Microbe Stage

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 a few species will achieve the crucial transformative step – multicellularity.

For these valiant organisms, a new chapter awaits in their own saga of life.


In the microbe stage, the player starts as the very first species on their planet: a tiny cell from which all life will eventually branch out. The game starts at an underwater volcanic vent from which life will expand and populate the planet.

Distributed throughout this environment in various forms (including other microbes) are compounds necessary to a species’ survival, such as oxygen, glucose, ammonia or phosphates. The player must collect these to keep their own ATP stores (equivalent to energy) high and to reproduce – 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, the player can reproduce and lead the evolution of their species First they will visit the patch report, which shows how the local biome and species have changed and how everything will be like once they go back to the environment.

Then they will go to the patch map, a synthesized map of the world that shows the different biomes (or patches) the player species can migrate to. The player can select the patch where they want to travel and see their characteristics such as species present there, available compounds, temperature or light level. With the information from the previous two tabs, the player will then go to the editor where they can modify their species according to how the environment is going to change or to prepare for migrating to a new patch. Mutation Points act as a mutation currency, preventing wild changes to the organelles and shape of a microbe within one generation. New organelles 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). 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

The game now features a help menu, but we’ve included a written guide here. The channel Thrive Fan Central has some helpful videos as well, although not 100% up to date, it offers a good grasp on Thrive’s basic mechanics.

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 is needed to perform osmoregulation which keeps your cell alive. If you run out of atp, this process will stop and water will rush inside your cell making it loose health and eventually die.

As an example of metabolic processes, take aerobic respiration. Providing your cell has metabolosomes or mitochondria (unlockable by evolving a nucleus), collecting glucose will produce ATP as long as there is enough Oxygen in the environment. Excess levels of any useful compound can be stored in the cytoplasm or 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 can be purchased in the editor, and they produce toxins with Oxygen and ATP. Some cells may also engulf orthers – if your cell comes in contact with a flashing blue cell and looses speed and health, you’re being engulfed . Your own cell can toggle engulf mode by pressing G, but only smaller microbes that it can be digested. Be careful when engulfing anything with toxins.

By absorbing amonia and phosphates your cell will duplicate its organelles untill it’s ready to divide and reproduce. Once it does, the editor button (bottom right) will be highlighted. There are two bars on the button that show your reproduction progress as well as how much amonia and phosphates you need.

Before entering the editor you can go through the patch report and patch map to see how your environment has changed and to choose a new patch to send your species in. You can only move the patches adyacent to the ones you inhabit. 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. You can also press a symmetry button between the previous two that allows you to place organelles in symmetrical patterns. When your MP counter hits 0, you cannot make anymore edits.

Future Goals

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 as well as the colonization and exploration of new environments.

Right now we’ve improved the patch system introduced with 0.4.2 and also included new features, like an appeareance tab, a new GUI and the Pilus, an organelle for stabbing other cells. We’re looking to include more gameplay features soon and develop the ones already implemented further.

These include: making a planet and start system generator that will in turn make procedural patch maps, improve the auto-evo system and the way species split (so the background simulation becomes more realistic), adding more content in general (like new compounds organelles and agents), create new mechanics to make gameplay more engaging and improve combat, 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.


For further reading you can check the Full Microbe Stage GDD