Devblog #14: Punctuated Equilibrium

If you were to graph Thrive’s progress since its inception, you’d probably have a slow but steady background rate of development with occasional spikes in activity. This is quite similar to the evolutionary concept called punctuated equilibrium, where species remain static for millions of years then change dramatically over short time periods in response to rapid ecosystem change.

Nowhere is this demonstrated better than the last few months of the project. As I write (hello, this is Oliveriver by the way, which will become important later) we’re about to break this website’s record for number of visits in one day after several months of comparative nothingness. Why? What’s happened? What do we do next? Read on to find out…

Also, quick note: the development forums couldn’t take the strain of this traffic. We’re working on restoring them to full working order ASAP. Dev forums are fixed! Dev forums are down again!

Is This Spore 2?

Thanks to the above video from The Sandbox Social, we’re experiencing a sudden increase in visitors the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Reddit Boom of ’13. Back then we didn’t even have a website, just the now obsolete old development forum. It will be interesting to see how sustained and impactful this is in the long run.

If you’re a new visitor interested in the project, we’d like to remind you we’re 100% open-source, which means you (yes, you!) can volunteer to help. See our newly restructured Get Involved page for instructions. We run entirely on the goodwill of random internet strangers, so if you don’t have the skillset or time to help, spread word about the project to those who do.

We think the video above is one of the best that covers our project (which is good, because if not already, it’ll soon become the most popular video on Thrive ever) but we do want to clarify something: despite what the title of the video might lead you to believe, this is not Spore 2.

Alright, we admit it, this project would be nowhere in terms of publicity without the comparison. The desire for Spore 2 also led to its creation many moons ago. Most of the surface-level concepts, like stages and editors, are directly inspired by a game we all respect. But the project’s goals have changed throughout its history. Nowadays we hardly think about Spore, except for the times we have to remind people that’s not us. We’re creating this game out of love for simulation of all kinds and a desire to see a fun, engaging game based on cool science with a vibrant community. Think Kerbal Space Program. On the community note, if you’re new, check out our community forums to discuss all things Thrive.

If you have to make a Spore comparison, call Thrive its spiritual successor. We’re not trying to replace or usurp it, just learn from it and its mistakes to create the game we want to see. And remember, since anyone can help with development, that could be the game you want to see too.

To really see how Thrive differs, we suggest you read the Game Design Document for the Microbe Stage in full. To those of you insisting the project is too ambitious, bear in mind we’re focusing only on this stage for now. More may come in the future. If you read that document, you’ll be convinced of what we know – that even this relatively simplistic section can stand as a fun and fully-featured game in its own right.

Evolutionary Stasis

We can’t ignore the fact this period of activity follows several months of not much. Several forces conspired to create the perfect storm of slowed progress.

The first is continued development of the new engine. Though work has been constant and diligent, fiddling with engine architecture isn’t exactly the most visible or excitement-inducing thing in the world. hyyrylainen and crodnu have worked insanely hard and kept going when no one else did, and we’re indebted to them for that. It stalled development in other areas since we couldn’t afford programmers working on obsolete code and the rest of us non-programmers felt a little useless. It’s still far from done – we’ll talk more about this later.

The second half of last year also saw several prominent members find it difficult to have time to help. Seregon, tjwhale and I are some, but most impactful of all was NickTheNick, who explained his absence in the last mini update. We maintain that members have every right to contribute as little or as much as they wish, but when so many leave for long periods of time it makes it hard to keep things running. Our dream is to one day have a self-sufficient development team. Events like this make it all the more apparent that we need more dedicated, experienced developers to join regularly to keep this project on its feet.

And finally, it turns out almost all new developers joining our Slack group didn’t know we had more than the two default channels and assumed there was nothing going on…well, Belgium.

Though things appear to be looking up with this newfound activity and motivation, we have to be careful. The engine switch is the single most important task right now, and until that’s done we can’t afford to focus on much else. Once complete, it will make the game more stable and far easier for new programmers to set up, so we feel it’s worthwhile. Nick will post a more detailed breakdown of our path into the future in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Other News

Despite appearances, quite a lot has happened in the Thrive universe recently.

Another Podcast

A discussion a few weeks ago about how we should move forward with development turned into another full-blown podcast.

It’s very long and unstructured – the first half is me waiting for people to type things to talk about, the second half is everyone else joining and causing chaos. We’ll get this right someday. Still, it proved useful – we learnt several things we need to change about development and all felt a bit more motivated by its end.

Launcher Updates

We released a few minor updates to the Thrive launcher, one patching a potential security issue inherited from the software we used, and another making it work on more Windows systems. Make sure to update to the newest version, 1.0.2.

New Focus on Concept Art

One fact we learnt in the podcast was that we’d accidentally abandoned concept art. The reasons for doing so are still justified – pretty pictures are nice but run the risk of alienating those who expect more concrete development – but surely there’s a fair balance somewhere in there?

Creating concept art and mechanics should also give the rest of us useful things to keep us busy as engine switching continues. For instance, new developer MirrorMonkey2 created this thread on his ideas for the in-game encyclopaedia.

We also have Discord user Sommy to thank for the impressive microbial image at the top of this Devblog. We run monthly art competitions on the community forums if you’re interested in making concept art. If you’re interested in making a lot of concept art, you’re also welcome on the development team.

Plains Theme

As is tradition apparently, we end this Devblog with another Thrive musical theme by yours truly. This was created a while ago but never mentioned on the website. You can download it here (which gives me a sneaky excuse to promote the rest of the album I released recently, mwahahaha).

With that, we bid you farewell from another Thrive Devblog. Happy evolving. We’ll speak to you all again soon.

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