Though Thrive is a game that spans many different stages with differing gameplay experiences and editors and modes, there are a common set of themes, design decisions, and mechanics, that underline the entire game.
Thrive is an ambitious game with a wide scope, and thus has a wide variety of themes and features that have gone into its design.
Evolution - Evolution is probably one of the most defining of Thrive's theme. The player's agent (be it a species or civilization) and the environment around him will be in constant flux. Editors
The following sections will go into each of these topics in more depth.
Evolution is one of the most central themes that underpins the entire game's design. Evolution will be present everywhere from the biological evolution of species, the geological evolution of planets and continents, the ecological evolution of biomes and environments, and the cultural and technological evolution of peoples and civilizations. The player will be put in as an agent in this evolution, and will be responsible for guiding their agent, be it a species or country, to succeed and thrive.
Evolution will come in three forms: Player evolution, NPC evolution, and environment evolution. Player evolution refers to the evolution of the species or civilization controlled by the player. This type of evolution is typically guided by the player. For example, as a species, the player can interfere every generation to choose how the species will mutate for the next generation of play. As a civilization, the player can promote or outlaw different cultural traits, research new technologies, and take other actions that influence the evolution of their society. More detail on this will be given in the Editors section.
NPC evolution refers to the evolution of the species or civilizations not controlled by the player. As the player evolves so too will the organisms and peoples around them. From the start of the game until the end of the Aware Stage, this will be handled by the Auto-Evo system, which will randomly evolve species around the player to create ever-changing competition. From the Awakening Stage onward, evolution of NPC tribes/civilizations will occur via AI decisions, and not necessarily require a procedural algorithm.
Environment evolution refers to the evolution of the environment or setting that the player is in in each stage. This mainly applies to biomes and planets. This will require some simple biogeochemical cycle simulators and a tectonic plate simulation. Environmental evolution can affect the player in many ways, such as dry years leading to droughts for civilizations, or the evolution of an ocean impacting the survival of the species living in it.
The evolution of NPCs and the environment creates an ever-changing competition and challenge for the player in the struggle for survival and success, forcing the player to have to evolve as well.
As mentioned in the Evolution section, the player will control an agent in the simulation of evolution. The role of the player is to guide their agent by evolving them in the way that best adapts them to the current challenges they are facing. As such, the game will include many editors to allow the to have a direct role in customizing their agent throughout all stages of the game. As a species this could be choosing what mutation your species evolves in the next generation to adapt to a predator that is out-competing you for all your food, and as a civilization this could be choosing what new type of technology to adopt in your armies to best prepare them for battle against your opponents.
The game is also intended to allow several different modes of play. The initial mode is the Organism Mode, where the player has complete third person control of a member of their species. In the Awakening Stage, as the player's species transitions into an intelligent tribe, they will be able to unlock the Strategy Mode with the discovery of a certain technology. The Strategy Mode allows the player to zoom out from the perspective of a single individual and instead control the entire group from a limited omniscient perspective (akin to an RTS). The Organism Mode will still stay as an option for the player at any point, but as the game progresses it will become less significant as the civilization becomes larger and more complex and thus more easily controlled in the Strategy Mode.
The Observation Mode or Spectator Mode is purely for a player that wishes to passively observe the evolution of species or civilizations in the galaxy. In it the player is just a free floating camera that can move around freely, pass generations, and fast forward or slow down time. The player must choose when they begin a game whether to allow entering Observation Mode during gameplay, since for achievement and difficulty purposes it would allow the player to easily see information they would normally not be able to see using just the Organism and Strategy Modes.
The final mode is the God Mode. In it, the player has all the freedoms of the Observation Mode, but also has access to a set of powerful tools that allow him to manipulate the galaxy to his whim. He can shape planets, spawn civilizations, summon natural events, mutate species, and more. As with the Observation Mode, the player must choose whether to be able to enter it freely before starting a game. Otherwise, the God Mode is locked for the player until they reach the Ascension Stage.
Survival, Competition and Strategy
Throughout the game the player will always be facing the struggle to survive, and this will largely result from harsh competition from their neighbours. It will fall down to wise strategy from the player in guiding their evolution that will allow them to see success.
Energy and Wealth
Energy and currency will be the lifeblood of their respective stages. In the early stages the player hunts food to produce energy to fight and reproduce. In the later stages the player manages cities to generate currency/wealth to build an empire. The ability to harness more energy or wealth will be the benchmark for the efficiency of a species or civilization, and will give its user power by allowing them to spend more on performing actions.
Demands and Metabolism
Just as a civilization's leaders will strive to meet the economic demands of their people for food, clothing, furniture, entertainment, and more, so too will organisms of a species endeavour to acquire the many metabolic nutrients they need to survive and reproduce. The need to fulfill demands and metabolism will define the main struggle of the game.
Simple vs Complex Player Agents
Bigger is not necessarily better. Whether you are a species or a civilization, with more power comes more responsibility. Larger and more complex organisms require more food or ATP and take longer to reproduce. Larger and more powerful empires require more administration and upkeep.
Rise and Fall
Death, defeat, and extinction are a part of the game. The player will hop from species to species, unless they play exceptionally well and never go extinct. The same will happen with civilizations that will rise and fall but the player will play a common thread that hops between them.
The game is designed around the theme of zooming out. Starting as a single cell, then a multicellular colony, then a complex multicellular organism, then a pack of organisms, then an entire tribe, then a city, then a civilization, then a global power, then an interstellar empire.
Minimalist Interface and Tutorials
To maximize immersion, the game will aim for as much minimalism as possible in the interface and tutorials, while still conveying the information that the player needs to know.
Holistic and Modular Design
With a game as grand in scope as Thrive, it helps to create systems that analyze many different aspects of gameplay and use a common system of logic to determine outcomes. A single system that handles 10 things is better than 10 different systems, especially for reducing complexity and producing more realistic and organic results.
Additionally, editing is designed to be as customizable as possible with few assumptions or presets to avoid terracentric results and allow for truly alien and exotic possibilities. The only bounds are the basic principles of physics and chemistry (which we still go around sometimes).
Realism vs Gameplay
The game is intended to be as realistic as possible while still being fun and manageable (not too complex), and thus lead to the most realistic outcomes and possibilities for life on other planets.
Nature Documentary Atmosphere
We want to pay homage to the great works of scientists and artists in the past who produced amazing works such as Walking With Dinosaurs and Planet Earth. They were major inspirations for the early game. We want to try to capture some of that feeling in the music and the grandeur of the gameplay.
Simulation vs Game
We want to balance the game between simulation and gameplay. For example, evolution will happen in the background but it will be influenced by the player's gameplay, to provide for fun and game feedback to player actions. This also applies to civilizations, where they will organically grow and develop on their own but respond to player interaction to give the player an outlet for control over their species' history.
Another way it is a simulation/sandbox is that there are no quests or storyline, and there are no explicit win conditions (though there are lose conditions), it is up to the player to set themselves their own goals.
2D Microbe Stage
The reasons we made Microbe Stage 2D.
The game will procedurally generate content to minimize the load of how big the game would otherwise be. This means procedural generation of species, planets, cities, etc. and random evolution of these entities.
CPA System Procedural Generation? Statistics Hidden Costs in the Editor
Main Article: Procedural Generation
Featured Stages: All stages.
Procedural generation is an underpinning method of content creation for the entire game. In summary, it uses mathematical algorithms to create anything from planets to organisms to both save space and to create a wide and virtually infinite set of diverse encounters for the player through the stages. There are several systems in the game that will use procedural generation.
Main Article: CPA System
Featured Stages: All stages.
In essence, the CPA System is what the entirety of the game is about. It controls player and NPC evolution, and builds the world the player must fight against. There is no major adversary in the game other than the power of evolution. Other species will become successful and present a challenge for the player, which skill should be able to overcome.
Everything in the CPA System is interlinked. Compounds are relatively simple, but Population Dynamics and Auto-Evo rely on heavy abstraction and complex formulas. Many things are likely to fail when actually used in-game, so new systems will need to be devised.
Though the CPA System is the basis of everything, it might be a good idea to implement it after most other gameplay features have been added. This will give a list of all available compounds and processes for use in the simulation.
- Everything in the game revolves around compounds. In the scientific sense, compounds are substances comprised of two or more different elements chemically bound together, but for the purposes of simplicity this definition has been expanded to include single elements and mixtures too.
- Each compound has an associated atomic weight (which allows for calculations of how much can be stored within a vacuole, for instance)
- All compounds are measured in units derived from the mole.
- Compounds are always conserved. They can be converted into other compounds via chemical reactions, but the weight of the products should always equal that of the reactants. If the exact reverse is applied to the products, the same amount of reactants should appear.
- Conservation of compounds applies also to the environment as a whole.
- The game world is divided into patches. Each patch is assigned a biome type, and a full game world can be constructed using adjacent patches.
- Compounds can flow between patches, but there is no influx or outflow of compounds from the game world as a whole. Compound concentrations are determined at the beginning of the game and generally never change.
- One exception to compound conservation is Energy/ATP.
- Energy enters the environment as heat or light, concentrated in spots or in certain biome types. Photosynthesizers and thermosynthesizers can utilize this energy.
- Once ATP is produced, it is consumed by organelles, dissipating as heat again.
- Heat flows at a constant rate out of the environment to prevent the heat death of the game universe while the player is still playing it.
- Another non-conserved compound is water. Water in-game is unique in many ways.
- (((It permeates everywhere at maximum capacity???))), providing a transfer medium for compound clouds.
- It’s assumed that there is an infinite supply of water flowing in from outside the world boundaries at all times.
- In a single patch there are species which fill slots in the ecosystem. There are a limited number of slots per patch.
- A species is defined by three variables – its genetic code (an abstract representation of its structure, appearance and behavior), a total number of compounds, and a population number.
- Depending on what organelles a species has, it can convert compounds into other compounds. Compounds are also processed by bacteria and the environment.
- There is a steady flow of some compounds out of a species and others into a species, due to the death of its members and their consumption of environmental compounds.
- Each individual has a certain amount of locked up compounds which make up its internal structure. When a cell dies, its collected compounds are released as compound clouds, but its locked up compounds remain stored in floating organelles. Digesting agents or engulfing microbes can break these down, creating more compound clouds or absorbing the compounds into their own visible stores.
- Organelles have a defined amount of compounds they represent. For instance, each mitochondrion might consist of X of this compound and Y of that compound. When broken down, the organelle releases those amounts of each compound into the environment.
- The amount of compounds in a patch determines the environment the player will see. If there is a large amount of calcium in a patch, the player will see many rock surfaces (these dissolve to release calcium into the environment). If there’s a lot of ammonia, there’ll be large ammonia clouds, and so on. The player’s surrounding area is the only area not simulated abstractly, but it takes information from the compounds model to create itself.
Featured Stages: All stages.
Featured Stages: Microbe, Multicellular, Aware, Awakening.
Featured Stages: All stages.
Featured Stages: All stages.
Main Article: Game Screens
The network of game screens that the player will be able to navigate through.
Main Article: User Interface
The interfaces used across all stages. Thrive will aim for a sleek, minimalistic graphical user interface (also called user interface, UI, or GUI). It will typically differ between the stages.
- The video opens with the viewpoint flying through a chromosome, past intertwined strands of DNA in a bubble-filled liquid. Most elements should be shades of green, blue or purple, in line with the general colour scheme.
- Somewhere in the chromosome there is a 3D model of the Thrive logo tied up in strands of DNA. It should not be initially apparent to the player that this is present, but the camera should stop and turn to face it on cue. The cutscene then fades to black after pausing on a shot of the logo.
- The soundtrack is the Opening Cutscene Theme, which more than most themes is tailored directly to its intended use. A crescendo should accompany the camera’s change of direction, and bubbling, somewhat electronic noises are a must.
- Developers should be split into groups based on their area of contribution (programmers, composers, etc.) and presented sequentially on several different screens. Collecting a total list of contributors may be difficult, but the forum memberlist is a good place to start.
- The soundtrack will be an excerpt from the extended Main Theme. The credits are accessible from the main menu, returning the player there once finished.
Quick note that I wanted to make on this topic because it's come up a few times recently: Upgrading vs Specialization.
Should the player be able to upgrade something without any costs? Or should everything have drawbacks? Scientifically, evolution is not a cyclical process, it definitely does lead to forwards progress, where new species are more complex and sophisticated than older ones. The mitochondrion is a good example, which at first only had a few internal parts which only yielded a small amount of ATP, but over millions of years of evolution has become a lot more sophisticated and efficient. However, pure upgrades usually lead to boring gameplay. You need some drawbacks to have good strategy involved. This is where I think it's important to consider the following, which are basically the costs of any mutation an organism chooses. 1. Opportunity cost: You could’ve evolved something else, but you chose this. If it wasn't as good a decision as was necessary or was even a bad decision that will hurt or extinguish your species.
2. Increase cost and time for reproduction: More complex organisms typically require more effort to reproduce. This applies both microscopically and macroscopically. Look at the breeding rates of hares compared to elephants, or prokaryotic cells to eukaryotic cells.
3. Energy cost: Most mutations that add or complicate a structure of an organism increase the energy that that organism requires to live. A larger brain requires a lot of energy to maintain, so humans need to correspondingly hunt and eat a lot more food. It's not as easy as just choosing to evolve intelligence, you also need to evolve a body that can support intelligence. This also applies with ATP usage in cells.
4. Decreased surface area to volume ratio: Assuming it was a that increased the size of your cell, becoming really big is very hard for cells to maintain. It's why huge multicellular organisms have evolved where each cell has a specific function but is pretty small, instead of organisms made out of one giant cell. It's one big advantage prokaryotes have over eukaryotes. It’s like running a business, everything has a cost. The trick is to find the things where the return is greater than the cost, so that you make a profit. For example evolving fur might save more lives from cold than the energy lost for maintaining it, so overall it’s a profitable decision. But if you're in a place that's not that cold fur is not as "profitable" of an mutation. I think if we consider the above we shouldn't be too worried about mutations being too good, because all of them will always carry these costs.
Ideally, the rules of the simulation should allow many possibilities, with sensitive reliance on initial conditions to create entirely new scenarios on each playthrough. Balancing for this goal will be difficult – it would be all too easy to accidentally create an environment where one survival strategy or exploitation of the simulation beats everything else. As in the real world, one way to counter this is to present different challenges in different locations or at different times throughout the game, destabilizing the dominance of some species and allowing others to rise.
Underlying the simulation is a system known as CPA (Compounds, Population Dynamics, Auto-Evo), the bedrock of the game itself. The CPA System is perhaps the biggest draw for people towards the project, as it allows evolution to take place. There are direct links between CPA, metabolism, AI and environment creation. Each feeds into the others, creating a set of feedback loops as in nature. Again, making this system work correctly will be a challenge, especially since the game will be built iteratively.
All simulations work using a different time measurement to that used by the frame rate.