Well met, one and all, for the March / April newsletter! As many of you know, a lot has happened since our last newsletter – the most important of which is the public release of the Freeplay beta. If you weren’t aware of that and would like to participate, there are details on how to do so in the rather extensive section below this arbitrary introduction. In fact, let’s end this arbitrary introduction and get straight to the best bit.

There are some pretty amazing Freeplay setups – like this one from Steam user Enablin

Freeplay Beta

We’ve been working on Freeplay – a mode without a definite endgame and intended to take a long time – since shortly after early access release. The idea is to give players the opportunity to run a colony at their own pace, and deal with threats to it as they come along. A selection of choices in how the difficulty changes means that (hopefully) it will be a different experience each time.

Want to fill your entire underground with ants? Beta tester Pontus Meths did – and it took an afternoon.

Freeplay works in such a way that initial starting conditions affect the long-term outcome of the game. These are very difficult to judge, and we’ve been asking for feedback on it by making a public beta for all owners of the game on Steam. If you haven’t heard about this yet and would like to participate, and you are on a Windows system, please follow the steps below:

1) Find Empires of the Undergrowth in your Steam library, right-click on it and choose “Properties”
2) Choose the “Betas” tab
3) In the box titled “Enter beta access code to unlock private betas”, enter the following code: betatestants
4) After the “Access code correct” information appears, make sure you’ve chosen the beta from the “Select the beta you would like to opt into” drop-down menu
5) Press close – the game will now update to the beta branch.

By doing so, you are acknowledging that this is a beta and things are not in their finished state. The biggest issue currently is that THERE IS NO SAVE FEATURE IN THE BETA. If you would like to play for a while, clear some hours in your schedule! The main Freeplay release will feature saving but that feature is not ready yet.

It’s all going on in this busy Freeplay screenshot from Steam user AK_tion_47

There is a small inherent risk that save files might become corrupted when testing beta, due to the fundamental changes the game has undergone in the time since the last patch. We don’t expect this to happen, but just in case we strongly recommend you back up your formicarium saves before you play:

You will find your saves on Windows in:
C:\Users\[YOUR USER NAME]\AppData\Local\EotU\Saved\SaveGames

Note that AppData is usually hidden; you can either un-hide the folder in the files settings or just type it into the bar. If you make a copy of this folder and save it somewhere else, you can restore your saves by replacing this folder with the backed up one.

The beta will be getting some changes – and we’re working on the save system. Right now you can’t save, but since it’s a mode designed to last several hours we will want the save system working before we release it on the main branch. Your feedback is much appreciated – please visit our forums (either on Steam or our own official ones).  At this point we’re interested in bug reports and balance issues rather than ideas for new content. The finished update will of course be available for Mac and Linux but right now for testing purposes it’s Windows-only.

Freeplay’s Uber creatures in all their glory – showing their characteristic glow

GamesMaster – Full Circle

In their very young days, developer John and community manager Mike (who is typing this in third person and feeling a bit weird about it) went to the GamesMaster exhibition. Back then, GamesMaster was a TV show hosted by Dominic Diamond and the late, great Sir Patrick Moore – it still exists in the form of a very popular monthly magazine. We were utterly delighted to see a review of the early access build in their most recent publication, and even more delighted when we saw how kind it was. The article only exists in print form so here we’re linking a tweet by its author, Leon Hurley.

Artificial Hivetelligence

Essential to the next set of single-player levels is a fully autonomous AI to control enemy colonies – Liam, who is leading the development of this feature, has called it “HiveBot”. It will work intelligently to play the game in a similar way that a human player would – digging out a nest underground, placing pheromone markers, evaluating its options, identifying sources of food and tactically deciding what and when to attack.

As well as being needed for the next set of levels (which as revealed previously will feature leaf cutter ants, Atta cephalotes), HiveBot will be integrated into Freeplay mode! The current freeplay map, The Dunes, has four underground spaces and the player is randomly assigned one of them on game setup. AI-controlled colonies will be an optional addition, cropping up in one of the unused underground spaces that the player doesn’t occupy. Future Freeplay maps will follow a similar format.

In the below video, you can see the HiveBot deciding how it’s going to dig out its underground nest space, both in the presence and absence of obstacles in its way. It tries to be efficient – in EotU it’s usually best to build your nest chambers in a hexagonal pattern where you can, for tile efficiency – and to have corridors that ants can use to efficiently move through the nest space.

Battle Arena

The Battle Arena is a feature that is intended to help the player work out how army and creature compositions play off against each other, and due to some speedy work by John we’ve been able to include it in the currently active beta build along with Freeplay. If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question “who would win – 150 ants or 25 tiger beetles?” then you need look no further. This feature is included in the beta build detailed above but will otherwise be accessible for all players soon.

Full-time Boys – John

Matt has been full-time on the project for a good long while now. John took this unassuming yet poignant selfie a few weeks back – it’s him packing up the remainder of his belongings at his previous day job. John is now a full-time Slug Disco developer, and his day job is Empires of the Undergrowth! This has only been possible due to the amazing love and support you guys – our community – have given to the project. Liam will soon be joining him, and then all of our developers will be full-time on the project.

John on his last day at his old day job – he was devastated!

Entomology Society 2018

John and Mike took a day out to visit Harper Adams University – we set up a booth for the game at the Entomology Society outreach event. The idea is to get secondary-school aged people interested in entomology (insect studies) – and for some crazy reason the organizers thought having video games involved may help attract that clientele. This was the second time we’ve been to this event, and it’s been a cracker both times. It’s great fun meeting young people considering a career in science.

Screenshot Central

As always, we love seeing the interesting screenies you guys capture – so here are three of our favourites from the last few weeks! If you’d like a more interesting camera angle for your screenshot, hit F9 (by default) and follow the instructions. Please keep uploading your favorite shots to Steam – that’s the easiest way for us to see them. Otherwise, email them to mike@slugdisco.com

Caught in the act of hatching – by Steam user The PILOT

A remarkably detailed yet hapless morsel – by Steam user MrDolly

An almost Brutalist nest layout in this Freeplay screenshot from Steam user Inixus