We’re entering a stage of development where we’re making some pretty fundamental changes to both the campaign and freeplay mode, in order to get them closer to their final implementation when the game leaves early access. That’s been the priority for our devs in the past few weeks – and we’ll detail some of the changes that are coming in this newsletter.
On the graphical side of things, there’s a new Formica fusca queen model on the way and a change to two of the beach creatures for geographical consistency. We’ve also been finalising work for the visual improvement of the beach levels. Whilst we’re not ready to show that in all its glory we will go through some of the new things that will be making the beach even beach-ier than it was before.
A little later this month we’ll have the penultimate extra level in the Sequel Season appearing. Once again, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Well, not quite your friend, it’ll attack you, too – but you get the idea.
Finally, in late February I sat our 3 devs down to confront them with the harsh reality that some people don’t like their game. This was a giggle, and all in good fun – see the results later!
Campaign Balance Updates
We have been due a large overhaul of the campaign ever since the fire ant update. The food balancing in the 4.x levels is closer to our philosophy going forward for how food from aggressive creatures will work in the finished project, and we are now at a point where it’s time to implement this.
To reiterate the reasoning behind this – in the game as it currently stands, colonies often reach a ‘tipping point’ beyond which nothing can realistically threaten them, and this was not our original intention. Some creatures have methods of circumventing this, such as wolf spiders that can charge past ant lines underground – but these are more like band-aids over a much deeper issue. Once the colony cannot be realistically threatened, things become much less interactive. Enemies arriving in the nest to attack the queen become, instead of a threat, a free delivery.
We balanced the fire ant levels with this philosophy, with aggressive creatures dropping significantly less food for their difficulty than creatures in the 1st and 2nd tiers (the 3rd tier is immune to this due to leafcutters not eating creatures). We accept that the difference is quite jarring and can be disconcerting for a player who is used to a level of resources from fallen critters in previous tiers.
We agree with the overall consensus that we pushed things too far in the other direction when it came to balancing 4.x, so we’re going to be increasing food from aggressive creatures a little in those levels whilst decreasing it across the board in the rest of the campaign. Food from other sources is being increased to compensate, but players starting the campaign from scratch should get a much more consistent feel for what they can expect from slain aggressive creatures.
Such a change is going to require tweaking, and we’ll be inviting the community to be a part of that when the time comes. It’s likely that we will run an extended optional beta.
We originally envisaged the upcoming freeplay changes to be a lesser update, rather than the entire overhaul that it’s turning out to be! As we’ve moved forward with introducing the improved AI systems from the 4.x levels into it, we’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that, stats-wise, freeplay and the campaign operate on two entirely different levels. If we want to balance plant-harvesting leafcutters against voracious omnivores like fire ants, we’re going to need a different set of numbers.
A short time ago, the stats for critters in the campaign and freeplay were divorced from one another, so that they can be balanced separately. How different they need to be will be down to the testing phase, once again, and we are very likely to run another optional beta for the freeplay changes. This is likely to be ready for testing after the campaign balance pass detailed above, so will probably be a separate event to it.
Other changes are also in the works for freeplay – a CSV-driven way of sharing freeplay setups is being implemented (the rarely-used copy/paste method is going to be retired), and this ties into another exciting addition to the mode that we’ll detail in a future newsletter or vlog.
Outside of these larger changes, a smaller one that is freeplay-relevant is an increase of the number of harvest points on an uber velvet worm to 8. This was just an oversight with this one particular creature and did not represent where we intend to go on that front!
New Creature Artwork
One of the earliest models made for Empires of the Undergrowth in its current form is the Formica fusca queen. Matt has been itching to have another go at her, and has recently done so. We’re sure you agree that the new model is much improved!
Since she’s a constant, static feature in levels she features in, she was a much more pressing candidate for improvement over other models. Older stuff can always be improved, and we have a priority list for this. Improvements to, or replacements for, other models depends on time.
We will be making changes to two of the beach creatures for reasons that shall be detailed shortly – both the tiger beetle and the wolf spider will be replaced with similar yet distinct species. Earlier in the project, in the geographical crunch that was necessary to get the game to an initial early access release, the intended location of the beach levels (coastal Europe) was compromised by the inclusion of two North American species – the beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis) and the beach wolf spider (Arctosa littoralis).
This is now being corrected. The beach tiger beetle is being replaced by the northern dune tiger beetle (Cicindela hybrida). This beetle has different pigmentation to its predecessor, but shares the same behaviour – including an appetite for ants.
The beach wolf spider is being replaced with the splendidly-named sand bear wolf spider (Arctosa perita). An active night-time hunter, it shares the same niche as its American cousin and will also be a one-to-one replacement for it in the campaign levels.
We see no reason to replace the existing species in places such as extra levels, so dorsalis and littoralis will still be around for the foreseeable future! So, in the current plans, the Hungry Spider will remain a beach wolf.
The art team has been hard at work sprucing up the beach environment to bring it up to scratch with the more recent additions. Environment artist Dan C has been building pebbles, plants and shells, and creating a large amount of sand textures. So much sand.
New decorative elements for the beach include limpet and scallop shells, as well as other marine adornments such as seaweed and flowering bindweed.
Please note that in the small thumbnails of the assets in the above editor screenshot they are missing their in-game textures. These are starting to go into the levels now, and our hope is that we can include the beach visual improvements alongside the campaign balance pass beta test.
Enemy of my Enemy 2
Within the next few weeks from the time of writing, extra level Enemy of my Enemy 2 will appear. Like in its predecessor, digging is done with the mouse and no ants are controlled. This time around, the queen is located at the very centre of the map, which puts her at a much more perilous crossroads.
Buried enemy packs are hostile to each other, and the order in which you unearth them is crucial. Get them to take each other out before they reach your queen, where a limited number of powerful Royal Guard ants are protecting her. Harder difficulties represent a more intricate puzzle, and as always with these types of extra levels, game knowledge and a good feel for how powerful individual creatures are is paramount.
As things stand, the higher difficulties of this level are very difficult – perhaps too difficult! It’s due a final balance pass, but we’re not in a position to package another build of the game before it appears (everything is current in bits because of the ongoing campaign and freeplay changes). We’ll be interested to see if a distinct meta appears to beat insane difficulty before we get a chance to apply a rebalance!
Reacting to Mean Comments
In late February, I sat down with our 3 devs John, Liam and Matt, with the intention of bruising their egos a little. Whilst we’ve had plenty of support for Empires of the Undergrowth, there’s definitely some meaner comments out there and I thought it’d be healthy (and definitely not soul-destroying) for them to read through them.
We all had a giggle making this, and no foul is intended to anyone whose comment is featured in it! Let’s be honest, everyone who says we take a long time to do things isn’t wrong. There are few combinations as deep-cutting as both mean and witty, as many of the featured comments demonstrate. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?
Thanks to our Discord members, and Chinese community managers Kaidi and Lin, for helping me organise and collate the comments for this video.
If you’d like to submit a screenshot for this part of the newsletter, the easiest way for us to see it is to post it on the appropriate channel of our community Discord. Alternatively, you can post it to the Steam Community which I’ll occasionally rifle through. As an absolute last resort, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get better screenies, hold down shift when entering screenshot mode to uncouple your camera from the ground plain.