipelagic but with more mineral and nutritional inputs from geological runoffs, the shallow ocean will likely be the most diverse and populous region in many playthroughs. Alongside light, various compounds, such as ammonia, phosphate, and iron will be more present, allowing for numerous forms of metabolism to be sustained.
Currents will be notably strong in this patch, but will be somewhat short and brackish akin to the epipelagic.
Underwater Cave - Contained
Perhaps the most defined environment in Thrive, caves are unique in the implication of being a contained, secluded area within a world. This element can be reinforced with a very present amount of terrain, and some strong, but infrequent currents.
Polar Sea - Harsh
Whereas most environments in Thrive will have a good amount of motion, the colder regions of the player’s planet could seem oddly still. Currents will be very, very slow, and will be more defined. Terrain is much less affected by currents as well. As such, the movement associated with other cells will be more noticeable.
Ice shards provide a unique environmental hazard in this patch. Having these appear at various sizes would help reinforce a sense of harshness in the patches, as if stepping on ice.
Estuary - Fluctuating
When a player is playing in the estuary, they should be made to feel that things are unstable. A dynamic environment at the intersection of a saline and freshwater, inland stream, these patches can be considered to be less long-lasting and more sensitive than the other broader, more geologically significant patches. There is a certain sense of change to the environment.
Currents are pretty strong, and are more coherent than those of the epipelagic, but less coherent than the massive water columns in the mesopelagic. The terrain is frequent, but is relatively small and is less dense than that found in other environments; so they tend to be more easily influenced by water currents. As such, players might see their environment somewhat change at a very microscopic level.
This list can be a starting point in thinking up ways to differentiate patches with smaller tweaks. Here are some things to consider.
What is Terrain? - One thing I would like to note is that it would probably be best to define what exactly we mean when we talk about “terrain”, since the Microbe Stage is a pretty abstract representation of actual space. Previous concepts implied that terrain would essentially be akin to walls that jut out from the background, but I think that would be kind of uncanny to represent with our 2D stage (I feel it would give the impression of a Pacman-like maze effect).
Now, I’m starting to think that “terrain” should probably be more thought of as the frequency, distribution pattern, and features of large objects/rocks in the game scene. So a “wall” in terms of a terrain-object wouldn’t necessarily be a literal “thick line” of sorts acting as a wall, but instead a cluster of rocks and such that are spawned in a way that constricts player movement a bit. Terrain heavy patches could have frequent objects which require navigation around and constrict movement.
Spawning - If spawning is revamped to be more manageable in the future, or if it already is somewhat predictable, I wonder if we can have it so that AI will spawn differently depending on the patch.
For example, we can reinforce the loneliness of the bathypelagic by having organisms spawn in a rather distributed and sparse way. We can have the epipelagic and coastal shelves have rather uniform and populous spawning to reinforce the idea of productivity and business. In the hydrothermal vents, we can have a lot of spawning in very dense distributions, resulting in chaotic influxes of bacteria and organisms for the player to deal with. That can be another relatively minor tweak that results in a variety of gameplay.
The same can be extended to compound cloud spawning as well. Perhaps some environments have relatively quickly appearing and disappearing clouds, while others have more stable and long-lasting clouds. And obviously, the same is applied for marine snow.