We’ve had the last of our extra levels in the ‘sequel season’, so it’s time to re-evaluate the road ahead with an updated map. The compressed parts of the previous one are fast approaching, so we can ‘zoom in’ on that part of it, as it were, to give a bit more detail. Most of this newsletter will deal with breaking down what’ll be arriving in the near future.

A bombardier beetle attacks fire ants from NappyB on our Discord

We also have some business news – we’ve joined with indie publishers Hooded Horse to publish Empires of the Undergrowth! There are also some real-world events we’ll be attending soon. More on that later – first and foremost, let’s get the new roadmap up and talk through it in order.

New Roadmap

Here’s the updated roadmap. Please note that the exact order in which things will happen, as well as the timings, are very approximate – sometimes things take more time than expected, and sometimes they take less. Some of the updates may be clumped together, whilst others may be more spread out.

Graphic design is my passion (click to see full size)

The End of Sequel Season

Starting on the right-hand side in the top corner, we’ve just had the last of the ‘sequel season’ of extra levels. The Culling 2 was released on May 1, and it represents the last of the extra levels we had stocked up for you lovely people to play whilst we work on the big stuff. Rather than panic and quickly develop a bunch more of them, we thought we’d wait a while and just concentrate on getting to a point where we’ve released our planned changes to the existing campaign levels and freeplay mode.

Sequel season was a really neat opportunity to revisit some of the older extra level ideas, and give them a new spin in the context of the content that has been added to the game in the meantime. Undoubtedly there will be more extra levels (represented towards the centre of the roadmap, after all of the near-future updates are released) but for the meantime we’re quite happy with the reception given to the four in this set.

Campaign Balance Pass & Level Changes

The upcoming balance changes to the campaign levels will be arriving sooner rather than later. They shouldn’t be thought of as blanket changes – each level has been reworked to accommodate the changed food values (in general less food from dead enemies and more from other sources, except in tier 4 where food from creatures has increased), and in the case of the beach levels some larger changes are being made.

Beach Creature Changes

A new size class of hermit crab has been added which will patrol the beach at night, and aphids will continue to produce honeydew after dark (making them a much more valuable commodity to look after). There’s also some stuff that will make use of some previously unused narrator dialogue, making the overall changes to the beach levels far more interesting than a simple food rebalance.

What doesn’t kill you, usually succeeds in the second attempt

Apart from the new crab size class, ‘beach creature changes’ also refers to the changes to the wolf spider and tiger beetle that were detailed in the previous newsletter and vlog – the link here has the right timecode for that moment (at 3:36). These are art-only changes (apart from the food rebalance) to firmly establish the location of the beach levels as coastal Europe.

UI & Quality-of-Life Changes

A host of changes are coming to the menu system and user interface – more menus will be full screen-sized rather than floating boxes, making the visuals less cluttered when navigating them. The old and unhelpfully-named option called ‘realistic mode’ has been broken down into its component pieces (hiding pheromone markers, trails, and buried food and creature outlines) and added to a new tab on the updated menu, which also includes options for disabling seasonal hats on the queen if you so wish – not everyone wants to look at a Santa hat in December.

Updated level selection menu

The most eye-catchingly obvious of these changes is probably the level launch menu, which looks much cleaner and has some fancy live-rendered ants in it now. You can see this in motion in last month’s vlog (at 4:41 seconds).

The whole interface itself will soon have an option to set its scale, which is a long-requested feature for both accessibility and display format reasons. Apart from being a must for players with visual perception or eyesight issues, people who want to play on the Steam Deck or to use a controller whilst looking at a TV on the opposite side of the room will soon find text and menus across the game a much more readable experience.

Art Asset Changes

We’ve been working since the new year on updating the beach assets to bring them up to scratch with the precedent set for the swamp and rotting log environments. This was detailed more in the previous newsletter – so go and check that out for more extensive details (the same goes for the new black ant queen model).

WIP beach (ignore unfinished nest entrances, etc)

Freeplay AI

We’ve been hard at work plugging in all the sprockets and widgets to bring the improved AI systems to freeplay. In this quick demonstration video, you can see an AI colony respond directly to a threat near their nest entrance and engage its harassment module to fight off the intruders.

When it realises the odds are not in its favour, it makes the independent decision to make a tactical retreat before it loses all of its ants. This form of reactive AI was much simpler in its previous implementation for freeplay colonies, and it’s satisfying to see this coming together now. The work to make this more intelligent AI system saveable in freeplay mode has recently neared completion, so we’re fairly confident in putting this in the ‘more imminent’ section of the roadmap. Freeplay games that include AI colonies should be significantly more engaging and more tactically diverse.

New Freeplay Landmarks & Options

The new landmarks that are coming include large creatures (currently bullfrogs, dragonflies and whip spiders) and relocatable aphids on milkweed plants. The new options include the ability to drop some of the early game randomness of the landmarks, making the placement of them more intelligently fair, at least at the start of a freeplay run to allow the player time to build up before the difficulty ramps.

The True ‘Interim Update’

‘Interim Update’ is the unofficial term we’ve been using for the large sets of changes coming between the fire ant and final campaign updates, taking the name from a convention we used in an earlier update cycle. Since a good chunk of what was considered part of this update will be ready sooner (and is therefore earlier on the roadmap), we’ll keep the name for everything else that is likely to come a bit later. At that point, we’ll do a dedicated video covering all the changes.

Fishing spider spies you with all eight eyes

The 4th tier challenge mode (featuring the six-spotted fishing spider, Dolomedes triton) and the new freeplay map ‘Wetlands’ that prominently features fire ant bridge building make up the most anticipated part of this update, but the new uber creatures are sure to be a welcome addition as well. The game will get its full complement of achievements at this point, too (with the exception of some that will come with full release).

Version 1.0 – New Game Plus

The new addition for this part of the roadmap that needs a little more clarification is New Game Plus mode. It was detailed very thoroughly in last month’s vlog (5:58), so for a full rundown that’s the definitive source. For convenience’s sake here’s a brief summary:

  • Upon completing the campaign, you’ll have the option of converting a save to New Game Plus
  • That process will be similar to rehousing the colony in the campaign in terms of lost resources and gained royal jelly
  • All levels will be significantly harder
  • All ants will be unlockable from the start with your stash of jelly, including the bonus species (bullet ants)
  • Queen upgrades, species-specific upgrade and minor improvements will all be active in documentary campaign missions in New Game Plus mode to counteract the increased difficulty
  • The mode can be completed again, in New Game Mode +2, 3, etc to an as-yet undefined limit

Note that this change is unlikely to come until we leave early access, but plenty of people have been asking if it’s going to be a feature so we wanted to confirm that and get some of the details out nice and early.

That covers the updated roadmap – please feel free to join us on our Discord, or discussion forums, if you have any questions! We will endeavour to update this roadmap every 6 months or so going forward, until the project is finished. It’s likely that everything up until the ‘Interim Update’ part of it will be ticked off in relatively short order.

Hooded Horse

A short while ago, we got to know the lovely people from Hooded Horse – an indie publishing company that has been making some waves for the past few years with its strategy, sim and RPG games. Empires of the Undergrowth seemed like a good fit for them!

We’ve partnered up with them to get the word out about Empires of the Undergrowth to more people. Whilst we maintain complete creative control of the project and management of our own resources, Hooded Horse can bring their more extensive business acumen and experience to the party when it comes to promotion and marketing. This can only be a good thing for EotU – it should mean more eyes on the game, more feedback for us, and ultimately a more successful project. If you see some changes around the EotU store pages in the near future, then that’s the work of their wise hands.

The jumping spider-eyed amongst you may have noticed that EotU is part of publisher bundles by Hooded Horse for the time being, and we’re very happy to be counted alongside games such as Against the Storm and Clanfolk!

ANTCON & Gamescom

There’s an event in Wales on 13th May called ANTCON, in Carmarthen, Wales. It’s a small event for ant enthusiasts, focusing on their keeping and care. We’ve been invited to attend and give a talk, so a few of us from the team will be visiting and director / developer Liam will likely be doing that short presentation – and I’ll make sure it’s recorded! I’ll be documenting the whole event and editing a highlight video for our YouTube channel, so make sure you’re subscribed to us (why aren’t you already? We put some really good stuff up there!) so that you can see that as soon as it goes up.

Later in the year there is a very good chance we’ll be attending Gamescom 2023 in Cologne, Germany, in some form – our new publishers Hooded Horse will be there also. That’s in August, so if you’d like to meet some of the team (and play a whole bunch of awesome indie games whilst you’re at it) then there’s plenty of time to get tickets!

Screenshot Central

If you’d like to submit a screenshot for this section of the newsletter, by far the easiest way is to join our Discord and post in the appropriate dedicated screenshot channel. It’s a very friendly community and aesthetically pleasing screenshots are always well-received. This time, though, I’ve gone through the Steam Community screenshot posts since I’ve been neglecting those for the past few newsletters.

To get a better angle on your screenies, hit shift whilst you press the photo mode button (F9 by default) for a camera that is uncoupled from the ground for maximum freedom!

A wasp mantidfly perches on a pitcher plant in this shot from Philippe Echtebaise
An aesthetically pleasant ultrawide shot of the rotting log from matrixmod
Not even the froglings survived – it’s a massacre in the swamp from TheeGamerTv