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!
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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!
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.
Since releasing our first demo in Spring 2016 we have received mountains of feedback from the community, which has been constantly shaping the game’s core mechanics and features. We feel this has ultimately resulted in a better overall game and we want to continue moving forward with help and suggestions from players. A side effect of this iterative community focused development, is that whilst we have been putting more time into tweaking the game’s inner workings to create the ideal mix of ant colony realism and compelling gameplay, it has put us behind schedule in terms of producing a final product that we can label as “complete”. We are fast reaching a point where we are able to release something far grander than the original demo. However, while we are confident about the state of the game’s mechanics, and the amount of playable content (including the overground, new ant species and other creatures), there are additional game modes, creatures and abilities that we are still working on. All of these will need balancing, and that process works best with player input. It seems to make little sense holding back the game’s release for what could be another 8-12 months of development whilst we work on additional levels, and features. We would much rather continue our work in the same manner as we have done for the past year: with the help of our enthusiastic ant-loving community.
To some of you this will be welcome news, to others who are skeptical of early access titles, it may not be what you want to hear. We cannot avoid the fact that there is a lot more we decided to do with the game than we had originally planned for. We were left with options of releasing a rushed game, pushing back release (potentially to 2018), or continuing on in Steam’s early access. For those who still prefer to wait for the final game, please be patient, we will get there in the end.
The early access version will include four new stand-alone missions with unique creatures, music and narration as well as a “formicarium” story mode. This content will be beta tested before we release in early access. Over the course of early access, we plan to introduce new content as blocks of complete missions, ready to play.
The Beta Test
It is important that we iron out all the bugs before we release into early access. The beta test will take place in the month before release, though we do not yet have an exact date. If you backed on this tier you will be given a game key that allows you to install the game before release.
The “Coming Soon” steam page for the game has been made live to allow us to start building up interest for the game in the steam community. You can check it out here:
It goes a bit more into detail about the early access plans for the game. As a result of the steam page going live we will soon be sending out the rest of our surveys on Kickstarter and will begin sending keys out to backers.
Please note the 0.06 build of Empires of the Undergrowth is undergoing internal testing and will be available to the public when testing is complete.
Also note not all changes have been listed.
Trails have been reworked
Half of the ants assigned to a trail will now remain at the end of the trail, and when a new trail location is placed, the ants at the end of the trail will head straight to the new location. This makes the control system feel more responsive whilst maintaining the some of the natural trail behaviour.
Two new groups have been added allowing more trails.
Ant movement reworked
Ants will no longer move through one another in combat (no more weird death balls)
The front line is now a thing; you can physically block a corridor and limit attacks coming in
Ants will make constant attempts to get around one another
Larger creatures will no longer path to where they cannot reach (such as right next to a wall)
Many other changes designed to make movement feel a lot better
Massive efficiency savings, your FPS should be significantly higher (doubled in some cases)
All food values in the game have been increased by a factor of 5
This should not affect gameplay but gives us more design space to work with. A few examples:
A seed can now contain 5 to 15 food, up from 1 to 3.
Black ants cost 50 food to place a tile, and 5 food to hatch a new one.
Dig speed has been decreased by a factor of 3
It was too easy to tunnel out huge areas and this change should lead to more thoughtful tunnelling.
Creatures will no longer pass through one another if they are near an enemy
You should no longer have large numbers of creatures on the same spot moving slowly after a battle, additionally creatures cannot push through each other to reach the front line.
Right clicking a call to arms will no longer remove it
You must use the interface button to do this
All colony ants will regenerate health slowly (player only)
All ants now regenerate health at a rate of 1 per second (queen, worker and black ant). This only applies to the player colony, and not enemy ants.
Large balance changes for Devil’s Coach Horse Adult
Small balance changes for Beach Tiger Beetle
Beach Tiger Beetle now performs an AOE stun periodically
Food rewards from all creatures reduced
Multiple small balance changes for levels
‘Surrounded’ now prevents larger creatures from spawning until a certain time (shorter timer for harder difficulties)
Backers’ level becomes a lot harder after 22 minutes (halved wave timer after that point)
Multiple small bug fixes
Devil’s Coach Horse Adult will no longer deafen people upon death (sound level has been reduced)
Creatures passing through one another will no longer push other creatures
Ants will now drop food if there is no space to store it
Non-worker ants will drop food if they spot an enemy
This is not yet implemented, but the user interface icon is visible.
This is the first in a series of monthly roundup newsletters that will point you to the location of news and interesting things about Empires of the Undergrowth and its development.
March has been an extremely busy month in the run up to EGX Rezzed. Over the course of the month the first surface biome (the beach) has come together along with enemy colonies. It is still very rough around the edges but we took it to EGX Rezzed and received some extremely positive feedback and plenty of suggestions. There is a video on the way showing our experience at EGX Rezzed so keep an eye out for that.
What follows are links and short descriptions of interesting things that we have shown this month (also those from last month as we are catching up).
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!
I hope you all had a splendid break and the return to work has not been too bad. Our year has started with a mix of code optimisation, improvements to combat systems and planning the year ahead.
With that in mind Empires of the Undergrowth will be at EGX Rezzed in London on March 30th to April 1st.
We will be showcasing surface gameplay features as well as a range of new creatures. Additionally we will be testing out multiple ant species at this event too, so if you happen to be in the area, come and see us! More about this later in the year.
So what do we mean about optimisation? Well put simply we want you to be able to build more ants! There will of course be a limit on the amount you may build, but we want that limit to be as high as possible, so you really feel like you have a thriving colony.
This has meant Matt has had a proper poke around in Unreal Engine’s movement systems and is implementing our own movement routines, these are specific to our ants’ needs and should help us pump out those extra frames per second.
One of our goals has always to be to show the variety of things that different ant species can do. Ant games in the past tended to have a generic ant, maybe branching into sub-types of worker, soldier, super soldier etc, but we wanted to do something different and try to show off some of the true range in nature.
John has been putting together a creature ability system that allows us to produce a lot of different types of ant and other creatures efficiently. We do not want to write completely new code each time we want a creature to jump for example and so there has to be a way to make variety quickly, and balance it so it still works in the game.
Music is an important piece of any computer game, especially in Empires of the Undergrowth where the tempo helps to set the pace of play. Liam is currently working on a dynamic audio system that should adapt the musical atmosphere to match the action on the screen. We are in unfamiliar territory with this one, and we really don’t know what the end result will be, but the basic tunes are already coming together nicely.
2017 is going to be an exciting time for Empires of the Undergrowth, Make sure you have followed us on Twitter and Liked us on Facebook to see the game coming together.