So, this review will mainly be complaints. Not because the release itself is bad - it isn’t, and is a fantastic accomplishment. But most of what’s good in it is the introduction of features, all of which have been explicitly announced. I don’t see much point in describing them in a post that will only ever get read by the devs and community.
Now here are some issues I think the team should focus on:
#1 The game feels way too cramped and things happen so fast that they feel trivial. This affects everything. I can barely move without running into another cell or bacteria (speaking of, those vaunted swarms don’t mean much - they just seem to scatter in random directions and occasionally group themselves into weird formations. I suspect it’s because of the lack of space). Worst of all are the compounds, which are absolutely ubiquitous and remove any incentive to become a predator.
#2 The starting cell seems to move quickly without any means of doing so, which feels very immersion-breaking. That and the fact that it literally can’t ever run out of ATP initially almost turned me off the game.
#3 Reproduction should happen about ten times less quickly, whether by making compounds rarer or making the process itself slower. You barely get an opportunity to get used to the environment before you’re dragged out of it, and makes the playthrough as a whole too fast.
#4 I don’t get bacteria. I understand it’s probably a bad idea to engulf the ones with toxin vacuoles, but can they hurt you otherwise? Do they have the same AI as normal cells? What are their formations intended to do?
#5 Engulfing is very inconsistent. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and there is absolutely no feedback on why (it can’t be size, as I was often unable to engulf bacteria). The game is crying out for some kind of info feed.
#6 The ingame sound needs to be bumped up tenfold or so, while the menu’s should stay at the same level. Not exaggerating.
#7 How size affects speed is VERY counterintuitive. After adding two chloroplasts, boom, I went from a relatively fast cell to a helplessly crawling one (I was large and had seven flagella, I think). Plus, other things seem to affect speed, such as moving through compounds. This should all be explained somewhere.
#8 On my first run I only added flagella to my cell. This proved to be a mistake and I burned through my ATP in no time - and the game suddenly didn’t seem to realize that I had glucose left? I stopped moving entirely and started taking damage. Even if I was clean out of ATP, that shouldn’t be possible if I had glucose left in the tank. It’s either a bug or yet another one of the many, many ways this game gave me the impression that I was playing on an incredibly opaque, hidden ruleset.
9 Except for ATP, your base storage will be more than enough for the entire game. I only make an exception for ATP because it can’t be produced while moving, forcing you to make stops in order to replenish. That’s a clever system!
EDIT: Not sure what happened to #9. I don’t even see an option to change text size.
#10 The rate at which glucose is converted to ATP is obscenely efficient. After the first generation, I never needed to worry about it again.
#11 Shouldn’t there be some sort of progress bar for reproduction? Given the state of the game, I think it should be pretty easy to implement (though I’ve been wrong before).
#12 I didn’t much notice the auto-evo, probably because most cells were of my species after a few generations. The ones I saw, however, still looked much like the sorry jokes they started as. How many generations does it take for them to become interesting?
Now with all these in mind, I’m going to make a suggestion on where the game should go: Thrive, as it currently exists, needs to start feeling like a self-contained game. I think this can be accomplished with much less effort than trying to build the entire microbe stage incrementally, and it will give you more and better feedback for the ultimate design.
So here is a suggestion targeted at the specific problems of this build:
Space things out. Make it the friggin’ Wild West. Not everywhere; there should be oases where other cells flock and compete over resources (biomes can definitely come in handy here). But outside there should be a gap of, oh, ten seconds of travel on average before encountering another cell. Bacteria should come in larger swarms and be even rarer. The oases would encourage peaceful gameplay, and the Wild West aggressive gameplay.
This is probably not much like your final vision for the microbe stage, and it’s not meant to be. I just think the priority should making the game fun as quickly as possible, and I think this idea may be enough to bump Thrive up to the ‘online flash game’ level of playability.
Sorry if any of this seems conceited or demanding; I’m just trying to throw the idea out there.