June was an extraordinarily busy month for us. All of the core mechanics, tools, and setups are finally in place and we are now deep, deep into asset creation (basically artwork, sound and level design) for the Empires of the Undergrowth early access.
All three of our developers are putting in lots of hours and it’s really starting to pay dividends. We’re very happy we chose this summer for starting early access – we feel we’re in a really good place to release a solid game that we can build on going forward. It also feels like we’re homing in on a general timescale for early access now, and it won’t be much longer until we feel confident enough to decide on a date, so keep an eye out for that!
Here’s some of the more major developments from the last month. As with with May’s newsletter, please keep in mind that these changes will only happen when early access starts – we won’t be updating the demo until after we enter that phase.
Long-requested has been more control over how the ants behave. Whilst we’ve been reluctant to give too much direct control over to the player (we don’t want to risk the colony losing its natural, instinctive feel), John has found an area to give more whilst still being thematically consistent.
Players will now be able to toggle attacking and gathering behaviors for individual pheromone trails. This means you could have a group of black ants who are purely aggressive, fighting anything in range and never picking up food, or a group of worker ants who won’t attack enemies and will just gather food. Or vice versa, if you wanted. This should please players who like to micromanage a little more without making things overly complex.
This first part of this video shows the new toggle-able attack and gather mechanics; the second part shows how nursery and food storage tiles will now slow ants
Ant speed / nest layout
Something we’ve struggled with for quite a while is – how do we encourage sensible nest building? In nature, ants that dig usually create separate chambers for different purposes – nurseries, food storage, etc. Often in EotU players will carve out large swathes of the map without thought for its layout, which is our fault for not providing decent incentive to do so.
In our current internal build, ants walking over a food or nursery tile will suffer a significant speed penalty – currently 50%. This is to encourage the construction of corridors of normal surface where the ants will move at their full speed. We’re not sure we’ve quite got this down yet, and it’ll need lots of feedback (which is where you will come in, eventually!), and it does throw up a few problems. Should enemies suffer the same penalty? Would that encourage people to use food tiles as enemy traps? Would it be a bit weird if enemy ants didn’t suffer that penalty but yours did? It’s up for discussion, and it’ll come down to testing.
Models and Animations
Beach Wolf Spider
Our artist Matt has very nearly completed modelling and animating the list of creatures needed for our early access plan (of the 20 needed, he has just 3 and a half left to do, which is some impressive going!). Matt has genuinely astounded the rest of us with the quality of his work in this area. The above GIF shows the amazing beach wolf spider going through her animation set – walking, attacking, idle, lunging and death. But she also has a more maternal side – check out this video of her defending her recently-hatched brood from a patrol of vicious acid-spraying wood ants (Formica rufa).
Equally impressive (and significantly cuter) is the hermit crab. These crabs hide in shells they find to protect their vulnerable hind. The ones in early access are babies so they’re very small – not much bigger than the ants themselves. Check out the video below to see them in action. You’ll notice when they enter their shell to hide, they become invulnerable and gain a significant portion of their health back, which makes them pretty tough for their size. There’s certainly a threshold level of forces you’ll need to take down one of these cute little crustaceans.
And how about something a little easier to digest? In the below video, our ants encounter a pocket of woodworm. They’re defenseless, and struggle hopelessly to get away from the attention of the young black ant (Formica fusca) colony. The woodworm provide an easy source of food for the colony. Also, listen to the dulcet tones of our narrator – who will talk you through the game world and provide valuable information.
Our composer and sound designer Liam has been giving himself far too much work with his unique dynamic music system. He estimates that he’s completed about half of what is required for the early access release.
As well as composing all of the music, he’s designed a system whereby it responds at jumping-off points to how well the player is doing. Seamlessly, the musical tone will change from calm, to suspenseful, to panicked, to joyful, to triumphant. This means he’s essentially had to create the same musical score repeatedly in different emotional tones! But that’s okay – he’s not one to be afraid of hard work and it all sounds fantastic. Listen here for a little preview of the theme for a totally friendly and not at all terrifying spider.