Currently the game has an Editor that allows you to edit your microbe. I feel that this is too much intelligent design and not enough evolution. Here is an alternative idea:
Lets make some assumptions here:
- The players behaviour sets the exemplary behaviour of his species.
- On a speciation event, you have to choose a branch you represent.
- Your mutation rate is dependant on environment factors, some you have no control over and some that are influenced by behaviour.
- Mutation is a gamble, you have no direct control over your mutation.
Going from those base assumptions, this is what I would propose as the gameplay:
- You start with the first one of your species on every speciation event. This is where your risk to loose the game is the highest. Divide a few times so that you get “extra lives” (other members of your species you can take control over in case you die). As your behaviour is exemplary for the species, the other members will divide at approximately the same rate as you.
- There will be mutagens in the environment. Between divisions you will accumulate exposure to those mutagens. You can try to manage your exposure with your behaviour, but sometimes it is out of your control depending on the scenario.
- Radiation: Some of it is unavoidable part of the environment. Radiation from the sun can be avoided by sticking to the shadow. Radiation from radioactive particles can be avoided by increasing the distance to the source.
- Chemical mutagens: If they are not in your food source, you can swim around them most the time and avoid them.
You can also decrease the exposure by keeping the division cycle short or increase it by increasing the time between divisions.
- Depending on the accumulated mutagen exposure, some of your specimen will mutate during division. The more population you have, the more mutants you have to pick from to continue. The higher your exposure, the more and more drastic mutations you will see. What this could look like:
- Imperfect divisions where one child ends up with one organelle that belongs to the other child, leaving the other child with one less organelle of that type. Some of those imperfect divisions may end up with one child unable to survive. (For example if it lost its last mitochonria.)
- Mutated organelles. During division one of the organelles could mutate and leave you with one child that has either an unfunctional organelle or an organelle that changed its function. If you can survive with an unfunctinal organelle for a while, it may mutate further into something useful (but thats a bold gamble) or you may get rid of it later on.
On easyer difficulties you would always have the ability to retain your current form, on harder difficulties you may end up with an early mutation where you have to take some undesirable muatation. On the easiest of difficulties you could even allow to go back to the parent species on death.
This could be combined with the editor if you want some control over your species and don’t mind the creationist aspect, or you could deactivate the editing in your scenario and only evolve through mutation.
I am not a biologist, but I am sure someone can fill out the gaps here. This is just a general idea how you could make the gameplay more realistic. And the gambling aspect may actually be a lot of fun.