Unlocking (and upgrading) organelles

I feel like that belongs here.

My two cents.
I actually really like the idea of unlocking organelles. But it needs to be implemented very carefully in order to work.

I like the concept of “Eureka boosts” from Civ VI. If you don’t know what it is - that game has a science (and culture) tree, and every upgrade in the tree could be boosted if you meet a certain criteria. For example, it would be easier to research Sailing if you build a city on a coast; it would be easier to research Currency if you make a trade route etc.

Why this is good concept? First of all, no random or grind. Secondly, if you are going for early Sailing and building ships you will build a city on a coast anyway. That is the key word here. Eureka boosts are not things you actively try to achieve - you just play the game your way and the technology which is relevant for your playstyle would be boosted, while technology you dont really need wouldn’t.

This could also work for Thrive. For example, “To unlock nucleus player should reach a certain size (or ATP production)”.
First of all, in real life cell can’t exceed a certain size limit without nucleus because of the circular DNA which takes too much space. Secondly, in the gameplay, if you want to build a nucleus, you will build up some ATP production anyway. That’ll also help newer players to choose which organelles they want to put.

For unlocking a mitochondria - I have an idea as well. This is where organelle upgrades come into play.
Criteria for unlocking a mitochondria would be just “have a nucleus and engulf a prokaryote”. So, mitochondria would be easy to get. But, irl mitochondria are so good because it has a huge surface area for its size. In Thrive, we can start with really smooth, low surface area mitochondria, which would do basically nothing. That way the player would have to invest a lot of MP into the mitochondria in order for them to actually be the powerhouse of the cell we know and love. Yes, getting a mitochondria would not be an accomplishment, but making it work - that would be the difficult part.


It’s interesting to hear them, and personally I want to go in the opposite direction from both of these suggestions.

Take Kerbal Space Program as an example, it will let you put 100 space station components on a tiny booster and take it to the launch pad. However when you launch it will explode. This is a great moment of learning, you have to think, and in the end you figure out that a rocket needs a Thrust to Weight ratio >1 in order to launch. That is a great moment because you have learned a universal law of rocketry and it feels good to discover it.

Same with Thrive. I want people to make crazy cells where it’s one hex of cytoplasm and a nucleus and have the species numbers plummet and maybe die out. This is the kind of failure which will teach you about osmoregulation and square cubed law, which are great things to learn.

Likewise I want people to try and use chloroplasts in dark caves. I want them to think about how light levels (and maybe even spectrum) impacts chloroplasts.

In some sense I want to make it easier to fail so the game is about learning.


The problem with this approach, IMO, is encapsulated in the saying “Lack of restriction is the bane of creativity”. This is especially true when we are talking about evolution. Evolution is riddled with examples of innovative, interesting solutions that arose due to a species needing to solve a problem while circumventing the restrictions of it’s own ‘design’, so to say. By giving the player near-absolute freedom to easily make drastic changes to their cell in the span of a generation, and not putting any kind of cap on these changes, I think you’re only encouraging people to try and make some kind of generalist super-cell that is rocking chloroplasts, chemoplasts, thermoplasts at the same time.

Imagine someone moving from their abyssal habitat into shallow water for the first time. What would encourage them to try and find a unique, vacant niche to occupy if they can just immediately slap on a few chloroplasts and call it a day?

Even in your example, there really isn’t that much of a downside to putting a chloroplast onto a cave-dweller, apart from the wasted MP. There isn’t really much thought involved here - most people, even if they don’t already know what chloroplasts are for, will very quickly deduce that they are pointless to use in the dark. And that’s it.

Regarding stuff like spectrum being taken into account for chloroplast output - I wholeheartedly support the idea. However, in a system where there is no locking, what prevents the player from just expanding their pigments to cover the entire spectrum of visible light and beyond? Don’t get me wrong, I think that this should be possible, but it should require a hell of a lot of work on the player’s part.

I’m intrigued by lowskill’s idea and think that some version of it might very well be the best solution.

EDIT: Regarding KSP, even that game has a tech tree in career more, and you aren’t able to use the vast majority of the space ship parts from the start. And that is a good thing. It makes progression feel meaningful, and it makes all of the different phases of the game feel interesting (e.g. trying to cobble together your first satellite from the barebones parts you have in the start, or trying to make a manned rocket to the Mun from the relatively primitive parts you have in that stage, etc.)


(Sorry if the doublepost is a problem)

As I mentioned, I think that a variation of this idea could work well. If I’m interpreting your idea correctly, it would be something like this:

At the start of the game, there are no photosynthesisers in the world. To evolve a photosynthetic pigment, a cell needs to spend, say, 3 generations in a well-lit patch. After this, they get an appropriate pigment (based on the strongest part of the spectrum in said patch) - let’s assume that we’re around a Sun-like star, and the cell is in a relatively shallow patch. They evolve bacteriochlorophyll, and their “innovations” level in “pigments” increases by 1. After this, new innovations in this field are possible, but take more time/effort. Now, If you want to develop, say, carotenoids, you’ll have to spend 5 generations in reasonably shallow water, or alternatively just 2 generations in extremely shallow water/under strong UV light.

After this, your innovations in photosynthetics increase to 2. Again, new innovations are still possible, but take even more time and effort. If you want to develop some new, alien pigment that mainly absorbs infrared light, you’d have to spend a non-trivial amount of turns in relatively deep water with poor lightning.

I think that something like this could work OK. It isn’t based on RNG, encourages the player to pursue a playstyle that makes sense in the context of their evolutionary path, etc. The only problem I see is this, again: what would prevent everyone that lives in shallow water from developing chloroplasts? I think that making the leap to any of these big metabolic organelles (chloroplasts, thermoplasts, chemoplasts, etc.) should necessarily restrict the cell’s development in other areas, to prevent them from being too blatant a good choice all around.

I agree with this completely and I think it’s exactly what Thrive should aim for.

However I think the way to achieve this in Thrive is to make the game harder (resources more scarce and predators more effective, for example). That will mean you can’t just add organelles and make a massive generalist cell because you will starve. It will mean you can’t afford to be super slow and poorly armed because you will be hunted down.

I agree with you constraints make creativity. However those constraints should be emergent properties of the world design and not artificial barriers.

I dig it if people like the career mode of KSP, I can see the idea behind it. Personally I think it’s a really poor game design and basically has no interesting decisions in it, it’s just a pure grind system for unlocks, it’s the type of game design I like least. If I’d been designing that system I’d have gone with a “space race” mechanic where you have to race other states who are trying to beat you to objectives. I think that would have introduced loads of interesting questions around how to run your program, what risks to take, what goals to head for etc. You would have had to make tough choices based on how the game is evolving around you.

I think both ways (unlocking organelles or having them all availible) could work. But I dont like KSP as an example since that game is about building, while Thrive is about competition. I would like to think of organelles like items in MOBA games. You can buy anything you want, but your itembuild can win or ruin the game for you. Therefore, if we take “everything is unlocked” approach, some careful balancing should be done. In terms of balance, organelle unlock system is another variable, which can be used to tweak the game. If everything is unlocked, that means that some other element of the game should take the toll of balancing issues it creates. I think that position should go to upgrade system. I have already given the mitochondria example. If the similar approach would be taken for every organelle, it would solve the “generalist cell” problem.

Good idea, but I dont like that player has to just spend enough time in the biome to unlock organelle, because this is very similar to grind. I would prefer something like “be in light-covered biome and reach glucose consumption of 0.5”. That way player would not only have the possibility to put the organelle, but also the need for it. Ideally, unlocks should require player to do something, but I can’t think about something like this for a chloroplast from a top of my head.

Ideally, the game should be in a state where wasted MP is the risk player takes, but the level of competition is not there in 0.4.1. So, I don’t really think that it is a problem.

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Personally I believe my idea where the player only has one primitive organelle to start with and they slowly evolve it to fit their needs is the most realistic and fun way of restricting the player without actively locking anything. Now I understand that system would require the dev team to almost completely scrap everything they have done so far but I think it would be worth it in the long run.

I have the feeling that the dev team isnt up for that so what if we meet half way where you still start with a primitive part that gives you the bare minimum you need to survive but you use a tech tree. But with this tech tree instead of investing MP into the tree itself like in most games the tree is more like a progress bar that is based off of how you’ve upgraded the organelle. Once you upgrade the organelle and fill the progress bar you can unlock the next organelle for some mp, variations dont have a progress bar they just need MP to unlock.

I really suck at putting my words to writing so I would love to see lowskill try to make his own version of my idea

heres a example of how it might work


This looks very interesting and I don’t really see how that idea contradicts anything in the current game. Unfortunately I don’t know what the current development plans for organelle upgrades are, so I can’t really dive deep into the idea at the moment

my original idea was to take away all the premade organelles so the player only starts with one primitive inefficient one that could be tinkered with to fill the rolls of the premade ones we have now.
heres a link Adjustable proto organelles
pretty much my idea was to take the concept for the multicellular stage and use it for the organelles of the microbe stage.

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All information about organelles would stay in game files, they only thing that needs to be removed is the buttons in the editor. On the other hand, evolving everything from one organelle isn’t too realistic since different organelles have a different history (everybody knows how mitochondria came into place. It was not evolved from other organelles).

Ok, give me some time, probably around a day. I’ll come up with something.

in my idea a cell can engulf a prokaryote with a chance of it not being eaten and instead be unlocked in the editor as an organelle blueprint and can be further evolved . While im no expert in Microbiology from my understanding in an alien world there would never be a true mitochondria because they evolved on earth, there could possibly be something extremely similar but not exactly the same. How the organelles work now seems vary limiting with how creative you can be and restricts you to earth organelles which results in earth like microbes.

Soooo, I have checked the dev forums and official wiki for anything that is related to upgrade system and is less than two years old. And I have found nothing. That makes things much more complicated. Aside from all of the things we discussed, we need to address whether upgrades should exist at all and how they should be implemented.

Lets start from scratch: does the game even need upgrades. So, lets talk pros and cons of upgrades

  1. Increased customizability of the cell. It is good to have more options
  2. More room for balancing. Instead of just tweaking stats, there will be much more options for different stages of the game.
  3. More unique abilities
  4. Less generalist cells
  5. Solving organelle gluttony problem.

About organelle gluttony. 15 generations mean that player has around 1500 MP to spend. The player always wants to spend as much MP as possible. Since averafe cost-per-hex value of organelle value is 30, by the end of the game player will always end up with the cell of the size of around 50 hexes. Upgrades are a way to spend MP without increasing in size, therefore, if the player decides to spend half of his MP for upgrades, that’l leave him with the cell of only 25 hexes. Much better, huh.


  1. Increased customizability also means that player have much more choices to make, which can be not a good things for newer players.
  2. More room for balancing means that there is more room to make mistakes and add something completely broken.
  3. Unique abilities are very hard to actually implement.
  4. Optimization issues.

Ok, optimization issues is not something that is clear. Let me explain. Right now every cell is encoded with a string containing a letter for every organelle. So, there average string length right now is probably less than 20. In game, engine parses the string and generates cell on a go. Parsing a string is a quick operation, but upgrades, if implemented incorrectly, could make these strings 10 times as long, which is not good.

In conclusion, I think that upgrade system should be implemented in some way, but every one of these cons should be addressed beforehand.

I love your debate and both of you have some really valid points, put I’d like to tackle the cons, as I’m a big fan of this idea and I would like to see it implemented in some way since it provides much more unique and strategic gameplay.

  1. The new players, that are perhaps just getting familiar with the upgrading system might not be able to utilize the entire potential of all the organelles, but even the most basic forms of the organelles might be able to provide them with enough “strength” to keep them alive, even if it should be as a pitiful cell. Once they understand the system better, they slowly learn to engineer better and better cells, thus rewarding them for getting to know the game. (Which is a really neato game mechanic)
  2. Yes, the more complex the system is, the more mistakes might occur, but everything can be fixed sooner or later by bugfixes, patches and stuff.
  3. No doubt this would be very hard to implement, but in my opinion the effort/reward ratio of this feature would be in its favors, as it would feel much less like Spore’s placing of pre-made parts and more like actually experiencing a first-hand evolution of your species by mutations, either by tiny steps or by giant leaps.
  4. I cannot really address this, as I only speak Python, not even really well.

Thus, in my opinion, this would be a really difficult task requiring some incredibly hard work from our beloved devs, but would make the game feel so much more creative and diverse, while also diverging from Spore’s “too narrow” of an evolution. I also think this should be implemented before even the work on Multicellular starts, as it would make the Microbe stage feel more unique and more or less complete, giving the player a free hand over their lifeform’s design.

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