Ways to make the microbe stage have a more drawn-out progression

So a really common issue on the forums here is the concept of progression in the microbe stage; right now, it feels a little… Two step-y. You exist, you get the nucelus, you exist a little more, and then you win. (I guess that’s 5 steps, but you get the point.)

I’d like to propose a few potential methods of making the microbe stage’s progression feel a bit more well-rounded. It leans intothe concept of a “tech tree”, but the hope is to make it feel natural and somewhat scientifically logical.

Evolutionary Complexity

So, mutation points are the concept of descent with modification kind of “solidified” into game mechanics; you get a certain amount of points to spend modifying as you descend. That all said, it strikes me as strange that these mutations don’t really add to any kind of total complexity; think about it, what’s more complex: A bacteria with 1 flagellum and a couple of metabolosomes, or a eukaroytic protist with thousands of mitchondria and plastids, as well as potentially dozens of nuclei? In thrive, currently, the only fundamental differences would be the presence of a nucleus as well as just “haha eukaryote big”.

I think there should be a rough metric describing how complex your cell is. (The following numbers are completely arbitrary.) Unfilled cytoplasm is worth 4 complexity, proteins are worth 12 complexity, vesicles (vacuoles and toxin vacuoles in thrive’s case) are worth 14 complexity, organelles are worth 40 complexity, and a nucleus is worth 75 complexity.

Complexity would be kind of like a “spend to receive” currency for use in the evolution tree (I’ll explain this in a bit). It could also be a limiter of a cell’s total organelles, which would be expanded via chromosomes or polynucleation (I discuss chromosomes in my modular membrane-bound organelles idea; not critical to understanding this post, but I like to treat my ideas as if they were interlocked systems in the game).

The Evolution Tree

As stated above, Complexity points would be like a sort of second-tier currency for use in the evolution tree. The evolution tree would be a way for the player to unlock things. I imagine the player would start with almost nothing, and would work their way up. I’m gonna do a mockup (with a couple of bonus concepts), so here we go.

(The odyssey of my waiting 7 minutes for my slightly fubared thrive to start up will go down in legends. I apologize to hhyyrylainen for doing his best to troubleshoot over nothing but discord texts before the gaame started up mid-problem “solving”.)

(Brief Legend: An arrow points at the child unlock; if multiple items can be used to unlock the same thing, their lines are merged into one arrow (in this case, Chitin, Silica, and Cellulose can all be used interchangeably along with the flagella to unlock the pilus.)

As you can see in my rough mockup, I’ve made it so that the player must unlock doubled membrane before they can get to the nucleus (normal membrane and cytoplasm are unlocked by default). This is to guide the player in the direction of unlocking extra membrane types, white also playing into the biological principal that eukaryotes are separated from prokaryotes thanks to the fact that they have interior membranes as well as external ones.

You’ll also notice the appearance of the golgi apparatus, a key component of all eukaryotes, and more importantly, multicellular creatures; the golgi body is responsible for the packaging of proteins into vesicles (which is why it unlocks special vacuoles), before marking them for transport outside of the cell (either into the environment or towards other cells). This would be an ideal “step 4”, as it would introduce large-scale storage and distribution to the player (perhaps Adhesin Vacuoles would be unlocked from the golgi apparatus as well). Other ideas the golgi body would help with would be a trading pilus, where multiple cells with golgi apparati and trading pili would be able to share excess resources.

As suggestions for complexity prices would go…
The Flagellum, Cilia, and Pili would be fairly cheap; Flagella would be about 30 Complexity, Cilia would be 60, and Pili would be 65 or so.
The double membrane would cost roughly 100. It’s supposed to be a big step, as one of the 3 “core” upgrades.
The 3 pre-pilus shells would all be 80, or maybe even a bit above 100 (110 or 115?). They are still major mutations, but would be largely undifficult to get once you start getting more proteins and whatnot.
Calcium Carbonate would probably be 400 or so. Building an exterior shell is marginally different than making doubled membrane or adding various synthesized compounds to a membrane.
Most proteins would have a starting range of 25, with Oxytoxysomes starting at 35. However, every protein unlocked would increase the price of every other protein by 10 or 15 complexity (subtly pushing the player to avoid gluttonous behaviour).
The nucleus is the next core upgrade, and would cost… 300? Maybe a little more? It’s another huge jump in power, granting the player access to organelles.
Membrane-bound organelles like mitochondria and plastids would start at 100, increasing by 50 or 60 complexity every time a new organelle is unlocked. However, if you endosymbiose a prokaryote that matches the corresponding organelle, its cost is cut to 20% for that replication cycle only, returning to 50% the next, and then to full the replication after and so on (the player still has to invest in organelles, but this way, the player is rewarded for endosymbiosis).
Then, the golgi apparatus is the last huge step, providing access to vesicles (and potentially, the multicellular stage). It would cost 750 complexity (a reasonable fee considering the player has access to organelles, which provide 40 complexity each, plus the nucleus providing 75 complexity alone).
Vesicles would vary in price. Vacuoles would only be 95 Complexity, however Toxin Vacoles would cost 150, and Bioluminescent Vacuoles would cost 175 (the reason being, bioluminescence can be used for communication, leading to colonial behaviour in some microbe species).

All above numbers are arbitrary, and could use tweaking. I tried to get the best of every world in this concept: Genetics, a steady progression system, some fun organelle concepts, and even an unlock system that somewhat punishes organelle gluttony!

This has been yet another of my ridiculous concepts; thanks for reading and have a great day.

2 Likes
Holy crap, that was long! I think you almost have beaten Deus’ longest post. Anyway, I wanted to discuss the philosophical aspect of complexity.
What is complexity? How can it apply to our reality? Suppose that a land animal would be willing to fly by itself. Since it doesn’t have wings, it can’t fly that way. Evolving wings would be ideal, yet it takes some steps before evolving them. A jellyfish can’t develop wings in a single generation afterall.
After that, wings could be different in their composition and mechanics from a species to another. A bat doesn’t have the same wings as a bird, but they fly in a similar way. However, the dragonfly has quite different wings and flies faster.
The same could be said for a flagellum. Bacteria, archaeans and eukaryotes all have different flagella. Bacteria and archaeans have flagella that work by rotation while eukaryotes’ work by bending.
Of course, not everything in biology can be implemented into the game, but giving access on a more advanced scale of complexity could be interesting.
2 Likes

I think this was one of my shorter posts, actually. At the very least, it took the shortest amount of time to write.

Anyhow, looking at a Physiochemical sense, complexity could be described as “the likelihood of a system to fall to entropy”. As in, as a system gets more complex, the more likely parts of it are going to break down; soon, without constant maintenance, the system will break down.

I like the idea of semistep-by-semistep evolution, but keep in mind that every generation (every time you visit the editor, where you’d find the evolution tree) is 100+ million years. It’s hard to say exactly where realism lies with this kind of thing.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I believe more complexity/biological accuracy is better, but unfortunately, only so much can be coded before we have to move on (the multicellular stage has to come sometime).

1 Like

I really like this idea, and I can tell it has been well thought out. I dont know if you have been paying attention to our dev forums but organelle unlocks have been one of the larger topics of discussion as of late. I’m quite pleased to see someone else join the discussion!
My only complaint about this concept is your choice of currency. I dont like the idea of your species’ exact complexity being a requirement to advance, as nature values efficiency over overall size and complexity.

Personally, a suggested alternative would be converting all remaining unspent MP in the editor into this second currency which remains permanent between sessions. This would create a strategic dynamic that challenges the player to choose between short term improvement to their cell, or investment into future upgrades by leaving more MP unspent. This would also make players much more comfortable with having unspent MP as it would no longer be wasted.

Edit: I almost forgot about the golgi body you mentioned. It’s actually present in the game, but packaged with the evolution of the nucleus. Personally I dont think it should become it’s own milestone in the cell stage, as the length of the cell stage is not intended to be too long. Approximately 3-4 hours of gameplay if I recall correctly.

6 Likes

So from what I understand from your post, you would have to spend complexity to earn complexity? So would you get a certain amount of complexity equal to the complexity your microbe had at the start of the editor session?

In a very loose sense, your complexity kind of equals your total amount of DNA, where unlocking new things is like undergoing major mutations. Since the player plays kind of a hand of god role, they’re able to push the cell to unlock things, but there has to be enough DNA to manipulate.

As for how the player earns it, you would earn it by editing your cell with MP in the cell editor. MP leads to complexity, which allows you to unlock more cellular doohickeys, which you then spend MP on to build up more complexity.

Not yet. Keep waiting. :wink:


Although I personally think the most transparent and rigid determinant of evolutionary progression in Thrive should be energy to most accurately represent evolution, I think you definitely have some interesting ideas. You are right in saying that Thrive currently feels like randomly placing unconnected parts until you can get the nucleus, whereas in reality, every organelle and micro-component within a cell is in someway interconnected. And to remedy this, there should definitely be some mechanic placed in Thrive which gives a direct connection between several parts. However, I have a question for you to consider

Do you think this is the most accurate way to represent progression? Or more specifically, do you think basing progression solely on an arbitrary currency system is the way to go about simulating realism in an evolution simulator?

As Buckly said, evolution doesn’t particularly filter for size/complexity. There’s a reason we (multicellular folk) are vastly, significantly, hilariously outnumbered by prokaryotes; simplicity works incredibly well, and that’s because evolution values spending the least amount of energy for the most amount of energy yield - efficiency. It’s true that eukaryotic cells, multicellular cells, plants, animals, and whatever organism that isn’t unicellular or prokaryotic has several advantages over unicellular organisms because of their complexity. A lot of it has to do with being able to cope with fluctuating environments, either because of the added chance for variability or because of more complex tools/functions to maintain metabolism that aren’t really possible because of simplicity. Or, in other words, you want to have more of an ability to be flexible for the purpose of being able to maintain your optimal energy-production levels. And because this ability to cope oftentimes requires the ability to maintain multiple systems in what may be a vastly fluctuating environment, this often results in more complex systems and compartments, which, when added up over a period of several billion years, ends up in something like a fish, a bear, a dinosaur, or a human.

In essence, complexity doesn’t evolve because complexity is inherently good and conducive to passing on your genes. In fact, complexity is in many ways detrimental. Think about it; why would you want to spend so much energy on an extra membrane if you’re doing just fine? What’s the point of growing the ability to orient a stem upwards in response to gravity when you could just stay on the ground like moss; what’s the hassle all about? Why grow a nucleus when it adds such a vast amount of potential error, requiring you to slow down reproduction to check your genetic coding? Why do anything when you could just be a drop of cellular matter surrounding by a simple membrane? For the vast majority of life’s history and progression, the answer to all of these questions is that there isn’t really a benefit to be exploited. It’s so much safer and easier to remain simple; even if the individual unicellular organism doesn’t do very well in conditions that are less than ideal, the ability to reproduce incredibly quick and the relatively little amount of coordination needed for that to happen outweighs a lot of the benefits multicellular organisms enjoy.

But creatures like us are still here. So obviously, something had to have been going right for certain organisms to continue the process of complexification. And that something is where much of the wonder surrounding evolution is found – innovation. Taking advantage of pockets of energy which could separate you from the rest of the world.

It took a gamble for gravitrophism to develop. It takes a lot of interconnected systems working together constantly and responding to environmental cues/hormones to pull off, all of which cost energy; and if a single thing goes wrong, the plant doesn’t know where to grow. But the rewards were immense. You could rise above other plants for unrivalled amounts of energy, and could expand even more to accommodate more leaves to facilitate unprecedented levels of photosynthesis. A few more million years, and that lead to plants with stalks. A few more million years, that lead to trees. A few more million years, that lead to flowers. And in each evolutionary step, there was a similar gamble. Spend more energy to develop sufficient pluming, which could go severely wrong but could smoothline the process entirely. Spend more energy to develop tree bark, which could go severely wrong but could provide the protection and support needed for even more growth. Spend more energy to develop pretty shapes and colors, which could go terrible but could make you stand out to a potential pollinator.

It took a gamble for multicellularity to develop. It takes consistent coordination and the proper maintenance of incredibly detailed, yet still fragile compartments of a cell, such as the membrane. But the reward was immense. It costs a lot of energy to grow/maintain, but you were too big for anything else to mess with you for some point of our early evolutionary history. You could more effectively release signals to other cells, which was critical for early life. And you could distribute functions across different cells within you so that you could maximize efficiency and energy. A couple hundred million years later, that lead to organs. A few more million years later, that lead to a backbone. A few more million years, that lead to limbs, land, flight, and everything that we see around us. There was a gamble in each and every step of that process, but for some organisms, that obviously worked out. And there were many gambles that failed to work – 99.9% of all life that has ever lived is now extinct. But for a few, that gamble works; and hence, here we are.

So, the big takeaway is that complexity isn’t inherently good. It’s simply an abstract result of millions of unique, individual decisions – this post makes evolution sound conscious too much, but I am thinking in terms of Thrive – that lead to adaptations which were better at taking advantage of new ways to spend energy, so that you could eat, run away, or reproduce more successfully than the rest of the world can. And most of these innovations lead to short-term success, and then an eventual death. Knowing this; knowing that –

  • Evolution does not necessarily favor complexity, but efficiency in energy which translates most directly to reproductive success
  • Complexity is an abstract result of multiple layers of high-risk, yet highly-successful moments of innovation

Do you think basing progression on an abstract currency which inherently favors complexity just because it’s complex is the best way to make Thrive fun and realistic? Do you think it’s the best way to represent the innovation that inherently makes evolution the fascinating story that it is? Could it best represent a challenge that 99.9 percent of life has failed? Will it best represent the challenge and fun of taking advantage of what you have right now to cope with the environment? Or will it just lead to needless, unrealistic development just to get enough points to get a more powerful organelle? Or would it take emphasis away from dealing with your current environment and your current dilemma, and instead put emphasis on what’s ahead?

I think it’s definitely a good idea to connect certain organelles and features together, especially when there is such an obvious link/progression from the two. And I think that your graphic puts together these different parts we currently have very well, in a way that is intuitive and sensical. But I don’t think we should base the “unlocking” of those parts, and therefore progression as a whole, on an arbitrary currency such as complexity points. I think it should simply be determined by your genetic points (the innate ability of a species to adapt) and by your own capacities/successes (the amount of energy you can produce/must produce) as a cell. And I think the big challenge you should face in progression is the challenge of restructuring your cell’s metabolic pathway so that you still have a cell which produces a sustainable amount of energy/homeostasis, in accommodation of a more complex part that has potentially high rewards, but occasionally significant and tremendous energy demands So, in other words, I think progression should be…

  • Work with the parts you have and make a cell that works in your environment
  • Identify a part that could help you out based on your environment
  • Make sure you can make that part work energy/homeostasis wise by either altering your existing physiology in a way that accommodates for the extra energy/structural demands of the new part, either by expanding your energy production, making hard choices regarding which existing adaptations to get rid of, or just placing the part and playing in a way that works, despite the added strain.

So, if you want that oxy-toxy, get enough cytoplasm, metabolosomes, and whatever else to make the added energy cost sustainable. Or if you want that flagella, add the necessary metabolic pathway to accommodate for the added expense. Certain evolutionary jumps or leaps should be more significant in terms of the energy accommodations you should make – you should require more adaptations (upgrades, added organelles, etc.) to accommodate the nucleus than you require for the flagella. And subsequently, the energy leap from getting a single nucleus to achieving multicellular life should be more difficult, and the leap between multicellular blobs and organisms with organs should be more difficult, and the development of a spine should be more difficult, etc. It is in that increasingly significant energy leap that most of the story and innovation of evolution is found; where 99.9% percent of life dies out, but the .01% that makes it is beautiful. And I think this energy-focused system of progression would best symbolize those innovations and that story because the player would have to face those same hard walls that life on Earth had to face.

11 Likes

I like the “tech tree” idea in principle, since most organelles are in the end based on ( or dependent on the existence) of a previous organelle. However, I think simply having that prerequisite in your cell should be enough to unlock the “next” organelle. There’s no need to complicate it with an additional currency. Simply the tree structure should be enough to delay “victory” in the microbe stage, especially if you add in potential upgrades to organelles required to unlock further organelles. In addition, improving other parts of your cell so that you are able to sustain the increased complexity (As Deus so eloquently put) would also take some MP, thereby also delaying the ending.

As a side note: you focus on organelles in this tree, but you can do the same for proteins: most proteins are the result of gene duplications of some previous protein, followed by modification of one of the resulting copies. Something else that happens is the recombination of functional domains from different proteins to create a new protein with a new function. (For example, a protein that binds to a specific spot on the DNA, and another protein that binds to proteins A and B can recombine into a new protein that binds protein B to that specific spot on the DNA)

So in theory, an evolutionary tree of proteins could be created for Thrive, though it would certainly require some speculation.

2 Likes