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The Microbe Stage is the first stage of the game. The stage begins with the first species to exist in the world, fresh from the primordial origins of life exploring the nutrient rich Pangonian Vents. It is here that the player assumes the role of a tiny prokaryotic blob of cytoplasm, one of a few individuals of their species. At this point the player must rely entirely on finding loose glucose to survive as they do not yet possess ways to process other nutrients, and seek out phosphates and ammonia to grow bigger in preperation for reproduction. Once the player has reached a sufficient size they will be capable of reproducing, which will bring the player to the microbe editor should they choose to do so. As the game continues, the player will steadily adapt their cell to better survive in a world that grows gradually harsher each generation, and compete with new species that have arisen from the player's own.
The Microbe Stage takes place in a 3D enviroment viewed from a 2D perspective, as if being viewed from a microscope. Here, the player must steer their cell into brightly colored compound clouds to sustain and grow their cell until they can reproduce. At the beginning of the game there will be no predators, the only dangers being starvation and the occasional toxin. However, as the player reproduces, new competing species will branch away from the player's species and steadily become an increasingly dangerous obstacle for the player to overcome. While at first the player is a tiny cell only capable of consuming glucose amonia and phosphates, the player will be able to adapt their cell in any way they choose after every reproduction, granting the player new abilities and options as time goes on. This comes at a cost however, as the player cell becomes larger and more complex, it will require more food to sustain. The player must take care to ensure that their cell is always sustainable or they will quickly starve. Additionally, species that arise from your own will inherit your adaptations, so the player must be cautious of how soon they develop things such as weaponry.
The Microbe Stage is played using the keyboard and mouse. The cell always faces the mouse cursor's position, while the WASD keys will propel the cell in a direction relative to the cursor's position. Fpr example, pressing the W key will make the cell travel forward towards the mouse cursor. Where as pressing the S key will make the cell travel backwards away from the mouse cursor. These controls allow the player to strategically move their cell to dodge toxin projectiles or position themselves to catch as mnay prey cells as they can. The mouse is also used to interact with the various UI elements on the screen.
Pressing the G key will enable Engulfment Mode. In this mode, the cell will begin flashing with a blue overlay, and damage any cells smaller than them they come into contact with. All cells have this ability, regardless of adaptations so it would be wise to avoid approaching larger cells if the player does not have any defenses.
Using the mousewheel, the player can adjust their field of view. This is very useful for navigating the enviroment around them, or taking a close look at their cell.
These are gasses that are present within a patch, and do not have a physical presence in the world. These elements act as a passive effect on various processes of the cell, and can be required for certain proteins and organelles to function.
- Oxygen: An important gas for aerobic respiration, oxygen is used by parts such as metabolosomes to perform their purposes. The more oxygen that is present in a patch, the better these parts will perform. Currently, oxygen has no other effect on cells and is at a constant 21% concentration in all patches.
- Nitrogen: A gas used by cells for nitrogen fixation in the synthesis of ammonia. Nitrogen currently has no other effect on cells and is at a constant 70% concentration in all patches.
- Carbon Dioxide: An important gas for chemosynthesis and photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is currently at a constant 9% concentration in all pacthes.
There are several compounds present in the Microbe Stage. Below is a list of all compounds and their uses.
- Glucose: Primary ATP storage for cells, and initial source of food for the player. Glucose is consumed by several organelles and proteins to produce ATP, the most notable being the metabolosomes and mitochondria as they are specifically used for glucose. When the player dies they will respawn with a reserve of glucose within their cell, allowing them to readily resume gameplay without fear of starvation. The player must take care should they rely on the readily available glucose found in the environment, as every generation the global glucose amounts decrease by 80%. Glucose clouds are white in color.
- Ammonia: Vital compounds required for reproduction. Ammonia is used to grow and copy the proteins and organelles within the cell, and can be found readily throughout the environment. Parts such as the nitrogenase and nitrogen fixing plastid can produce ammonia from ATP and nitrogen, saving the player from having to actively seek it out in the environment to reproduce. Ammonia clouds are orange in color.
- Phosphate: Identical in purpose to ammonia, phosphate is a requirement for reproduction. Unlike ammonia however, there are no methods of synthesizing phosphate so it can only be found in the environment or from predation. Phosphate clouds are purple in color.
- Hydrogen Sulfide: An alternative source of ATP for cells, and can be found in high quantities in a select few patches. Should a player intend to use hydrogen sulfide for energy, they must take care to ensure that the patch they inhabit contains the compound. Hydrogen sulfide is only usable if the player posesses chemosynthesizing proteins, otherwise any hydrogen sulfide consumed will be quickly expelled from the cell. Hydrogen sulfide clouds are yellow in color.
- Iron: Another alternative source of ATP, iron is a relatively uncommon resource found in almost, but not all, patches in the world. Unlike any other compound, iron can not only be found in clouds, but also as variably sized chunks that trail iron clouds as they drift. Iron can only be used by a cell if it possesses rustycyanin. Iron clouds appear brown in color.
There is a separate game design document for the microbe stage that goes into more details: Microbe Stage GDD
There are some tables and other things collected in the Microbe Stage Appendices