Good afternoon, morning and variations thereupon ladies and gentlemen. We’re back to the monthly newsletters after the dual one last time – we’re about to pick up pace on the news front! It’s very near the end of the transitory phase now – all three developers are full-time on the project from now on, and we’re finalising the plans for everything going forward. However, we do have to give a special mention to one of our team – John, our lead Freeplay developer, has been celebrating the arrival of his baby daughter. Congrats to him on the expansion of his colony!

Freeplaying All Day

The Freeplay beta is continuing and we’re still digesting all of your feedback. Remember, even if you don’t get a direct response from Mike or another team member for your suggestion or bug report, we are reading all of it. There’s just so much to read that it’s not feasible to always reply, but we do our best! John is currently finishing off the saving system. Once he’s done with that and a few other pressing changes have been made, it’ll be time to put it on the main branch so that all owners of the game can play it. You can still join in the optional beta testing (without saving) right now if you haven’t yet – see the top of our previous newsletter for instructions. The beta is for Windows only, but when we put Freeplay on the main branch Linux and Mac users will also be able to access it.

A very ordered nest layout and lovely poppy display in this Freeplay playthrough by Switch

Full-Time Boys – Liam

Last time, we reported that John was able to quit his job and go full-time on the project. We’re delighted to report that now, Liam has done so too – completing our trio of developers now working full-time. Up until a couple of months back, only Matt was dedicating his whole professional time to the project. We feel a bit like a record on repeat in saying it, but it’s entirely true – only the support of our fans has allowed this to happen. Making the leap of leaving a long-held job for the unknown future of a home-grown project is a terrifying step – and one that we’ve only been able to take because of you guys. We owe you a really good game in return, and we’re going to make that happen.

Enjoy these picture of Liam finishing his last day at his old academic job in Germany – getting in some last-minute ant revision, then enjoying his final currywurst before returning the the UK to work full-time on Empires of the Undergrowth.

Artifical Antelligence (why didn’t I use this title last time?)

Liam is now working full-pelt on the AI for a computer controlled colony. Whilst we have some basic AI options for colony control in the project, these currently boil down to scripted enemies with pre-built bases, sending waves out on regular timers. The current task of having a fully independent AI player, able to make informed decisions is a much taller order! This week the computer controlled colony (known in the project as “Hive Bot”) is being taught how to detect and avoid dangerous caverns whilst digging underground, or how to incorporate them into their base. For a human player, it is easy to spot the red exclamation marks hovering below the surface, but Hive Bot needs a little more help. In the picture you can see our new cavern data object; this is what the bot will see and will give it an idea of how much food and danger might be present if it digs through.

The Hive Bot’s helping hand

The implication here is that AI colonies will, for all intents and purposes, operate in the same way that a human player does. They’ll start off with a queen and a few workers, evaluate their surroundings, then decide on an appropriate form of expansion. The solution they decide upon will be different each time the game is played. Properly functional AI colonies are essential for our plans for the next tier of the Formicarium campaign mode, and will also be integrated into Freeplay.

Choosing Ant Species

A lot of thought goes into the selection of ant species we include in the game. Not least because once we commit, we have to put serious time into them! Both Formica fusca and Formica rufa were chosen primarily for being iconic temperate ant species – and the rufas obviously for their real-life acid spraying abilities, which fitted our RTS-style game rather well! For leaf cutters, we chose a fairly ubiquitous species with Atta cephalotes (picture below) which has lots of polymorphism (in-species different body shapes, allowing us to have fun with different castes of ant). In the very old versions of the game, there were many more ant species but they were much less fleshed out. Our philosophy now is definitely “less is more” – fewer species, but more love given to each one.

Atta cephalotes – the selected leaf cutter species

We’ll be showing some of the artwork for leaf cutters as we complete it. As an interesting note, we do stretch reality somewhat in the game but where we can we want to be realistic – so we recently asked one of our favourite entomology groups how they’d feel about the realism of Atta cephalotes coming into conflict with an as-yet unannounced species. They gave it the thumbs up! It’s nice to have those checks in place.

Zealous Emerge

We were invited along to the Zealous Emerge awards a couple of weeks back. It was a fun event – and Empires of the Undergrowth won in the game section! Seeing that only his name is engraved on the trophy, Liam is currently taking quotes from contractors for a custom-built shelf to house it. We would like to thank the judges and the organizers for all of their help, particularly Guy Armitage who has spent the last week beating the game (but certainly not during work). We were joined in our booth by AsobiTech and their magical flying cat game Mao Mao, it’s loud and colourful and should be coming to several different platforms this year. We wish them the best of luck with their launch

Screenshot Central

Time to showcase some of our favourite screenshots of the past few weeks! Keep uploading your shots to Steam, or submit them via email to mike@slugdisco.net. Remember you can enter photo mode by pressing F8 (by default) to get some really cool angles for your shots.

AK_tion_47 proves he’s still the king of Freeplay screenshots with this stunner

A simple but aesthetically pleasing shot of a Formica fusca queen by 3Rk4n

Welp…. Slam was unlucky enough to be attacked by two uber creatures in Freeplay. RIP