Progressive Upgrades Leading to Unlocking Features (Renamed from "Skill-Tree" Thread)

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.” On The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin

Every wonderful product of nature, no matter how astonishing, is a result of continuous mutation and survival. There is no forward-thinking in evolution, and there is no planning in evolution. A “proto-eye” was never evolved just to eventually lead to the development of an eyeball. Rather, an organ which allowed for the detection of light and dark proved to be extremely beneficial to the survival of an organism sometime in the Precambrian. This “eyespot” stuck, and eventually, organisms which had this eyespot develop into a cup thrived due to a newfound ability to discern the direction of light. Enclosing this cup with a structure and developing a structure which can reflect light helped the organism discern the shape of its environment.
There was never a “plan” for an eye; all these adaptations weren’t developed just to get to the eye. They just all happened to develop, and happened to be useful in that organism’s ecosystem. And now, we have the eye.

Considering this, I kept trying to think of a way to represent this continuous, unplanned process of mutation, survival, and replication. I thought it was amazing how all of these diverse, awe-inspiring adaptations were a result of several random, simple mutations that would sum up to complex features; how cool would it be if there was a “Woah, I didn’t think this was in my creature’s future” moment, where a cool ability is made available because you have certain traits which can be evolved into this ability?

Of course, we can’t just take away the player’s ability to create their own organism just because “evolution is random”. We also can’t leave the player completely in the dark as to what is in store for their organism’s future just because they chose a certain cool organ. Thrive is first-and-foremost a game, which means it has to be fun and at least a bit accessible and user-friendly, which means the player’s autonomy is as important as simulating evolution. We must find the perfect balance between making sure that the player feels in control of their fate and creating a mechanism which helps represent the continuous nature of evolution, and the best way to do this, I believe, is a “skill-tree”.

Many different games have many different versions and variations of a skill-tree, but the basic concept remains the same; a player unlocks something which branches off of a previous something that was available to them. These upgrades built on the past upgrade, and can either enhance the capabilities of an existing ability or can introduce a new, related ability. For a Thrive-related example, observe A Humankind Odyssey, which follows the evolution of humanity.
In it, a skill-tree is used to represent the unique adaptations which eventually lead to us, giving the user new capabilities which will eventually be used to unlock other capabilities. For example, one skill which allows us to switch the hand with which an object is carried on the go can be furthered into allowing us to grab an object and swing or switch and throw an object, which can be useful with spears. Another skill allows the human to stand upright while still, which can let us see further; eventually, it can be expanded into walking upright, which can help with carrying objects and speed. I can envision a system very similar to this being extremely useful to Thrive, in which choosing a part and upgrading that part down a certain path can either enhance the existing part or unlock new entirely new parts similar to the existing one.

I feel like using a system similar to Spore, in which the player selects a part from a palette of pre-existing parts and switches that part for something better once they get enough mutation points can only get Thrive so far; it can definitely and perhaps should be used to extent, but if that is the only way through which a player evolves their creature, the replay-ability, realism, fun, discovery, and ingenuity of Thrive will be limited. As discussed before, evolution doesn’t work this way; just because legs came from fins doesn’t mean fins are in anyway less useful than legs, doesn’t mean all animals should evolve legs over fins, and doesn’t mean legs are the ultimate goal of evolution; they’re just useful in different situations. If we only show evolutionary progress as being represented through the trading of parts for another as in Spore, we are essentially limiting Thrive and the player into believing these assertions to be true, into being convinced that the only way to go on from this point is to grow legs and hop on land. Offering a skill tree mechanism that is just as essential and goes hand-and-hand with this selection of parts to the game mechanism through which a player evolves their creature can, I believe, do wonders.

So, how should this skill tree work? The premise of it is pretty simple, but if done right, it can represent extremely complex ideas and mechanisms of evolution through somewhat fun, gamey ways. Essentially, the player is offered an “upgrade skill-tree” in their existing parts that have multiple “branches”, which can lead to multiple playstyles and diverse adaptations (perhaps represented by unlocking other parts?). A system akin to this can be so flexible and dynamic, I feel.

(Note: I am rusty with cellular biology, so please excuse any inaccuracies, generalities, or layman’s talk.)

(Also Note: Because of how simple, broad but complex this system is, I am sure there are many criticisms and gaps in the concept. If you see one, please mention it so it could be addressed.)

To keep with the theme of continuation and increasing complexity in Thrive, it should start out simply.

Example 1: the player starts out as the cytoplasm blob that the developers love talking about; LUCA. A few, essential parts could be offered, which represents the most basal of cell structures that prokaryotes can utilize. These few essential parts can be upgraded down specific paths that are both useful but somewhat specific. Upon reaching a certain “stage” in their upgrade paths, the player is offered the “nucleus” upgrade, which is used to unlock membrane bound organelles. This nucleus upgrade is always available, but the player could choose to pursue another upgrade pathway if they so wish.

Example 2: the player could place down a mitochondria and eventually choose to specialize the mitochondria fit a certain playstyle. For example, perhaps to allow a more rapid creation of ATP at the expense of burning glucose more quickly (+10% metabolism speed, etc.), or a slower but more efficient burning down of existing glucose (dumb example and not accurate, but think along the lines of 1 glucose = 2 ATP -> 1 glucose = 4 ATP, -10% metabolism speed, etc). Future upgrades could either consist of snowballing these effects, or perhaps unlocking extra functions of the mitochondria unavailable at first due to advanced specialization (for example, in chloroplasts, an upgrade could lead to developing into a thermoplast, which unlocks the placement of thermoplasts).

At the beginning of the microbe stage, this seems pretty useless, as the environment is filled with free-floating material; but remember, the developers always talk about how eventually, as the microbe stage progresses, these free-floating recourses will become much more sparse, meaning the player would have to either adapt an efficient autotrophic system or become more efficient at hunting. There could be so many different playstyles created based off of upgrading your organism into specific niches in response to this scarcity. An autotrophic player cell that also traps cells using signaling or toxins would probably prefer a slower but more efficient metabolism in order to spare energy in between each successful hunt, while a player cell with a predatory pilus would probably want a faster metabolism to spare more ATP when chasing prey items.

My mind is buzzing with ideas about how inter-connected and in-depth this all could be. Every organelle can have its own origin pathway; chloroplasts can develop from something, and that something can develop from something, all because a player decides to invest in a certain skill tree pathway. The same could be said for any organelle; any structure, even! Legs can be a byproduct of an upgrade pathway which gives fins further flexibility, which can benefit shallow-water mobility and agility at the cost of speed, or etc. Wings can then be a byproduct of a certain leg skill-tree pathway; choosing to elongate digits for a benefit, etc. There are so many adaptations and evolutionary stories that could be represented just by choosing to upgrade an organelle.

Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble; I got excited, it’s late at night, and I literarily opened up a Word document and spewed forth my thought. But please, please, please, discuss. Tell me if you have an idea to improve this, or if you have a problem with it that either means we should think of something else or improve this; I feel like this can go so far. Because this concept is so widely applicable, and my description of it is so generic, there could be areas that need to be ironed out, or other systems that could be added.

So, what do you think?


I really like the idea. Though, I would be against these upgrades unlocking new parts, but rather they should give you the ability to change the existing ones. For example, you can create a flagellum, that is slower, but better at turning, or a flagellum, that is very fast, but perhaps you would need to invest more into cilia (not sure if this makes sense, but you’ve got the point). Rather than having two new organelles, you still have just one, but one that can be altered. Where this might get really interesting are toxins. I imagine there would be two things to be changeable about toxins - the effect they have on the other cells (different kinds of toxins - some paralytic, some dissolving the membrane etc.) and then you could sacrifice their range for the area covered and vice versa, so you can either create a thick “cloud” (wouldn’t really be a cloud, I described how toxins could work somewhere on this forum) of toxin that has almost no range, or just a “thin” burst of toxin, that could go much further.
I also like the idea of having to unlock the nucleus as well. Getting the nucleus right now feels a bit underwhelming and not like an achievement at all. If getting the nucleus is going to be a bit harder and won’t be theoretically possible as soon as you start the game (theoretically), it’s going to feel like there has to be an effort put into getting it.
I also agree with upgrading organelles that produce ATP and stuff. What I’d like to see, though, is “mitochondria” not being in the editor, until you acquire it outside of the editor. There was a really cool video shared here shared by @Spring_blooms around the 6:33 mark (though I recommend watching the whole thing, it’s pretty cool) and it would be really nice to have something similar to it in the game. I am not really sure what determines digestibility, but if we could make something indigestible, those organism might become the next “mitochondria”. By swallowing this organism, it gets unlocked in the editor just as mitochondria would.
To sum it up, I’m a big fan of this idea.


Yes, I do like the examples you have listed. Perhaps the mitochondrion symbiosis phase can happen in Thrive by upgrading your cell’s membrane/cytoplasm in a way to allow a mitochondrion bacteria the ability to symbiotically live inside your cell. Eventually, after another upgrade, this bacteria could then be upgraded into the mitochondrion.

Yeah, the word unlocking has a lot of baggage associated with it. By “unlock”, I didn’t mean just flat out have an organelle unlocked in the cell editor that was previously inaccessible based off of an extremely generic upgrade; I envisioned a certain upgrade essentially transforming a feature into a variation of the base organelle. For example, with the predatory pilus, there are many different variations of pilus planned, ranging from the traditional pokey one to one that works as an excretory exit that can eject toxin, etc. In my head, you start with the base predatory pilus, and after a certain amount of upgrade specialisation, you have the option to turn your pokey pilus into a different functioning pilus. Once you reach this level, you don’t have to repeat the upgrading process again to get another replica of that variation; it’ll be offered to you in the menu as an organelle.

In the example you mentioned with the symbiotic mitochondrion bacteria eventually evolving into the organelle, “unlocking” the organelle is basically reaching the point at which the bacteria turns into an organelle that comes with the cell. This represents the fusion of the bacteria’s DNA with the cell’s DNA, and from then on forth, the cell (player) doesn’t have to go through the same extensive process; they already have the genetic code for a mitochondria in their genome, so it’s just as simple as signalling for the creation of a second mitochondria (basically “unlocking” the ability to develop a mitochondria).

So I guess what you have in mind and what I have in mind are basically the same process and are not mutually exclusive, we are just focusing on different parts of the general idea.


Honestly, I have no idea what would be required, scientifically speaking, but yes, some system along those lines.

Nice, that’s what I meant too. I think building upon what you already have is better than just “getting something new”

I do not think there is any change to DNA with that, I think it’s simply just symbiosis and the mitochondria reproduce autonomously and then just get separated into the two new cells. Again, I’m not really 100% sure about the science aspect, it’s just an assumption. But the function would probably not change. From now on, you would be able to place the mitochondrion yourself. Summed up, I think we have generally the same idea and I really like the idea.


The current theory is that nothing would really be required, it mostly just happened by accident.

The mitochondrion is not really ‘symbiosis’ anymore, since the cell has full control over its division. While it still has its own DNA, it does not do a whole lot important like choosing when to reproduce. I’m not sure about the exact numbers, but the mitochondrial DNA from now differs a lot from back when it was still a bacterium.


With the robustness of a skill-tree system such as this, its application doesn’t just have to stop at the cellular stage, and doesn’t have to only focus on just the organelles themselves; these upgrades can represent several defining moments of evolution.

The developers state that the transformation from a single-celled organism to complex multicellular creatures will likely start with the player unlocking a specific cell signaling function which will trigger the clustering and joining together of cells. They also mentioned that there would be precursors to this signaling function, such as simply requesting other cells to follow you around in a group, etc.

Understanding this, I think it would make the most sense to have each of these signaling functions be represented by a skill tree. The player starts off signaling just by upgrading a certain function of their cell, unlocking the ability to request one cell to follow you. You can upgrade this skill tree branch various ways; off the top of my head, I am thinking by either increasing the length of time the cell follows you or by increasing the number of cells that follow you.

Eventually, after potentially unlocking other cell signaling functions, you reach an upgrade which will allow you to clump together with another cell, and then eventually, after a couple more upgrades, you can designate it so that you choose to spawn into the world clumped together: multicellular life. After that point, it’s just upgrading the number of cells you contain in one organism until you reach a point for tissue to develop, then you can upgrade each individual tissue path, etc.

Skipping forward to the transition from land to water, if you went down a path that focused on fins, an upgrade path for your limbs and morphology can eventually lead to an amphibious lifestyle; scales, or skin that doesn’t dry up, can be another upgrade. Skipping forward to the Awakening, increasing dexterity and cognitive thought could simply be a result of upgrading neurologically-related functions. Skipping towards the Tribal stages and beyond, tech upgrades can be a continuation of the same basic morphology based skill-tree.

That’s why I think a skill tree could be so useful in Thrive; it can be applied to anything really, from organelle functions, to multicellular tissues, to the evolution of landmark adaptations, while representing the beautiful continuous nature of evolution. If done properly, it can truly offer so much possibility and replay-ability to Thrive. You don’t have to go down the fin-to-leg path, for example; you could just choose to upgrade your creature into a more efficient aquatic beast. You can remain a prokaryote, just upgrade other functions of your organism besides the nucleus. You don’t have to become multicellular, just choose to evolve your other organelles. You aren’t forced down a certain path; you can just become the best possible version of your organism wherever you choose to remain, whether the tidepool, the ocean, the land, or the cosmos.

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Is it possible to get a 2-3 paragraph summary of what you’re thinking here? I’ve read your threads in the past and think you have some nice ideas.

Basically two main things are being discussed here.
One of them is ogranelle upgrades and how exactly would they fucntion. I (we?) envision it as not getting something new, but rather altering the existing ones in order to change their capabilities a bit. One example of that would be this.

Another part of the discussion was how to incorporate it. Deus had a neat idea with a skill tree, but I’m starting to have a hunch it could be done differently. Not 100% sure how yet, but I’m working on it. A “sneak-peek” example would be unlocking the nucleus. I guess we can all agree that the nucleus should not be to our disposal as the first thing when we start the game (theoretically, practically you have to pump up your ATP production a bit), but rather it should be locked (side note, it would be pretty cool if the locked organelles were not visible in the editor for a sense of progress and “uncovering”) and remain locked unless something happens. That something might be that the player has a sufficient ATP production albe to sustain the nucleus or basically anything that would make sense.
Maybe the tree would be a better way of doing it, maybe not. I’m not sure.

Another topic that was mentioned is endosymbiosis and how would it work. A few posts above I linked a really cool video. The most important part is around the 6:33 mark, but I advise you watching the whole thing. Basically, there was an organism and it accidently ate an alga it was not able to diggest, so it stuck around and became a symbiotic part of the organism. We were wondering how this might be implemented into the game, as this would be several magnitudes better than just having a mitochondrion as an organelle. But is it possible to implement? Who knows. A cool thing would be knowing what determines digestability, but that might complicate things really quickly.
If I forgot about anything, let me know.

(not really 3 paragraphs because of the examples, so if you want something explained more broadly, or if you still have questions, please let me know :stuck_out_tongue: )

Essentially, the whole concept is based on the idea that evolution is not a progressive march towards a final product – as in, legs were not the goal of fins – but a result of what is most useful to an organism at that current niche and time. Evolution doesn’t plan to evolve a feature just to get another cooler feature later down in the organism’s future; it just evolves in response to survival and fitness, and if that feature turns into something else, it’s because of how the ecosystem changed to allow this morphological change.

So, this concept basically revolves on a skill tree to demonstrate the above fundamental biological idea. Basically, the idea is that:

Concept 1: The evolution of a player’s organism will revolve around a “skill-tree” function, in which the cell functions – organelles, membrane plasticity, signaling, etc. – are offered several upgrade paths which can be taken to maximally enhance your organism’s survival. These upgrades paths are not necessarily universally useful, are not necessarily better than the previous setting, and are not necessarily flat-out increases to the player’s ability; they are done in a way which encourages specialization, by rewarding players who cleverly upgrade their organism to fit their niche. Each upgrade can have its benefits and negatives. This represents the natural tendency of an organism to gravitate towards a certain niche it excels at throughout thousands of generations.

Example for Concept 1: A cell’s mitochondria can have several upgrade paths that can be taken by a player, and that are useful in different situations. For example, one upgrade pathway, which slows down the rate at which glucose is transformed into ATP but extracts more ATP per glucose (probably bad science but illustrates a concept), would probably be preferable for organisms who don’t need to move as much, such as toxin-vacuole turret players, so that more energy could be spared for the cells other functions besides movement. Another upgrade pathway, which speeds up the rate at which a player burns glucose, would probably be preferable for a speedy cell with a pilus that can actively chase other cells, as there is constant energy available. Each pathway comes with their own rewards and risks, but depending on the cell’s niche, the reward can outweigh the risk, and v.v.

Example 2 for Concept 1: Zahyyy had several good examples, such as the toxin one. Players could perhaps upgrade to either have toxins which spread out less but move faster, like a projectile, or a toxin cloud that moves slower but spreads out quicker, like a trap. They could also choose to invest more in either cilia or flagella (just thought of this, but it would be cool if some upgrades are in a spectrum and are balanced by another upgrade, like flagella being one upgrade path and cilia being the other as Zahyyy said). Cilia moves the cell slower but offers more agility, while flagella moves faster while not doing as much for agility.

Concept 2: The way a player “unlocks” certain features and components is by going down a skill tree. Basically, reaching a certain landmark part of the upgrade tree represents the emergence of that feature in your cell’s evolutionary history. Upon reaching that landmark upgrade, the upgraded part will turn into that upgrade (as in, upgrading from pokey pilus to toxin pilus turns the OG pokey pilus to the toxin pilus) and you will now be able to place the “new” part via the cell editor. Essentially, new parts are gained by upgrading certain related parts. Over time, this can represent evolutionary trends and homologous structures, and represents the continuity of evolution. It can also be used to represent landmark moments of life which will change the course of biological life. Note, however, that Concept 1 still comes into play; upgrading into that new organelle or component is not always necessarily better; you can still be offered an upgrade pathway that simply improves function of an existing organelle instead of transforming that organelle into something entirely new. In some cases, however, a specific upgrade is necessary to pass into the next stage, such as in the nucleus upgrade, or the mitochondria upgrade.

Example for Concept 2: As Zahyyy and Omicron stated, mitochondria (and several other organelles I might add) were initially the result of symbiosis. Considering that the mitochondria was so essential for generating enough energy for a cell to generate complex structures such as the nucleus, the mitochondria could be a landmark upgrade within the Microbe stage which will eventually lead to the nucleus. An upgrade pathway in the beginning of the game will follow this evolutionary journey to endosymbiosis, and eventually, integration. At first, your cell will treat mitochondria as just a high-energy cell to engulf; eventually however, an upgrade can lead to a transfer component, in which a player, upon engulfing a mitochondria, will simply retain that mitochondria within their prokaryote, which increases energy creation. After a certain amount of time is spent and another few upgrades, the landmark upgrade which will encode the mitochondria’s DNA into your own genome will be available, which symbolizes the union of mitochondria and bacteria. The mitochondria is now available in the cell editor. I am not sure which hypothesis of the evolution of the nucleus you want to use, but that can also be represented through upgrades. You don’t necessarily have to upgrade the mitochondria; you can choose to upgrade other components of your prokaryote.

Example 2 for Concept 2: I heard that you planned to add various different versions of pilus, such as an injecting one and a proboscis analogy. All of these variations of the pilus could be represented through an upgrade pathway. The simple pilus is offered at first, being the basic pokey one; as you go down a certain upgrade pathway however, you can reach a certain upgrade that turns your basic pilus into the more specific one, which from then on unlocks that new organelle as a part you can select from the editor. You don’t have to go down one of these upgrade pathways; you could simply just upgrade the base pilus, such as by making it longer or making it sharper.

Example 3 for Concept 2 : In the transition from ocean to land, the evolution of the leg and lungs can be represented through this skill tree. The player could choose to upgrade their respiratory system to either allow better stamina in the water, or could begin to upgrade their respiratory system to allow the ability to last longer on the surface, until eventually, lungs form. The same for legs; you could choose to either streamline your fins for water even more, or go down a path which benefits shallow water, and then temporary beaching on lands, and then permanent inhabitance of land.

There are several mechanics that need to be worked on, and a few details that should be specified, such as the “currency” system for the upgrade tree which sets the pace for evolution, and just how micromanagey the skill tree should be. Special care also needs to be taken so that the player is not necessarily trapped in a single direction, but can choose to specialize and switch niches as they please, with their only worry being if their creature can survive that long to re-adapt and not if the game will let them do it. Overall however, I believe that the system we thought up of, if done right and if we are not ignoring any game design problems, can be extremely useful to Thrive in boosting replay-ability, fun, and ingenuity. I feel like we can explain any significant moment in evolution using a skill tree such as this. It can also be the answer to the problem of organelle gluttony, and could help balance the game.

Again, the concept is intentionally broad so that it can be applied across various stages. If you have any specific questions, or can’t see how it could work in the game, or can’t see how a certain moment can be represented through this skill tree, please let us know; we can either make the theory better, or know we need something even better.

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Isn’t that kinda the opposite of a skill tree though? When i hear skill tree I’d expect every tree to be useful. This idea of evolution not being linear but rather a case of specialization would work better with this relatively old illustration from the dev forums:

It’s basically the same idea, but it makes a bit more sense when it comes to specialization over a skill tree, since skill trees would make me think of something else than this system.




Oops :sweat_smile:.

Are you referring to me stating that the upgrades are not necessarily universally better than what you already have? If so, then you are right, because that’s how a traditional skill-tree works. When I say “Skill-Tree”, I don’t necessarily mean a traditional upgrade system where basically every upgrade is just increasing your stats; that should definitely make up some part of this upgrade system in which stats are in fact increased, however. What I mean by “skill-tree” is essentially an interconnected series of upgrades that naturally progresses towards specialization.

Can you explain what you mean by saying that you expect every tree to be useful? In my head, the skill tree should be balanced in a way that makes sure each pathway is in-fact useful, but that usefulness is not necessarily going to always be a basic stat boost that can be universally useful. For example, with the cellular metabolism rate, example 1 concept 1, if you decided to invest in a metabolic pathway which doesn’t cater your organism’s lifestyle, you would suffer from the upgrades. In this case, yes, that specific skill tree pathway isn’t useful for you. If you do match with your organism’s lifestyle however, you could benefit immensely, meaning that the skill tree path is in fact an upgrade.

I see what you mean, however. The words “skill-tree” and “upgrade” carry a lot of associations with them, and they don’t really convey what I have in mind. If the conversation continues and the “skill tree” is agreed to be a potentially beneficial system, we can create an official concept with more appropriate terms.

Those aren’t mutually exclusive descriptions of evolution, right? You seem more well versed in detailed biology than me, so I might be missing something. If they aren’t, I think a properly balanced “skill-tree” system can portray both of these fundamentals of evolution well, as a trait derives from a previous trait, and the newer trait could be an upgraded version of the past trait.

Yeah, they basically are the same concept. This newer one revolves around upgrades, while the older one revolves around a spectrum. I don’t know that much about the older concept, but judging off of this individual picture, I feel like the “skill-tree” concept would be better long-term, because it can be more easily applied to a wide range of functions beyond cellular organelles and could be an easier way to represent specialisation.

This does make me think about how the upgrades would be presented, however.

So far, what I feel like needs to be fleshed out more with this concept is:

  • How exactly “spending” points will work in this system. I am thinking max-energy per capita could be something worth thinking about that works with mutation points, perhaps with MP being currency and max-energy being some sort of a control system.

  • How to present these upgrades and how the player can have a vague idea of what leads to what. Should it just be a simple click on the organelle and see the available upgrades and how they connect for that organelle, or should it be a seperate tab in the editor that shows how all the organelles are connected and how the player can progress to the next critical phase of evolution?

  • How to restrict what can be unlocked on the “skill-tree” in a way that enhances fun and balance in the game without taking away player autonomy. max-energy per capita could be useful.

PSA: See what critique can do? The concept is more defined just from a question. So ask away.

I meant that when I hear ‘skill tree’, I envision a normal skill tree with cool new things I can unlock. This sounds like it should be called more an ‘upgrade system’ or something. (or a specialization system if you really want to be picky about it.) A minute issue I know, but I think that small miscommunication was what most issues came from.

What I meant was that I agreed with you on how there aren’t ‘better’ mutations, (as in, that not everything evolves from a linear line from a single cell to a human,) but rather ones that are more suitable to the current environment and ones that aren’t.

So ATP? Another way you could do this is have a ‘complexity meter’ that goes up with every addition upgrade, and the more complex your creature is the slower it can reproduce, since it’ll have more DNA to copy. (This is of course VERY simplified compared to how it actually works, with peas having longer DNA than us and all that)

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This is exactly how I’m feeling after reading this. This feels like a slightly renamed organelle upgrades.
I think we should add organelle upgrades rather than a large number of organelles that are replacements for others.

I see this idea about skill trees applying more to multicellular stage, where the creature’s capabilities won’t come (entirely) from a list of organs.

Alright, I see what you mean. The concept should probably have been named something different. If it goes any further, appropriate labels could be applied to it.

Essentially so, yeah. ATP doesn’t seem to serve as much of a hard-limit in the current version of the game, however, so I didn’t just want to say ATP flat-out. A big part of what drives increasing complexity in an organism in the real world is the amount of energy that could be shared across the essential processes of an organism, so that was what I was getting at. I am not really sure how to represent this in game besides making everything cost more ATP - which can come with its own problems - so I just said max energy per capita.

The complexity meter idea sounds pretty good, though. Not sure how effective or restrictive it would fully be if implemented, but it could be a step in the right direction.

You’re right in thinking that; it essentially is. The concept is inspired/based on the mechanics of organelle upgrades. The only difference between the upgrade concept and this concept is that this concept basically tries to unify the progression system of the game into an interconnected web of cell and organelle upgrades.

Something that I don’t see that the original concept has is upgrades to the cell cytoplasm or membrane, which could symbolise landmark moments of evolution. For example, unlocking the mitochondria or the nucleus could be a result of upgrading your cell membrane and cytoplasm to allow endosymbiosis, and eventually integration, to occur.

Perhaps I made it sound like the concept assumed a huge amount of different organelle content to be added; if I did, my bad.

I agree with you in saying that there should only be new organelles added if absolutely necessary for the continuity of the game design. Most of the upgrades should just be improvements to the functions of the organelles that your cell has. The whole “unlock an organelle based on getting an upgrade” mechanic is focused specifically on upgrades or organelles in which it can be applied, and is done more to give a sense of the progressive march of the complexity of organisms than as a replacement to the upgrades themselves.

For example: I can’t see any skill tree path which would change the mitochondria into a different “super-mitochondria” organelle variation which would require a new model. Even though we have so many different ways life on Earth regulates metabolism, we don’t really have an organelle different but derived from a mitochondria; we just have mitochondria that are adapted in a way to compliment the animal’s lifestyle. There is nothing inherently different from a cheetah’s mitochondria and a prong-horn’s mitochondria; they are just specialised differently to allow speed for the former and dexterity for the latter.

The specific times in which a feature can be upgraded to another feature is if:
a.) The link between the two can clearly be seen
b.) It makes sense that organ B is an evolved derivative of organ A.

For example, I saw thaat there were various concepts that showed various different types of membrane:

In this case, each membrane upgrade path could be represented in the lines, in which taking specific upgrades which suit your organism will lead to the development of the new membrane. The basis for these upgrades would be upgrading your cell membrane.


This is another example of the old concepts for organelle variation which would be unlocked via upgrades. Note the arms race between membrane rigidity and the pilus. In this case, the upgrade paths would lead to each of the extremes shown.

So you are right in saying that this concept is a slightly renamed organelle upgrade system; the whole concept relies on upgrades. However, old concepts seem to have a rough concept of having a spectrum GUI which can adjust each factor. What differs in this concept and those concepts is that the skill tree is broken down into various smaller upgrades which will eventually lead to you unlocking that specific feature, so that organelle upgrades can be more widely applied across the stages, and can be used to represent several landmark steps of evolution.

To sum up why I feel like the skill-tree is better than the previous system:
I think the skill tree upgrade can extend the gameplay experience in a way that is more fun and balanced, as it is essentially the old organelle upgrade system extended into iterative steps.
I feel like it can be more readily applied to the various stages, as there are always traits that have a shared ancestry.
The skill tree feels more like a progressive march down an evolutionary trend, which I think reflects real life more, such as in the Galapagos finches, more than the specialisation grid concept.

The “skill-tree” of the Galapagos finch’s beak.

In essence, same concept, different presentation.

I was referring to some discussions we’ve had with the dev team. Sorry for confusing you.

Oh alright, I see.

What do you and the developer currently think would work best game-design wise and fun-wise regarding the upgrade system?

I think I agree with the biological perspective here. I’m a little confused how this leads to a skill tree with unlocks?

Examples being how like Whales are descended from land dwelling mammals that went back into the sea. Or how a lot of snakes are reptiles which lost their legs because slithering is faster in highly complex environments.

Like isn’t the point that the most useful thing evolves even if that means ditching a part that previously took a long time to evolve (like how Kakapo’s lost the ability to fly) or reversing some process which has just occurred?

Isn’t the key idea that you can’t change that much from where you are right now but you can move in any direction you like?

I feel like using a system similar to Spore, in which the player selects a part from a palette of pre-existing parts and switches that part for something better once they get enough mutation points can only get Thrive so far

I really don’t want this either. Personally I think every part should be balanced so it’s useful in the right situation.

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Yup, I definitely regret using the word skill-tree to describe what I had in mind now.

What I was thinking about when I described this concept as a “skill tree” is the interconnectedness of each upgrade to the one that proceeds it, as in, you get ABB by first getting AB, which derives from A. This method can add a lot of depth to a game, as it requires you to go through a certain path before you are able to gain a vast majority of the abilities that are available in the game.

In probably 95% of games, however, the latest step in the upgrade tree is usually the best one, and the skill tree is meant to essentially replace a level-up concept - essentially, AB is stronger than A, ABB is stronger than AB - in which your character gets stronger as the player plays the game more. This is probably what my choice of words has made you think of when I refer to this concept as a skill-tree, and you’re right; this doesn’t make sense to include in Thrive because that’s not how evolution works, as we both agreed in the biological aspect.

I am going to give another A AB ABB example that tries to define this concept. In this example, pretend that A leads to AB, and AB leads to ABB, but AB is not necessarily better than A and ABB is not necessarily better than AB; as in, A, AB, and ABB all are balanced and useful in their own, right situation, as an ideal Thrive would have it be.

This concept, at its most basic level, is essentially saying that instead of being offered parts A, AB, and ABB right off the bat in some sort of creature creator interface, you would have to “upgrade” A to get AB, and you would have to “upgrade” AB to get ABB. It would work the same way the other way; if you’re at ABB, in order to get to A, you would have to go through AB.

Let’s use the Kakapo example. A represents the inability to fly, AB represents gliding/bursts of flight, and ABB represents fully-functional, sustained flight. The Kakapo population as a whole didn’t just go from ABB to A in a couple of generations; they had to go through AB first.

Let’s use the whale example. A represents aquatic, AB represents semi-aquatic, and ABB represents a terrestrial lifestyle. Again, the ancestors of whales didn’t just go from living on land (ABB) to swimming in a couple generations (A); there was a transitional phase in between the two lifestyles in which whale ancestors were adjusting to sustained underwater activity.
In the above picture, A would be Elomeryx, AB would be Pakicetus and Rodhocetus, and ABB would be Dorudon.

You can apply this to any trait that exists today.

Simple life depending on external sources, to internally based metabolism, to lysosomes.

Prokaryotes eating mitochondria’s ancestors, to endosymbiosis, to mitochondria integration.

Prokaryotes eating nucleus’s ancestors, to endosymbiosis (which was sustainable because of the new energy given by mitochondria), to nucleus integration.

Unicellular organisms, to organisms huddling together for efficiency and safety, to multicellular, bonded cells.

Simple multicellular organisms, to organisms with advancing metabolism, to complex organisms.

Light detecting pigments, to motion detection, to the eyeball.

Fins, to limbs, to arms, to wings.

For a current-game related example: A would be a relaxed membrane, AB would be a default membrane, and ABB would be the more rigid cell wall membrane.

Even though none of the above features are universally useful to all creatures, they evolved as a result of an organism adapting, or “upgrading” their existing feature into another. You can trace any complex feature, no matter how astounding it is, to a basic feature, in an organism that had no need for that complex feature to exist.

This idea of representing the inter-connectedness of all life is what I had in mind when writing this concept and describing it as a “skill tree”, so I apologize for that. I’ll rename it to something more appropriate in the title to avoid future confusion. Perhaps a better name to think of the general concept is “Progressive Upgrade Choices Leading to Features”.

So in essence: there is nothing fundamentally different between this upgrade concept and the older upgrade concept. The thing I focused on changing because I felt that it would improve balance and depth is essentially lengthening the amount of time it would take to get to an extreme by presenting various upgrade choices to the player that would then unlock the next upgrade before that extreme, and the next, and the next, until you get to that extreme (which would a part in some instances). Essentially accounting for fine-tuning and the length of time it takes to adapt these features. Most of the basis for this idea, you probably already have down in the upgrade system; I just thought of a system that could represent progression throughout the stages.

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I guess one thing is that MP enforce some of this already. For example you can’t go from being a blob of cytoplasm to being a large Eukaryote in one step, you have to slowly make your way there each editor session, and you can turn around and go back if you want.


Is that good enough in terms of game depth and replay-ability, though?

I definitely see what you’re getting at. If each cell editor trip is costly enough and the game has enough obstacles, the player would have to be wise about what they choose to add and choose to remove. The only problem I have with that is that being offered a palette of parts right away at the beginning of each stage can feel like jumping the gun too much.

A lot of hit games are made so much better because of the fact that at first, you can’t do that much. What made Skyrim so good is you going down that level up system in a way that turned your character in an ever-improving type of warrior you want to be; as in, you have enough room to turn into an assassin, or into a bowman, or into a swordsman, or into a magician. If the progression happened just because of saving up enough points to get a skill tree instead of going down a skill-tree path to get to a strong perk, Skyrim’s depth would have been destroyed.

Horizon: Zero Dawn has skill tree paths that force the player to go down a certain path to unlock desirable abilities as well. This once again serves as a huge amount of the game’s depth, and it goes with the story of a young person trying to find their way in a brutal post-apocalyptic world. If this forced progression system was removed and instead you just had to save up points that you gain continuously instead of points that you get for doing what the game wants you to do in order to experience it fully, the game experience would be much more shallow.

The Last of Us also had a progression system, in which the player had to upgrade to improve certain aspects of their character’s skill sets. If this wasn’t implemented properly, and you could just save up for an advanced skill, the early game would have been much less engrossing than it was.

Even Spore, with the meteorite containing parts concept in the cell stage, the bones in the creature stage, and technology/doing what the game wants you to do for rewards in the last three stages, rely on an unlock progression system to an extent in order to lengthen the game experience in a fun way.

Of course, Thrive is vastly different from the above games in that Thrive professes player autonomy, balance, and non-scripted stories over a linear path to becoming an ideal character and a fixed set of events, but Thrive is still a game, first and foremost, and games are focused on ingenious methods to extend replayabilty and depth. Any game benefits from restricting player choice in a way that is as non-intrusive and restrictive in possible in order to create depth, and almost every game, no matter how free and open world, implements this system; at least some sense of going down a path.

There’s also the fact that is much more complicated than simply adding and removing functions rather rapidly - transitional forms, vestigal features, homologous structures - to fit their ecosystem; but this aspect of the concept is more subject to how realistic you guys want this game to be. I think that the realism offered by progression is more fun and depth-adding than sticking to MP, but I can see how some of the parts of this concept can be somewhat represented by mutation points.

Yes, MP does help with depth; but is it the best way to do it? There’s a problem with organ gluttony and balance going on right now; is part of that problem because of the use of a point system with no unlocks to create a sense of progression, or is it simply a symptom of being a game early in development? Could the game benefit from the addition of some linearity that is balanced in a way to offer a wide choice to the player, or is this complicating the game concept?

I can see why you prefer the MP system right now, as it does it’s job when the game reaches a certain point right before organ gluttony becomes a problem; but for some reason, I feel like there can be benefits from including a system such as this, as it could provide solutions for certain problems the game is experiencing and can add a lot more depth than is currently present.

This concept is more of a thought exercise than a game-ready concept that could readily be incorporated into a game, as it doesn’t go into extreme detail around the upgrades that are offered throughout the path. It was meant more to be a stepping stone towards creating a finalized, polished concept which would incorporate some of the points brought up throughout the thread, so I just wanted people to consider the fact that Thrive could benefit from some sort of clever progression system based on something else than a flat point cap or bonus. Don’t treat it as a final concept; just consider the uses of a concept similar to this. It may or may not be better for the game, as you guys are definitely better at knowing game design; I just want to share a potential solution.

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