It’s pretty unanimous that current implementation of mutations isn’t ideal. I had an idea for mutation that would fit better with the lore, and possibly make mid-games more interesting for survivors instead of front-loading the late game with tons of stuff you don’t really need.
I read somewhere that mutation due to radiation is the blob in the player attempting to respond and adapt to stimuli that it didn’t understand and was just sort of throwing things at the wall to see if any of it helped. My thought was, why wouldn’t it always be looking out for its host in this way? If the host is struggling, it stands to reason that the player’s blob would make some sort of effort to make adjustments that can either help get them through a rough patch or better suit the host to its current environment if survival depended on it. Obviously it’s not going to restart your heart when you die or sprout a giant limb and start hacking zombies with it for you, but there are some gradual changes that it can make based on whatever the player is going through.
Say the player is out in the wilderness, and they’re struggling. Winter is here and there are no cities in sight, and resources are extremely limited. The only food available is meat, and nutrient deficiencies are starting to happen. Scurvy hits first, followed by calcium deficiency and whatever else meat doesn’t provide.
Over the course of a week or two, depending on how serious it is, the player could gradually begin to mutate and eventually becomes a carnivore. Suddenly all the nutrients they need are in meat, and things are much better in that way. There’s still winter to deal with, of course, but at least your bones aren’t going to crumble and your teeth won’t fall out.
It’s not something that will happen quickly. These would be long-term developments that accumulate over time due to specific conditions affecting the player, and will change how they operate in the long run while making their life somewhat easier in the short term.
Currently mutations are either explicitly bad, explicitly good, both, or neither. I think it would be important to make it so that all possible mutations have pros and cons based on what they are. There should not be a mutation that the player immediately seeks to remove, because that would kind of defeat the purpose and potentially straight up doom the player and their run, which is not what we want. We also shouldn’t have only good mutations, because that just becomes a snowball and contributes more to the problem players have being overpowered in the late game.
There would be some neutral ones that are the equivalent of the blob performing an experiment during times of peace, and this can branch into other more specialized mutations based on what happens to the player. For example, say the player suddenly gets these unformed nubs of appendages starting to grow out of their torso. If they do a whole lot of fighting or happen are in bad shape extensively, these limbs could manifest into claws or blades that help with fighting and little else. Alternatively, if the player does a whole lot of crafting during this time in particular, perhaps they evolve into very nimble graspers that decrease the time for batch crafting and give dexterity buffs. In both cases the limbs would get in the way and possibly do other things as a trade-off. Or, if nothing worthy of note happens or there’s not enough to tip the scale one way or the other, the limbs just atrophy and disappear, because the blob doesn’t see benefit in pursuing this particular chain of mutations.
Later on there will be ways that can help manipulate the blob’s decisions on what mutations to undergo, if any. For example, maybe producing a kind of chemical that lingers for a while, gives effects while it’s active, but encourages the blob to produce combat-specific mutations as opposed to other varieties. The inverse is also plausible. Both would be intrusive drugs, however, and not just something you can eat like candy, because you’re messing with your internal chemistry. If you’re trying to mutate, you shouldn’t be doing much else at the same time. Same for getting rid of mutations you already have, though I think encouraging mutations should be more taxing on the player. You can also take some chemicals that either discourage or prevent additional mutations from occurring, if you aren’t fond of the idea of potentially altering a specific play style when you don’t have to. This might be when you’re well-off in the late game and don’t feel like messing with limbs and their bulk or your blob deciding that you want to be a salamander for all the time you spend underground.
It takes control away from the player but I think overall it would be more balanced and much more interesting than the mutation system we currently have. It’s sort of like the opposite of bionics, which is very much controlled by the player but has its own set of requirements before the player can safely and reliably make use of them. Bionics would also progressively make it less likely that you mutate, because you’re basically adapting yourself and the blob doesn’t need to step in. On the flip side, adding bionics while mutated is either extremely tricky to do without mucking it up depending on location, or taxing in general. Certain mutations and certain bionics would not get along in this way, possibly necessitating surgery or chemical treatment to have your way with your own body. Certain things would clash differently based on how they interact. Your nanite repair implant, for example, would NOT react well if activated while you have additional growths. You may want to have some bandages on hand, and maybe some painkillers.
Let me know what you think of this idea.