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

May 2018 Newsletter

Good afternoon, morning and variations thereupon ladies and gentlemen. We’re back to the monthly newsletters after the dual one last time – we’re about to pick up pace on the news front! It’s very near the end of the transitory phase now – all three developers are full-time on the project from now on, and we’re finalising the plans for everything going forward. However, we do have to give a special mention to one of our team – John, our lead Freeplay developer, has been celebrating the arrival of his baby daughter. Congrats to him on the expansion of his colony!

Freeplaying All Day

The Freeplay beta is continuing and we’re still digesting all of your feedback. Remember, even if you don’t get a direct response from Mike or another team member for your suggestion or bug report, we are reading all of it. There’s just so much to read that it’s not feasible to always reply, but we do our best! John is currently finishing off the saving system. Once he’s done with that and a few other pressing changes have been made, it’ll be time to put it on the main branch so that all owners of the game can play it. You can still join in the optional beta testing (without saving) right now if you haven’t yet – see the top of our previous newsletter for instructions. The beta is for Windows only, but when we put Freeplay on the main branch Linux and Mac users will also be able to access it.

A very ordered nest layout and lovely poppy display in this Freeplay playthrough by Switch

Full-Time Boys – Liam

Last time, we reported that John was able to quit his job and go full-time on the project. We’re delighted to report that now, Liam has done so too – completing our trio of developers now working full-time. Up until a couple of months back, only Matt was dedicating his whole professional time to the project. We feel a bit like a record on repeat in saying it, but it’s entirely true – only the support of our fans has allowed this to happen. Making the leap of leaving a long-held job for the unknown future of a home-grown project is a terrifying step – and one that we’ve only been able to take because of you guys. We owe you a really good game in return, and we’re going to make that happen.

Enjoy these picture of Liam finishing his last day at his old academic job in Germany – getting in some last-minute ant revision, then enjoying his final currywurst before returning the the UK to work full-time on Empires of the Undergrowth.

Artifical Antelligence (why didn’t I use this title last time?)

Liam is now working full-pelt on the AI for a computer controlled colony. Whilst we have some basic AI options for colony control in the project, these currently boil down to scripted enemies with pre-built bases, sending waves out on regular timers. The current task of having a fully independent AI player, able to make informed decisions is a much taller order! This week the computer controlled colony (known in the project as “Hive Bot”) is being taught how to detect and avoid dangerous caverns whilst digging underground, or how to incorporate them into their base. For a human player, it is easy to spot the red exclamation marks hovering below the surface, but Hive Bot needs a little more help. In the picture you can see our new cavern data object; this is what the bot will see and will give it an idea of how much food and danger might be present if it digs through.

The Hive Bot’s helping hand

The implication here is that AI colonies will, for all intents and purposes, operate in the same way that a human player does. They’ll start off with a queen and a few workers, evaluate their surroundings, then decide on an appropriate form of expansion. The solution they decide upon will be different each time the game is played. Properly functional AI colonies are essential for our plans for the next tier of the Formicarium campaign mode, and will also be integrated into Freeplay.

Choosing Ant Species

A lot of thought goes into the selection of ant species we include in the game. Not least because once we commit, we have to put serious time into them! Both Formica fusca and Formica rufa were chosen primarily for being iconic temperate ant species – and the rufas obviously for their real-life acid spraying abilities, which fitted our RTS-style game rather well! For leaf cutters, we chose a fairly ubiquitous species with Atta cephalotes (picture below) which has lots of polymorphism (in-species different body shapes, allowing us to have fun with different castes of ant). In the very old versions of the game, there were many more ant species but they were much less fleshed out. Our philosophy now is definitely “less is more” – fewer species, but more love given to each one.

Atta cephalotes – the selected leaf cutter species

We’ll be showing some of the artwork for leaf cutters as we complete it. As an interesting note, we do stretch reality somewhat in the game but where we can we want to be realistic – so we recently asked one of our favourite entomology groups how they’d feel about the realism of Atta cephalotes coming into conflict with an as-yet unannounced species. They gave it the thumbs up! It’s nice to have those checks in place.

Zealous Emerge

We were invited along to the Zealous Emerge awards a couple of weeks back. It was a fun event – and Empires of the Undergrowth won in the game section! Seeing that only his name is engraved on the trophy, Liam is currently taking quotes from contractors for a custom-built shelf to house it. We would like to thank the judges and the organizers for all of their help, particularly Guy Armitage who has spent the last week beating the game (but certainly not during work). We were joined in our booth by AsobiTech and their magical flying cat game Mao Mao, it’s loud and colourful and should be coming to several different platforms this year. We wish them the best of luck with their launch

Screenshot Central

Time to showcase some of our favourite screenshots of the past few weeks! Keep uploading your shots to Steam, or submit them via email to mike@slugdisco.net. Remember you can enter photo mode by pressing F8 (by default) to get some really cool angles for your shots.

AK_tion_47 proves he’s still the king of Freeplay screenshots with this stunner

A simple but aesthetically pleasing shot of a Formica fusca queen by 3Rk4n

Welp…. Slam was unlucky enough to be attacked by two uber creatures in Freeplay. RIP

March / April Newsletter 2018

Well met, one and all, for the March / April newsletter! As many of you know, a lot has happened since our last newsletter – the most important of which is the public release of the Freeplay beta. If you weren’t aware of that and would like to participate, there are details on how to do so in the rather extensive section below this arbitrary introduction. In fact, let’s end this arbitrary introduction and get straight to the best bit.

There are some pretty amazing Freeplay setups – like this one from Steam user Enablin

Freeplay Beta

We’ve been working on Freeplay – a mode without a definite endgame and intended to take a long time – since shortly after early access release. The idea is to give players the opportunity to run a colony at their own pace, and deal with threats to it as they come along. A selection of choices in how the difficulty changes means that (hopefully) it will be a different experience each time.

Want to fill your entire underground with ants? Beta tester Pontus Meths did – and it took an afternoon.

Freeplay works in such a way that initial starting conditions affect the long-term outcome of the game. These are very difficult to judge, and we’ve been asking for feedback on it by making a public beta for all owners of the game on Steam. If you haven’t heard about this yet and would like to participate, and you are on a Windows system, please follow the steps below:

1) Find Empires of the Undergrowth in your Steam library, right-click on it and choose “Properties”
2) Choose the “Betas” tab
3) In the box titled “Enter beta access code to unlock private betas”, enter the following code: betatestants
4) After the “Access code correct” information appears, make sure you’ve chosen the beta from the “Select the beta you would like to opt into” drop-down menu
5) Press close – the game will now update to the beta branch.

By doing so, you are acknowledging that this is a beta and things are not in their finished state. The biggest issue currently is that THERE IS NO SAVE FEATURE IN THE BETA. If you would like to play for a while, clear some hours in your schedule! The main Freeplay release will feature saving but that feature is not ready yet.

It’s all going on in this busy Freeplay screenshot from Steam user AK_tion_47

There is a small inherent risk that save files might become corrupted when testing beta, due to the fundamental changes the game has undergone in the time since the last patch. We don’t expect this to happen, but just in case we strongly recommend you back up your formicarium saves before you play:

You will find your saves on Windows in:
C:\Users\[YOUR USER NAME]\AppData\Local\EotU\Saved\SaveGames

Note that AppData is usually hidden; you can either un-hide the folder in the files settings or just type it into the bar. If you make a copy of this folder and save it somewhere else, you can restore your saves by replacing this folder with the backed up one.

The beta will be getting some changes – and we’re working on the save system. Right now you can’t save, but since it’s a mode designed to last several hours we will want the save system working before we release it on the main branch. Your feedback is much appreciated – please visit our forums (either on Steam or our own official ones).  At this point we’re interested in bug reports and balance issues rather than ideas for new content. The finished update will of course be available for Mac and Linux but right now for testing purposes it’s Windows-only.

Freeplay’s Uber creatures in all their glory – showing their characteristic glow

GamesMaster – Full Circle

In their very young days, developer John and community manager Mike (who is typing this in third person and feeling a bit weird about it) went to the GamesMaster exhibition. Back then, GamesMaster was a TV show hosted by Dominic Diamond and the late, great Sir Patrick Moore – it still exists in the form of a very popular monthly magazine. We were utterly delighted to see a review of the early access build in their most recent publication, and even more delighted when we saw how kind it was. The article only exists in print form so here we’re linking a tweet by its author, Leon Hurley.

Artificial Hivetelligence

Essential to the next set of single-player levels is a fully autonomous AI to control enemy colonies – Liam, who is leading the development of this feature, has called it “HiveBot”. It will work intelligently to play the game in a similar way that a human player would – digging out a nest underground, placing pheromone markers, evaluating its options, identifying sources of food and tactically deciding what and when to attack.

As well as being needed for the next set of levels (which as revealed previously will feature leaf cutter ants, Atta cephalotes), HiveBot will be integrated into Freeplay mode! The current freeplay map, The Dunes, has four underground spaces and the player is randomly assigned one of them on game setup. AI-controlled colonies will be an optional addition, cropping up in one of the unused underground spaces that the player doesn’t occupy. Future Freeplay maps will follow a similar format.

In the below video, you can see the HiveBot deciding how it’s going to dig out its underground nest space, both in the presence and absence of obstacles in its way. It tries to be efficient – in EotU it’s usually best to build your nest chambers in a hexagonal pattern where you can, for tile efficiency – and to have corridors that ants can use to efficiently move through the nest space.

Battle Arena

The Battle Arena is a feature that is intended to help the player work out how army and creature compositions play off against each other, and due to some speedy work by John we’ve been able to include it in the currently active beta build along with Freeplay. If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question “who would win – 150 ants or 25 tiger beetles?” then you need look no further. This feature is included in the beta build detailed above but will otherwise be accessible for all players soon.

Full-time Boys – John

Matt has been full-time on the project for a good long while now. John took this unassuming yet poignant selfie a few weeks back – it’s him packing up the remainder of his belongings at his previous day job. John is now a full-time Slug Disco developer, and his day job is Empires of the Undergrowth! This has only been possible due to the amazing love and support you guys – our community – have given to the project. Liam will soon be joining him, and then all of our developers will be full-time on the project.

John on his last day at his old day job – he was devastated!

Entomology Society 2018

John and Mike took a day out to visit Harper Adams University – we set up a booth for the game at the Entomology Society outreach event. The idea is to get secondary-school aged people interested in entomology (insect studies) – and for some crazy reason the organizers thought having video games involved may help attract that clientele. This was the second time we’ve been to this event, and it’s been a cracker both times. It’s great fun meeting young people considering a career in science.

Screenshot Central

As always, we love seeing the interesting screenies you guys capture – so here are three of our favourites from the last few weeks! If you’d like a more interesting camera angle for your screenshot, hit F9 (by default) and follow the instructions. Please keep uploading your favorite shots to Steam – that’s the easiest way for us to see them. Otherwise, email them to mike@slugdisco.com

Caught in the act of hatching – by Steam user The PILOT

A remarkably detailed yet hapless morsel – by Steam user MrDolly

An almost Brutalist nest layout in this Freeplay screenshot from Steam user Inixus

February 2018 Newsletter

Hi all – gosh, March already! Time flies when you’re having fun – and for that reason it certainly flies when you’re developing a game about ants. We’ve recently been assessing the way we tell you all about the future of the project, and we realize there’s a deep need for us to communicate better – as we posted in a mini-update a couple of weeks ago. Although we have been developing Empires of the Undergrowth for several years, we only launched on Steam in December and therefore we’re new to having a big community that we have responsibilities to. We want you guys to feel justifiably assured that things are progressing well (as they are) – and for this reason we’re going to be doing our best to communicate here. We’ve been doing these newsletters for some time – but this is the first time we’ve worked out that we can actually post them properly formatted to Steam, rather than just a link to elsewhere. Always learning.

Screenshot credit: Garenator on Steam

We’re certain that we don’t want to rush – and that’s always been the case. Our modus operandi has been quality first – ultimately, we’re making our dream game here and we want it to be great just as much as you do. Given our limited resources (our team size is 3) we’ve made decisions – like not releasing small, incremental updates and instead focusing on the bigger picture with larger updates. That’s because the whole process of an update is a drain of resources and time. In a larger team or for a game of lesser scope, this might be doable. We feel we’re in the right place here.

With that clarified, due to many understandable requests, we’ve made what is often referred to by makers of early access products as a “road map”.

Road Map

A road map refers to a rough outline of how a developer intends their project to progress. It’s usually an abridged version of the internal plan the developer has, as it is in our case. This is ours for the remainder of 2018.


You’ll notice that it’s rather vague – this is deliberate; as we’ll talk about later in the newsletter – software development is so unpredictable that even the most seasoned veterans have real difficulty in pinning down exact release dates. However, you can see that we plan on releasing the third tier of the Formicarium in the summer (Major Update 1), and the Freeplay mode before that. All of this, by necessity, comes with the caveat that it’s subject to change.

Freeplay

John, after moving house, has been continuing his work on Freeplay mode. He’s recently been working on the vast amount of options that the mode will allow – the difficulty slider will feed in to many different things that affect how the game will play. In this stream recorded in February, you can see him tweaking things such as creature temperament, and connecting all the disparate systems that need to work in harmony in order for this game mode to become a reality.

A poppy head “landmark” – this will drop seeds for your colony in Freeplay

It’s clear from the complexity of Freeplay that a lot of its enjoyment factor will come down to the setting of parameters – and for this reason it’s definitely going to be a mode that will be balanced and tweaked extensively. We’re going to need your feedback on that one – and that brings us to the matter of when we release it. As mentioned earlier (and is discussed more extensively below) deciding on an exact release date in this line of work is folly until you’re sure – and even giving vague guesstimates is usually pointless. The best we can give on this is “a few weeks”. We hope you guys understand why.

A tiger beetle guards a dead fish in Freeplay

John is continuing his streaming after a short break for the aforementioned house move – it’s usually on a Thursday afternoon, Greenwich mean time. For now, John is working the notice on his day job and that will continue until the Easter break. After that, he’s a bona fide full-time Empires of the Undergrowth developer and the streams are likely to become more scheduled and regular.

A landmark occupied by aphids – landmarks can take a wide variety of forms.

A Little About Leaf Cutters

As previously announced, the next species of ant added to the game will be Atta cephalotes – a South American leaf cutter ant. These ants don’t eat meat – although they can give you a particularly nasty defensive nip with those huge mandibles, they’re in it purely for the leaves. The colony forms distinct trails as it searches for suitable leaves, before cutting them down in a variety of ways and transporting them back to the nest. Here, the leaves decompose due to a mutual relationship the ants have with a special kind of fungus – and it is the fungal growth itself that the ants feed upon.

Although we’ve had a bit of variation of sizes between ants before (between workers, soldiers and upgraded ants) that’s just peanuts to leaf cutters. Atta cephalotes is a very distinctly polymorphic species – meaning it has within it several “castes” of ant that exhibit obviously different traits. The “minors” are undeniably tiny compared to the “majors” – which can be several times as long and more than 100 times the mass of the minors. They have unusually-shaped heads that house the huge muscles needed to power their slicing jaws. There is also an intermediate “medium” caste.

An Atta cephalotes major, giant mandibles and head muscles visible. Photo by Alex Wild.

In our game, the majors will certainly be formidable in combat – huge, imposing and a target for enemies (we will be introducing a “taunt” mechanic that makes enemies want to attack them preferentially). However, all 3 of the castes will be intrinsically involved in what leaf cutters do best – cutting leaves. Each one will have a distinct role that, when used efficiently, will speed up production of your colony-sustaining fungus. We don’t want to spoil it too much, so we’ll leave it there for now!

Dealing With Delays aka “when it’s done”

So, a bit of self-reflection and commentary on development as a whole for this section of the newsletter. “When it’s done” has become a meme relating to game development for good reason. We suddenly have a large audience – and with that comes expectations. That’s been a bit daunting but we’d like to think we’re learning quickly from the experience.

Delays are frustrating for both developers and consumers. It’s a considerable risk to even give an estimate of when a feature or product will be ready without total certainty. A recent example that unexpectedness for us is the way that we’ve been decorating our levels – the Unreal Engine that powers our game has changed in such a way that the method we were using is no longer viable. So, Matt has been working on a custom plugin to help him do the artwork – as a necessity, but it’s a drain on time we couldn’t have predicted before it happened. On the plus side, in this case – the new method comes with a performance boost.

In 2015 we failed our first Kickstarter – and took a philosophical approach to our failings. We’re always learning.

Communication is key – from the point of view of our small team of 3 developers and 1 social media guy, 3 months is not a long time between updates – however, in the eyes of the consumer who is used to quick patches for their games, it sets off alarm bells that the game is abandoned (we’ve heard that word used more than once in concerned forum posts). This isn’t the case – we’re just a smaller team and things are going to take time to be done properly. We don’t have the resources of the team behind the excellent Factorio, for example.

In a small way the early access model doesn’t help these concerns – people know they are paying for an incomplete product and therefore have to have some faith that the investment they’re making now will be returned by a great complete product. We’d just like to assure you all that things are progressing well, and the deep transitional phase that Slug Disco is currently undergoing will soon be finished. Once is it, we’ll have 3 full-time developers working on Empires of the Undergrowth.

Screenshot Central

We like to trawl through the Steam screenshots of EotU every so often. Here’s a few of our favorites from the past few weeks! To get some great screenshots yourself press F9 (by default) in-game to enter Photo Mode.

It’s all about that butt – because that’s where the eggs come from. Credit: Serafine

Invaders! Credit: Charles the Bald

Sorry beetle, but our queen is hungry. Credit: vervedan

What We’re Up To – How EotU Is Coming Along

Hi ant fans! We’re increasingly hearing complaints that we’re not being communicative enough. We do our best – but we’re new to this, so we’re always learning. This isn’t going to be a full newsletter (that will likely come next week) but just a bit of a round-up of what we’re up to currently.

We’ve heard a lot of people fearing that the project is abandoned or in trouble due to a lack of updates – far from it! In fact that the game has been successful enough on Steam that all 3 of our developers have been able to quit their day jobs and will soon (but not yet) be working full time on the game! Given the small size of the team we prefer to release larger, more complete updates rather than lots of smaller ones. Every time we update development is slowed for the testing and compiling processes – so you can see why this is our preferred model.

All 3 of our developers will, from April, be working full-time on the project. Naturally the pace of work will speed up then, but please be aware that 2 of the 3 are still working their day jobs up until then. So please welcome John and Liam, the newest full-time Slug Disco employees!

 

Thanks to Exquisite Bolagnese for this screenshot!

We’d hoped to get Freeplay mode out to you in February, but that is unlikely now and it’s looking more like March. These things happen all the time in game development (as I’m sure you’re aware – even the really big developers have trouble pinning down release dates for features) and although it’s frustrating we’re not going to give you something we feel isn’t fun and worth playing.

We are doing some new stuff for Freeplay – check out this poppy head model! This is one of several “landmarks” that can appear in a Freeplay map – the landmarks will take random forms on loading. The poppy heads will drop seeds for your ants, giving you a regular food supply – but free food won’t go unnoticed.

We’ve recently finalized our plans for the third formicarium tier – which will feature leaf cutter ants (Atta cephalotes). The mechanics they’ll use to harvest leaves for food will be integrated closely with the different castes that exist in their society – which includes really huge Major ants, as well as Medium and Minor castes. We’re excited to be adding some more complexity to the game mechanics in the levels going forward.

And finally, we’re working on the challenge mode for 2.1 and 2.2. “Ant” and “lion” should rarely be uttered in the same sentence, let alone the same word!