On an alien planet not too dissimilar to ours, a new phenomenon has emerged: life. Simple unicellular organisms drift amongst the primordial currents, competing for the ocean’s scant resources, replicating and driving the forces of evolution. New biological developments, such as toxins and flagella, have instigated a state of evolutionary warfare. A struggle for nutrients rages over million-year timescales. Only the best adapted may survive.
From this microscopic battlefield contained within a puddle, organisms vie for an advantage, some working together to achieve their goals in the harsh environment. Others are predatory, extracting their nutrients from other cells. Eventually, only one species will achieve the crucial transformative step – multicellularity.
For this valiant organism, a new chapter awaits in their own saga of life.
In the microbe stage, the player’s species is a unicellular organism exploring a tidepool populated by other microbe species, simpler life-forms and floating organelles.
Distributed throughout this environment in various forms (including other microbes) are compounds necessary to a species’ survival, such as oxygen, glucose and ammonia. The player must collect these to keep their own ATP stores (equivalent to energy) high – organelles inside microbes simulate their metabolism, with compounds combined, stored and converted in accordance with known organic chemistry. Some of these can even be turned into agents/toxins, which influence surrounding microbes in a variety of ways.
Once enough compounds are collected and converted to a locked-up form, the player can enter the editor. Mutation Points act as a mutation currency, preventing wild changes to the organelles and shape of a microbe within one generation. New organelles (unlocked from the environment) can be added based on a hexagonal grid, and eventually upgraded to be more efficient. With one generation’s changes complete, the player re-enters the environment.
At the same time, AI microbe species will be evolving via a procedurally generated interpretation of Darwinian evolution (affectionately called Auto-Evo). Their generation time can be modified beforehand to change the difficulty, as the player will be directly competing with them for resources, or working with them in a symbiotic relationship should they so choose. Eventually this feature will grow in importance, with agent signals released by microbes to keep colonies intact. This is the first step towards multicellularity, needed to progress to the next stage of the game.
How to Play
THIS SECTION HAS NOT YET BEEN UPDATED FOR THRIVE 0.3.3. UNTIL THEN, PLEASE SEE ITS RELEASE NOTES FOR GUIDANCE.
The game now features an inbuilt tutorial, but we’ve included a written guide here. The video above shows one of our developers playing the current version and explaining various gameplay elements.
When entering the game, you will see a microbe in the center of the screen. Moving the cursor changes the microbe’s orientation to face it, and WASD is for relative movement.
Your goal is to survive. Scattered throughout the environment are various compound clouds, each containing a specific compound which can be collected gradually by swimming through the cloud. Collecting compounds allows them to be processed, a simulated metabolism using organelles to create other useful substances.
The most useful of all is ATP, equivalent to your cell’s energy storage. Some processes generate ATP, while others use it up. ATP also represents your health: if your stores drop below 0, you die. One planned feature is the use of osmoregulation as a substitute for hitpoints, adding or subtracting health based on a cell’s ability to prevent the loss of nutrition.
As an example of metabolic processes, take aerobic respiration. Providing your cell has mitochondria, collecting oxygen and glucose will produce ATP, waste carbon dioxide (dark blue) and waste water. Excess levels of any useful compound can be stored in vacuoles for later use, although at this point there is no ability to manually control usage.
Throughout the environment, other species are also performing the same actions as you, generating their own energy through the same processes. Some may have the ability to make toxins or agents – at the moment only a single toxin can be produced. It reduces your hitpoints if you come into contact with it. Toxin organelles are found randomly in the environment for your later use. Some cells may also have engulfing ability – if your cell becomes paralysed and starts losing health as another moves over it, you’re being engulfed. Your own cell can toggle engulf mode by pressing G, but only smaller microbes can be digested. Be careful when engulfing anything with toxins.
Eventually, your cell will begin to produce Reproductase. Once your stores of this compound reach 5, your cell will divide and the editor button (top left) will be highlighted. To cheat and enter the editor immediately, press P to divide.
In the editor, you can select organelles from the side menu and add them to your displayed cell to create a contiguous shape. Each edit (addition or removal) costs Mutation Points, but the undo and redo buttons allow reverting without cost within this generation if you make a mistake. When your MP counter hits 0, you cannot make anymore edits.
Our current short-term goal is to refine and eventually complete our current unicellular game stage. In this part of the game, the player controls a single cell in a fluid environment with the goal of surviving in their often dangerous ecosystem long enough to reproduce and therefore ensure the survival of their species. The main game mechanics focus on the chemical warfare between cells and the coevolution of both antagonistic and symbiotic relationships between and within these species.
Right now we’ve just added compound clouds and a tutorial with 0.3.2, and we’re looking to include more gameplay features soon, as well as Mac compatibility. We have basic sound effects and a GUI, but these should soon be replaced.
Once these milestones are passed, the aim will be to add the much-anticipated AI evolution mechanics, create more assets to go with a code-complete baseplate (such as more organelles, environments and toxins), balance gameplay (to actually make it fun), increase the game’s popularity and recognition throughout the internet, and polish all other aspects of the microbe stage. By then, we hope to have a sufficiently large and well-known team to continue onwards to the multicellular stage, which as of now doesn’t have much of a definitive concept.
Full Microbe Stage GDD: