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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!

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.

Entering Early Access this summer! Steam page is up!

Early Access

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.

 

Steam Page

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:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/463530/

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.