Upgrades, Unlocks, & Endosymbiosis Master Thread

That wasn’t really my point…

My point was that if you have like 10+ unlock conditions going on at once, and we only show one of those, the player has just two choices:

  • Go one by one placing each organelle the unlock system says they need first
  • Remember or look on the wiki what unlock condition (or series of conditions for multiple intermediate organelles) exists for the organelle you want to place.

That’s the issue I wanted to bring up.

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With mucilage nearing completion, I wanted to jot out some thoughts regarding how to deal with upgrades focused on this organelle.

There are two elements/uses of mucilage…

  1. Provides a jet-like speed boost
  2. Slows down cells

We should probably implement a slider focused on this dichotomy, with one end enhancing the speed boost generated from mucilage at the cost of its effect on other cells and the other end enhancing the trapping ability of mucilage at the cost of added thrust. We could assume that a mucilage organelle adapted for speed uptakes more water in its creation of mucilage, resulting in slime that is more easily produced with much more of a propellant force at the cost of a less potent concentration of pure slime. We also probably want to increase the spread speed of the trapping-specialization (increasing the speed at which the cloud grows).


Ah gotcha. Yeah that is a good point. Luckily for the Microbe Stage, I don’t think the tree would ever go more than 4-5 tiers deep. In my conceptual tree I made there’s one part that is 5 tiers deep, a few that are 4, and everything else is 3 or less. But it would be a much bigger concern in later stages I would imagine, as there are so many different organs and mutations we could potentially add to Multicellular and Aware. So we’d have to think about what’s the best way to show the order of progression.

It’s also important to think, do we want the player to be able to see the entire progression tree? Or only the next immediate tier. I prefer the latter, as it preserves the mystery and adds much more discovery to the game.

I think that sounds like a great upgrade path. And yes exactly it could easily be scientifically explained by the water content of the mucilage.

Seeing the full tree at once really hampers the point that we initially hide the complexity from the player.
This reminds me that the ridiculous skill tree of Path of Exile is a quit moment for many players who first open it.

Edit: even showing all of the next unlock conditions seem like a bad design to me. As I said, I think the unlock system really only fulfills the goal of hiding complexity initially if the tooltip on the locked organelle placeholder doesn’t list like 10 conditions in a really long tooltip…

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I disagree with implementing this. While it makes sense in terms of realism and evolution, I feel that it is largely unintuitive for the player to have to first evolve defensive parts… to then evolve mobility parts.

In order for progression to feel good for the player, it needs to form a path of incremental return in the desired form. So when a player wants speed, they get a little speed, and can invest to get more speed.

Other than that I am perfectly fine with incremental advancement and iterative evolution. I just don’t want players to be forced to… take a detour of sorts to get where they want.

As such my stance remains firm that baseline parts should remain independent from each other in terms of progression.

This is also a pain to try to make the average player understand. Once multicellular is done we probably even need a tutorial that points out the binding agents, otherwise we’ll get a bunch of new players asking how to advance in the game, as a tooltip saying “hey this is the way forward” is not seemingly enough. So I don’t have much trust that if we have a tooltip saying that “you need to evolve this before you can get go fast parts” people won’t notice and they’ll then complain about how slow you are in Thrive and there’s nothing you can do…

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Bumping for relevance to the times…

As I understand, looking at the immediate(ish) future: Organelles have an upgrade framework and we would attach unlock conditions to different organelles using this, Is this correct? And to communicate the conditions and progress, we would use some generic ‘unknown’ icon to represent something that hasn’t been unlocked yet?

How would encapsulation of these conditions work? What should the script and structure we end up using look like (since I guess it won’t necessarily be a simple tree?) Most importantly, where (as in specific file) should one start? I feel like that much information would be enough to get this ball rolling at least.


Why would the upgrade framework be involved?

Unlocking organelles is an entirely different thing. Well mostly different, no one came up with an acceptable organelle “tech tree”.


I think that an unlock conditions new class needs to be created. An instance of that can be stored in GameProperties for access everywhere. Various actions performed by the player microbe will need to update the unlock condition progress and the editor needs to read the unlocked things. And also there needs to be showing how close the player is to some unlock in the editor to guide the player towards what they need to do.


As there’s talk about organelle unlocks, I think it’s a good time to discuss endosymbiosis as well. Currently it is planned to be a way to unlock certain eukaryotic organelles by engulfing another cell with fitting organelles. As has been brought up before though, there are some challenges with it. Not all cells can engulf others, and auto-evo might not create fitting endosymbionts. These points restrict possible strategies and create a reliance on luck. Currently there is no consensus on how to handle this, so I hope we can reach some plan of action.

Personally, I think it would be a good idea to have an alternative to endosymbiosis so that any determined player can get the organelles they want. I propose the following as a starting point:

You can unlock Chloroplast, Mitochondrion, Chemoplast, Nitrogen-Fixing Plastid or Thermoplast via:

  • having the nucleus AND
  • endosymbiosis OR having had the corresponding protein for 7 generations.

The conditions are separate and can be completed in either order. This is a tweaked version of Deus’s idea at the start of this topic:

In my opinion the number of required proteins was high, so I dropped it to one. I also thought that we could have all of these organelles have the same kind of condition for simplicity. I chose to include the nucleus as a condition, because it’s useless to see organelles you can’t place, and I don’t think the game is currently ready to have membrane-bound organelles placed before the nucleus.

As for the Nucleus itself, I think it could be unlocked via either:

  • engulfing another cell OR having a size of 10+

I think that this could be a good starting point. It’s fairly simple and probably won’t be all that difficult to implement once the organelle unlock system is ready. If it doesn’t work, we can figure something else out. I did also think about the idea of using an MP cost as the alternative, but while that could perhaps work, I feel that non-MP unlocks fit more in line with the current plan.

What do you guys think? Should we have an alternative to endosymbiosis? Does my/Deus’s proposal fit, or should we do something different?

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I think from a new player perspective an ATP balance or size requirement would be good for the nucleus.

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My only thing is that with your suggested unlock conditions, I can’t see any player justifying going through endosymbiosis. If they earn an organelle by just having a single protein, it’s very easy to eventually get that part. If you place down a single unit of every single protein/prokaryotic precursor and all unlock conditions are similar, you could theoretially get every single part after 7 or so turns with your nucleus.

I ultimately see endosymbiosis as the primary process of unlocking which the player will utilize, and thus see the alternative unlock conditions as fail-safes in the case that they get really bad conditions. I think alternative upgrade paths should be demanding because a big element of the appeal of endosymbiosis is the underlying strategy; is this part worth the effort, and what should I invest my body plan towards? Where should I direct my evolutionary strategies and direction towards, where should I focus my attention? If alternative unlocks are very loose, not only would a player be able to get access to all parts rather easily soon after becoming eukaryotic, but we lose a lot of that strategy, which I think will be a unique characteristic of the Microbial stage in which you are building the basic characteristics of life on your planet.

Having somewhat demanding unlock conditions makes it so that a player who clearly intends to utilize an evolutionary strategy gets access to the parts that are immediately useful to them, but also requires some thought on the player’s half of where they want to end up. If they want a chloroplast, their prokaryote should be geared towards photosynthesis, and they should be making the comrpomises necessary to create a successful autotrophic organism. Just because a condition is demanding doesn’t necessarily mean that the organelle itself will be immensely hard for players to unlock; I am sure most players who will rely on the chloroplast will end up having 5+ copies of thylakoids if they want to become a larger, more complex cell eventually. Having somewhat demanding unlock conditions also further incentivizes utilizing endosymbiosis. If I was a eukaryote who already is clearly on the path to unlocking a mitochondria even through alternative unlock conditions and I want chloroplasts but I don’t want to place down thylakoids, I can just make a prokaryote with thylakoids my endosymbiont.

I guess an underlying question is what role/purpose we attach to endosymbiosis and alternative unlock conditions. In my opinion, endosymbiosis should be the primary means of unlocking organelles or a powerful tool to utilize when you want to unlock a part outside your immediate and current body plan that is unique to the Microbial Stage (and early-multicellular stage even) rather than simply acting as a “scientific-flair” choice to unlock parts that can be easily avoided through traditional means. I think it is important to introduce elements of long-term strategy in Thrive extending beyond decisions found within a single trip towards the editor and requiring the player to consider the trajectory of their niche/playstyle as a whole.

I also think that, considering the player can derive organelles from a endosymbiont cell as long as a single replica/copy of the precursor prokaryotic part (or other small number if we want, like two copies),
the system is flexible enough to avoid most cases of the player being softblocked. It might take a bit longer, but they will eventually get a part via endosymbiosis (and through alternative unlock conditions of course). I think that as long as players can get the parts they want, even if there are some delays, we have an engaging mechanic; part of the fun challenge of many strategy games is planning for moments in which conditions are not necessarily ideal, as long as the game gives the player some chance to eventually fulfil their plans.


You bring up some great points. My main reason for easy conditions was a worry that some players might feel kinda stuck if they have to be without membrane-bound organelles for a long time. The nucleus is currently rather useless on its own, so new organelles are its main selling point. But it is true that endosymbiosis is meant to be the main way to acquire organelles, and the alternative ways probably aren’t all that bad even with the more demanding conditions. I think we can go with those for a start and see how it feels during playtesting. I imagine that will clear things up a lot.


It’s fair to think about how difficult this system might be for unfamiliar players. One thing I’m sure we can do is make things different across difficulty levels to make it so that newer players trying to get a grip on things have more access to organelles.

And true about the nucleus. I guess the unique thing about the nucleus according to this concept is that it would allow you to have more than just one type of organelle, but it could still ask for more.


EDIT: Thinking more about the topic of difficulty, I think it would be a good idea to have Leinourdian’s unlock proposals be the unlock conditions for an “Easy” playthrough of Thrive. This will allow players who are intimidated by the detail of Thrive playing on Easy to have access to most things with relative ease. We could have the more elaborate unlock conditions be present for Normal difficulty, and spice them up for Hard.


I’ve spent a bit of time working on upgrades. I’ve attempted to create a general structure of understanding the various types of upgrades we will offer, and have began to write down various upgrade proposals according to type.

Types of Upgrades

Structural – Focus on improving the capacity of the organelle itself. Most upgrades force the player to choose between various attributes, but a few upgrades are flatline improvements to stats at the cost of additional ATP consumption and/or reproductive costs.

  • Modifications – Sliders or toggles which alter a specific part.
  • Variants – Transforms a part’s nature to alter biological processes.

Environmental – Upgrades focused on altering an organisms environmental preferences towards factors such as heat, pressure, and salinity.

Toxicity – Upgrades focused on improving resistance to toxins. Or, in the case of toxin parts themselves, upgrades focused on changing the characteristics of toxins.

I also have a few upgrade proposals right now which I think can be implemented pretty easily. Most of our upgrades will inevitably be “tradeoff” modifications which will have the player choose between aspects of a part - for example, storage vs. glycolysis rate - but I remember @hhyyrylainen requesting a few more traditional upgrades to atleast better populate the current upgrade system. So here are a few of these traditional upgrades.

Flagella: Fast-Twitch – Increases max speed, but increases ATP consumption.
Slime: Increased Production – Increases the rate of slime generation, but increases the cost on glucose.
Oxy-Toxy: Increased Production – Increases the rate of oxy-toxy generation, but increases the ATP costs attached.

Again, I do think the majority of upgrades will end up having to be tradeoffs considering most parts in the microbial stage are focused on internal metabolic processes. But there is some room for more flat, traditional upgrades, especially for external parts. I will propose various of these upgrades, organized into the mentioned “types” of upgrades discussed in the introduction to this post, later with commentary. A lot of it will be stuff seen already at the original post of this thread.

I think there is some potential to make these upgrades more interesting. For example the oxytoxy could specialize either in production or fire rate. That way the player could specialize for high rate of fire and long recharge time, or producing a lot of toxin that they can steadily fire / their species is much more poisonous when eaten.

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A question I have is what should be left as a modification via a slider or toggle and what should be a proper variant upgrade. Currently we have one variant upgrade, the pulling cilia. It needs to be a variant because it comes with a completely new function. But looking at many of the suggested upgrades, they don’t. They’re just tradeoffs between numerical stats. Production vs input need, fire rate vs “reload time”, flagella speed vs ATP cost etc. All of these could just be sliders.

What to do in cases where something could either be a slider or a variant? Variants have the benefit of requiring less fine-tuning from players. The other side of the coin however is allowing no fine-tuning at all. Also, you probably can’t combine variants. So if e.g. faster flagella and turning flagella were both variants, you couldn’t have a mix of both.

Overall, I like handling numerical tweaks with sliders and using variants only for functional changes. In my opinion that’s more consistent and fits Thrive’s detail heavy sandbox gameplay well. Some good examples of fitting variants could be the toxin pilus and the specialized vacuole that only stores one compound but with increased capacity.

Another thing I want to mention is we could get a lot of customizability by adding a tradeoff between speed and efficiency. Here with efficiency I mean lack of waste i.e. the input to output ratio. This is similar to some of the suggested upgrades, but it could be added as a slider for almost all organelles, including organelles with processes, flagella, and lysosomes. It would also add more strategy. Do you want to have a high but inefficient metabolism, allowing you to be a speed demon at the cost of needing food all the time? Or do you want to have a slow but efficient metabolism, that enables you to survive when food is scarce, but leaves you a sitting duck for predators?

One thing to consider with tweakable efficiency is the order of processes. I imagine it would feel bad if your less efficient processes happened to go first and eat up all your compounds. Could processes happen in order of efficiency? Or alternatively could the player choose the order of their processes? I’m guessing this wouldn’t be very easy to implement, but could it be possible?

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Would you believe me if I said I actually did write something like that down? I just wasn’t sure what is more difficult to implement rapidly so I just jotted down some more traditional upgrade proposals first.

We could allow the player to customize the “potency” of their projectiles or actions, which essentially would be tweaking how much toxin is expelled at a time. This way, people can choose between either a less potent but more rapidly employable toxin or a much more potent and damaging projectile that requires a lot more toxin at a time to use.

Like you said, I think the big thing is having dramatic shifts in organelle function be present as a variant, which will essentially be a button in the Modify menu, and modification as sliders. I’m whipping up a Word Doc right now with several ideas mentioned, and a notation for whether or not a particular upgrade is a modification or a variant, so that will give us a better understanding of what is currently conceptualized and what we can focus on.

The cool thing about variants is that for some parts, we can implement a unique ability without having to create a new model. So one thing we could think about are cool game abilities found in most games that we want to replicate in Thrive, finding a suitable/replicable biological phenomena that reflects said ability, then implementing it as a variant.

This is a cool idea, though I wonder if we should allow the player to mess with their metabolism rate via upgrading individual parts or through the “Process Panel” we have established. We do already have plans to have, for example, to allow the player to “prioritized” food sources. That can be expanded into other things if we see it being worthwhile.

I mean, probably. Computationally that would require calculating the potential speeds and “efficiency numbers” (I used quotes here as just a raw ratio of inputs to outputs is likely not the best in all cases, for example with environmental inputs) then sorting all of those and running. I don’t know the actual impact but I’d guess that would take at least 20% more CPU time.

I wanted to note a change to the upgrade philosophy of Thrive. We previously stated that we were avoiding “flat” traditional upgrades which simply improve stats with only a cost on ATP generation, but this has been switched up a bit. Currently, we are moving towards allowing more traditional upgrades for external parts, such as the flagellum.

These types of upgrades will likely still be pretty rare in comparison to the specialization-focused upgrades; however, I wanted to note this to avoid confusion. I will edit the OP soon enough.

Working through upgrades, I have found external parts to be the easiest to navigate through. Internal parts are a bit difficult to work with because they represent processes, but more scientific research about variations in metabolic strategy can offer interesting alternatives. I think ultimately, editing metabolic processes would represent different niches, while external part upgrades will largely represent different abilities and powers for the player to use. I think we should consider a larger discussion about the controls players will have over metabolism before we dive very deeply into various parts.

Here are some external part upgrade proposals. Note that I didn’t come up with the majority of these, I just compiled previous discussions and added a few bits of commentary or a few new proposals.

Also note: (V) indicates a variant, while (M) indicates a modification.



  • Increased Production (M) – Increases the rate of oxy-toxy generation, but increases the ATP costs attached.
  • Potency v. Rate of Fire (M) – Choose between a slow-firing and expensive but destructive burst of toxicity or a rapid-firing and cheap but less damaging toxin projectile.


This will be a drop-down menu with choices.

  • Damage – The default toxin, inflicts max damage.
  • Damage Per Second – Inflicts less damage over a large amount of time.
  • Disable Movement Parts – Disables Cilia and Flagella for a duration of time.
  • Obscure Vision – Darkens the vision of cells. For AI cells, slows them down slightly and reduces the propensity to flee or attack.



  • Fast-Twitch (M) – Increases max speed, but increases ATP consumption.
  • Thickness as Max-Speed v. Current Resistance (M) – Less thick flagella are more quick, but are weaker against currents. Thicker flagella are less quick, but are resilient to currents.
  • Length as Short, Rapid Sprint v. Long, Paced Sprint (M) – Longer flagella makes sprint speed faster, but lasts much shorter. Shorter flagella makes sprint speed slower, but stamina much longer.



  • Length as Damage Range v. Damage (M) – Shorter pilus inflict more damage but at a shorter range. Longer pilus inflict less damage but at a longer range.
  • Thickness as Damage v . Mass (M) – Thinner pilus inflict less damage but slow down cells much less, while thicker pilus inflicts more damage but slow down the cell more.
  • Straw Pilus (V) – Less damage, but hostile resource transfer occurs. Goes through most armor.
  • Toxic Pilus (V) – Less damage, but toxin transfer occurs. Goes through most armor.



  • Increased Production (M) – Increases the rate of slime generation, but increases the cost on glucose.
  • Force v. Amount Expelled (M) – Increases the speed gain from expelling slime, but requires much more slimeto be expelled at a time.
  • Mucocyst (V) – A shield ability. When toggled, instead of expelling gel, the cell casts a hardened casing which completely negates engulfment and damage. However. Players are immobilized, and processes are paused. Has a minute cooldown.



  • Cell-Tracing (V) – Can trace cells, but not compounds.
  • Max Range v. Minimum Amount (M) – A greater detection range allows players to trace compounds across greater distances, but requires a greater concentration of compounds to be detected. A smaller detection range doesn’t give players the same vision over distance, but allows the detection of more minimal amounts of compounds.