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!
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 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…
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.
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!
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!