It’s been a while.
To someone not following the project closely on our more active platforms (community forums and Discord) it may appear Thrive has fallen into a long, dark slumber. Nascent life extinct, factories gone cold, space relics left scattered about the cosmos.
But all is not as it seems. Life stirs below the surface.
The purpose of this Devblog is to state in no uncertain terms the second most repeated of our mantras (right behind no underwater civs):
We’re not dead.
We’re back. And things are about to get exciting.
The Long and Winding Road
When we explained the need for an engine switch – a deep clean of the game’s code to make it run better, more flexibly and with greater scope for future development – we knew it would take a while. Exactly how much of a while, well…you don’t need us to tell you that.
We’ll be frank: we’ve had a difficult time.
While we could sugar coat it and ignore the fact there hasn’t been a release in over a year, there’s no use pulling the wool over your eyes. You deserve to know what happened.
The lack of visible progress recently is a product of many factors. Chiefly, the various levels of disappearance of some of the project’s core members, including those responsible for updating social media presences. We maintain the project is fully voluntary and members have a right to divide up their own time. I, for instance (hello, Oliveriver speaking), bore the brunt of a few years of a mathematics degree. Juggling Thrive with uni work, internship applications, personal projects and cooking my own meals (I’m a terrible cook, this is more of a problem for me than it sounds) proved impossible. And I’m far from the only team member to have issues.
Perhaps this wouldn’t have slowed things as it did if not for the engine switch. We had to build the same game from scratch in a new environment with a fraction of the manpower. Sure, most of the scripts could be repurposed, but getting them to play nice with a new underlying structure isn’t the easiest job in the world.
Our forums have seen better days, too. We still haven’t kicked the habit of making our discussions private, which is why the development board is so bare these days. The community forums meanwhile suffered as people waited for news and became increasingly agitated. It’s clear they’re in need of more proactive moderation efforts.
All this amounted to a negative feedback loop: development stagnated, fans got frustrated, developers got frustrated, development stagnated even more.
But, as always, Thrive refuses to die. Beaten, bruised, demoralised, but powering through in spite of everything. It’s the Black Knight of video games.
While others lost faith, a few programmers kept chipping away to unearth the statue of the fabled next milestone. Special thanks to both hhyyrylainen and Untrustedlife for their untiring efforts. Without them we’d have to wait a hell of a lot longer than we already have.
Wait for what, though? Well…
Coming Soon to a Tidepool Near You
For the first time ever, we’re officially announcing a date for the next release: December 21st. You heard it here first, folks (unless you’re on the community Discord where someone spilled the beans a little too early).
The shortest day of the year will bring the long-awaited Thrive version 0.4.0. We finally believe the game is in a stable enough state to open the floodgates and let it loose on the world. We’ll be releasing another Devblog with a detailed breakdown of all its features the day of its release, but for now, here’s an overview of what you have to look forward to.
The most substantial and most disruptive change to the game is a conversion to an entirely new underlying engine. Custom-built to handle all the crazy plans for this project’s future, Leviathan is (hopefully) a more solid and easy to maintain basis to work from.
Development builds have shown an improvement in stability, although we can’t be sure this will be true for everyone. As we’ll discuss in a moment, we invite plenty of feedback and bug reports to stamp out problems our developers can’t identify themselves.
If you need an idea of the scale of this undertaking, take a look at the engine refactor pull request on GitHub. Nearly 80,000 line changes is nothing to scoff at.
New Graphical Elements
While programmers busied themselves with the backend, the rest of us had to find something else to do. The graphics team in particular found lots to add and update.
The game features a revised opening cutscene (now without the T in THRIVE obscured), as well as a new loading screen cutscene with a cute little animated cell.
We replaced organelle models, added a few more, shored up the compound and organelle icons, and added several other minor graphical changes you’ll see as you play.
First of the new gameplay features you’ll notice is the addition of prokaryotes. Mats of bacteria drift among the tidepool. They work like mini microbes without nuclei, starting with or without flagella. Their structure is based on the hex design used for all cells with a unique set of structures (currently available in the editor just for fun, although future revisions may remove these to be more accurate).
Microbes now navigate with more organic algorithms. Based on real systems found in nature, they respond to compound densities as well as other cells. We’ve found this adds a lot to the gameplay experience and hope to build on it further in future.
Early Evolution Systems
Perhaps most enticing, there’s some form of evolution in our evolution game for microbes other than the player’s. Both eukaryotes and prokaryotes now feature somewhat Darwinian mutation systems, described in more detail by those who know how it works in the next Devblog.
This system will be developed and replaced step-by-step until we end up with the full CPA system discussed many times before.
Win and Lose Conditions
You’ll notice a counter at the top of the environment screen keeping track of your species’ population. At the moment, this doesn’t actually refer to any kind of background simulation, just an indicator of how well you’re doing on the path to victory or defeat.
Victory or defeat? Wait, you can win the game now?
Yes, yes you can. It’s all a bit artificial, added only for the sake of completeness and will be overhauled multiple times in future with what we actually have planned, but there are success and failure screens in the game. Survive fifteen generations with fewer than five deaths and you are officially crowned the Thrive 0.4.0 Temporary Win Condition Champion of the Universe™.
Too Many Other Things
The delay in releasing 0.4.0 meant so many other small features and fixes were added along the way that most of us have lost track. You can see from the 0.4.0 issues list (including the closed tab) just how much effort has been put in.
The punchline: it’s a completely different game now. When the release Devblog is published in less than a week, we hope to include as many of these features we can remember with detail on how they’re set to be improved further.
We also have Kinesis to thank for his unending hype and several gameplay videos testing the new versions. Here’s his most recent:
Developer Untrustedlife also produced his own gameplay video. He has somewhat of a better understanding of how the game works.
Looking to the Future
We have a whole host of plans for the next few months.
While 0.4.0 is imminent and will herald a substantial improvement, we’re still aware of some technical problems.
Crashing is less frequent, but still happens. We have a bug reports section of the forum set up for anyone to post information on crash scenarios. The change in code from 0.3.4 to 0.4.0 is so massive that none of the bug reports posted for 0.3.4 are relevant anymore as those specific causes have been fixed. Others are always popping up though.
One reduction in quality you might notice is the strange, linear flagellum model. Limitations in the new engine prevented the old animated model being used so we had to revert to a placeholder. If you’re a 3D modeller/animator who can work with the programming team to get a new model in-game, we’d love to have you on board.
Fixes like these and others are scheduled for Thrive 0.4.1. There aren’t many and it won’t be long in coming, but we simply couldn’t fit all of them into this release. We’re proud of what we have.
Following a 0.4.1 which fixes all the minor problems, we’ll be hitting the outreach button hard. We’ll tell you more closer to the time.
It’s about time we got back to updating our social media, isn’t it?
When this post is published, we’ll sweep through Facebook, Twitter and the subreddit to understand what we need to do to keep them more active. Primarily, this will involve transferring roles to members more likely to have the time and project understanding to relay information to fans. If you’re following on those platforms, you’ll see more activity from Friday.
We’re hoping the announcement of this release will do a lot to pivot the forum back to discussion of the game itself. We encourage you to come along and start your own thread on features you’d like to see or stories of your playthroughs.
With this in mind, from Saturday we’ll be starting a new initiative: threads of the week.
Every weekend, one of the developers will start a thread on something game-related or not that they’re passionate about, intended for in-depth and engaging discussion. This could be an exploration of a game mechanic, a look at existing evolution simulators, science-y talk, something related to their role within the team (managing the project, creating 3D models, composing game music, etc.) or something else. We hope to see plenty of you there ready to participate with insightful comments and questions, and will be posting these threads to social media to kill two birds with one stone.
As always, the internet world of Thrive is wide and ever-changing.
Patreon? Patreon?! PATREON?!!!
Hold your horses there. We haven’t set up a Patreon for funding the game’s development.
There is however a Patreon for one developer in particular. Untrustedlife created what we’re considering a test case for this model of funding development as a whole. It’s a donation system for him as an individual programmer. This includes both work on Thrive and his personal game programming projects.
We want to make it clear that while donations will end up helping Thrive, this isn’t a donation system for Thrive. We aren’t comfortable with the ethical concerns raised by advertising this as a Thrive-specific income since it goes to one person without input from the rest of the team.
Still, if that doesn’t faze you, feel free to pledge a few dollars a month to keep Untrustedlife typing line upon line of code. If it’s successful, maybe we’ll consider bending to your will and creating one for the whole project. Watch this space.
The fact we never put the last two Thrive podcasts in Devblogs shows just how good we are at being proactive website updaters.
World-renowned naturalist Nigel Marven replied to us on Twitter. That’s pretty wizard. Maybe we could get him to narrate stuff one day…
We look forward to a bitter battle between supporters of this suggestion and the Society for Having David Attenborough Narrate the Opening Cutscene.
As is tradition, we end with a few musical items.
First off, I did a breakdown of the Thrive Society Theme on my YouTube channel. If you enjoy listening to rambling about harmonic modulation and the merits of adding distortion to string samples for two hours, it might be for you.
For everyone else, I recorded myself playing a solo version of the Thrive Main Theme on a physical piano just to prove I have opposable thumbs and can therefore be considered an intelligent lifeform.
We’ll leave with this as well as the tantalising promise of new stuff very, very soon…