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January 2018 Newsletter

January Coalescence

Aah, the heady mists of winter! As we put the plum pudding aside and wipe the final crumbs of mince pie from our ever-increasing chins, the fog has lifted and we’ve now had enough time to collect our thoughts and make our plans going forward. Levity aside, we’ve not been idle over the last few weeks – far from it. Matt has been making some fundamental changes to the game’s workings and John has been continuing on his Freeplay mode project – which we’ve done a lot of streaming for.

How we feel after Christmas – screenshot by Steam user Limey21

A lot of the current work involves deep changes to the underlying workings of the game – “under-the-bonnet” stuff – which isn’t that immediately exciting, or visually pleasing. However, it will pay for itself in the future given the time investment. That isn’t to say there’s nothing to look at, though – so let’s get to it!

Deep Changes

Our resident Unreal Engine 4 specialist Matt has been making some fundamental changes to the way the game works. Most notably, the player would not be able to switch colony mid-game in the way things are currently set up. This is now a possibility – and it has some intriguing consequences for future content. This is yet to be unveiled; as we continue work on the upcoming content we may be hinting as to what these features might be – so keep an eye on our social media as we charge forward into 2018!

The queen’s new dress – screenshot by Steam user redmoth27

Freeplay Continues

Freeplay mode development is continuing apace. We wanted this mode to be driven by the community – and boy have you lot delivered. You’ve come along to John’s streams, you’ve sent us suggestions and you’ve just simply cared. That’s the thing that drives us the most.

In January, Mike visited John for a week and they streamed every day. This was a set-up that worked quite well – John could get on with the development and Mike relayed interesting ideas and questions from the viewers to him. We’ve been slowly putting the VODs from these sessions on YouTube – see below for one of them (and visit our YouTube channel for the rest).

How Freeplay will Work

Things change as they are developed, but during his streams John has been talking about the core premise of the game mode and what you can expect from it. In short – it’s a much longer-form mode which has lots of initial starting options you can set up which will dictate how the game will play.

The Freeplay Setup Screen (work in progress)

As you can see from the prototype launch screen above, you will have detailed options that will allow you to play the mode in many different ways, depending on your starting conditions. Below are some detailed bullet points explaining the current options.

  • Colony Name and colour is fairly self-explanatory, but of course you’ll be able to name your Freeplay colonies in the same way you can name your Formicarium ones.
  • Colony Species will allow you to either choose a particular species (such as wood ant, black ant or the upcoming leaf cutter ant) or as is the case here – choose one of your formicarium colonies to import! This does not mean you’ll import an exact copy of the colony, but if you choose one of your formicarium colonies you’ll acquire the upgrades and unit decisions you’ve chosen in that colony.
  • Unit option is relevant when choosing to play as, say, wood ants – where you will choose between rapid fire and mortar.
  • Map selection will be a thing – with the initial release of Freeplay mode there will be one map (The Dunes) but John has been designing Freeplay to be specifically map-agnostic – meaning he can add more maps in the future with relative ease.
  • Setup refers to a sort of preset and choosing a Setup will change the other options. It might include an option called “Peaceful” which will produce a game mode without any existential threat or “Crazy” that is meant to be particularly hard!
  • Difficulty type will affect how the game’s director (as John is calling it) will decide to ramp up the difficulty for you. Ramp with spikes, as seen in the picture, will mean the game difficulty slowly ramps up over time and occasional gets much more difficult for a short time. The idea with that is to provide a gentle increase in threats with regular challenging moments. Other options include a simple ramp, constant and random.
  • Start difficulty affects how fast things become tough. Hardcore players who like a true challenge might want to set this as high as they can before they start!
  • Creature options are fully configurable and you can choose if you’d rather not have a particular creature spawn by choosing “Advanced creature options”.
  • Nest invasions is a critical decision – if disabled, your colony will never die since nothing will come after the queen. That might be your thing – just an endless sandbox-type experience!
  • Day/night cycle, time of day and nocturnal/diurnal settings will all affect how the game responds to time. Nocturnal and diurnal refer to creatures that are active during the night and day – so if you have a day / night cycle active then certain creatures will spawn at different times of the cycle.
  • Uber creatures will be rare, super-powerful versions of their base creature. They will be visually different in some way but we haven’t worked out exactly how yet. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a tiger beetle that’s 10 time stronger than normal!
  • Landmarks deserve their own discussion, so please see below…

Landmarks

As much as we’d like to do a 100% randomly generated map, this simply does not work for the way our game is set up. Artwork is painted manually after a map is finished, our path-finding AI is reliant on certain things being in place (such as ramps) which would create a huge headache if trying to make things by chance. However we do want the Freeplay experience to be different each time, so the approach John has taken is to create points on the Freeplay map called Landmarks.

Landmarks are areas set aside that can take the form of a variety of things, randomly selected when the game starts. A landmark might have a large dead fish on it, giving a potentially huge source of food to your colony (but also attracting pesky enemies too). It might be the lair of a sinister funnel web spider and her sisters, who will snatch away your ants until they are overwhelmed – and plenty more besides. This approach will mean every time you play Freeplay it will be different, with literally thousands if not millions of possible combinations.

A funnel web spider nest occupies this Landmark spot – from a dev stream

We expect a non-infinite Freeplay game to last in the region of 6-9 hours once ended. Unless you set it not to, the difficulty will slowly increase until your colony finally falls. As mentioned, though, Freeplay will also appeal to people who want to simply keep a virtual ant colony – all tasks in Freeplay will take longer than in the campaign (digging, hatching, etc) so will feel a little closer to reality. Just disable those nest invasions and Her Majesty will be safe.

Full Time!

Some very good news here – we are very happy to announce that all three of our developers – that’s Matt, John and Liam – will soon be working full time on the project! The generosity of you guys in ensuring we’ve had a successful Steam launch has meant that both John and now Liam – who last month wasn’t quite ready to commit – will soon be joining Matt in being full-time Slug Disco developers working on Empires of the Undergrowth.

We announced that John was able to do this last month – but just beware that both John and Liam are leaving long-held full-time positions and it won’t be an immediate thing. They both have their notices to work, but once that has been done the pace of the project will naturally accelerate.

Everyone welcome Liam to the full-time EotU workers!

This also means that Slug Disco is currently in a phase of deep transition and we’re just asking for a little more patience from you lovely people as that happens.

Some Relaxing Piano Music

Liam (who is our composer) has put the two movements of his piano track “Experiment 1” up for listening. This is the music that plays in the Formicarium – the first movement is much more easy-listening, with its cello and gentle disposition. The second movement is deliberately somewhat unsettling; the music changes to this when you activate one of the Formicarium challenges and your colony is under assault. Still, both have their charms – I’ve personally found the second movement makes good listening music when walking my dog. Go and have a listen! Also, would anyone be interested in some sheet music for these tracks? We recently had a request by a piano teacher – one of her bright young students wanted to play them. Let us know!

Screenshot Central

Here are a few of our favourite screenshots from the Steam page over the past few weeks! Press F9 by default to enter Photo mode, then press F12 by default in Steam to take your pictures. You’ll be given the chance to upload them when you quit the game.

Destroy the interloper! By Steam user wooki

What happens when you play after the level has been won. By Steam user jd001

Extreme tiger beetle closeup. By Steam user Exquisite Bolagnese

Youtuber Highlight – IngeniousClown

IngeniousClown has been covering our game for quite a while now. We’ve always enjoyed his approachable, friendly attitude to playing games and he did a particular think-piece on the “dungeon management” genre of games which EotU somewhat falls into (we are of course inspired by Dungeon Keeper) which we found rather touching. Check out his channel – and linked below is one of his many EotU videos!

Other Insect Games We Like – Beetle Uprising

During Mike’s week-long stay with John early in January, they took a little time after the working day was done to play an insect-based game called Beetle Uprising, by Iocane games. We have something of a friendly rivalry with Iocane on Twitter (curse the matriarch!) but when we sat down together to play the game we discovered remarkable depth and a very well thought-out genetics system – something EotU doesn’t have.

It takes a less realistic approach than we do – and that gives it license for broader experimentation. The game defies genre definition – it’s part house management like The Sims, part genetic experimentation like Niche, part real-time tactics. And it’s all the better for it. It’s out on Steam in early access, like us – give it a spin if you’re hankering for some more insect titles whilst waiting for us to release more content!

Beetle Uprising on Steam

December 2017 Newsletter: A New Year

“As the sun rises over a new day, the tide recedes. The nocturnal creatures return to the shadows and once again, the harvest must continue.” – The Narrator

A new year dawns. It feels like Empires of the Undergrowth has been out for at least a decade now. It’s been just under six weeks! A very happy new year to all of you – let’s talk about our plans in the context of 2018 and how well the game has been doing. In short, it’s done way better than we’d dared to hope and given the small size of our team, that has some quite profound implications. On to it!

More Development time!

The best news for the project itself is that the game has done well enough to secure Matt for the foreseeable future and open up space for John to join him as a full-time Slug Disco developer. Up until now we’ve only had Matt full time on the game since that was all our crowd funding allowed for – John and Liam have been working in their spare time. Thanks to the amazing support from you guys, we can look forward to increasing the pace of the project once notices have been worked at current day jobs.

Freeplay Mode Live-streams

During the last month John has done a few live-streams of development for the upcoming Freeplay mode. In this endless game mode, your colony will grow at a slower pace than the missions as you deal with threats from creatures, the environment and the weather. The idea is to set up initial conditions to the player’s choice, such as – what species do you want to play as? At what pace would you like threats to ramp up? Would you like super-tough enemies to appear every so often? The game will be saveable so that you can come back to your colony and play with it for a while.

For now John’s live streams are unscheduled due to his day job, but in a couple of months there’s the opportunity for them to become much more regular when he goes full time on the project. For now – keep an eye on our social media for details of when John is going live. John wants Freeplay to be a community-driven project, so he encourages maximum involvement with his live-streams!

Quality of Life Updates

It’s fair to say that we’re new to this. Although we have a group of trusted testers we rely on to give us feedback before we make releases, it’s practically impossible to create a perfect microcosm of what the general public will make of the game’s features. This has led to some issues where things are unclear and in some cases entirely missed. We’re improving on this, and we’ve released the first of what are best referred to as “quality of life” updates. Here are the key points from our December patches:

Digging out the nest entrance to the tunnel is now much more like digging any other tile

Although we liked the padlock symbol and its progress bar-like feature, ultimately too many players thought the padlock meant the surface was locked and inaccessible – which in hindsight is obvious. Curse you, hindsight! The new system makes digging out the nest entrance feel more like regular digging.

The nest entrance is now marked for excavation like any other tile

Formicarium abilities can now be swapped for full cost

Players found themselves having to make permanent choices for abilities without informed feedback of what they were deciding against. This change allows the abilities to be swapped, albeit at the full royal jelly cost so the initial decision still has some gravity to it.

Formicarium challenge buttons changed

Too many players were assuming the buttons to launch the Formicarium challenges (which are required to move on to the next level) were simply headers for the missions below them. We’ve reworked the buttons to hopefully make it more obvious that they need to be pressed, but there’s likely more we can do here.

Don’t worry – I added the red in MS Paint!

Players are alerted to seeds on the surface after a challenge

A common complaint was food rewards. Unlike royal jelly and territory, food is a physical entity that must exist in the world, and so when the Formicarium colony is granted a food reward it is deposited on the surface to be collected. Combined with the above confusion about the padlocked nest entrance, this led to many players thinking their food rewards were not granted. A text alert is now given to help assuage this.

See? There’s loads of food up there!

Photo Mode

There are many reasons we’ve put a little time into this – who wouldn’t want a better candid snap of their queen? By default, press F9 to enter Photo Mode. Matt’s artwork for the game is incredible and finished to a much higher fidelity than is strictly necessary for a top-down RTS game but Photo Mode allows you to pause the game, move the camera into a much less restricted position then snap away. We’ve been really enjoying the community’s experimentation with this feature and it’s produced some stunning results. Below is a small selection of some of our favorites. Submit your snaps on Steam!

Steam user MorPacke

Steam user Odahx

Steam user redmoth27

Steam user TeRroR

Steam user TheVicelion

Steam user Ubiquitously Obnoxious

The Trail Ahead

We spoke about this in the previous newsletter and not much has changed, but it’s worth reiterating here. Whilst John is working diligently to get the basic form of his Freeplay mode out to you guys, the next set of Formicarium missions are being designed, scripted and implemented. The next species of ant you will play as will be a species of leaf cutter – specifically Atta cephalotes.

We’re deep into the design of this species, and it promises to be an exciting addition to the campaign. Whilst we’ve taken artistic license in giving our Formica species distinct roles when in fact their colonies are relatively homogeneous, we can be a little closer to reality here as Atta cephalotes has specialized castes in its society.

A photograph of Atta cephalotes. Source – Wikipedia

For simple time restriction reasons, all of the levels in the game so far have been set in the beach environment. As we continue to expand the Formicarium campaign, different art assets will be required – and leaf cutters are jungle ants. Matt certainly has his work cut out for him in creating new tile sets, new flora, and ultimately new fauna to populate these rain forest environments.

Expect the basic Freeplay mode to be the next major content update – it does not contain any spoilers for the Formicarium campaign (so we can be much more open with it) and as previously noted, John wants it to be a community-driven project. The Formicarium missions are an entirely different beast – as well as lots of careful design choices and scripting to be done, there’s also voice lines that have to be recorded, music that has to be composed, new creatures that have to be designed and implemented, and a long round of balance that has to be done before we can unleash it upon the world. We take some pride in the idea that the missions that exist in the early access build are completed to a high degree of polish; we didn’t want an individual mission to feel half-finished. We will continue this philosophy going forward.

Have a great 2018

It’s difficult not to get a little emotional when talking about the support you guys have already granted us for our weird little game about invertebrates crawling around in the dirt. Your kind support and encouragement has meant that we have the drive and resources to meet 2018 with a profound sense of optimism in where the project is going. Each and every one of you has been entirely lovely and interacting with you has become a joy. Thanks so much – we really mean it.

The Slug Disco team x

November Newsletter: The Launch Edition

It’s a little bit difficult to know where to start with this newsletter, given the massive kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions the last week has given us. Let’s just blurt out the immediately obvious stuff. The game launched on Steam. The game has been doing very well on Steam. The game has a very positive reaction on Steam.


To say that we’re grateful would be a comedic understatement. Whilst we’ve always been confident that we had a good idea when we went about designing Empires of the Undergrowth, we were never sure if other people would agree. I guess we should have picked up that other people thought so too when we had a successful Kickstarter, or when we had a bunch of YouTubers cover the game without us even asking, or when the demo was consistently in the top games of IndieDB, often topping it, and still is. But we’re a bit too thick apparently.

Enough of the humble bragging – the game is launched and it’s performing well. The most pressing question is what comes next? Well, we had a meeting.

Freeplay Mode

The first thing that we will be getting out now, after many requests and also ourselves getting antsy to work on it, is freeplay mode. Freeplay will be a much slower-paced, longer-form game mode where your colony will grow slower, taking on increasing threats in a saveable environment similar to the formicarium but separate from it.


John in an old development stream; expect these to be more frequent for freeplay

It’ll have a surface, a variety of starting options (including which species of ant you wish to play as, or if you want to import the properties of your formicarium colonies) and over time it’ll be added to with new creatures, artwork, level options and balance changes. The nature of this mode means that it can receive updates much more frequently than the formicarium story mode.

It’s John’s baby, and he’s really keen to get working on it as soon as he can (for now we’re still dealing with bug reports and fallout from the early access launch). He hopes that it’ll be much more of a community project than the formicarium mode, and he’ll be doing live streams that you can join in, watch him do some development, and suggest things / ask questions. These are likely to be irregular at first, but in the new year they could well become scheduled and regular.

As far as time scale goes – we really want to get this fast-evolving game mode out into the wild sooner rather than later, and we’ll be getting our closed beta testers on it as soon as we can. In a basic form, we may be able to get to that stage within a few weeks. After some closed testing (but highly unlikely to be as long as the early access beta period was), we’ll get it out to all of you guys. The thought of watching your colonies grow over a longer time period delights us.

New Levels

In the next stage of formicarium mode (3.1, 3.2 and Formicarium Challenge 3), we want to introduce some new ants. In real life, leaf cutter ants form long trails to gather cuttings from the surrounding foliage, which they take to underground chambers. Here, a fungus grows from the decaying plant matter which is very nutritious and provides the colony with much of its sustenance. We have some ideas for introducing this mechanic to the game and some great community suggestions. The mechanics tend to evolve as we develop them, so we can’t realistically talk about their final form just yet. But you know where we’re headed!


A video about leaf cutter ants

Time scales are more difficult for this – there’s a lot that needs to be prepared for a full-fledged level (as well as the design, there’s a ton of custom scripting, artwork, music, and voice acting that needs to be written and recorded). Whilst John does regular updates for freeplay mode, you can realistically expect the next set of levels to be a few months into the new year. Again, as we all know from past experience, to put exact dates on things like this is fatal – issues crop up, have to be overcome, and things change. I think practically every developer working on an ambitious project has experienced this, and we’ve had plenty of these issues already!

Steam

Those of us who followed our launch day will know it didn’t exactly go smoothly. At almost literally the eleventh hour, EotU was rejected for not meeting the standards Steam required in its file packaging. This was totally on us and our frantic race to get everything sorted for the deadline. We were sort of heartbroken but we tried to stay focused and transplant our launch day to itch.io.

The Empires of the Undergrowth Steam store page

The guys at Itch were terrific and accommodated us promptly and efficiently. We really can’t thank them enough for giving us a light in the darkness for what at that point we assumed was a missed Steam deadline and a dud launch. Launch day really can make or break a project, and at this point we thought we’d missed that opportunity. Seriously, to all those involved with Itch – thank you. You gave us hope when we were at our lowest. So we were able to launch, and several hundred people did indeed buy through Itch – which included a Steam key so when we were eventually approved (which we assumed would take a few days) they could activate the game there.

The Empires of the Undergrowth Itch store page

Then, just as we were getting used to that idea, the guys at Steam performed a miracle for us and approved the updated build. John says that he’s never made such a sound before when he read that confirmation – and he probably never will again. Finally able to tell people we WOULD be launching on Steam on December 1st after all, our mood improved hugely. We even managed to muster together the enthusiasm for a live stream leading up to launch! Watch it below. We highly recommend the Ereptini that Mike devised if you like slightly bitter, more herbal cocktails!

We’re not quite ready to talk about sales numbers just yet, but let’s just say – our pessimistic predictions did not line up with the actual sales. We’ve actually done really, really well – and we’ve been trending on Steam for quite some time. Thanks so much to the YouTubers and streamers who have given us a constant trickle of publicity – it is no doubt you guys who are the reason for the game’s wide reach. Over time we’ll be highlighting some of those people. Which leads us on to:

YouTuber Highlight: KatherineOfSky

KatherineOfSky plays her games in a logical, well-thought-out manner and keeps the viewer informed of the reasons behind her decision making process. In this respect her videos work very well as a tutorial guide for people new to EotU. Outside of that, she’s simply so entertaining to listen to that it’s entirely no wonder that she’s quickly become a dev favorite.

The whole of Formicarium on medium difficulty is now in her early access coverage, and she’s now returned to try hard mode!

Reviews

The game has been getting some great reviews on Steam! We’re loving reading ways you guys have been enjoying the game and what you think needs improving. If you’ve played the game and haven’t left us a review on Steam, please do – it really helps us out! We’re interested in your honest opinions, and we’d love to hear what you thought we did really well and where we can improve. Follow this link to the game’s Steam page to leave your review!

The Ereptini Recipe (after some post-stream adjustment)

For the Formica ereptor: Campari bitters
For the Formica fusca: Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua or Tia Maria)
For the Formica rufa: Lemon juice
For the future Leaf Cutters: A few sprigs of mint
To celebrate early access: Prosecco
For balance: Simple syrup (50/50 sugar water mix)
Cheers!
1) Take large glass and half fill it with ice. Add a couple of crushed mint leaves to the ice and shake for 5 seconds to release the mint flavor.
2) Add 50ml of Campari and 50ml of coffee liqueur
3) Add a few dashes of lemon juice
4) Add 50ml simple syrup
5) Top the glass up with prosecco
6) Stir the cocktail quite quickly for 20 seconds
7) Strain the cocktail into a tall, chilled glass with fresh ice

To the future!

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and thanks for joining us on our continued, danger-fraught journey into the Undergrowth. We feel safer stepping forward into the unknown knowing that you are there with us. No tiger beetle will turn our path; no wolf spider will poison our resolve. As we stride out into the Undergrowth – together – we know that we’re strong.

The Slug Disco team x

We cannot launch on Steam today; Launching on itch right NOW!

TLDR: We cannot launch on Steam today however we are launching on itch.io RIGHT NOW and you can buy and download the early access version of the game from here RIGHT NOW:

https://slugdisco.itch.io/empires-of-the-undergrowth

This includes a Steam key that when it does release on Steam next week will allow you to download it from there!

We’ve messed up a bit.

As you’ll no doubt have gathered by the multitude of YouTubers playing the game, Empires of the Undergrowth is ready to go into early access on Steam. Outside of some small intermittent issues, this has been the case for a few days now. We were hoping for a smooth release to Steam and were looking forward to sitting back a little and watching you all play, like proud parents watching their toddlers seeing the snow for the first time. Sadly it didn’t work out quite as idyllically as that (what does?) this time around. And we’re somewhat to blame.

Steam has very rigorous standards for the curated set of games that live there. In our haste to prepare EotU for release to the platform, we’ve forgot to set up a few things in our Windows and Mac builds (with some noted irony given the headaches it’s been causing us lately, the Linux build is the only one that passed!) and have therefore run afoul of some rules owing to the UE4 engine we use. Being entirely new to it, we hold our hands up and take the blame – it’s our fault. Unfortunately the way that the review process works, we are unlikely to be able to launch on Steam until next week.

So, the question is, what do we do now? The game is ready for early access as far as we’re concerned and we’d love you all to play it as soon as you can. So – we’re going to make the game available through itch.io! This will include a Steam key so when it does finally come out on Steam next week you will also be able to download it from there!

We are really sorry about this, this is our first game on Steam and we will learn from this.
In the meantime the game is now available on itch.io!

https://slugdisco.itch.io/empires-of-the-undergrowth

October Newsletter (yes it is very late)

A very late October newsletter – but for a good reason! As I’m sure many of you are aware, we’ve finally announced the release date for early access – December 1st. As the media guy who isn’t directly involved in development of the game, I’ve been holding off on the newsletter since I was well aware that the guys were planning on an imminent announcement. And now that has happened! So I no longer have any excuses for procrastination.

So, yes! December 1st, 2017, is when we’ll be unleashing our little game about little ants upon the not-so-little world. Being an early access title it won’t be feature-complete, but we’re taking a very specific approach to the early access model. We’re doing our best to release the game in polished, fit-for-purpose chunks rather than releasing glitchy messes that we expect the community to dissect for us. We’ve been really lucky in that we have an honestly lovely group of beta testers – from our Kickstarter campaign – who have been extraordinarily dedicated and helpful. They’ve helped us shape the game into what we hope will be an eminently playable yet challenging RTS.

On to the fun stuff.

Micro?!?

Although complex micro skills are not the focus of Empires of the Undergrowth, it’s perfectly possible with a little practice and some planning to micro with the best of them. Here’s a pretty simple maneuver – let’s call it the “formic flank” – using pheromone markers to get round the back of these devil’s coach horse beetles that have been let loose in our formicarium. Getting a good surround on them from both the front and the back traps them, and the game’s up for the invaders.

As a nice bonus, there’s also the victory screen at the end!

Level Previews

It’s been ages since we had a GIF. Everyone loves a good GIF, right?

A little taster of the levels will be given before you play them by short videos showing a little bit of them. This one showing a horde of ladybirds (or ladybugs) enjoying a little aphid snack is rather pleasing to look at. We’ll also use these short videos to show how a particular mechanic works.

Has Science Gone Too Far?

The scientists have been studying a unique polymorphic species – Formica ereptor – for a while now. They’re a fascinating artificial species, capable of exhibiting the traits of many natural ones. It may soon be time to push them to their limits.

Lurking in the Darkness

These Formica fusca ants have a problem. Lurking in the dark of their nest site is Segestria florentina, a funnel web spider. They have tripwires radiating from their funnel-shaped webs and can feel the slightest vibration. Any ant that gets too close will be snatched away in the blink of an eye.

Attack of the Killer Mole Crickets

The queen is in imminent danger! Unfortunately for her, the nest site she’s chosen is infested with omnivorous mole crickets. They’ve had their fill of roots for the day, and are now on the hunt for protein-rich invertebrates. Such as ants.

In Empires of the Undergrowth, some levels have a “challenge” mode, where you can replay them with a special twist for more rewards. In this case, the first two levels can be replayed with the threat of mole crickets invading.

Special thanks to JeZardin, the Kickstarter backer who added the mole cricket to the game as part of their reward tier. It is a fine addition to the Undergrowth!

Early Access Begins 1st December

Finally.

You’ve all been amazingly patient, understanding and supportive as we’ve worked through our list of tasks and solved our problems, but we are entirely delighted to announce that Empires of the Undergrowth will be entering early access on December 1st, 2017!

Early access brings an entire overhaul of the game – the biggest of which is Formicarium Mode, where you build an ant colony in a lab and upgrade it by playing missions out in the wild as different species of ant! There are four entirely new missions, two special challenges for your Formicarium, and you can explore the bountiful yet dangerous outworld above your nest.

This means the game will be for sale on Steam, and those of you who already have a copy (by backing the game or through itch.io) will be able to download it through Steam on this date!

It’s been a tough few weeks for our dev team. We’ve taken feedback from beta testers, worked through a huge number of game-breaking glitches, balanced, tweaked and tinkered. Obviously that won’t stop – when early access is underway we’ll still be listening to suggestions and responding to balance issues, whilst we begin work on the first new content for early access.

So you’ll all be building your formicariums and battling the critters of the undergrowth in two weeks. In the meantime, enjoy the epic announcement trailer!

THE BETA HAS BEGUN!

“Ah. I see the queen has taken well to her new home”.

Those of you who backed the beta tier of the game on Kickstarter or Paypal – THE BETA HAS BEGUN! Your current Steam copy of the demo will update to become the new beta build.

If you backed the beta tier but don’t have a Steam copy of the game yet, please check your emails. A few months back you will have been sent a key to the email associated with your backing method. If you cannot find it, please send us a message and we‘ll do our best to sort it for you.

But for now, go and play! We look forward to your feedback on our official forum.

September Newsletter

Aah, the temperate winds of October. To get the obvious out of the way – as predicted in our last newsletter, we haven’t hit the target we set ourselves of summer 2017. It’s now autumn / fall 2017, no matter how you spin it, but there’s no point looking backwards. We’re not making excuses, and we’re going to try to be as transparent as we can be. A recent internal audit of the work left to do to get the game to beta stage revealed that we’re likely several weeks out; in short we’ve underestimated.

We’re not the first developers to do so and we won’t be the last, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for everyone involved. We’ve opened our big optimistic gobs too soon and are a bit annoyed at ourselves for that. That said, development continues more intensely than ever.

A Formica rufa colony

To talk realistically about release dates – if everything goes as planned (and honestly that hasn’t been the trend recently) we’re talking closer to the end of this month for closed beta. Still, we refuse to rush it through and give you something unworthy of your time.

There’s an adage that more seasoned developers than us are very familiar with – the last 10% takes the longest, and we now understand that. If Empires of the Undergrowth were a piece of Ikea furniture we’d now be at the point where it’s basically assembled, but in tightening one bolt you realize another one needs more work, then that you’ve put a piece in the wrong way round, then another loosens – and boy do we have a lot of bolts to tighten!

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress – there has, some of it really beautiful to look at – so let’s crack on.

Rise of the Colony

This short cinematic view of the rise of a colony was made by John. We had to ask him to double its length and make it a video rather than a GIF because we thought it was so good. A Formica fusca (black ant) colony rises from its humble beginnings.

Day / Night Cycle

As the sun sets and day becomes night, the shadows lengthen and the creatures of the Undergrowth stir. Many are more active after dark, meaning more danger for the colonies that live here. Perhaps it is best to stay hidden in the safety of the nest until dawn comes – as it always will, heralding a new day and new opportunities. The ever-changing landscape of the Undergrowth breathes as if it’s a living entity itself.

A lot of levels will have a day-night cycle that signals changes to the creatures you’ll be facing, in some cases making it safer to stay in the confines of your nest until day breaks. But sometimes desperation means you’ll have to venture out into the night – this is the balance you’ll have to strike if you hope for your colony to survive.

Victory / Defeat

Will you be leading your colony to defeat… or victory? Either way, you’ll have these to look at! A traditional part of RTS games and we wanted ours to be comprehensive and satisfying. You’ll get stats on your activity during the level, an overall score and an overview of the level’s achievements. Please note that the score screen itself is made up of placeholder information since it is a work in progress – sadly, there will be no dinosaur god in the game!

Melodramatic Death

Think a game about insects carving nests out of the dirt can’t do drama? Think again. As a progression from the above victory / defeat screens, Liam and John thought it was all a bit impersonal. So they went about giving you a decent excuse for having a little cry about losing a level.

It’s all over. The queen is dead; her enemies are feasting on her corpse and some beautifully dramatic music is playing. If you don’t succeed in a level of Empires of the Undergrowth, you will at least be caressed into oblivion by a wonderfully mournful composition.

Long-form Music

The music in Empires of the Undergrowth is responsive and modular – if your colony is engaged in conflict, it’ll sound more military than it will when they’re at a temporary ceasefire with the neighbors. This means there’s a lot of music to compose, and it’s been immensely satisfying for us to hear this as Liam completes it. Here’s 11 minutes of a track, which shows just how much has to be done.

Arachnophobia Mode

Well now – look at this dapper young chap, off on his morning stroll along the beach, greeting his neighbors as he goes, dressed in his best top hat! “How d’you do?” he seems to say, in finest received pronunciation.

A brief look at one of the more whimsical features we’re including in Empires of the Undergrowth – arachnophobia mode! Off by default and completely optional, of course. We’re hoping the charming selection of headgear will make the spiders a little less threatening for those who don’t like them – and unlike Team Fortress 2, we’re not going to make you unlock them!

April Newsletter

On our return from EGX Rezzed we set about preparing a demo update to include the new features and bug fixes we had done, as well as finalise our plans to get the game to early access.

If you have not done so already you may want to try this update available on IndieDB and GameJolt, and backers can download it from the usual link.

http://www.indiedb.com/games/empires-of-the-undergrowth/downloads
http://gamejolt.com/games/empires-of-the-undergrowth/144667

This month a lot of work has gone into the interfaces and options (including key bindings and game setup and the groundwork for loading and saving). Additionally you should all have your steam keys! If anyone has a problem with their keys please do get in touch and we can help sort the issues.

We have finalised the voice lines for early access, found our voice actors and recorded the lines!

Here is a sample from one of the levels:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmsgPk3-XnQ

This update caused an unexpected revival of interest from streamers and YouTubers (especially as it included no new content). There was a lot of coverage on YouTube but here are some of the bigger ones:

TheGamingBeaver
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBeUqd3qU_w

BaronVonLetsPlay
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFehuhCtKEI

Blitz
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW_RURd6VsE

GrayStillPlays
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXODTnCUwOQ

everynightxRIOT
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm_bA8FWl_4

paulsoaresjr
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD0Y1k8xDnA

There are many more and we appreciate each and every one! Type the game name into YouTube and you will see quite a range.

Following EGX Rezzed we also released a video giving a first look at the surface. This shows how your colony will interact with the surface and other colonies:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXHwXauNzzw

Additionally we put together a short video showing our experience at EGX Rezzed, if you came along you may spot yourself!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2QGUOSrwlU

With the multiple colonies have come team colours, you can see some in this screenshot below. Are there any colours you would like to see in the game (maybe some more natural ones) ?
http://forum.eotugame.com/index.php?topic=681.0

That is it for April’s happenings, things are really coming together now as we march towards the beta test and early access!