June 2019 Newsletter

To start with, a small distraction from the main event – Steam have recently held a summer promotion whereby leaving reviews gains you points. The recent reviews have been pushed into “overwhelmingly positive” territory – and we recognise that’s directly down to you guys. Thank you so much! Now, on to the actual content of the newsletter!

Leafcutters doing their thing in this widescreen shot from Steam user Himmuguegeli

We’ve recently had a meeting to discuss the direction for the rest of the game. We were almost entirely sure of what the next playable ants would be, and the meeting has cemented that decision. Many other things were also decided, and they will have an impact on both the long-term and short-term development of the game.

Fire Ants

The focal species for the 4th tier of the formicarium will be fire ants. The blanket term of ‘fire ant’ comprises many species, but they mostly share the same notorious traits – aggression and invasiveness, and a particularly unpleasant sting. We haven’t entirely decided on the exact species that will feature but it will be of the Solenopsis genus.

Solenopsis invicta ants. Source: Wiki commons

Fire ants have diverse and interesting behaviours – particularly relevant to us is the habit of using their own bodies to create structures. Holding onto each other to create a bridge is observed in some species, and this is directly relevant to us – it was one of the Kickstarter stretch goals back in 2016. We’ll be talking about the details of how this will work as development continues.

Concept art for fire ant structures from the Kickstarter campaign

Optimisation

This is a very important issue for the longevity of the project – and one that will affect the timing of the next big update.

At the moment, the creature movement and collision detection code is dependent on default Unreal Engine 4 actor functions. These are not at all optimised for use in an RTS game that has potentially hundreds of moving, reacting creatures at any one time. This is the primary reason that the game often starts to suffer when a lot of creatures are in play. Whilst it allows us to create beautiful graphics and we love working with it, UE4 was written with FPS-style games in mind – and many of its features are geared towards that. Those on lower-end systems particularly will feel the pinch when army sizes get large.

Too many ants! From Steam user Cas

We’ve decided that now is the time to address this issue. We are rewriting lots of the code relevant to this to meet the specific needs of Empires of the Undergrowth. It will take some time but the benefits are multitude, including:

  • Significant increase in performance
  • Algorithm responsible for stuck creatures removed
  • Reduced overheads for future enemy colonies
  • Much more viable to have larger armies

The downside is that this is such a fundamental change to the way the game works that it is likely to break more or less everything, so it’ll take time to work through the resultant issues. We know you’re a patient bunch and are great with waiting for good things, and this is a good thing that will make the game better for everyone, forever.

When we’re getting close to having the optimisations done, we’re very likely run a public beta on Steam for all owners to allow lots of feedback on them.

Freeplay Update

As detailed in the previous newsletter, the next large update for the game will come in the form of an update to freeplay. John has spent a lot of time recently working on the new menu system for this updated mode, which with the planned changes is a major consideration. The end result will be a much more friendly-looking menu with presets. The advanced options will be there for people who want to make a custom setup – and you’ll have the ability to share them.

Whilst he’s making significant progress on this, its timing will be affected by the aforementioned optimisations. The update to freeplay will arrive at the same time as them.

John has been streaming his work on this. See a recent one below – at around the 2 hours 12 minutes mark of this one he also shows a little preview of a creature that was cut from the leafcutter update for time purposes, the velvet worm! We intend to finish and add the velvet worm in a future update.

Kickstarter Reward – Myrmecia ereptor

One of the Kickstarter rewards was an option to have a Myrmecia ereptor colony instead of Formica ereptor. Our artist Matt has been working on the necessary changes. Below are some screenshots of the Myrmecia ereptor workers. The addition will be purely cosmetic, and will likely be activated in the form of a Steam key sent out to backers of the appropriate tiers.

It’ll be our first foray into working with DLC systems so it’ll be a learning experience for us as well as everyone else! Please note that for now this is an exclusive cosmetic for Kickstarter backers.

YouTuber Highlight – Snootz TV

For the past couple of months Snootz has been covering Empires of the Undergrowth at the highest difficulty settings with his trademark calm, soothing manner. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed his playthroughs. His more recent attempts at insane difficulties for the third tier levels may well precipitate some balancing on our behalf.

Screenshot Central

If you’d like to contribute to this section then simply upload your screenshots to Steam (F12 by default) or mail them to mike@slugdisco.com. You can enter the cinematic photo mode by pressing F8 – and if you do that whilst holding shift you’ll have free movement of the camera, allowing you to get some really interesting angles.

Night falls from Steam user Raymond2500
Whip spider circle of death in freeplay from Steam user Lord Distruct
Ladybird beetle in flight from Steam user Fazan008