All posts by Michael Connor

July Newsletter

And so July rolls around to August, so it’s time for our July newsletter! I think we can best surmise July for us using various clichéd yet accurate adjectives such as “busy”, “stressful”, “productive” and “challenging”. As we approach something close to an announcement time we’ve weeded out various long-standing issues, delved deeper into the Unreal Engine 4 code than we ever intended to, and animated a ladybird. Pretty standard for us.

New Creatures

Ladybirds & Aphids

Ladybirds, or ladybugs depending on your parlance, are of course famously insectivorous beetles that love an aphid or two. One of our Kickstarter backers – Maggie – requested they be added to the game as part of her reward tier so here they are! In our game, you’ll be able to harvest honeydew from aphids but your capacity to do so can be severely diminished by the ladybirds. Check out the GIF below – a beetle flies into the scene off-camera, walks over to the aphids, takes one to eat then flies off. They’ll needed to be fiercely contested on some maps to ensure your colony has an ample food supply.

A ladybird snatches a honeydew-producing aphid

A ladybird snatches a honeydew-producing aphid

Funnel Web Spider

Something that took us somewhat by surprise is the popularity of the arachnids that will be featuring in our game. When we started posting pictures and videos of the finished models we decided to add an arachnophobia warning to the posts, since we know that is an issue for some people. We’ve relaxed on this over time since we figured by now people pretty much know what to expect from us, but we still decided to warn people about Segestria florentina, a European funnel web spider.

Everything about her screams menace, and our animator Matt has once again done an incredible job of bringing this fearsome spider to EotU. We can’t wait to show you her lair – she sits at the entrance to a tunnel made of her own webbing, which is attached to long tripwires which allow her to sense the slightest movement. If an ant strays too close, it’s lights out for them. Watch her animation set in the GIF below.

The animation set for Segestria florentina

The animation set for Segestria florentina

Slave-makers

Some species of ant specialize in conducting raids on neighboring colonies to take their unhatched young. Most of the stolen pupae and larvae are eaten, but a few of them are raised as new workers and soldiers for their captive colony, hence the name of slave-makers. In one of the early access levels, your ants will encounter a colony of Formica sanguinea, otherwise known as blood-red ants. When they take your young from their nursery tiles, that tile will become unusable for a significant amount of time – so unless the slave-makers are dealt with soundly you’re going to find yourself outnumbered very quickly.

Slave-makers steal pupae and larvae from a helpless Formica fusca nest

Slave-makers steal pupae and larvae from a helpless Formica fusca nest

Woodlouse

Woodlice are likely familiar to practically everyone who’s ever looked under a dead log in their garden. They’re isopod crustaceans that feed mainly on decaying plant matter. In nature, they’re too tough for most ants to take down. We still want our in-game ants to be aggressive, so to represent the innate toughness of the armor-covered woodlouse, we’ve given it a “bunker down” ability as you can see in the GIF below. When it enters this mode, the woodlouse takes significantly less physical damage. A tricky critter to take down.

A woodlouse bunkers down to fend of its attackers

A woodlouse bunkers down to fend of its attackers

Music & Sound

Our composer and sound designer Liam has been working through some challenging technical difficulties to get his dynamic music system working. The issue he was having was to do with the timing of new clips starting or ending, which because of the way the engine works could sometimes be a beat out of sync and therefore sound wrong to the ear. He believes he’s now solved this issue with some workarounds and redesigns, and has now got back to the task of finishing up the music needed for early access.

Liam has also started the task of getting the voice of the narrator – played superbly by the talented Callum Edmunds – into the levels. He’ll speak as the levels progress, commenting on the evolving tale of your ants, and introducing new creatures the colony encounters. He’ll also provide some more traditional RTS commentary, such as informing you when your queen is under attack or when your ants see an enemy.

Level Design & Balance

John is furrowing his brow regularly as he works to complete the six levels required for early access. One particularly ambitious level (known internally as “2.1”) is keeping him up late as he works to include all of the planned events and timings.

With such a small team (3 developers and 1 social media guy), the issue of balance is obviously very difficult when we’re in the developments stage. This is why our beta before the main early access starts will be so vital – we have in the region of 900 people who bought into the beta tier on Kickstarter or Paypal, which should give us a large enough player base to get significant feedback for the numbers we need to tweak. Obviously we will continue to balance and change things after early access starts – so if you’re planning on giving the game a spin later this summer now would be the perfect time to get registered on our forums and introduce yourself to the small but passionate community of ant fans already talking about the game there.

As John completes the preliminary designs for the levels, he hands them over to Matt for an art pass. This means that all the pebbles, plants, and intricate texturing gets added after the layout and scripted features of a level are done. We hope to have all of the levels playing and looking nice in time for early access to start, but as mentioned feedback on all of these points will be very much appreciated.

June Newsletter

June was an extraordinarily busy month for us. All of the core mechanics, tools, and setups are finally in place and we are now deep, deep into asset creation (basically artwork, sound and level design) for the Empires of the Undergrowth early access.

All three of our developers are putting in lots of hours and it’s really starting to pay dividends. We’re very happy we chose this summer for starting early access – we feel we’re in a really good place to release a solid game that we can build on going forward. It also feels like we’re homing in on a general timescale for early access now, and it won’t be much longer until we feel confident enough to decide on a date, so keep an eye out for that!

Here’s some of the more major developments from the last month. As with with May’s newsletter, please keep in mind that these changes will only happen when early access starts – we won’t be updating the demo until after we enter that phase.

Mechanics

Pheromone options

Long-requested has been more control over how the ants behave. Whilst we’ve been reluctant to give too much direct control over to the player (we don’t want to risk the colony losing its natural, instinctive feel), John has found an area to give more whilst still being thematically consistent.

Players will now be able to toggle attacking and gathering behaviors for individual pheromone trails. This means you could have a group of black ants who are purely aggressive, fighting anything in range and never picking up food, or a group of worker ants who won’t attack enemies and will just gather food. Or vice versa, if you wanted. This should please players who like to micromanage a little more without making things overly complex.


This first part of this video shows the new toggle-able attack and gather mechanics; the second part shows how nursery and food storage tiles will now slow ants

Ant speed / nest layout

Something we’ve struggled with for quite a while is – how do we encourage sensible nest building? In nature, ants that dig usually create separate chambers for different purposes – nurseries, food storage, etc. Often in EotU players will carve out large swathes of the map without thought for its layout, which is our fault for not providing decent incentive to do so.

In our current internal build, ants walking over a food or nursery tile will suffer a significant speed penalty – currently 50%. This is to encourage the construction of corridors of normal surface where the ants will move at their full speed. We’re not sure we’ve quite got this down yet, and it’ll need lots of feedback (which is where you will come in, eventually!), and it does throw up a few problems. Should enemies suffer the same penalty? Would that encourage people to use food tiles as enemy traps? Would it be a bit weird if enemy ants didn’t suffer that penalty but yours did? It’s up for discussion, and it’ll come down to testing.

Models and Animations

Beach Wolf Spider

Our artist Matt has very nearly completed modelling and animating the list of creatures needed for our early access plan (of the 20 needed, he has just 3 and a half left to do, which is some impressive going!). Matt has genuinely astounded the rest of us with the quality of his work in this area. The above GIF shows the amazing beach wolf spider going through her animation set – walking, attacking, idle, lunging and death. But she also has a more maternal side – check out this video of her defending her recently-hatched brood from a patrol of vicious acid-spraying wood ants (Formica rufa).

Hermit Crab

Equally impressive (and significantly cuter) is the hermit crab. These crabs hide in shells they find to protect their vulnerable hind. The ones in early access are babies so they’re very small – not much bigger than the ants themselves. Check out the video below to see them in action. You’ll notice when they enter their shell to hide, they become invulnerable and gain a significant portion of their health back, which makes them pretty tough for their size. There’s certainly a threshold level of forces you’ll need to take down one of these cute little crustaceans.

Woodworm

And how about something a little easier to digest? In the below video, our ants encounter a pocket of woodworm. They’re defenseless, and struggle hopelessly to get away from the attention of the young black ant (Formica fusca) colony. The woodworm provide an easy source of food for the colony. Also, listen to the dulcet tones of our narrator – who will talk you through the game world and provide valuable information.

Music

Our composer and sound designer Liam has been giving himself far too much work with his unique dynamic music system. He estimates that he’s completed about half of what is required for the early access release.

As well as composing all of the music, he’s designed a system whereby it responds at jumping-off points to how well the player is doing. Seamlessly, the musical tone will change from calm, to suspenseful, to panicked, to joyful, to triumphant. This means he’s essentially had to create the same musical score repeatedly in different emotional tones! But that’s okay – he’s not one to be afraid of hard work and it all sounds fantastic. Listen here for a little preview of the theme for a totally friendly and not at all terrifying spider.

Back the game before Early Access – get the Backer’s Demo on itch.io

A number of our players have asked if there’s a way to back the game and get access to the Backer’s Demo. We did have a way set up using PayPal, but it was a clunky system that was causing us several problems, so that option hasn’t been available for some time now.

We’ve settled on a way for people who wish to support the project to do so before we enter Early Access in the summer and have started selling the game on itch.io, which you can get to by going to the EotU main website and clicking “Support the Development”, or just visiting its page here. Itch.io is well respected, completely secure and automated. Also, unlike when we had the PayPal setup, you won’t need to wait for one of us to manually send you the links!

Support the Development on itch.io

The price using this method is $19.99, which is what we will ultimately be selling the Early Access / final version of the game on Steam for also. This will give you immediate access to the Backer’s Demo which includes the exclusive “Holdout” endless score mode. You’ll also get a Steam key that will give you Early Access as soon as that begins in the summer.

This is perfect for those of you who have very kindly expressed a desire to help us out, and for those of you who weren’t aware of the project when the Kickstarter campaign was on and missed the chance then.

Steam keys for backers released!

Please note: this is not the release of the game, but the Steam keys in preparation for your Early Access this summer!

Backers, rejoice! Steam keys for Empires of the Undergrowth have now been sent to your emails. This will be the email associated with your Kickstarter account, or with your PayPal account if you backed after the campaign – so please check that for your key (also check your junk mail folder just in case, sometimes your email provider can confuse things as spam).

There are a few things to be aware of here, so please read them:

  • If you are a beta backer, your key will allow you to download the Backer’s Demo through Steam immediately! When the game goes into beta testing in a few months, your Backer’s Demo will update to be the beta Early Access version.
  • If you are not a beta backer, your key will allow you to add Empires of the Undergrowth to your Steam library, but not download anything yet. When Early Access is released this summer, you will have immediate access to it through Steam.
  • If you backed a tier that includes additional copies of the game, you will receive additional normal keys (not beta keys). You are free to share these with your family and friends, and once activated, they will also get Early Access in the summer.

The guys are now soaring ahead to the Early Access release this summer. Once things have settled down from the Steam key release, the three of them will be knuckling down hard to reach that goal, so there won’t be any more demo updates until early access, barring major bug fixes. The upside of this is – there’s only a few months to wait! Early Access will bring the surface, lots of new missions, new ant types, and new modes of play. Exciting times ahead!

Go ahead and redeem your Steam keys now! We’re really excited to finally get to this stage – it’s been a long time coming.

EGX Rezzed 2017

This weekend, the Slug Disco team will be in London for EGX Rezzed. This is an event that has particular focus on indie developers, and like last year, we’ll have a booth. However, this time we’ll be exhibiting Empires of the Undergrowth as part of the Unreal Developers Showcase, because we’ve decided to build our game using the amazing UE4 engine.

We’re very excited to be showing off some of the new features we’ve been working on, in particular the surface (all of the demo levels currently take place underground – you’ll have access to both in the finished game). Come along to the Powered By Unreal section of EGX Rezzed to be one of the first to play this entirely new aspect to the game.

We’ll be doing our best to document our time at EGX, from arrival, to prep, to exhibition, to celebration – so look out for a video sometime in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, there’s still lots to do, so we’d better get back to it!

The Mysterious Formica Ereptor

Of the species that emerged from the Event, without a doubt the most intriguing is the recently discovered Formica ereptor ant. As unique and mysterious as the island on which it is found, it gets its name from a Latin word for thief, and it very much lives up to it.

The closest analogy seen is in old-world slave-making ants. However, rather than enslave the offspring of rival colonies like those more familiar species do, Formica ereptor literally harvests the DNA of its conquests. This allows it to spin polymorphic DNA into its genetic code, giving birth to offspring that exhibit the traits of their foes.

The ereptor ant lives a unique nomadic lifestyle centered around a super-colony on the island that serves as its breeding site. The recently mated queens fly far from this fertile pinnacle, with the intent to bring fresh genetic material back to the larger colony. As she does this, she diversifies her workforce and it is the most diverse colonies of this species that tend to be the most successful.

There would be far too much genetic material to include every desirable trait into their offspring, so Formica ereptor selects only the choicest gene sequences to splice into its own double helix. The method by which it does this is unknown, but research continues into the matter.

Formica ereptor is as competitive with its own species as it is with others, since competition is the driving force of evolution. In the end, only one colony will dominate atop the ancestral mating grounds, and take its place among the great Empires of the Undergrowth.

Introducing the Antbassador

As the guys get properly elbow-deep in code, artwork and audio, they find themselves with less time to dedicate to the social aspects of game development. Which is a real shame, because interacting with a burgeoning community is one of the most joyful things about building a game from the ground up. Something must be done about this.

Introducing me. I’m Mike, and the Slug Disco guys have taken me on to be their community person, or “antbassador” if you will. Some of you will know me from Youtube – I own the MasterMike7000 channel, and I did some videos around the time of the Kickstarter introducing the game mechanics and suchlike. If you supported Empires of the Undergrowth around the time of its successful Kickstarter you’re likely to have seen one of my videos.

It’ll be me handling the social media side of things as well as answering questions on all the various platforms we use. I have a Twitter account @MikeSlugDisco, but will be mainly posting on the official @SlugDisco. We have some exciting news coming up in the near future regarding the game, so keep an eye open for that soon!

Thanks, ant community. Thantcommunity.