Feedback on Predation

Hello all,

I would like to collect some feedback regarding predation in the game. While viable, it still isn’t an effective enough strategy, making it too difficult for many players.

List some difficulties you guys face when attempting a build based on predation. I’ll also scan other threads on this forum.

Mainly finding prey adapt to feeding a big organism, I think I will make a bigger and more detailed list tommorow.

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The main problem I found was that I never attempted a predation build because I never needed to. There are so many compound clouds that it’s barely necessary to evolve predatory traits (e.g. OxyToxy, pilus, etc.) unless other species keep attacking you.

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For me, on the contrary, it’s too simple (if you have a regular or double membrane without a wall), you just swim up to someone from behind and insert predatory piles into it … Well, or you just absorb grandfather

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  • As I stated before, after a certain size using predation to feed your organism becomes impossible because most species you find are too little to feed a large organism, and most of the time also too fast.

  • Being dependent on predation to feed your organism doesn’t seem worth it, most of the time I use rusticians or other autotrophic organelles and use predation just to collect ammonia and phosphate faster

Edit: ok, I decided to do a playthrought fully dependent on predation, and I want to change my first point, it seems that I mostly used to dweel in low population patches in my other playthroughts, and that in high population ones it is very easy to feed on predation alone, but point 2 still pretty much stands, autotrophy like photosynthesis is much more efficent at generating glucose than predation.

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I have some big thoughts and ideas. I first thought that I’d keep them in the oven for some more time but since you’re looking for feedback I might as well share them now. TL;DR at the bottom.

Problems currently (in my opinion)

Predation takes too many things going right to evolve naturally. Ignoring toxins and pili, you need to be bigger than your prey to hunt it. And ignoring luck or dumb AI, you also need to be faster. But here comes the catch: Big cells are by default slower than small ones. This means that either the prey needs to evolve slower, which is rare, or you need to evolve flagella to even have a chance at chasing other cells. But there aren’t any real reasons to evolve flagella except for predation or fun. This means that it’s be very hard for anything other than an intelligent designer to create predators.

There is no real reason or upside to becoming a predator. I guess eating other cells makes you grow faster, but you never need to eat other cells for energy unless you specifically design your cell to be incapable of using other energy sources. Also autotrophs can hunt prey just as well as heterotrophs. There is no need to specialize. Why give up chloroplasts when being a self-sufficient photosynthesizing apex predator is the optimal “build”?

Possible solutions

Make at least some small cells slower than your average big cell. This way predation would happen naturally and specialization would be a way to improve your ability to hunt instead of it being a binary switch off or on with a probably too high threshold to evolve naturally. One bold way to do this would be to make speed or base thrust scale with size. I don’t know enough theory to talk about its realism though, and it would change balance a lot.

Make autotrophs generate less energy so they need to become slower to preserve it. Then predators would have an easier time hunting them and they’d have more energy in relative terms to sustain their higher speed. It’d also be balanced because autotrophs don’t need to be fast because their energy sources don’t run away. Photosynthesizers don’t even need to move at all, although they’ll want to move to avoid predators if they can.

Create reasons to become slower. You could make cell walls more enticing so more cells would evolve them and become slower as a side effect. They could even have more drastic speed debuffs. You could add things other than speed to spend ATP on like producing enzymes or something. You could make speed easier to tweak by making base thrust and flagella modifiable and increasing speed buff/debuff from membrane rigidity. That could be balanced by health becoming more important once predation increases.

Add reasons to become faster besides predation. That way you’d get speed differences among cells naturally and then fast cells could start hunting slower ones. Maybe there could be environmental dangers that you need to avoid like moving debris and toxins. Maybe environmental conditions like light level and temperature could be different in different spots and shift with time so you need to move to optimize your energy generation or avoid danger. Maybe speed could help you compete for compounds and floating chunks.

Increase competition. This is a big one. Why does anything evolve in the real world? Because there is pressure, and competition, and unexploited niches to fill. Why would I ever want to be a predator when I can just sunbathe and chill? Because there are billions of photosynthesizers above you taking up all that juicy sunlight. In that scenario, it’d actually be easier to be a predator instead. Make competition matter during gameplay. Reduce available resources when you have competition. Spawn cells that will viciously fight for that big iron chunk if such cells have high populations. Then you’ll really feel the pressure to either outcompete your challengers or find a new, friendlier niche. Then life will also naturally balance all energy sources by making “OP” ones more competed.

Remarks

Some of my suggestions are ambitious and would affect multiple parts of the game and probably create new problems. Let’s say that some cells were made a lot slower. Then the player would try playing a slow cell and discover that it’s pretty boring. If this isn’t changed, then I think the team will have to very careful with anything that makes cells slow. I can identify three points that make slow cells boring to play as: 1. Speed is inherently fun. I don’t think this is a problem, as some players like being slow and chill. 2. Reproduction time is tied to collecting sparse clouds of ammonia and phosphates which means that slow cells take a lot longer to reproduce, especially if they’re big. This would take something pretty big to change, like changing nutrient spawns, adding currents, or even making growth based on time or energy instead of nutrients. 3. The current spawning system often creates deserts which are extra grueling for slow cells. This could be fixed by making the spawn system create more interesting and evenly placed spawns.

Another potential issue with my suggestions is that prey gameplay may become rough. Imagine you’re against a predator that’s both stronger and faster than you. What can you do? Currently that situation is so rare that it’s not a problem, but here are some potential fixes anyway: 1. Tweak movement. Maybe the prey has more stamina or can turn faster and juke the predator. 2. Improve AI. If you’re so small, agile or feisty that you’re not worth the effort, the predator will leave you alone. 3. Strength in numbers. If you’re in a swarm of cells, odds are someone else will be eaten instead of you. 4. Make predators less common after you die. Then you’d be less likely to die multiple times in a row. It would also be realistic, since predator populations follow prey populations in the real world.

TL;DR

Problems:

  • Predation doesn’t evolve because small cells are almost always faster than big ones
  • There is no real upside to being a predator, especially a specialized one

Solutions:

  • Buff the speed of big cells
  • Nerf the energy generation and speed of autotrophs
  • Add reasons to become slower, like buffed cell walls
  • Add reasons to become faster besides predation, like a shifting environment or competition
  • Increase competition and make it pressure you to adapt

Remarks:

  • After my suggestions you’d have other challenges, like:
  • Being slow is boring. You could change reproduction and spawning to combat that.
  • Being prey of powerful predators may be rough. You could tweak movement and AI to help.

Closing thoughts

I know you already know at least some these points and are working on them. I just wanted to collect some things together and analyze them. My suggestions would probably affect a lot of things. As such, their outcomes may be unpredictable and some of them would require changes to multiple areas of the game. I could dive deeper into potentially related topics like reproduction, AI, auto-evo and environmental conditions, but I think they’re best left for another day. I don’t know if my suggestions would make the game better, but I think they have potential. I’m not asking you to do them by the way, they’re just ideas. I do hope they are food for thought, though. Finally, I think one big question before anything else is: What do you, the developers, want predation and future gameplay to look like? I personally see two paths to take the microbe stage in the future: “arcade” and “ecosystem”.

Arcade is about fun, fair and free gameplay. Enemy encounters should be fair. You should always be able to flee or win a fight or at least avoid it. Fights are optional and more so a way to have fun than a necessary part of life. All cells are ultimately pretty similar to keep gameplay easy to balance for fun. There’s not much environmental pressure to evolve. Think “flying spaceships that shoot lasers and are tuned in the space garage”.

Ecosystem is about realistic life with both its beauty and cruelty. Some encounters are unfair but your species as a whole can still be fine and you can always adapt. There are clearer food chains, and organisms compete and fight because they have to in order to survive. Species are very diverse to optimally exploit their niche, but some cells are probably boring to play as. Think “realistic organisms that adapt and evolve out of necessity or go extinct”.

Which path do you want to take? Or do you want something in between? Perhaps a mix of both? Or something else entirely? I think my suggestions would drive the game more towards the “ecosystem” mode.

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Good post. Some thoughts:

Spawning as a whole is being heavily looked at by the dev team, since it is foundational to so many aspects of gameplay and thus can seriously effect all aspects of gameplay. There should be a fix coming up.

Speed indeed is a fundamental aspect of predation and gameplay as a whole, and there are various things we can do to incentivize it: a sprint option to introduce more player input and necessitate less flagella to be good enough for predation, for example. I think speed can also be encouraged by making the environment more engaging to interact with; Buckly brought up how currently, there isn’t really much incentive to explore besides just finding clouds, which isn’t horrible but should nonetheless be improved.

Maxonovien, who is currently focusing heavily on auto-evo, suggests that factoring in a species’ activity instead of just looking at their base speed can lead to new and interesting behavior, such as organisms which stop running after a while of being chased. This could result in a lot of motility being selected against in certain species, making sure that atleast some organisms don’t just keep running forever and ever. Smaller organisms would still be faster than large organisms, but they might not like running as much.

I think we can balance out predatory autotrophism by eventually making environmental phosphate and ammonia concentrations go down. One big incentive of predation is that it’s incredibly hard for life to generate phosphate and nitrogen and the such, which is why plants and other sessile organisms, along with having less energy, generally grow very slowly. Heterotrophs generally have the benefit of being get their nutrients from whatever they eat, while many autotrophs often have to specialize around accessing nitrogen and phosphate resources. This, along with a day and night cycle, can realistically debuff autotrophs; only get their strongest source of energy for a certain amount of time, which incentivizes them to be less active during the night instead of just roaming around eating everything. Unicellular motile chloroplast-bearing organisms that are mixotrophic are actually rather common in Eukarya, so we don’t want to completely eliminate the possibility.

And finally, I actually had the idea a while back of having the gameplay loop be more time-based than compound-based. In it, your morphology determines how long it would take you to go to the editor; ammonia would give you an auto-evo population boost and directly speed up the amount of time it takes you to reproduce, while phosphate will indirectly tie to reproduction time by being essential for things like quick health regen and the generation of toxins and such. It was more suggested for standardizing the pace of Thrive instead of having it fluctuate with ammonia and phosphate availability, which can really hurt the experience sometimes, but perhaps it help with predation as well. But, don’t think this as a given that it will be implemented; it still is very much an idea, and one that would rapidly change the game design of Thrive at that, so it needs to be heavily considered.

Overall your suggestions make sense, but the question is when to implement them. For example, I don’t think we should implement phosphate/ammonia’s gradual reduction anytime soon because the gameplay loop is so dependent on those clouds and there isn’t much to do right now in game, so we could detrimentally stretching game time. Same thing goes with a new growth mechanic or new parts or the such; features need to be sequenced in a logical way.

And I appreciate you asking us what we want out of predation. We take a very update-to-update approach many times which works well, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the longer picture. That’s something I’ll want to do once I have a bit more time and experience with the team.

But again, thank you for your input. Predation will be great.

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A lot of great stuff to hear. The new spawn system, sprinting and day night cycles all sound like really fun features that will probably help a lot with predation. I’m excited for them! The day night cycle especially sounds like something that would give photosynthesizers a drawback and balance them more. It could give predators a great opportunity to feast on them in the night when they’re less active and make the night a threatening challenge for the photosynthesizers. You could also have microbes that photosynthesize during the day and hunt prey during the night.

I think I would be careful dropping environmental ammonia and phosphates under the current system, though. It would only affect growth and reproduction time which aren’t directly related to how successful a species is. You could have a big photosynthesizer with no natural predators that’s practically immortal and highly successful even though it takes very long to reproduce. Also, reproduction time affects fun a lot for me at least. It’s the gate to the editor where you get to evolve your organism into something new. I don’t mind playing a cell that struggles to get enough energy to move properly; that can be an interesting challenge in its own way. But if an organism that’s otherwise successful takes over 10 times longer to reproduce just because it’s an autotroph, it starts to feel unpleasant. That’s of course an extreme example, but I think it’s something to take into account. While reproduction time can indirectly affect the success of some cells, I think it’s more effective and fun to encourage predation with things that affect success more directly, like the ability to gain a lot of energy.

Your ideas on time-based reproduction are interesting. Reproduction is a complicated topic. I may make a more detailed post about it later.

The update-to-update approach does seem practical. It makes sense for a game like Thrive that’s so unique. It’s hard to know how well some feature would work before actually testing it, so you don’t want to have your plans set in stone too much. That said, a bigger picture can certainly help guide the process and I’ll be interested in seeing your take on it.

I’m happy to share my thoughts. It’s been great to see that you and the other devs are always open to feedback and think about things deeply. Cheers!

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im seeing all these detailed posts and stuff
might as well make one of my own.

haha predation go brrr.

I didn’t have enough time to finish it🦈