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