I have been thinking about methods of implementing gene transfer in Thrive in a balanced and fun, but also plausible way. I dont know if I am happy with everything I came up with but I’m putting this out here for discussion material.
Types of gene transfer:
As with many aspects of biology, there are many ways cells could potentially transfer genetic material. While I would prefer to have atleast two varieties of transfer for cells to choose from, one method alone could be suitable for this stage of Thrive. A player could potentially select their preferred method within the behavior tab of the editor, or alternatively the methods could be adapted by placing specialized parts on the cell. This method would only be achieveable once per generation to prevent abuse. Among these options, there would be a selection for having no transferal method which would serve as the default adaptation.
Probably the most well known method of transfer and commonly known as horizontal gene transfer. This is where two cells simply adhere to eachother or form a bridge with pili to transfer genes. In Thrive, I imagine this process to be somewhat hard to achieve, but often rewarding. By pressing the assigned key, the player would enter a transferal mode where they extend a specialized pilus in order to hook onto the pilus extended by another microbe. Once connected the two microbes would need to remain for a short time in order to complete the transfer, otherwise they can cancel the transfer should the need arise at the cost of gaining nothing. During transfer, cells will find it difficult to move effectively, and will be left defenseless should a predator come.
A somewhat lesser known process, transformation is when a cell picks up and integrates loose genetic material into itself. In Thrive, this would allow players to obtain genetic information from the remains of dead cells. However, due to the damaged nature of these genes, the player would only have a small chance of obtaining anything of benefit from this unlike from proper genetic transfer. This method could be adapted as a passive chnage to a player’s engulfment mode where they would abosrb less compounds in exchange for a chance of genetic material. Cells with thick walls would also be incapable of this method. Alternatively, this could be it’s own seperate mode being activated by the same key as horizontal gene transfer.
Actually a method of sexual reproduction, auxospores are formed by the fusion of two cells in order to transfer genes which is seen in diatoms on earth. In Thrive, Forming an auxospore could be done by seeking out another cell when both you and the other are ready to divide, and then merging into each other using the transferal mode bringing the player to the editor. This could be a much safer method than conjugation, however the player would need to be ready for reproduction before starting the process.
Obviously there is a purpose for genetic transfer and while it is rather straight forward in nature, how shall it be in Thrive?
Random free organelles:
One potential reward is obtaining a single free cell part to in the editor which can be used or ignored, the random organelle would be related to the cell you transfered with.
A discount on the cost of parts related to the cell you transfered with, this would allow for more flexibility and less reliance of chance than the above method.
A flat increase in MP when entering the editor. A rather uncreative but suitable reward for genetic transfer. Would do exactly as advertised, and personally, is my least favorite.
Should we ever choose to implement unlockable parts, one method of unlocking them could be initiating transfer with a natural cell that possesses the part.
The one issue that bothers me the most about this, is a proper cost to the boon of increased freedom in the editor. I can’t quite come up with anything appropriate other than a high MP cost for adapting the abilities. We could potentially make the processes resource intensive to utilize but that in itself could be undesirable.