Hey guys, off the radar for a while but I’m trying to catch back up on things.
I gave 0.4.1 a go and it was awesome! I spent much more time playing with it then any previous version. I also made a list of all the thoughts and suggestions I had on it after playing for a while. If here isn’t the right place to post them just let me know. Some of these suggestions will likely be much easier to implement than others. I’m also sure some of these have already been mentioned or are currently being addressed:
Things I Liked
- The visuals are beautiful! I’m not sure exactly what it is but everything looks so much more crisp and realistic.
- I love the aesthetic of the iron chunks, its cool to run into these giant particles that give you a sense of how small you are.
- The environments feel so alive now, and with such a wide variety of different cells too with some large and multiflagellated and others tiny and in swarms.
- The bacteria are very mobile and feel like bacteria, and then when you evolve into a eukaryote you feel a change in gameplay because ATP is used up much faster and you become a lot bulkier and slower. It really forces you to make sure you’re ready for the nucleus before evolving it.
- The death of cells and watching the organelles spill out intact is very cool and realistic!
- The sense of progression is a lot more tangible, since you start as this simple hex of cytoplasm and you eventually become much larger and more complex.
- I also like how your playstyle changes as you evolve. As a bacteria you play a certain way, and then you need to change it up once you become a eukaryote.
- I liked the tradeoffs of certain mutations. Adding more flagella made me faster, but also made me use up my ATP a lot faster. My movement went from a constant, medium speed, to short bursts of high speed and then waiting for ATP to recharge.
Suggestions for Gameplay
I’ve heard some mentions of how to make the gameplay more fun. In short, I think the fun from the Microbe Stage comes from trying to fulfill two main objectives/challenges, since the game is more like a Paradox game where there are no clear win conditions, as opposed to something like Civilization with clear win conditions. The two main objectives are:
Survival refers to the fact that the player is trying to survive from generation to generation and not go extinct. To make this objective more fun, we need to make the challenge the player faces difficult and dynamic, so they need to come up with smart solutions and so they can’t always use the same solutions. An example of this is that predatory cells will try to chase and kill me if I’m not careful, so I have to evolve and play to be able to counter them.
Progression refers to the fact that as the player is playing, he will want to progress deeper into the game to unlock new abilities, parts, content, gameplay, stages, environments, etc. For example, when I was playing as a bacterium, I wanted to evolve so that I could become a eukaryote so that I could unlock all the abilities they have. This made me really invested and have a lot of fun in the early game. However, the sense of progression at the moment is very brief and wears off after you become a Eukaryote. Also it’s true that evolution comes with tradeoff, but there is also a clear progression in the complexity of life over time, which matches this objective of progression in the game.
For the following suggestions to gameplay, most of them can be seen as improving the quality of one of the above objectives.
- Absorbing organelles is a little too effective at the moment. All I need to do is eat the organelles of a single cell who just died and I immediately get enough compounds to reproduce. It should be much more inefficient at first, and require you to evolve the “Lysosomes” organelle to make it more efficient (which would also make it more of a niche you need to adapt to).
- Add some weak/slow water currents to the environment. It’ll add some geography to the environment and also make things look more realistic.
- When a cell begins to absorb another cell, it doesn’t really feel like I am absorbing them. I think the movement of both the predator and the victim should be greatly reduced during the process. Perhaps make the speed of the victim slower the deeper they are into the cell, if it’s possible to calculate that?
- Add in some basic group mechanics for cells, particularly for prokaryotes. Chains of photosynthesizing cells (like cyanobacteria), swarms of bacteria swimming together, perhaps a cluster of thermophilic cells huddled over a heat spot, things like that.
- Some of the simple species of the early game should stay in the game all throughout. Maybe it was just me but it felt like by late game the environment was all prokaryotes with toxins, or giant eukaryotes with tons of flagella.
- You shouldn’t be able to reproduce while damaged. I think this may have been discussed before, but it feels like a cheap copout. You’re on the verge of death, and then oh you just reproduce and you’re fine. I think it makes taking damage less meaningful, because as long as it doesn’t kill you it doesn’t matter. It’s also not very realistic.
- Evolution should be more iterative and involve more progression (i.e. more unlocking of organelles). It felt like as soon as I became a Eukaryote I suddenly unlocked a bunch of organelles. This one’s a lengthy one so I’ll put it in a spoiler.
Evolution is much more likely to adapt an existing structure than it is to create an entirely new one out of nothing (look at how the horse evolved a hoof from the nail of the mammalian thumb). For example, placing lysosomes in a cell that doesn’t even have vacuoles should cost 100MP (or some high value). However, if you already have vacuoles, evolving one of them into a lysosome should cost a much cheaper amount, like 40MP. Placing a vacuole itself would also only cost something like 40MP (however you can’t upgrade the vacuole the same generation you add it), so the overall cost of the lysosome was only 80MP. The tradeoff is that you had to spend 2 or more generations evolving it. Once you’ve placed your first lysosome, placing future lysosomes should be much cheaper (like 50% off or something). This is because genetically, once you’ve already got the genes that produce that structure, it’s pretty easy to just duplicate them to create more. Another example of this could be evolving flagella from cilia. I think not only is this much more realistic but also makes editor changes much more strategic, and adds a lot more progression to the stage.
- Maybe this is intended, but when you evolve into a Eukaryote should your prokaryotic organelles upgrade into their eukaryotic variants?
- Perhaps add the ability for the player to decide how to divide his compound storage in the editor? Maybe he wants to reduce iron storage to up glucose storage?
- Add a phylogenetic tree / cladogram / evolutionary tree for the player’s species, so he can keep track of his success and it would indicate related species he can hop to if his species goes extinct. Perhaps only make it available to view in the editor? Or maybe only update it once you reach the editor?
- I don’t remember if this was discussed before, but free floating Amino Acid clouds should be the primary way of getting your Amino Acids in the early game. Ammonia is toxic to most life. Over time though, free floating Amino Acid clouds become less common as the oceans fill with life, and specifically after the Oxygenation Event (discussed here). Thus after this, every species is forced to evolve a way to get their Amino Acids. The options are to eat/scavenge cells for their amino acids, to evolve resistance to ammonia so that you can use that, or to evolve a protein that can make your own Amino Acids from nitrogen gas dissolved in the ocean (Nitrogenase organelle).
- Just an idea, what if compounds the player cannot use were invisible? Is it really necessary for them to see them? And it would visually clear up the environment a bit.
- Allow controlling the “thrust” of your movement, with a little scale/dial on the UI to show you what its at. At max thrust you move your max speed, but you can scale it down to conserve energy. Perhaps also make scaled down thrust more energy efficient, so that max thrust is only for dire situations?
- Not a high priority, but the original cell should not be able to detect most if not all of the environmental variables like temperature, light, oxygen, CO2, etc. They should be hidden until they evolve those structures.
- Last, but definitely not least, I think it’s time we start adding in parts of the early Multicellular Stage! I think it would definitely help add more progression to the current game, and also is not too different from the existing gameplay so it wouldn’t require too many additions/changes to game systems.
Some suggestions for the aesthetics and interface of the game.
- Perhaps add some cells and particles into the foreground and background? It’s weird how everything is currently on the same plane.
- The background looks a lot better but could still use some work. I don’t think the bubbles should be part of the background’s texture, because it’s very clear that they are static and not moving. If we’re going to have bubbles, they should be modelled/animated to move and be 3D. There should also be more blur and distortion/refraction to the background to show that the setting is underwater.
- There’s something a little off about how the clouds look and flow and are absorbed, but I’m not sure exactly what. It might be their texture looking too repetitive?
- We should add an animation to organelles and cell membranes when they die or are absorbed, even just a simple dissolving animation. It’s a little weird to see them just pop out of existence.
- There should be a reproduction progress bar. I can’t keep track of how many organelles I have duplicated, especially when I become a large cell.
- Entering engulfment mode should not make you flash. It’s unrealistic and a little jarring. There should be something like an icon that appears on the edge of the screen, or perhaps gently flashes to remind you that you’re in engulfment mode.
- Iron ions should be rewritten as just Iron.
- Phosphates should be singular as Phosphate.
- We should hide compound bars that are empty (although perhaps not if its a compound you need like glucose). We shouldn’t show compound bars that you can’t use, like why do I care about iron when I’m first starting as a prokaryote.
- Sometimes flagella become completely stiff when a cell dies and they fall off, which looks pretty strange. Is there a way to make them flow with the water?
- We should add some radial blur to the edges of the screen.
- Why do the flagella have a plunger looking structure at their base?
- Flagella animations sometimes don’t work when I am swimming in a direction they are facing, is that a bug?
- The font is not very readable, and sometimes things are written in all capitals (or at least the font’s undercase is not very clear).
- The box on the top left that shows info on where your cursor is is a fantastic idea. It uses too much text though, the names of the compounds should be replaced with their icons, and perhaps colour code the number with the colour of the cloud. There’s also some dead space on the right of the box.
- In the top bar with the environmental variables, O2 and CO2 should use subscripts for the numbers.
- Sometimes the gameplay feels very quiet. Is there more ambient sounds we can add? Something like soft bubbling or underwater echoing in the background?
- When placing structures in the editor, you should be able to see what is currently there, and perhaps a preview of what you are placing instead of just grey hexes for everything. I tried to remove organelles in a future generation and realized I’d forgotten what hexes were what. It also looks nicer to see your cell instead of a collection of grey hexes.
- Instead of one long list, the organelles list on the side should be broken up into a side panel with different sections (like in Kerbal Space Program). Each section would have an icon with a name when you hover over it (like “Prokaryotic Structures”).
- Speaking of Prokaryotic Structures, that section should be renamed to just “Proteins” (since that’s what they are). Also as far as I’m aware they aren’t limited to just Prokaryotes?
- Renaming species doesn’t seem to work. This would be a nice little QoL and immersion feature to have.
- The hex grid should not appear behind the organelle panel on the left, it makes it harder to read the organelles. The hex grid should also be 50% more transparent, it’s a little too bright right now.
- Perhaps make it so that the hex grid is invisible, and only highlights around where the cursor is.
- Undo and redo buttons look more like camera rotation buttons because of where they are placed and the icons they have.
- Osmoregulation cost should be renamed to something like Metabolic Rate, Metabolism Cost, Base Metabolism, etc. Then in a tooltip or in the Thrivepedia we can explain that Osmoregulation is part of the cost of Metabolism.
- Hovering over elements of the UI like generation number or speed should explain the value and what it means (specifically for something like speed where I don’t have any reference for the units).
- The information panel for placing organelles is a bit hard to read. The MP cost should use the icon for MP instead of the word. The description of the organelle should be the very first thing and be super simple, such as: “Mitochondrion: Turns glucose (icon) into ATP (icon) in the presence of oxygen (icon).” More complex description and notes should be at the bottom of the tooltip or in the Thrivepedia entry on the Mitochondrion. The description of the process should use icons instead of words (or at least icons with the words).
- When you are about to place a hex or structure, there should be a tooltip showing you what values of your cell it will change (such as will decrease speed by this amount, will increase Metabolism by this amount, will increase storage by this amount, etc.)
I know this is a long list, but don’t get the wrong idea I love where the game is at now. I think it’s because the game is getting so fleshed out that there are now so many potential ways to add to it and improve it.