Compounds and Compound Toxicity

There’s still some tweaking that can be done regarding Thrive’s compound system that would really spice things up in terms of gameplay – some tweaks rather simple, some requiring systems that are yet to be implemented into Thrive. On the one hand, there’s a wide variety of elements, nutrients, and molecules that a cell needs, meaning a lot of room for expansion from the few elements utilized in-game already; regarding this variety, the question is what biological realities would be desirable to add to the game, as there isn’t really a way Thrive can simulate every single compound’s effect on a cell without stretching itself thin. On the other hand, the way cells have evolved to cope with new compounds that are initially damaging in the Earth’s developing atmosphere – how cells responded to increased oxygen levels, new available nutrients from runoff, etc. – is an important part of our evolutionary story and would be a very engaging aspect of Thrive if properly implemented.

Concepts for the first idea (new elements) are as complex as deciding on the impacts of new environmental compounds, their behavior, and how they impact the player. Concepts for the second idea (essentially, compound toxicity) are more tough, as I think they depend on a good upgrade system. However, even more difficult is the fact that said upgrade system would probably operate differently than the simple(ish) organelle upgrade system. Whereas I don’t think there should really be a limiting factor on the way you tweak or upgrade your organelles besides MP cost and what would be best for your cell since we don’t really see such “arbitrary” limits in real evolution, I do think I player should have to make a choice to compromise their cell’s immunity to the wide array of environmental compounds a cell sees. In other words, players should have to pick what elements they want to become immune to or specialize around. No living being is immune to everything, you know? No living being is perfectly calibrated to take advantage of every single environmental factor. Plants are perfectly adapted to withstand sunlight, but can be poisoned from other elements. Extremophilic cells can adapt to withstand intense pressure and “traditionally” poisonous elements such as hydrogen sulfide, but might be sensitive to light or oxygen, because those factors might not be present in their environment so they would have no reason to build up that immunity. And if they did build up that immunity, they wouldn’t really be in an environment where they would need immunity from the hydrogen sulfide and smog, would they? Also, from a gameplay perspective, what fun is it if a player could get every upgrade possible regarding immunity and just float through every unique environmental challenge with ease?

There are also various unique aspects related to organelles and other questions to ask. If we make oxygen toxic at the beginning, do we hide metabolosomes and mitochondria at first from the player since they would be ineffective or impossible? If so, how do we make them unlockable, and what other part would help the player in the meantime? How do you implement the trade-off system?

I previously attempted to make a concept for this part of the game revolving around enzymes which I feel like had some good ideas, but because it required a mechanic that might not be extended to other components and features of the game, it had some weaknesses (Enzyme Concept). So I’ve been thinking a bit and have a few suggestions regarding compounds and compound toxicity.

New Compounds/Compound Tweaks that Should be Considered

Potassium – An “environmental” compound that can increase the speed of evolution. Provides a MP discount in cell editor that scales based on amount of potassium available OR reduces amount of ammonia/protein required based on amount of potassium available.

  • Scientifically, a potential contributing factor to the Cambrian Explosion might have been the increased availability of potassium in the oceans due to increased land runoff.
  • Potassium could naturally be more present and fluctuate more near the shoreline or in rivers, thus providing a unique incentive for cells to migrate there.

Smog/Smoke (Carbon Monoxide?) – A cloud compound present in the hydrothermal vents or in other parts of the environment during a natural disaster which damages cells.

  • Can uniquely characterize the hydrothermal vent patch, providing an aspect of the environment which the cell must avoid.

Compound Toxicity/Immunity Suggestion

Function: Have various sliders in the cell editor which denote the presence of enzymes. Each slider will have a left-most point, which denotes an absence of said enzyme, a point somewhere in the middle, which denotes an adequate enough presence of said enzyme to provide immunity (perhaps the location of this point doesn’t necessarily have to be in the exact middle based on how “easy” it is for real cells to adapt immunity to this compound?), and a right-most point, which denotes the presence of adaptations which allows the cell to take advantage of said compound. If you place the slider on the left of the midpoint, you will experience the negative effects of the compound. If you place the slider on the midpoint, once again, you won’t experience any negative effects from the compound. And if you place the slider somewhere near the right of the midpoint, your cell will in someway benefit from the presence of the compound in the environment.

Trade-Offs: The farther right the slider goes, the more ATP it will take to maintain those enzymes. For example, let’s say we make hydrogen sulfide toxic to the player without an adequate enzyme buffer. To the left of the midpoint, the ATP generating capacity of your cell is reduced the more hydrogen sulfide your cell takes in, risking your cell to start “choking” to death if enough ATP generation is compromised. Sliding it to the midpoint would create a basal amount of immunity, enough to put on hydrogen sulfide organelles, and sliding it to the right would enhance the function of those organelles. But the more you slide the sliders to the right, the more ATP is needed to be constantly burned to keep these functions up.

With enough sliders, this means that the player would have to choose between various enzymes that take ATP; maxing out or even making your cell immune to all compounds could be done, but why would you want to reduce how much ATP is available to your cell for other important options? Why would you keep an immunity to hydrogen sulfide near the surface when it isn’t present and when you could use ATP for other important parts?

Questions to be Addressed

Something I noticed is that you’re basically guaranteed to adapt around certain compounds. For example, you’re going to eventually want to protect yourself against UV-Radiation (light) or oxygen if you want to go to the surface. As such, should those compounds be included in this slider concept, or should upgrades revolving around oxygen toxicity or UV-light be integrated into another upgrade aspect of the game?

How applicable can this concept be to other parts of the game? For example, I can see immunity against biological poisons generated by other cells benefiting from a similar system, but besides that, what else? And how far ahead would this enzyme system be applicable? How will you tweak enzymes in the future when you’re a macroscopic organism? Should this concept stay the same throughout that period of time or should it transition to another more simple upgrade system by then? And if the latter, why even have this system?

What parts of significance would you use in your cell if you don’t have immediate access to aerobic organelles since oxygen would be poisonous? This isn’t necessarily an issue limited to this concept, but a general one.

What about those organelles, such as thylakoids and metabolosomes and chloroplasts and mitochondria, that revolve around the compound you’d have to be balancing out? Would you be allowed to place these parts if you don’t have proper immunity? And if you suddenly remove a specific immunity, what happens to those parts? For example, you move from the surface with light and chloroplasts to the deeper parts of the ocean with less light, thus removing the need for an immunity to UV-radiation. When you go to your sliders and remove the enzymes responsible for light immunity, do chloroplasts and the sort just stop working?

Balancing would also be an issue; would the benefit gained from light-based immunity compound to the point that you could just adapt more compound immunities? And also, since you’d be penalising the player by increased ATP function, how much can increasing your immunities to the point of benefit really benefit the player?

Questions like these make me thing that A.) oxygen and light should be treated differently from other compounds and B.) some other “currency” other than ATP must be used to limit the sliders, similar to my earlier enzyme system.

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Sounds great, the UV stuff might give people the reason to not rush for the top.
And the new compounds sound intresting too.

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I don’t know how often this happens, but in 2 of my thrive playtrougts there were cells that brought hydrogen sulfide from hydrotermal vents to the surface patches

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I think that makes sense initially, and it’s a pretty cool thing to see. Cells obviously don’t immediately get rid of excess; vestigial parts were an important aspect proving the validity of evolution. But eventually for realism’s sakes, those parts should be selected against.

I typed up something very much based on @Buckly’s post on the development forums (Environmental Tolerance Adaptations - #23 by Buckly - Gameplay - Thrive Development Forum). It runs with a concept Maxonovien proposes. I’m sure they have thought of it in someway already, but I just wanted to type it here to help map out how it can effect the game.


CONCEPT FOR COMPOUND TOXICITY

Oxygen

Problem: Oxygen is actually a dangerous compound to many organisms, as it can significantly damage cellular metabolism by creating oxygen radicals, which alter molecular shape – catastrophic for microscopic cellular components. It is generally believed that early life had a low tolerance for oxygen, resulting in the Great Oxygenation Event; a point in our Earth’s history where, when oxygen surged as a result of photosynthesis, a massive extinction event occurred. However, once oxygen was widely available and cellular respiration/metabolism adapted, the energy potential oxygen provided was immensely beneficial for life, kickstarting a more rapid pace of evolution.

What this means for Thrive: Oxygen should initially be poisonous to cells; at the same time, it should be an essential compound to be utilized on the way to enhanced metabolism later on, or in otherwards, a checkpoint. At the beginning of the game, organisms shouldn’t have a strong resilience to oxygen, which will effectively mean that most life will be initially limited to the deeper patches. Eventually however, some organisms will evolve enough buffering to oxygen to be able to make it to the higher patches. As photosynthesizing organisms pop-up (photosynthesizing cells don’t have to be entirely aerobic if they sufficiently expel oxygen produced at a rapid pace it turns out), the player’s planet will see a rapid influx of oxygen. At this point, oxygen will be very prevalent near the surface and will increase in concentration in even the deeper patches, meaning cells will be selectively pressured to adopt oxygen-buffering practices. After a sufficient amount of time passes and as oxygen levels out, due to adaptations in related organelles, a huge surge in metabolism will occur, increasing the speed of evolution and setting the path for eukaryotic and multicellular life to start popping up.

Questions to Answer

  • What negative effects will oxygen have on cells? As Buckly suggests, oxygen will basically be absorbed by cells. Negative effects won’t immediately occur, but once a critical point is reached and the cell can’t get rid of oxygen fast enough, ATP production will start taking a hit; the speed at which this point happens is dependent on the amount of oxygen present. If enough oxygen is accrued, your cell will essentially run out of ATP and die.
  • How do cells counteract this? Also as Buckly suggests, an organelle will be used to help enhance the rate at which oxygen is expelled from a cell. The metabolosome is the obvious candidate, but I think just being able to place one as they exist in the game currently is a cheap move and unrealistic. I suggest that metabolosomes (and other organelles) start out as very diminished versions of themselves. As you upgrade them, both the rate at which it dumps out oxygen and how beneficial oxygen is to the microcomponent’s function increases. Eventually, you should have what we now know as a metabolosome, which properly fufills aerobic respiration.
  • What limits a player from just bum-rushing a metabolosome? Nothing technically. If they wanted to, they could fully evolve a metabolosome to a point at which aerobic activity is prematurely evolved. But because oxygen wouldn’t be a major factor before the Oxygenation Event, certain upgrades after a certain point make no sense rationally. A jump from 10% to 25% aerobic respiration efficiency in metabolosomes won’t make much too much of an impact if the environment has only like 2% oxygen. As such, if an experienced player wanted to just get stuff out of the way, they could get those upgrades and still benefit in some ways. But for those playing the game at their own pace and for those reacting to what each playthrough offers, it wouldn’t make sense to just bum-rush metabolosomes when other things can be done with limited MP.

Concerns: This concept means giving the player less control and giving the environment more importance. Metabolosome progression, and thus, early metabolism will initially be limited since oxygen will start low. Currently I think this is a good thing; it’s realistic, and I don’t feel like the player is reacting to a changing environment in the current game, just to other cells. But it is something to keep in mind of.

The player will depend on the presence of photosynthesizing organisms to some extent, as they are the ones who triggered the Oxygenation Event in real evolutionary history. This can be remedied by having a hard-coded increase of oxygen in the game itself.

Furthermore, this can be customized in planet generation to dictate the pace at which the game of Thrive moves forward, similar to setting Game Speed in Civilization. Increasing the speed at which the hard-coded increase kicks in can quicken game pace, while having it be more based on the presence of thylakoid bearing organisms can lengthen game pace.


I think this is a very solid concept that is minimally invasive to the game’s existing design and with many desirable impacts. I also think another concept should be made for UV-tolerance and thylakoids (I assume they’d start out as UV-absorbing pigments) to map out the evolution of photosynthesis. I’ll cook that up soon.

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So I looked through the development forum and saw this thread (Passive Enzyme/Protein Slots System - #34 by Narotiza - Gameplay - Thrive Development Forum) with a concept for how enzymes would work. It basically has a sort of “slot” system where a player will have a certain amount of hexes they can place various enzymes in which do various things.

Different enzymes will have different characteristics which influences the way a creature looks or behaves: for example, membrane proteins benefit from more surface area (more membrane), so they’d want to be kind of long. Or cytoplasmic proteins benefit from more cytoplasm, so they’d want to be as large as possible.

I like this idea. It adds a soft cap on how many enzymes are equipped with the number of free hexes available to the player, meaning players will have to choose and make concessions for the greater good of their species. As such, the hyper-generalist murder machines we see in game today that make water bears look like earthworms will be no more – why would you keep a bunch of unnecessary environmental tolerances in your genome when you could use that space for more useful adaptations? It also is a pretty broadly applicable concept with many potential uses and future synonyms. Perhaps advanced behaviors, like hibernation or migration and such, can have their own genome slots to be placed.

I have a few questions and observations, however.

  1. The hydrothermal vents probably require their own enzymes to protect against the environmental heat and pressure. Knowing this, your genome is probably already going to have those two genes in your slots as soon as you start your game. Perhaps when you start out, you only have three genome/enzyme slots open – two taken up by “highpressurease” and “temperaturease”, one free. I think this allows an easy tutorial setup/ an easy introduction for the player to the tab. The two existing proteins will be explained, and then the player will be prompted to place another protein. Perhaps hydrogen sulfide can initially be damaging to the player, but placing a genome allows it to be synthesized. And then the player is prompted to place this genome onto theirs as an introduction.
  2. The extent to which this concept holds control over your cells adaptation and the way it interacts with the existing organelle system will have to be further defined. I think a lot of this will be made easier by creating the roster of enzymes/genes you can place, but what I mean is that I’m sure there will be overlaps in functions between organelles and genes, and that overlap needs to be defined. For example, say there’s an enzyme focused on oxygen tolerance/aerobic respiration. Metabolosomes already cover that aspect of the game currently. Do you need to place the oxygen gene to unlock metabolosomes? Or does the oxygen gene simply dramatically enhance the function of metabolosomes? Or does it add the aerobic aspect of the metabolosome’s duty? I think these are pretty easy questions to answer with enough thought, but they still need to be answered.
  3. A lot still needs to be drawn out surrounding the two most critical environmental adaptations in life’s evolutionary history: oxygen tolerance and protection against radiation from the sun. I think the current concept says that once a cell takes in too much oxygen/sunlight/whatever harmful compound, they will start feeling negative effects, and the player can counteract this by evolving ways to get rid of these stored compounds more rapidly, which sounds really fun. But what part of this evolutionary function will be represented by upgrading organelles and what part of this evolutionary function will be represented by placing a gene? Perhaps the gene significantly increases the rate at which metabolosomes interact/get rid-off of oxygen? Tolerance for the sun is a bit easier; I think having an enzyme which significantly increases tolerance for sunlight is simple enough.

Other than that, I think it’s a very good concept. Merry Christmas

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