June 2019 Newsletter

To start with, a small distraction from the main event – Steam have recently held a summer promotion whereby leaving reviews gains you points. The recent reviews have been pushed into “overwhelmingly positive” territory – and we recognise that’s directly down to you guys. Thank you so much! Now, on to the actual content of the newsletter!

Leafcutters doing their thing in this widescreen shot from Steam user Himmuguegeli

We’ve recently had a meeting to discuss the direction for the rest of the game. We were almost entirely sure of what the next playable ants would be, and the meeting has cemented that decision. Many other things were also decided, and they will have an impact on both the long-term and short-term development of the game.

Fire Ants

The focal species for the 4th tier of the formicarium will be fire ants. The blanket term of ‘fire ant’ comprises many species, but they mostly share the same notorious traits – aggression and invasiveness, and a particularly unpleasant sting. We haven’t entirely decided on the exact species that will feature but it will be of the Solenopsis genus.

Solenopsis invicta ants. Source: Wiki commons

Fire ants have diverse and interesting behaviours – particularly relevant to us is the habit of using their own bodies to create structures. Holding onto each other to create a bridge is observed in some species, and this is directly relevant to us – it was one of the Kickstarter stretch goals back in 2016. We’ll be talking about the details of how this will work as development continues.

Concept art for fire ant structures from the Kickstarter campaign

Optimisation

This is a very important issue for the longevity of the project – and one that will affect the timing of the next big update.

At the moment, the creature movement and collision detection code is dependent on default Unreal Engine 4 actor functions. These are not at all optimised for use in an RTS game that has potentially hundreds of moving, reacting creatures at any one time. This is the primary reason that the game often starts to suffer when a lot of creatures are in play. Whilst it allows us to create beautiful graphics and we love working with it, UE4 was written with FPS-style games in mind – and many of its features are geared towards that. Those on lower-end systems particularly will feel the pinch when army sizes get large.

Too many ants! From Steam user Cas

We’ve decided that now is the time to address this issue. We are rewriting lots of the code relevant to this to meet the specific needs of Empires of the Undergrowth. It will take some time but the benefits are multitude, including:

  • Significant increase in performance
  • Algorithm responsible for stuck creatures removed
  • Reduced overheads for future enemy colonies
  • Much more viable to have larger armies

The downside is that this is such a fundamental change to the way the game works that it is likely to break more or less everything, so it’ll take time to work through the resultant issues. We know you’re a patient bunch and are great with waiting for good things, and this is a good thing that will make the game better for everyone, forever.

When we’re getting close to having the optimisations done, we’re very likely run a public beta on Steam for all owners to allow lots of feedback on them.

Freeplay Update

As detailed in the previous newsletter, the next large update for the game will come in the form of an update to freeplay. John has spent a lot of time recently working on the new menu system for this updated mode, which with the planned changes is a major consideration. The end result will be a much more friendly-looking menu with presets. The advanced options will be there for people who want to make a custom setup – and you’ll have the ability to share them.

Whilst he’s making significant progress on this, its timing will be affected by the aforementioned optimisations. The update to freeplay will arrive at the same time as them.

John has been streaming his work on this. See a recent one below – at around the 2 hours 12 minutes mark of this one he also shows a little preview of a creature that was cut from the leafcutter update for time purposes, the velvet worm! We intend to finish and add the velvet worm in a future update.

Kickstarter Reward – Myrmecia ereptor

One of the Kickstarter rewards was an option to have a Myrmecia ereptor colony instead of Formica ereptor. Our artist Matt has been working on the necessary changes. Below are some screenshots of the Myrmecia ereptor workers. The addition will be purely cosmetic, and will likely be activated in the form of a Steam key sent out to backers of the appropriate tiers.

It’ll be our first foray into working with DLC systems so it’ll be a learning experience for us as well as everyone else! Please note that for now this is an exclusive cosmetic for Kickstarter backers.

YouTuber Highlight – Snootz TV

For the past couple of months Snootz has been covering Empires of the Undergrowth at the highest difficulty settings with his trademark calm, soothing manner. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed his playthroughs. His more recent attempts at insane difficulties for the third tier levels may well precipitate some balancing on our behalf.

Screenshot Central

If you’d like to contribute to this section then simply upload your screenshots to Steam (F12 by default) or mail them to mike@slugdisco.com. You can enter the cinematic photo mode by pressing F8 – and if you do that whilst holding shift you’ll have free movement of the camera, allowing you to get some really interesting angles.

Night falls from Steam user Raymond2500
Whip spider circle of death in freeplay from Steam user Lord Distruct
Ladybird beetle in flight from Steam user Fazan008

April-May 2019 Newsletter

It’s been just over a month since we unleashed our first major update for Empires of the Undergrowth – the Leafcutter Update – upon the world. We’ve worked through most of the glitches and balance issues now, and it’s been a joy to see you guys have fun with the new additions to the game. Feedback has been almost entirely positive and we’re so happy that you guys seem to be enjoying it!

Leafcutter trail from Steam user Jynn

This newsletter will cover some of the issues that have come back in the immediate fallout, go through what we’ve added since the update in a bit more detail, and discuss what’s going to happen in the immediate future.

The Leafcutter Update

As I’m sure the vast majority of you are aware, we released the Leafcutter Update on 25th April. We’re pleased with how it went, and we appreciate the feedback you guys have given us that helped us correct some major issues that we didn’t catch during our testing period. Chief of these was a crash that occurred when selling certain tiles – that’s now been resolved. There have also been some balance changes to certain creatures and spawning amounts. There may still be some ways to go on this and of course we’ll continue to monitor feedback.

Leafcutters collecting leaves from Steam user a white wyrm

Colony-vs-Colony

Colony-vs-colony combat has been something a lot of you have been asking for for quite a while, and it’s something we’ve been itching to do for quite some time. The leafcutter levels finally allow this in a near-true fashion. The enemy colonies in 3.1 The Harvest and the 3rd formicarium challenge are much nearer to a true AI-controlled ant colony than have existed in the previous levels – they have their own underground, pheromone groups, and behaviour trees.

Army ant major from Steam user Fazan008

These are stepping stones to truly autonomous colonies which will be useful in a future freeplay update, which will properly dig out their own nests from scratch and all the bells and whistles. Liam is enjoying working on this AI (he’s calling it HiveBot), but it won’t be ready for quite some time – having an AI be able to come close to a human-controlled player without cheating is really tough!

Direction of the Game

There has been concern from a small number of players about the direction the game is headed with colony-vs-colony combat and resource wars. The new levels are very different to the ones that have come before, but it is worth reassuring these players at this stage that not all future levels will involve these mechanics. There’s still plenty of things to explore in the world of the Undergrowth that don’t just involve dominating another colony, but it was something a lot of players (and us) wanted to see.

New Additions

Demo Level – The Crucible

The largest new addition we’ve made since the release of the leafcutter update is a new demo level called The Crucible. It features leafcutters (minus the majors) and is the only demo level in which you can access the surface. Owners of the game can access it from the alpha demo levels section of “Other Modes” from the main menu.

DGA plays The Crucible

I imagine just about everyone reading this owns the game, but those who don’t will notice that you have the option of downloading the updated demo from the Steam page. We’ve also put it up on IndieDB. Note that the level is limited and features only rove beetles and spiny devils as enemies.

UI Additions

We’ve added some new UI additions to augment the current selection of keyboard shortcuts – you’ll notice these in the bottom right tab. These are easily-accessible toggle buttons for resource, tile and creature info.

Press shift whilst entering photo mode for a free camera! By Fazan008

Localisation

We’ve also started in earnest our effort for language localisation with the support of two new languages – German and Simplified Chinese, which were the most logical ones for us personally to start with. Steam users from these regions should have these enabled by default but a language selection dropdown box can be found in the game options.

Since we now have a very robust system for localisation, we will be adding new languages over time. We’ve already started the process of getting some other translations done for the game – we’ll let everyone know as they’re added.

Performance Improvements

Since the pressures of completing the main content for the Leafcutter Update are now behind us we’ve been able to make some optimisation changes for some performance enhancements. A long-standing issue has been the upgrade overlay causing a significant drop in framerate, even on relatively high-end systems. Thanks to Matt’s profiling pass there’s been an up to 75% improvement on this now. Various other small things have been done as well (such as removal of near-invisible crystals from soldier tiles that had quite a heavy materials load).

What Comes Next

Changes to Freeplay

The next large update that will come to the game is a significant re-working and update of features to freeplay mode. Freeplay is in need of some good TLC – we are aware that in its current for it is rather unbalanced and is particularly unforgiving to startup colonies. John has begun work on his reworked freeplay mode – see the video below for his first livestream post-leafcutter update.

There are many new features he intends to add – first and foremost, he will be adding leafcutters themselves as a species option to the mode. This didn’t make it into the main leafcutter update for several reasons – they operate so differently in their food gathering and caste system to the other ants that adding them is far from a trivial task.

It was relatively easy for John to add the new creatures to freeplay in time for release but the leafcutter colony itself needs a lot of work. The climbing system that the leafcutters use needs a way to be saved mid-climb (a first for freeplay – creature actions are not currently saved), and of course there needs to be special landmark and balance considerations for them since they harvest leaves as their only source of food, and want to avoid conflict with other creatures as much as they can since they get no resources from them.

There will also be a re-work of the creature spawning system. Currently, increased difficulty level leads to the spawning of more creatures. Towards the end of a freeplay game this can mean the entire map is simply swamped with enemies, which affects performance as well as experience. John’s plan is to add tiered enemies instead, which means tougher individual enemies rather than more of them.

DGA play freeplay in its current state

Also, something we’ve wanted to add to freeplay for some time is optional victory conditions. When we did our last recording session with our narrator we recorded some victory narration for freeplay, and this is the opportunity to implement that properly. Optional conditions might be collect X number of food, kill X uber creatures, or survive for a set period of time. There’s lots of room for experimentation with this!

Finally, John is planning on a brand new freeplay level set in the new rainforest environment. He’s likely to livestream quite a lot of this, talking to the chat and taking suggestions. We’ll post on our social media when we do this and on occasion will post an announcement on the Steam page for particularly important streams.

Formicarium Tier 4

Obviously, you all want to know what we’re doing with the formicarium campaign next, and we’re 90% sure we know the next species that will be focused on and the theme of levels 4.1 and 4.2. Until we’ve had our big design meeting in early June, though, we’re not quite prepared to tell everyone what that is. As soon as we commit to it, we’ll let you all know in the forums and we’ll also have a section in the next newsletter.

YouTuber Highlight

Smash GaminG!! – Frazzz

Frazzz has covered Empires of the Undergrowth for a long time. With the leafcutter update he’s taken up his coverage again with renewed vigour – and it’s been a joy watching him discover the new mechanics. It was a little exasperating watching him wondering why his ants were getting sick and dying because he didn’t read the tip about refuse chambers causing this – but he got there in the end!

Screenshot Central

We’ve obviously been having a blast looking at the screenshots from the new content, and we’ve been spoiled for choice. Here’s three of our favourites from the past month. If you’d like to submit some screenshots the easiest way is to use Steam (F12 by default to take a snap, and F9 by default to enter photo mode). A popup will allow you to upload once you exit the game. You can also email them directly to mike@slugdisco.com. Also, here’s a little tip- we’ve recently added an unlocked photo mode which has no camera restrictions. You might see some funky stuff but it’s a way to get some really interesting angles – to enter it hold down shift while you press the photo mode.

A menacing but beautiful view of army ants from Jynn
Mantids and spiders and crickets, oh my! From Steam user Raptorofwar
A Formica ereptor colony including leafcutter majors in Freeplay from Steam user Hilfspage

The Leafcutter Update – Coming April 25th!

Please enjoy our updated trailer, featuring the leafcutter ants and rainforest environment!

We’re very pleased to announce that our first major update for Empires of the Undergrowth, the Leafcutter Update, will be coming to the game on April 25th! Featuring an all-new rainforest environment with new critters of all sizes, two new levels which will see you face off against fully-fledged colonies, and a new Formicarium Challenge where the dastardly scientists have something special planned for you.

The jungle floor stirs. Ants of all sizes creep out of their holes to harvest the nearby foliage, traveling far and wide to find the choicest leaves. The odds are stacked against these fledgling colinies – you may be tempted to dismiss creatures that forage for leaves but with huge crushing mandibles on their side they are not to be underestimated.

March 2019 Newsletter

Although we have a policy of not announcing dates until we’re 100% sure, it is safe to say we are now very, very close to getting the leafcutter beta out to Kickstarter closed beta tier backers. Those of you who are on this tier, please keep an eye on your emails over the next week or so. The coming build for you guys will be feature-complete from a gameplay perspective, but will be missing some things like sound effects (the new creatures currently all sound like the Devil’s Coach Horse adult). Those will be added in throughout the beta as we continue development.

Leafcutters gather leaves in level 3.2 Front Line

As a quick explanation for everyone else – the closed beta group consists of people who supported us at a certain tier during our Kickstarter campaign in 2016. The beta typically lasts a few weeks, where we take feedback on things like balance and glitches. It really helps us polish things to be great for everyone and gives a bigger sample size than just the four of us on the team, and it means when we get the update out to everyone it’ll feel really good to play right from the off. Of course, things like balance and glitch fixes don’t end when the beta does (the size of the beta group doesn’t come close to all users!) so we will still be very grateful for your feedback as things continue.

A short time into the beta, we should have a fairly good idea of how long it’ll take us to deal with the resultant feedback and it’s at that point that we’ll decide on a release date. Exciting times!

Leafcutter-shaped Formica ereptor ants in the new formicarium

Since we’re so close to having things ready, there hasn’t been much in the way of “new” stuff to show over the past month (not because there’s nothing left, but we’ve reached a limit on things we want to share without spoiling the upcoming content too much).

Praying Mantis vs The Battle Arena

One of the more fearsome beasties you’ll encounter in your life as a leafcutter colony is the leaf mimic praying mantis. There are several sizes of mantis, but in its final instar it’s an outright terrifying opponent that even well-prepared players will find difficult. Here’s a preview of her in the Battle Arena, against a fairly typical mix of leafcutters. She has some unique stealth abilities due to her natural camouflage – note that she doesn’t appear on the minimap until she decides she’s going to attack, and the ants have to be very close in order to spot her. This makes more sense in the context of a rain forest floor covered with leaves.

You’ll also notice that she has the ability to pick up an ant and consume it, instantly killing it and restoring health. This gives her remarkable durability, so she must be overwhelmed quickly and with large numbers. Majors are a little big for her to eat in this fashion, but minors and mediae go straight down the hatch!

Leafcutter AI Timelapse

Here’s a sped-up look at the enemy leafcutter colony you will encounter in level 3.1, The Harvest. It’s controlled by the AI (but it has a pre-built nest layout, which makes sense for the campaign levels). Fully autonomous AI colonies will eventually feature in Freeplay.

Some of the ants have a green cloud surrounding them. This is a status indicator showing the ant has recently been in a refuse chamber – which causes sickness to ants that aren’t minims. You’ll want to build your refuse chambers away from thoroughfares and brood chambers.

Natural Variety

Here’s a couple of screenshots showing some of the cosmetic variations we’ve added to the appearance of some of the creatures – in this case the leafhoppers and the harvestmen. Although not strictly necessary from a gameplay perspective, we’ve taken the time to do things like this in order to try and reflect some of the huge natural diversity that exists in rain forests. Of course we can’t come close to how diverse they actually are, being the richest terrestrial environments on the planet – but we can try to replicate it in a small way.

Behind The Scenes

Here’s something a little different – an in-editor look at 3.1 The Harvest. We use Unreal Engine 4 to build Empires of the Undergrowth. It’s an incredibly comprehensive and featured development environment, and this video shows a little behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a level.

The white lines on the plants are mathematical objects called splines. These act as a guide to the pathfinding AI and indicate that these are plants that can be climbed and harvested by leafcutters for their fungus farms.

The bright green and red on the floor is called the navmesh – it indicates the areas of the map that are navigable by creatures. It’s a static object on the surface, but often has to be re-computed underground because the player changes it with their digging!

The screen with the large, complex-looking flowchart is called a blueprint. These are a powerful feature of UE4 which we find particularly useful for AI behaviour. In this one, you can see that every few seconds it “thinks” – indicated by the orange line as it follows the algorithm and reaches a decision. This is the AI for the enemy ant colony in level 3.1 – it reacts actively to the player, making its own decisions instead of following a timed script, like the colonies in 2.2 do.

It’s Nearly Trailer Time

Since we’re so close to having things ready, it’s time to start thinking about trailers. We love a good trailer – they’re a great way to build up some awareness and, dare we say it, hype for a release. We have a background in short film-making, in fact it’s the shared hobby that brought all of us together many years ago!

The above is a look at an in-progress shot designed by Liam. We make custom builds with trigger-able camera moves to capture our trailer footage using OBS. Ignore the sound for now – as mentioned above a lot of the new sounds aren’t in yet; that will all be sorted later!

John’s Changelog

Every so often, John has been posting recent changes to the source control of the game on our official forums. These can offer a little insight into what’s currently being worked on. As before when we’ve done this segment, here’s his full post but here’s a few selected highlights with some extra commentary to give more context.

  • Minimap displays gather-able resources – all food items that can be gathered,  whether they be leaves for the leafcutters or dead creatures for other ants, will now show up as a dot on the minimap. This should help players direct their forces to resource-rich areas with more certainty.
  • New Freeplay setup screen added – John has expanded and re-designed the Freeplay setup screen to be a bit clearer. This is the first step in his overhaul of Freeplay which will begin in earnest once the leafcutter update is out.
  • Prepared documents for localisation – we’ll be adding the first two translations to the game soon (German and Chinese) and there’s been a lot of prep work involved in this process.
  • Lots of work on the trailer for leafcutters – Liam has been designing shots for the upcoming trailers, as detailed above. He’s been making custom builds of the game that showcase designed camera moves.
  • Gather and aggression buttons updated for colour-blind – it was pointed out to us that our colour scheme for the gather / attack toggle buttons is difficult to differentiate for people with colour blindness. They now have a visible line across them when switched off.
  • Added in chunks for every creature in the game (no longer will harvesting a fish produce a Devil’s Coach Horse leg) – up until now, harvested creature chunks all shared the same models and textures. Matt has put in some work to make sure this is no longer the case.
  • Added canopy shadows to the new levels – as is fitting for the rain forest, the third tier levels will have a dappled lighting effect on the surface to represent bright sunlight filtering through the treetops.

Screenshot Central

We’ve been spoiled for choice on the beautiful screenshots this past month – you lot have really been upping your game! It’s been difficult to choose three really good ones from many very pretty examples, but here they are. As always, take your screenshots on Steam (F12 is the default key) then upload them when you exit the game from the window that pops up. You can get some great angles by using Photo Mode (F9 by default).

Alternatively, you can manually email screenshots to mike@slugdisco.com.

Uber beetle bearing down from returning contributor AK_tion_47
Ladybird massacre from Hilfspage
Beautifully captured tiger beetle larva from returnee MorPacke

January – February 2019 Newsletter

We’re now much closer to our first major update, featuring leafcutters. As well as continuing development of the update to completion, we’ve been dealing with quite a lot of meta-requirement systems in the meantime, such as subtitles (which will be a long-overdue feature beginning with this update). Once we’re at a point where we can get meaningful feedback from our closed testing group, we will release it to them and that will soon give us a good idea of how long it will take to correct any detected issues. As always, our policy is to not give vague guesses on release timing, only solid dates once we’re certain of them – but we’re feeling good about the current pace of things and the rate at which the remaining task list is being ticked off.

A cloud of venom surrounds this Formica rufa queen from alexraptor554

There’s been plenty of good visual things finalised and ready to show off over the past month – some of which show off some leafcutter mechanics. So let’s have a look at some of the fun things that await when you introduce Atta cephalotes to your Formica ereptor colony!

Floral Diversity

Rainforests are hugely diverse – they’re the most diverse land habitats on Earth; rich in speciation and sheer variety of solutions to evolutionary problems.

We’ve worked hard to make sure that’s reflected in the fauna, but just as importantly the flora of our Ecuadorian setting. Here’s a closer look showing some of the plant life in a recent art pass of level 3.1 – the first leafcutter level.

Fungus Production Pipeline

Leafcutters gain their nutrition from the fungus they grow in their gardens, sprouted from decomposing leaf cuttings harvested from the surface. The minors, mediae and majors collect cuttings and drop them off in designated chambers.

The minims (the smallest leafcutters) then take the leaves to the brood chambers where the fungus grows (this includes the queen tiles). The fungus will grow as leaves are added, then diminish as it is used up by new hatchings and tile placement – it then produces waste which must be managed. The short video below demonstrates this process.

The Harvest

Placing a pheromone trail marker near a plant will draw leafcutters assigned to it – they’ll see the plant as a harvestable food source, just like seeds or dead creatures in previous levels. The major, mediae and minor workers climb the stem, taking time to cut a chunk of leaf before taking it to a drop-off point in the nest. As detailed above, the minims will then take it to the fungus gardens.

The leaves will diminish visually as they are harvested by the leafcutters, giving a physical indication of when the resources are used up and new grazing pastures must be found.

Below is a rather pleasing close-up of this process happening.

Interface & Waste Management

This pair of pictures shows the near-completed interface modifications needed to bring leafcutters to the game. You’ll notice a new resource bar at the top of the screen. Green on the left represents fungus available to spend, grey is space available on the nursery tiles to grow fungus, and red on the right is used fungus that needs to be disposed of.

Over time, the fungus produces waste which must be removed and taken to special chambers (right of the first picture). The refuse chambers will have a detrimental effect on nearby brood chambers, so it’s wise to build them a good distance away from where your ants pupate and travel – non-minim ants walking through them will take a speed and attack de-buff as well as suffer damage for a time. This represents the disease that the real-life counterparts of our leafcutters aim to avoid by having dedicated refuse areas. Waste decays and disappears over time – faster for upgraded refuse tiles.

The New Formicarium

“Yes, yes, I know how to use a trowel!”
 – Scientist #2

The colony’s current home is not suitable for the next set of tests. In order to continue the experiment, the scientists will need to relocate the queen to a new Formicarium. She and a few of her workers will be relocated into this new setting, which has a few… extra features.

When this process happens, the colony will need to leave its food, construction and territory behind. However, it will be rewarded an amount of royal jelly for each territory point and item of food (spent or unspent). This can be spent on the new leafcutter majors or any upgrades and improvement the colony needs – this will help it get quickly back up to speed. All upgrade paths and minor improvements will also carry over.

The change will happen just before you move on to tier 3 – in the level selection dialogue there will be a button which will unlock the 3rd tier levels.

What Were We Up To In January?

Last month, John posted some select notes from the source control (update log) of Empires of the Undergrowth, to give a little insight into what each of our developers has been doing. He’s made another post along these lines in the meantime, and as before we think it’d be fun to go through some of these notes and give a little extra commentary to them. We encourage you to read John’s original thread, and indeed sign up for our official forums whilst you’re at it!

  • Changed the way ramps work when the tide rises (ants no longer fall through) – this was the cause of a hardware-specific crash that had plagued us for quite some time. As it turned out, some ants when caught on ramps were falling through them to infinity – and in certain situations this caused a game crash on some systems. A tricky one to fix, but perseverance got us there! This has already been implemented in the current playable build of the game.
  • Tweaked uber resistances – in certain situations and with certain colony setups, some uber creatures had become practically invulnerable. This was an oversight and not intentional – although uber creatures are still extremely tough and deliberately so, there should be fewer situations where they are unbeatable. There’s plenty more tweaking work to be done on freeplay, and indeed once the leafcutter update is done John will be focussing on another freeplay pass.
  • Set tabbed minimaps to always have home nest on the left – the coming updates will enable multiple true colonies in a limited sense. To access their minimaps, there has been a new system made to keep them accessible as tabs behind the player’s own.
  • Ants that enter an enemy colony are now tracked – similar to above, you’ll be invading some other nests if you dare.
  • Subtitles for all levels added – a long-overdue feature and one important for accessibility (and localisation) but one which needs a lot of grunt work. We’re at a point now where we want this functionality to be there going forward – it’s important to the future of the game and our community as a whole.
  • Tweaked the dissolve in various ways – this refers to the visual effect when a foreground object needs to be partially obscured by dithering so you can see through it. It’s particularly important for the Ecuador levels, which have a lot of low-growing foliage.
  • Preparing in-game text for translation – localisation is important for the success of a game. We’re getting there.

Screenshot Central

Looking through the things you guys do with the simple tool of Photo Mode (F9 by default) or otherwise is always an excellent palate cleanser after writing one of these newsletters. It refreshes the soul. By default, F12 will take a screenshot in Steam. You can get it to us by simply uploading to Steam Community (a dialogue box allowing you to do this will pop up when you exit the game) or by manually emailing the screenshot to mike@slugdisco.com.

MorPacke back again with this fanstastic wood ant colony shot
Sinister spider from Daethalion
A valiant effort to ward off an uber beetle in this colourful shot from MasterAntlion


Dec 2018 – Jan 2019 Newletter

Our first newsletter of 2019! A bright, shiny, spanking new year – and it’ll be a big one for ants. After the holiday break the guys are back to working on the 3rd tier Formicairum levels. We’ve also released a couple of glitch-fixing patches in the meantime to deal with some widespread issues. Firstly, let’s get to what’s ready to show from 3.1 and 3.2.

A Formica ereptor queen from MorPacke

Jumping Spider

Salticidae is a widespread family of spiders that can be found all over the world. They travel widely in search of food and do not spin webs to catch prey – instead they actively hunt, using powerful back legs to pounce on unsuspecting prey before it had the chance to react. For this reason, they are known as the jumping spiders.

The species that will appear in Empires of the Undergrowth is Psecas viridipurpureus, a South American resident. It’s brightly-coloured, and even a little cute if you can see past its arachnid form! It sits patiently, turning its body from left to right to allow its highly specialised eyes to scan the environment. When it spots a likely prey item, it perfectly calculates the distance it needs to travel, then pounces.

Bam! Hunting behaviour

Harvestman

The harvestmen are a diverse group of arachnids (order Opiliones). They may colloquially be called daddy longlegs. Although superficially spider-like in appearance, they differ greatly from true spiders in several ways. They have no distinct separation in thorax and abdomen, and only a single pair of eyes. They are further distinguished from spiders by often being generalist, opportunistic feeders rather than predators – a rare trait in arachnids. They might hunt, scavenge or graze. The South American species in our game is sometimes called the “Jason’s mask harvestman” because of the distinctive hockey mask-like pattern on its back.

In-game, the harvestman keeps its body at a safe distance from attackers with its long legs – although the legs themselves can be quite brittle. It may have a cursory nibble at a trail of leafcutter ants, but it will make a quick retreat if it suffers an injury such as the loss of a leg.

Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are small insects that subsist by consuming sap from plants. They’re related to cicadas and spittlebugs. True to their name, when startled or in need of new feeding grounds, they leap many times their height into the air and find another leaf to feed upon. As members of the order Hemiptera, leafhoppers are “true bugs” – insects with specialised mouthparts that feed by sucking.

Sometimes when you design a game, you want to include things purely to set the tone and enrich the world. That’s the case for leafhoppers in Empires of the Undergrowth – they’ll appear in the leafcutter levels to bring a sense of biodiversity to our recreation of the incredibly varied rainforests of Ecuador. The leafcutters obviously do not eat other insects, but their leaf-cutting activities will disturb the leafhoppers!

What Did We Do In December?

One of our developers John took a few minutes to make this post on our official forums during the last week. He details some commits (changes) made to the game source control by himself, Liam and Matt over the course of the Christmas break. Please follow that link and have a look through it yourself, but I thought I’d just highlight a couple of points he included for the sake of intrigue:

  • Balance changes to the refuse chambers – in this commit John is referring to a mechanic that will be introduced with the leafcutter levels, the refuse chambers. Leafcutters grow fungus from their foliage cuttings, and the spent fungus produces waste. It will be the job of minim workers to remove waste from the fungus gardens to the refuse chambers. Failure to have sufficient refuse chambers far enough away from the gardens will have a detrimental effect on the workforce.
  • Focus on large creature patrols – we’ve shown you some fairly big new beasts for the leafcutter levels, but we’ve not shown you everything! There are some things we don’t want to spoil just yet, if at all.
The Spiny Devil – one of the creatures getting several size variations
  • Medium-sized Spiny Devil – like the beach tiger beetles, hermit crabs and wolf spiders in the 2nd tier, several of the rainforest critters will come in several sizes. This includes the spiny devil, praying mantis and harvestman. See the previous newsletter for details on some of those beasties.
  • Leafcutter resource system – resource complexity has a step up with the leafcutters, as a natural increase in complexity makes sense from a gameplay perspective. These things need careful implementation and balancing – and that’s an ongoing process.
  • Leafhoppers and a system to manage them – as well as doing the artwork for our decorative leafhoppers (detailed above) Matt has created a system to handle their behaviour. The other denizens of the rainforest won’t interact directly with the leafhoppers (they jump away much too quick) but they’ll still realistically ping themselves away when approached.
Leafhoppers doing leafhopper stuff

John hopes to continue these sort of posts on an informal basis every so often – just to give a little insight into the day-to-day work that goes into the making of Empires of the Undergrowth. He’ll only be posting them on our own forums, so this is a good time to get yourselves signed up to them and introduce yourselves to our small but friendly community.

The State of Play

We’re getting lots of people (quite rightly) asking how far away the leafcutter update is. We’d like to think that we can recognise things we’re not very good at, and it’s fair to say that estimating our release dates is one of those things. In our experience a missed deadline, even a vague and non-specific one like “winter”, is likely to cause disappointment in our fans and that’s the last thing we want.

The leafcutter levels (3.1, 3.2 and Formicarium Challenge 3) are each an order of magnitude more complex than anything and everything we did in the 1st and 2nd tiers, and it shows in our current testing. Rest assured, although we are taking our time, we are taking our time to do it right and the results will be worth the extra patience you lovely bunch have shown yourselves to have in abundance.

It’s been policy for a while, but to make things explicit – going forward we won’t be giving vague guesstimates – only solid dates when we’re sure of our ability to meet them.

Screenshot Central

As ever, we love trawling through the screenshots on Steam to find the best of the uploads. Take your screenshots on Steam (F12 by default) and upload them once you quit the game. Photo Mode (F9) will help you get some pleasing angles on your snaps! If you’d prefer not to deal with Steam, you can also email your pictures to mike@slugdisco.com.

A festive snap from Smoky
Battle lines from WiseOldWeaboo
An easy-on-the-eye Formica fusca colony from MorPacke


November 2018 Newsletter

With the exception of a few necessary balance changes and fixes for the more recent playable builds, the team’s sole focus for the past month has been the leafcutter update. Over the past few weeks we’ve been showing off some of the progress on the creatures of Ecuadorian jungle where these levels are based. Our artist Matt has been producing amazing work to bring this sublimely rich ecosystem to life within Empires of the Undergrowth. John and Liam have been working on bringing the creatures into the game and figuring out how they interact with our leafcutters. This newsletter will therefore focus mainly on the amazing biodiversity of the rainforest setting. Without further ado, let’s get to having a look at some of these fantastic beasties!

The rainforest at night

Rove Beetles

Rove beetles are a diverse group of insects that can be found the world over – in fact, the European devil’s coach horse that’s already in the game is a kind of rove beetle. The main distinguishing feature for these beetles is the short elytra (wing coverings) that leave most of their backs exposed. Many, many species of rove beetle exist, and some of them are rainforest dwellers. They’ll come into conflict with our leafcutter ants.

Rove beetle larvae

Although leafcutters do not eat other creatures, they are fully aware that other creatures will happily eat them – and so they’ll defend themselves with the same deadly zeal that any self-respecting ant with giant slicing jaws would.

Two varieties of rove beetle adult

Spiny Devil Bush Cricket

The fearsome spiny devil bush cricket (Panacanthus varius) faces off against a leafcutter colony. Covered in defensive spines, this monster may well be guarding some of the choicest leaves for the harvest – which means it must be confronted. Bush crickets are also sometimes known as katydids.

In-game, the spiny devil’s spines will mean that any creature that does damage to it will suffer some damage in return, whether or not it is actually being attacked by the cricket. It also has an area of effect bleed attack which will continue damaging the target for a time after.

The spiny devil is not idly named!

Praying Mantis

The mantids are an iconic group of insects – known for their “praying” folded forelegs and upright posture, as well as their covert hunting techniques. This particular species is a leaf-mimic praying mantis (Pseudoxyops perpulchra), specifically adapted to hide in the foliage with near-perfect leaf camouflage. In its final instar it’s a voracious hunter of insects, using its natural stealth to get close to its quarry.


The leaf-mimic mantis will have a unique stealth ability reflecting its natural prowess at ambush attacks. It will not appear on the minimap – nor will its health bar be visible – until it decides to engage the player. The range at which ants can notice and attack it is also much lower than it is for more conspicuous creatures.

Army Ants

The relentless march of the army ants is legendary. These ants form large colonies, living a nomadic lifestyle. They scour the rainforest, sending out waves of workers to demolish anything in their path to feed their expanding empire. Like many species of ant, they have a distinct caste system. In these pictures we see two separate castes of Eciton burchellii – small and medium-sized workers.

Featured below is the soldier caste – analogous to the large majors that the leafcutter colonies produce. These brutes protect the flanks of the army’s trails from attack. Their large mandibles are more than capable of delivering a killing blow to any number of arthropods and a painful nip to things larger. Unless prepared for battle, it would be advisable for the denizens of the rainforest undergrowth to avoid the trails of the army ants lest they incur the wrath of their imposing protectors.

In Empires of the Undergrowth, the leafcutter colony will encounter army ants overlapping its territory. They represent a strong existential threat – unlike our leafcutters army ants readily eat meat, and the brood of a fledgling leafcutter colony would be a nutritious prize.

One Year On

As of 1st December 2018, it’s been one year since we released the early access version of Empires of the Undergrowth to you all. We’ve had incredible support, love and kindness from all of you and that makes each day we work on the project a joy. Such an ambitious project is not without its difficulties and pitfalls, particularly for such a small team, but with you guys behind us we feel we can achieve everything we’ve set out to do.

The last year has seen some big changes to not just the game, but the lives of those of us on the team. All three of the developers have been able to give up their day jobs to work exclusively on the game. Our entire lives have been restructured around it and that’s a very exciting thing.

As far as the game itself goes, we’re not too far from a huge update in the form of the leafcutter levels. We know you’re all desperate to sink your jaws into them, and we can’t wait to get them out to you. There are still some more surprises in store for this update, and we’ll be teasing a few more of them as we complete the work. Keep an eye on our social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – for those.

So, here’s to the future! And here’s to you all, you lovely bunch. Continue being awesome.

YouTuber Highlight – Flexible Games

Flexible Games / Buggi has been playing Empires of the Undergrowth diligently for several weeks now. What’s made his playthrough fun to watch for us as developers is that he’s gone into the game blind, with very little knowledge of what’s in store. Genuine reactions like this are often hard to come by, and it’s been an experience watching him get to grips with the systems. Here’s part 1 of the extensive series – he’s now completed the current campaign levels and moved on to Freeplay.

Screenshot Central

Once again it’s time to have a look through the Steam screenshot gallery for our favourite submissions of the past few weeks. As always, that’s the easiest way to get them to us (F12 by default from Steam) – but if you want you can email them directly to mike@slugdisco.com.

Testing the limits in Battle Arena in this snap from xw_elite06_wx

A funnel web spider claims a victim from z0mbiesrock

A simple, pleasing shot of a wood ant queen from M O T H

September / October 2018 Newsletter – Interim Update

Winter is… approaching. Since the last newsletter we’ve released what we’ve called the “interim update”, version 0.13 – interim meaning between Freeplay and the upcoming major update. That update introduced the planned challenge modes to the 2nd tier Formicarium levels, added a new level to Freeplay, addressed several issues, and included a spooky spider-based extra that you guys seemed to have a lot of fun with. In the meantime, the guys have also been working solidly on the next set of levels for the game, which of course will feature leafcutter ants. Let’s dive in and see how we’ve been doing!

V0.13- Interim Update

Our intent when releasing the Interim Update was to fill in some clearly missing gaps in the game as it stands, consolidate the game systems for future updates (and deal with issues arising from those system changes sooner rather than later), as well as giving you guys some fun extra stuff to do in the meantime. We also re-designed the main menu for clarity, going back to a more traditional system.

Tiger Beetle Larvae

The 2nd tier Formicarium levels (2.1 Rising Tide, and 2.2 Queen of the Hill) have gained their own challenge mode. In the 1st tier levels, activating challenge mode introduced a new creature to the fray (the mole cricket). In keeping with that spirit, the 2nd tier introduces the beach tiger beetle larvae – the juvenile form of the tiger beetles that are found in these levels. They live in small burrows in the sand, hiding away for safety but listening for the vibrations of a suitable meal. They will snatch ants away one at a time, then quickly kill them – and it is in that brief moment alone that they are vulnerable.

All about the beach tiger beetle larvae

We’ve particularly enjoyed seeing some of our more seasoned players reacting to the difference the presence these critters makes to the level experience – on higher difficulties, the number of larvae that spawn can be huge! As always, there’s a way to overcome these difficult odds with skill and experience.

Towhead

Towhead is a brand new Freeplay level. It’s set on a small island or sandbank near the mouth of a river, and has some features that make it an entirely different experience to The Dunes (our first Freeplay map). Firstly, it’s a lot smaller which makes the experience of jostling for resources significantly more intense. It also has a unique element – a periodic flood, which will purge the lower level of the map of all creatures. This is an optional addition to the map, but if activated it adds an extra thought and planning element to your food collection.

Towhead in all its glory

The release of Towhead also saw some necessary balance changes to Freeplay in general. After listening to some feedback by players, we’ve changed it so that at lower difficulty early game time, only lower-level creatures will spawn. This change happened in patch 0.133 – click here to read the full notes from that patch.

Minor Improvements System

The Minor Improvements System has been added as a way to spend spare Royal Jelly. Some players have been sitting on a cache of jelly with no way to spend it, and some players find themselves with some left over after they’ve purchased their desired upgrades. The MIS allows players to spend initially small amounts of jelly to make improvements to their ant’s stats. The amount of jelly this costs will increase exponentially after multiple purchases, so there is a practical limit to how much a colony’s ants can be upgraded.

The Minor Improvements System in action

To access this new system, open up the Royal Jelly Tech Tree Menu from the top-left of the Formicarium hub. Select the icon of the kind of ant that you’d like to improve, and choose the jelly icon that pops up.

Please don’t feel that you need to grind for Royal Jelly to use this feature; it really isn’t intended to be used that way (hence the increasing cost for additional improvements)! It’s more a way of spending left over jelly efficiently before you progress to the next Formicarium tier.

Extra / Improved Dialogue & Audio

We’ve recently done our recording sessions for the third Formicarium tier levels with our three voice actors. It all went swimmingly, but while we were at it we asked them to record some extra bits and pieces that we felt were missing from the existing game content. This is most apparent in Freeplay, where the narrator now introduces your fledgling colony to its world when the game starts.

Scientist #2 will also give some vocal indication when he drops food on the Formicarium surface during the gateway missions, and we’ve re-recorded Scientist #1’s voice lines entirely with better recording equipment. Whilst doing that, just about all the game’s audio has gone through improved filtering for consistency and clarity.

Ant Movement / Swarming

In preparation for the aforementioned major update, the code that governs the movement of ants about the nest and above ground has undergone an extensive re-write. Leafcutter ants, which will feature in the major update to come have a complex, multi-caste society and getting them moving efficiently around their environment has necessitated the creation of several new systems for movement and swarming. These are now also driving ant movement in the current build of the game – but you shouldn’t notice a huge difference right now.  We’re laying the groundwork for the future with these changes.

Swarming ants

Hungry Spider Level

It was a pleasure to be able to have a little surprise ready for you all in time for Halloween! We’re delighted with how well the Hungry Spider level was received. For those who didn’t catch, it, a cobweb appeared on the main menu, which when clicked would take you to a special level where you play as a ravenous wolf spider, with your aim to consume everything in your path. It’s a devilishly difficult level, with not many managing to complete it.

Some members of our community have written fantastic guides on how to tackle this fiendish level, which was unexpected and awesome. If you didn’t get a chance to play, don’t worry – the cobweb will return whenever there’s a full moon!

It was great for me (community manager – Mike) to get a cameo in the game as the voice of the hungry spider!)

Leafcutter Progress

Whilst all this has been going on with the interim update, of course the guys have been hard at work with the third tier Formicarium levels. In the last newsletter we showed you all about the different castes that leafcutter ant society has, but this time we’d like to focus on their environment. As previously mentioned they will feature leafcutter ants, and are set in the subtropical rainforests of Ecuador. Our artist Matt has been hard at work producing some beautiful landscapes for our leafcutters to inhabit.

One of the beautiful Ecuador maps in all its glory

The above screenshot is from level 3.2 – we’re keeping the level names to ourselves for now, but you can see the detail that Matt has included to make these levels entirely unique to the beach environment that is featured in 2.1 and 2.2

Isn’t it kind of cheating to use this?

As for the question of when we expect the leafcutter update to be ready, we have to be careful – history has repeatedly told us that we’re not very good at judging release dates, but we’re in pretty good company in that regard – even the really big studios have trouble pinning it down. Rest assured, Major Update 1 (as it’s described in our internal plan) is in good hands, and we appreciate the kind patience of you lovely bunch.

Leafcutter Enemies – Trap Jaw Ants

Leafcutters share their rainforest home with many other impressive animals. Trap jaw ants are one of their many foes, boasting the fastest-moving predatory appendage in the animal kingdom. Their jaws are so fast that they can close within microseconds, maiming their targets, or even using them to catapult foes or themselves away.

The leafcutters will encounter these ants in their various trials, and they’re fearsome opponents.

YouTuber of the Month

Dad’s Gaming Addiction

DGA is a long-time follower of Empires of the Undergrowth and we always enjoy watching his relaxed, considered gameplay. He was one of the first to put up a play of the Hungry Spider level on YouTube, and although he may have been a little surprised at how hard the enemy wolf spiders bite, he came back for more anyway!

Freeplay High Score

Let’s introduce a little competitive element to Freeplay. The current highest-documented Freeplay score belongs to JaXm at 6,360,777, and he posted the screenshot on 31st July 2018 to prove it. Can you do better? Upload your screenshot to Steam or post it on our forums to let us know if you’ve unseated the current champion!

Impressive!

Screenshot Central

In making these newsletters, it’s always a cleansing experience to have a gander at the screenshots you lovely people have been uploading – because when captured at the right time, Empires of the Undergrowth can be a very pretty game. If you’d like to participate, submit your screenshots to Steam (F12 by default) or email them to mike@slugdisco.com!

A boquet of beetles from Martino

How could we pass up Limey21 with a total mastery of golden hour screenshots?

 

We couldn’t ignore the beautiful layout of Enablin’s base – look at the minimap to see what we mean!

August 2018 Newsletter

Greetings all! We hope you’ve enjoyed your summer. Time moves on relentlessly, and as we chug the first pumpkin spice latte of autumn we’ve made significant strides in the progress of the leafcutter levels as well as plenty of other exciting things. We’ve recorded with our voice artists Mary Jo, Eric and Callum (Scientist 1, Scientist 2 and Narrator respectively) for the next levels and we’re delighted with their work. Before we conclude our work on 3.1, 3.2 and Formicarium Challenge 3, there are some missing bits and pieces in the existing game that need finalising in preparation. Our current plan is to do an interim update between now and the leafcutter update, and that’s going to be fairly soon. Let’s get on to what that’ll include!

A lovely green Formica ereptor colony from jasong

The Interim Update

2nd Tier Challenge Mode

The interim update will include the challenge mode for levels 2.1 Rising Tide and 2.2 Queen of the Hill. It was always our intent for each tier to have its own special mode with an extra challenge – and we’re now at the point that we want to get this all up to date before any new levels arrive.

Beach Tiger Beetle Larvae

A screenshot of the beach tiger beetle larva in progress

Activating challenge mode on the 2nd tier levels will introduce lightning-fast beach tiger beetle larvae to the fray. Even in their larval forms, the beach tiger beetles are extremely deadly. They live in small burrows, lying in wait for a hapless victim to pass by – which they then grab with frightening speed. Matt has done some beautiful work bringing these living nightmares to our game – have a look at the screenshot below.


Small Improvements System

We have introduced a new way of spending royal jelly to improve certain aspects of your formicarium colony. The type of tweaks that can be made depend on the creatures themselves, but there are 2 types for workers and queens and 4 for the black ant soldiers and wood ant ranged units (there will also be 4 for the leafcutter majors when they arrive).

Spending jelly will give a stat improvement. This can be done multiple times but will cost much more each time you do it. It’ll also be a way for those of you who are sitting on a cache of royal jelly to spend some of it before the next update (but don’t feel like you have to grind for it – you don’t!). The exact ins-and-outs of this new system will be detailed when the patch comes.

Narration

The recent recording sessions with our lovely voice actors have given us the opportunity to add some dialogue we felt was missing from certain points of the current game – particularly in freeplay. There will be some extra narration for this game mode, as well as some small bits and pieces for the campaign levels.

New Freeplay Map – Towhead

Whilst you’ve been getting heartily stuck into Freeplay and the response has been great, we realise that there’s not much in the way of variety at the moment. To that end, the interim update will include a brand new Freeplay map! Towhead is set on a small sandbank in a body of water, which has some interesting implications for resource gathering. It hasn’t been decorated yet but you can see how things are shaping up from the in-editor screenshot below.

The work-in-progress Towhead. Note the unusually-shaped underground spaces!

And now, back to the leafcutter update…

Leafcutter Ants

Artwork Progress

Whilst previous levels were set on a beach in a temperate environment, the next set of levels take place in the humid subtropical rainforests of Ecuador with its clay-rich soil. This gives a distinct red hue to the underground.

The leafcutter queen beneath the rainforest soil

Various castes of Atta cephalotes patrol their nest

We also have luminous fungal growths illuminating our Leafcutter colony instead of the crystals from the beach levels – a little extra flavour given that the leafcutters themselves are fungus farmers!

Illuminated by fungal growths!

Leafcutter Animations

Here’s the current animations for the leafcutter major. Pay particular attention to that leaf-cutting action – after all, that’s what leafcutters are born to do.

Leafcutter Development Montage

Liam put together this little montage of test material showing the various ways that the leafcutters are being worked on. You can see an example of the upcoming size hierarchy system that will allow some ants to literally run under the legs of bigger ones, as well as seeing some of the vertical ant movement that Matt has been working on to allow leafcutters to collect cuttings from leaves above floor level. There’s also a small audio snippet of what Scientist #2 is up to in the next update. Frankly, he scares us.

Streamlining Level Design

Anyone who has watched the live streams will have seen how putting levels together is a time consuming process (even ones that do not have a story), so to help with this we have developed plugins for Unreal Engine. These allow us to change tiles with a variable size spherical tool in many ways (raise, lower, dig out, make indestructible and even paint) not only speeding up level design but making it more intuitive.

Please note that although this time-saving measure is a good thing for the project, we are not currently planning to release a level editor for the game. For now these are UE4 plugins that benefit us – if everything is going well when the game graduates from early access, we might revisit the level editor idea. But not yet!

Twitch Streams

There has been little in the way of live streaming recently – and for good reason. John likes to keep his streams relatively spoiler-free, and pretty much all of his current work has been leafcutter-related. We don’t want to spoil all that good stuff for you prematurely.

YouTuber Highlight – ManOfTheAntz

It’s rare that we see an EotU-playing YouTuber who’s also an antkeeper IRL, so of course we’re going to watch their videos when we do. ManOftheAntz plays the game from a remarkably unbiased perspective, given the subject matter, and manages to be damned entertaining whilst he does it. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching his trials and tribulations with EotU, and we look forward to seeing how he does with the upcoming content!

Screenshot Central

As has fast become a tradition for the newsletter, we like to trawl through Steam screenshot uploads and manually-emailed submissions (send them to mike@slugdisco.com) for fun screenshots. F12 does it by default on Steam, if you’d like to participate.

The ants go marching 4 by 4, hurrah! Thanks to Johathon for emailing this in

The destruction of an uber devil’s coach horse by joshua.schneider

A never-ending battle? Crabs vs crabs in the Battle Arena from Bilbo Baggins

June / July Newsletter 2018

Greetings everyone! This has been another one of those months where the general timings and various circumstances have meant we’ve not managed to get the newsletters done to the regular schedule – so enjoy this newsletter for both June and July! The biggest news since the last newsletter is obviously the release of Freeplay mode on the main branch. It’s been available for everyone for several weeks beforehand in beta form, so those of you who were most keen are likely to have been fairly familiar with it when it finally landed for everyone on 2nd July. We’ve also got some great progress to show you with our next Formicarium update – Leaf Cutters ants!

Freeplay Released!

The reaction to Freeplay has been very positive – you’ve been enjoying these longer-form games and the ability to save your progress in it has been welcomed warmly (even if getting the save system working has accelerated John’s aging process!). There’s still plenty we are planning to do with Freeplay mode – balance changes, more maps, more environments, more creatures, fully autonomous enemy ant colonies – all that good stuff is still in its future. For now, John has joined Liam and Matt to crank up development on the next set of levels, but Freeplay will be revisited soon. After new content is created for the next set of levels, it will be integrated into Freeplay like the content from the first two Formicarium tiers is currently.

Some crazy late-game Freeplay action here from Steam user Jumbo6565

It’s been great fun seeing your Freeplay setups, from those who just want a nice chilled out, slow base-building experience to the fearless guys who crank up the difficulty all the way from the start! The current documented high score for a finished game that starts at max difficulty is very nearly 4 million on our official forums by Balanite – can you do any better?

Leaf Cutter Progress

Those of you who have been following us on our social media accounts likely know that we’re deep into the creation of the next set of levels now, and we have plenty of art assets that the talented Matt has been working on. Leaf cutters are our next species of ant – Atta cephalotes to be precise, a South American species with some impressive traits. They’re fungus farmers – they gather leaves from the surrounding environment and place them in chambers in their nest, where a fungus that has a mutualistic relationship with the ants will grow. The ants ensure the propagation of the fungus, and the fungus provides the ants with food.

Boasting four different worker castes, introducing this species to the game promises to bring some much-needed natural increase in complexity as the player progresses through the Formicarium campaign. Below are all of the completed ant models and a description of the caste they represent. Please note that in these pictures we’ve put the ants in the beach environment, for the sake of having them not floating in space – in their final levels they’ll inhabit an entirely new biome – the rain forest.

Queen

No leaf is safe …. bow down to your Queen.

The mighty Leaf Cutter queen

Despite forming some of the most complex societies on Earth, Atta cephalotes is not a multi-queen species as many ants are. There is one queen who can live for up to fifteen years and she’s rather large. Below you can see her compared to our fictional Formica ereptor queen (the species that inhabits your Formicarium).

The Leaf Cutter queen compared to the Formica ereptor one

Minims

The smallest members of Leaf Cutter society – the minims – are positively dwarfed by their mother. These tiny ants rarely, if ever, leave the nest – instead they work tirelessly to tend to the fungus gardens the Leaf Cutters rely upon to survive.

Minims are tiny compared to all other castes – here’s one with the queen

In our current design the minims are not directly controllable by the player – in fact they’re so tiny that enemies will practically ignore them too; but they can get damaged by crossfire. Rather than having their own brood chambers, a number of them will spawn for each brood tile placed for another caste. They’re not just there for decoration, though – they have an important role in mulching the leaves gathered by other castes into the final form that can grow fungus.

Minors

After the minims, the next members of Leaf Cutter society are the minors. Being substantially bigger than the minims, these ants join the foraging trails, tend to larvae, cut and collect leaves, and help defend the nest from predators and other threats.

Minors will take on the EotU worker-like role

Leaf Cutter minors will take on a very similar role to the worker ants from the current species. Versatile units which form the backbone of the work force.

Mediae

Next are the medium-sized media ants. These bad girls are much bigger than the minors, and they pack a serious bite with their slicing jaws. Formidable fighters in their own right, they’re perfectly adapted for a life of cutting and collecting foliage for their colony’s fungus gardens. A solid combat unit with strong resource gathering potential.

Now we’re getting to the big girls!

Majors

In awe of the size of these ladies. Meet the Leaf Cutter majors – the deadly tanks of Atta cephalotes, and the largest of their species with the exception of the queen. These absolute units are huge soldiers – whilst they will collect leaves for the fungus gardens their main role is to fight and protect the colony. Huge muscles are housed in their heads which power mighty crushing jaws – they can easily cut through leaf, chitin and skin alike.

A Leaf Cutter major slicing effortlessly through foliage

Leaf Cutter majors will have either a “taunt” or a “stun” ability (player’s choice, in the same way as rapid fire or mortar for the wood ants), representing their imposing presence on the battlefield. Taunt will make enemies want to attack them preferentially, whereas stun will temporarily disable nearby foes. Combined with their high health pool, this means they can efficiently distract whilst other units such as mediae get in extra damage to the affected creatures. They will also have an extremely powerful attack – although it is slower than that of their smaller brood mates.

A comparison of all of the Leaf Cutter castes

As you can see, Atta cephalotes is our first truly polymorphic species, with clear caste divisions throughout the colony. Although we do have “workers” and “soldiers” in the existing species, we’ve taken a little artistic license there since most Formica species are relatively homogeneous. Leaf Cutters show true diversity, and we’re excited to get that into the game properly.

We’re always a bit hesitant when it comes to estimating release dates for things – in no small part because we’ve proven ourselves to be pretty terrible at it. The plan on our road map says late summer – and that’s still our aim. As always, this is not a promise – software development is such a complex subject that you can easily spend much longer on a problem than you thought you’d need to (and vice versa). That said, Liam will be recording with our voice actors soon and is making daily strides with his systems for fully-fledged enemy colonies, John is feeling energised after being able to work on something other than Freeplay and getting stuck into some Atta cephalotes AI action, and Matt is pumping out artwork and novel solutions to difficult stuff like vertical ant movement like it’s his job. Which it is.

Screenshot Central

We sometimes like to show off some of the more aesthetically pleasing screenshots uploaded by our community – do it through Steam (F12 by default; it’ll give you upload options when you end the game session), or you can email them to mike@slugdisco.com.

Good capture of Devil’s Coach Horse beetle using its spray attack by KLOGO-hoPPeR

A rather pleasing nest layout from Roflcopterkklol – almost looks like a beetle!

The low light of dusk, a splash of colour from the marker, a pleasing snap by Sammiday