Just a Heads Up: This is a long post. A really long post. I have been struggling with articulating these thoughts for a while now, ever since I posted my last reply. Struggling not only because I was trying to write an effective idea, but also because this concept doesn’t really add a separate mechanic to the game. In fact, most of what I base these thoughts on are basically already implemented in the game. This is intended to be a unifying concept to base most of Thrive on, so it is an ambitious topic. But I think I did a good job at conveying it and have made my point pretty clear. I am hoping that this post kind of helps us make sense of Thrive in future discussions by giving us a clearer understanding of how exactly Thrive should work; for if we have a clear idea of the best way to simulate evolution, we will have a clearer idea of how to create a fun and impactful Thrive. Without further ado, here it is: the essence, the framework, the idea, the philosophy of Thrive.
As we start to leap from a bunch of ideas to an actual game, it is important to consider the idea of Thrive itself when talking about how the game should be designed. Development has progressed to a point that our beloved evolution simulator has some sort of shallow depth and complexity in it; soon enough and with good guidance however, this shallow depth will turn into an ocean filled with complex and alien creatures that have evolved alongside your own, and soon enough, we will have to make a design choice as to how exactly gameplay and progression/advancement should work.
Progression is a tough thing to talk about. Of course, we have to talk about how exactly a player will progress, but just as importantly, we will have to talk about why a player progresses. In other words, not only do we have to design progression, but we will have to make sure a player is motivated to progress. These questions regarding progress are a major reason as to why it is hard to create quality animal – and therefore, evolution – simulators. Not only is it hard to create a system of progression that can accurately capture the majesty and reality of nature, but it is also hard to make that system any fun. If a system is created so that it completely captures the realism of an animal’s life, that it leaves no stone unturned, then that game would be very boring. And at the same time, if you created a very simple game design with only a few options to engage with, no one would be interested after the first 5 minutes. For example, who would want to play an eagle simulator where you spend the majority of your time sitting on an egg, grooming your feathers, and surveying a rather empty airspace around you? At the other end of the spectrum, who would want to play an eagle simulator where all you did was fight other animals and unlock crazy attributes? In the former game, you suffer from a lack of personal motivation because – let’s face it – life isn’t always fun. And in the latter game, you suffer from a lack of complexity and realism in a way that rapidly turns off the player from the experience. In order to make a simulator fun, one must make sure to strike the proper balance between the mundaneness of complete realism and the barbarity of simplicity so that a player is properly motivated to play the game. To make a game realistic, you have to have it emulate whatever it is that you are desiring to emulate in some sort of way, and to make a game, you have to have a fun objective. There is some overlap between the two ends in that biological reality has an objective: survive long enough pass on your genes.
However, Thrive isn’t a life simulator just in the aspect that it simulates the life of a creature. Rather, it is an attempt to emulate the evolution of life through an endless amount of eons, which both complicates and simplifies the game; complicates it in that many new and unique game concepts have to be created, and simplifies it in that there is a tiny bit less of a focus on the day-to-day lives of organisms. Most games would simply worry about creating an incredibly in depth and detailed cell simulation for example. If you want to call yourself the best cell simulator, then surely you would want to include a countless amount of organelles, species, and unique cellular features. But Thrive doesn’t necessarily need this: all Thrive needs is a detailed cell stage which provides a large degree of customization and gameplay options so that the player could evolve a multicellular organism that is unique to the design choices they made. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to include as much unique features as we possibly can; it simply means that we don’t have to include as many features as a pure cell simulator needs to make the evolution aspect of Thrive as fun as it can be. At the same time however, our focus on evolution means that Thrive needs to worry about other unique problems a simple cell simulator doesn’t have to grapple with.
So, we have identified the two main aspects of Thrive’s gameplay: the evolution aspect and the gameplay aspect – and by gameplay, the playthrough of an individual creature’s life is meant. Both are aspects that are based on biology, and both are heavily interconnected with each other. Both are driven by the same engines, and both span a rather wide array of topics. What is more, both present an interesting challenge in converting the mundane and serious objectives behind each virtue into a game design through which a player can consistently be thrilled. We have noted how it is incredibly important that a player feels personally motivated to progress through the game by presenting them with a design that is realistic enough to have a wide array of complexity but simplistic enough not to overwhelm or bore the player with mundanity. With all this established, it is now time to consider what exactly should be the personal motivation behind progression. We know that it is a motivation that should be based on biology and a motivation that is heavily interconnected with reality, that is the driving force behind both biology and evolution. We know that it must convert the seriousness and mundanity of both virtues into a design which the player can thoroughly and consistently enjoy. And we know that this personal motivation must base progress on a concept that is realistic enough to have a wide array of complexity but simplistic enough not to overwhelm or bore the player. So, with all of this established, I will propose a personal motivation that will encompass all of the needs we identified, and that personal motivation is energy, or perhaps more descriptively put, energy-efficiency.
First, let’s demonstrate the legitimacy of using energy to explain our intended subjects of emulation. Consider this following statement, and consider it thoroughly:
Every species of organism intends to survive, and this survival depends on energy and energy-processing to survive.
There is no case in which this is not true. Everything needs some form of energy to maintain homeostasis, from the first cells to us humans. If this is true, then the following must also be true:
Every action costs energy, and all of the energy that a species spends is spent so that it continues to survive, either so that it can continue to generate more energy or preserve more energy.
I challenge you to find a situation in which the above cannot be used to explain an action that an organism commits. The energy that is spent on predation is simply a means to secure more energy. The energy that plants spend expanding their faculty are also a means to secure more energy. Animals spend so much energy on mating displays so that its species can continue to survive. Even cases of altruism, where organisms sacrifice personal energy for the sake of another, are methods of ensuring that the species as a whole has the energy it needs to persist. Also, if the above are true, then the following must be true:
Species spend the amount of energy that they spend because such energy consumption level yields the highest return of energy.
It is always true that a species never wants to either spend so much/little energy that it cannot sustain itself, no matter how excessive or ridiculous an action seems. Rams spend so much energy butting heads in the mating season because it introduces a competitive filter, meaning that the best genes for the species get passed on so that offspring have the best chance of survival. Wild dogs spend so much energy running because their food drops dead at the end of it.
The above statements can all be combined to create our first cohesive law of biology:
Every species of organism intends to survive, and this survival depends on energy and energy-processing to survive. Every action costs energy, and all of the energy that a species spends is spent so that it continues to survive, either so that it can continue to generate more energy or preserve more energy. Species spend the amount of energy that they spend because such energy consumption level yields the highest return of energy, and thus, the greatest chance of survival.
And if our first general law of biology is true, then the following law must be true:
Species are built the way they are built because their body plan is the most energy-efficient method of survival that they can manage. In other words, species have certain adaptations because that adaptation maximizes the amount of energy they get while minimizing the amount of energy they spend performing important tasks.
Plants grow stems and grow taller because it helps them access more sunlight, and therefore more energy. Tigers have fangs because it helps them kill energy better. Plants have widespread leaves because it helps them capture as much sunlight as they can. Birds have wings because it helps them find a lot of energy fast. A vast majority of aquatic animals are streamline because that shape helps them reduce the amount of energy they must spend to move, while at the same time maximizing their movement speed. Altruism evolved because it benefited the energy of the majority of the species at the expense of one. I would also like to add this clause to the law:
The capabilities of a specie’s body plan are limited by the amount of energy that is available to said organism. Limiting factors in biology, such as the square-cube law and respiration, are limiting because they limit the amount of energy that can be used for other essential functions of an organism.
This is best illustrated through an example. In the mind of a wildebeest, it would be ideal if they could sprint at a speed of 500 miles per hour for 100 miles straight. However, this isn’t possible because a wildebeest can’t harvest or generate enough energy to maintain a body plan that can generate such rapid movement. This ultimately means that a species is inherently checked by the amount of energy available to it through both the environment and its body, and that the environment checks the body, and the body checks the specie’s capabilities. And if this law is true, then the following must also be true.
A species continues to exist because their body plans are energy-efficient enough to survive. On the other hand, species goes extinct because their body plan is not energy efficient enough to maintain a steady population, which can be a result of endless factors ranging from competition to environmental fluctuations.
Compare a wildebeest and a beetle for example. It would seem like a wildebeest would generally be the most successful species, as it can move quicker, can defend itself better, and can generate more energy more quickly than a beetle can. Place a population of wildebeest and beetles on a barren mountaintop where microflora is the only food source however, and I guarantee you that the beetles would thrive, and the wildebeests would be decimated. Although beetles generate much less energy than wildebeests do, beetles need a lot less energy to maintain important functions and can survive on much less food than wildebeests can. If the above laws are true, then the following law must be true.
The most successful species in an ecosystem are the most energy-efficient species. Therefore, evolutionarily successful species are the most energy-efficient species.
The above laws implicate a harsh concept: if you aren’t spending energy wisely, your species will go extinct, plain and simple. You continue to survive by spending energy wisely, however, and you won’t go extinct, plain and simple. There is a selective pressure against inefficiency, which ultimately leads us to our final and most conclusive rule:
Therefore, evolution is generally a trend towards energy-efficiency specific to a species’s niche and therefore, adaptations are inherently a means to and a result of getting more energy. And the evolution of such adaptations develops because of an interest in maximizing net energy and fulfilling all of the previously ascertained laws.
To make it easier to follow, I have listed all the laws below and have given them names. I have italicized them so that if you want to skip past rereading them, you just have to scroll until you go past the italics.
The Law of Necessity - Every species of organism intends to survive, and this survival depends on energy and energy-processing to survive. All of the energy that a species spends is spent so that it continues to survive, either so that it can continue to generate more energy, or preserve more energy. Species spend the amount of energy that they spend because such energy consumption level yields the highest return of energy, and thus, the greatest chance of survival.
The Law of Efficient Design - Species are built the way they are built because their body plan is the most energy-efficient method of survival that they can manage. In other words, species have certain adaptations because that adaptation maximizes the amount of energy they get while minimizing the amount of energy they spend performing important tasks.
The Law of Intrinsic Limitations - The capabilities of a specie’s body plan are limited by the amount of energy that is available to said organism. Limiting factors in biology, such as the square-cube law and respiration, are limiting because they limit the amount of energy that can be used for other essential functions of an organism.
The Law of Perpetuation - A species continues to exist because their body plans are energy-efficient enough to survive. On the other hand, species goes extinct because their body plan is not energy efficient enough to maintain a steady population, which can be a result of endless factors ranging from competition to environmental fluctuations.
The Law of Survival - The most successful species in an ecosystem are the most energy-efficient species. Therefore, evolutionarily successful species are the most energy-efficient species.
The Law of Adaptation - Therefore, evolution is generally a trend towards energy-efficiency specific to a species’s niche and therefore, adaptations are inherently a means to and a result of getting more energy. And the evolution of such adaptations develops because of an interest in maximizing net energy and fulfilling all of the previously ascertained laws.
These laws are the engineers of all of the endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful that have been, and are being, evolved. All of the adaptations of all of Earth’s diverse creatures have been unified by these laws, the laws of energy-economics. Flight had evolved simply because the species which had the traits necessary for flight all had an energy advantage. The digestive system evolved because organisms which had this concentration of metabolic cells more efficiently extracted energy from the environment. Multicellularity happened because the adaptations leading to such increased the capacity of energy production for all cells, which proved to be extraordinarily advantageous. The eye evolved because species were both able to generate enough energy – a result of expanded energy-producing capabilities - to maintain such a structure and because it helped them extract energy. Everything comes back to these laws, and everything follows these laws.
So, we have demonstrated that energy-economics is a good way to interpret biology, have provided general rules and derivatives of this approach, and have provided evidence in support of these rules. Now, what does this mean for Thrive? As we have identified before, simulations are fun abstractions of reality which emulate its objectives in a fun and gamey way. We have identified a way to interpret a primary objective behind our intended subjects of emulation, and have detailed this objective in a way that is concise enough to accurately describe biology, but broad enough to explain for the complexity inherent in biology. It then must be reasonable to conclude that Thrive should largely emulate these general laws if it wishes to emulate evolution and biology.
Let’s get straight to the point. There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding how the future game we get – the one with multicellularity, land, 3D shapes, and civilization – will handle progression. It’s hard for us to imagine how the hell we will get from a single glob of cytoplasm to a complex and muscled creature in a game that will blend together stages as seamlessly as can be done. There are a bunch of concepts floating around like, upgrades and clustering, which explain how progression will occur at the microscopic level, but for some reason, we hesitate when considering how change will happen at the macroscopic level. In order to make sure our community understands how exactly the game will be designed however – the idea of Thrive itself - it is time that the underlying concept behind macroscopic progression in Thrive is articulated and revealed. And the answer, lo-and-behold, is that the motivation for the player, the base for the framework, the mechanic which will unify all other game mechanics regarding progression like upgrading and such is already implemented: it’s energy.
In the current game, every lifespan that the player takes control of is a lifespan that is concerned with finding more energy by searching for more compounds. They do this because the player wants to survive, and they do this by spending energy frugally; in fact, everything the player does is in interest of either getting more energy or saving more energy. Already then is it clear that our first law holds true. When the player successfully enters the cell editor, they naturally act in accordance to the second law because they are motivated by the first law; they attempt to design an organism that gets as much energy as possible, either by increasing energy creation, reducing energy consumption, or increasing the capacity to gain energy. The player must then act in accordance to the third law if they wish to survive, as even though they ideally want 50 flagella, they will have to apply only as much flagella as their metabolic pathway can allow them to have; of course, their metabolic pathway is also designed in accordance to what is available in its environment. If any of the first three laws are not fulfilled, then the player goes extinct. If they are all satisfied, then the player lives on and gets the chance to adapt even further to their environment, as described in laws four, five, and six.
So if we agree with all of the laws and we see that the rudimentary implementation of features in accordance to these laws have been successful so far, why is it a crazy thing to say that we already have the frameworks for the future of Thrive in place? Even though we have a somewhat limited pallet of tools and organelles in our hands as of now, the challenge of evolution is already represented; do as much as you can with as little as you have. By designing progression to be based on energy, we are therefore designing Thrive to be based on biology and evolution if we agree that the laws we described are accurate. By forcing the player to act in interest of the first rule and by basing aspects of auto-evo on the law of necessity, we are inherently forcing the player to act in accordance to the following laws built on the first, hence representing evolution. But once again, what does this mean for Thrive itself?
It means that energy should be the defining factor of progression. The adaptations which a player puts on their cell currently are already acting in interest of energy-economics, so we know it works; we just must make sure it is continued. When discussing the leap from unicellularity to multicellularity, we should discuss features while keeping in mind that a player is ultimately motivated to pursue one thing: energy. We should then motivate the player to make that leap to multicellularity by rewarding them with an increased capability to increase energy, for two cells surely make more energy than one. However, if we are to define all of progression on energy, then there is a whole story of energy behind getting to the point of adhesion proteins. As previously stated, every feature requires a certain amount of energy to be spent on the growth, maintenance, and use of said feature. And we have mentioned how every feature is an attempt to satisfy the rules of energy-economics. Applying this to Thrive, the only limitation placed on the adaptations a player can use should only be energy, and the motivation and reward empowering each adaptation should be energy. As I previously stated:
Cells did not begin to develop complex organelle functions and processes because of a selective pressure in favor of complexity, but rather because the selective pressure in favor of increased energy efficiency had allowed the cell to successfully develop and maintain said complex organelle functions in order to better gather energy from the environment. Cells did not make the leap from unicellularity to multicellularity because of the complexity inherent in such organizing, but because of the energy yield which came from being multicellular. Organisms did not develop a nervous system because it was more complex and was the next step above, but because said organisms had the energy capacity to be able to develop and maintain said nervous system. Practically all adaptations could be interpreted through this energy-productive perspective; the energy production was there, so x was developed, and x happened to be successful, so x turned into a more complex trait x2, because it used energy better, or there was enough energy to make it more complex, or etc. Reverting of a complex trait, such as the loss of legs in whales, can also be interpreted through this lense; the legs were not an efficient use of energy and it was more energy efficient to become more streamline within the environment.
If we make energy rules the primary focus of progress, then the player and other organisms will naturally be incentivized to act in a way that is representative of biology and evolution itself. The player will also be forced to innovate as evolution innovated if we make energy challenging enough. Thus, discussion and development regarding Thrive should be tailored towards facilitating this incentive, and each decision that is presented to the player should be understood in terms of this incentive. The vast diversity that makes evolution so fascinating to us will be seen in Thrive, and evolution will be powerfully represented in the player’s playthrough, as the interest of the player is to evolve in a way that is accurately conveyed by evolution. Imagine the depth, the replayability, that would be intrinsic to Thrive if you had to edit your energy production to make progress.
Imagine if we made the nucleus cost a lot of energy to maintain, even more energy than is required now. What this means is that for a while, you have to play as a prokaryote and for a while, you have to make do with prokaryotic organelles, as described. If we introduce a lot of customization and organelle upgrades, you will have a large array of tools available to you, leading to a lot more depth and replayability in a phase of the game which now takes maybe 5 minutes. Only after you engage with the prokaryotic part of the game by finetuning your body plan to best suit your niche and environment will you be able to obtain the nucleus, by grace of upgrades to your metabolosomes. If we make the primary challenge in this game the challenge of constantly innovating your metabolic pathway, then every evolutionary leap in Thrive will have a constant mechanic looping back into it that consistently adds an endless amount of depth. In my previous post, I described the result of this philosophy in the early stages of this game:
increase energy capacity by tinkering with your creature’s energy-production line, add parts, repeat, and all of a sudden you have 20 organelles. Get enough energy, upgrade your cell enough, and eventually you get bonding agents; combine with another cell, and look at that, you’ve just witnessed the most important moment in the history of complex life happen right in front of you, the first multicellular organism. Then you notice that these two cells make a lot more energy than your one cell, so you can now get those organelle upgrades that would have previously bankrupted your single cell’s ATP bank.
When other cells begin to figure out the secret sauce in the recipe for multicellularity, the arms race begins again; so, you start adding more cells to your organism to get more energy to jack up your adaptations even more. Other cells start doing the same, so you add more cells and repeat the complexity process, mess around and end up with 20 cells. You get enough energy to develop a cell-differentiation system, which then allows you to begin specializing certain cells to be toxin producing, or energy producing, or storage units, or etc.
You begin upgrading your energy producing cells, get so much energy that you don’t exactly know what to do with it but hey I can add more cells so why not - and all of a sudden, your organism has 1000 cells in it and it’s beginning to jiggle a bit. You’ve finetuned your energy production system so much - “wait, have I made a primitive digestive system?” you ask yourself as you consider the blur of an hour that has just past which was spent editing your energy producing cells and replicating them to increase your energy capacity - and as a result added enough cells to the point that you could now call them tissues. This process continues until you have enough energy to upgrade one of your cell type’s membranes in order to decrease the energy cost of maintaining inter-cellular interactions by allowing said cells to dynamically shift sodium and other nutrients to help generate an action potential; then, you stop and realize that you’ve created the first neuron. And then, you stop and try to recollect the blur of a night spent playing Thrive, only to realize that all of this started with a single tile of cytoplasm in some remote tectonic crack of the planet you’re on.
Imagine it for the later stages of the game now. You are in the midst of an explosion in biodiversity because other multicellular species have reached the same point you are now in; so much energy capacity, than anything is possible. There is so much freedom that is bestowed upon you because of these energy capacity upgrades that you can place features and unlock upgrades that you previously could only imagine, and so can other species. You place spikes all over yourself simply because you can, and you add a primitive eye, because you can. Every other species grows into this excess amount of energy by experimenting as well; giant worms, leaf-like plankton creatures, plants with huge stalks, the first chitin armor; hell, you even see something with a mouth on its butt somewhere in the ocean. You realize now that you are in your own Cambrian Explosion, that weird part of Earth’s history where things that didn’t make sense existed. However, you eventually grow into this excess amount of energy produced: as described by the 2nd and 3rd laws of energy, you need to in order to remain efficient in your utilization and capture of energy from your environment. Eventually, other creatures run into this wall as well, and eventually, this biodiversity begins to narrow down a bit. Now that there isn’t free room to experiment, the game of energy becomes harsh again; organisms which evolved traits that are a waste of energy naturally die out because they aren’t energy efficient enough, as described by our laws of energy. Although the survivors remain diverse, there are some trends emerging, mainly symmetry and a streamline shape. The basic branches of all future life on your planet have formed.
Once again, you are forced into this deadly competition of remaining on top of the game in terms of meaningfully investing your energy. You have to be a shrewd upgrader of your features, and you have to be a constant tinkerer in the energy production unit you have developed. Generations pass, and eventually, you develop a spine because you have enough free energy to maintain said feature. This spine frees up a good amount of energy for you, as you don’t have to spend so much energy supporting your own structure. With the spine comes new features, and with the spine comes another explosion in lifeforms with vertebrae. Once again however, you use up this free energy wiggle room, and once again, you are forced into innovating your body plan without adding an entirely new feature until you reach another energy benchmark, which can allow you access to land. You upgrade your parts that are responsible for this ability until you hit another barrier, and once again, you are forced to innovate with what you have. You develop features that help you breath air better, and once again, you get a bunch of free energy, which you spend adapting to land, then once again, you hit a barrier, forcing you to innovate with what you have. You get warm-blood, you boom, you hit a wall, then you innovate. You get efficient muscles, you create wings or something, you hit a wall, then you innovate. Rinse and repeat, innovate and thrive. All of this because a player wants to make sure they can find enough energy in their next life-cycle. All of this because a player edits their cells in a way that helps them in this task. All of this because of 6 basic laws that emulate evolution.
By basing Thrive on these energy laws, we base Thrive on evolution. By basing Thrive on these energy laws, we bring in the innovation, diversity, and uniqueness of evolution into our game. By basing progression on the progression of energy, we make Thrive resemble the progression of life as we know it. By building the game design in accordance to these principles, you build an evolution simulator. This is the idea of Thrive, the idea of energy-economics. And this is the principle which will make the game so effective.
I hope this makes sense, and I hope you will consider this when discussing the development of Thrive from now on.