With the exception of a few necessary balance changes and fixes for the more recent playable builds, the team’s sole focus for the past month has been the leafcutter update. Over the past few weeks we’ve been showing off some of the progress on the creatures of Ecuadorian jungle where these levels are based. Our artist Matt has been producing amazing work to bring this sublimely rich ecosystem to life within Empires of the Undergrowth. John and Liam have been working on bringing the creatures into the game and figuring out how they interact with our leafcutters. This newsletter will therefore focus mainly on the amazing biodiversity of the rainforest setting. Without further ado, let’s get to having a look at some of these fantastic beasties!

The rainforest at night

Rove Beetles

Rove beetles are a diverse group of insects that can be found the world over – in fact, the European devil’s coach horse that’s already in the game is a kind of rove beetle. The main distinguishing feature for these beetles is the short elytra (wing coverings) that leave most of their backs exposed. Many, many species of rove beetle exist, and some of them are rainforest dwellers. They’ll come into conflict with our leafcutter ants.

Rove beetle larvae

Although leafcutters do not eat other creatures, they are fully aware that other creatures will happily eat them – and so they’ll defend themselves with the same deadly zeal that any self-respecting ant with giant slicing jaws would.

Two varieties of rove beetle adult

Spiny Devil Bush Cricket

The fearsome spiny devil bush cricket (Panacanthus varius) faces off against a leafcutter colony. Covered in defensive spines, this monster may well be guarding some of the choicest leaves for the harvest – which means it must be confronted. Bush crickets are also sometimes known as katydids.

In-game, the spiny devil’s spines will mean that any creature that does damage to it will suffer some damage in return, whether or not it is actually being attacked by the cricket. It also has an area of effect bleed attack which will continue damaging the target for a time after.

The spiny devil is not idly named!

Praying Mantis

The mantids are an iconic group of insects – known for their “praying” folded forelegs and upright posture, as well as their covert hunting techniques. This particular species is a leaf-mimic praying mantis (Pseudoxyops perpulchra), specifically adapted to hide in the foliage with near-perfect leaf camouflage. In its final instar it’s a voracious hunter of insects, using its natural stealth to get close to its quarry.

The leaf-mimic mantis will have a unique stealth ability reflecting its natural prowess at ambush attacks. It will not appear on the minimap – nor will its health bar be visible – until it decides to engage the player. The range at which ants can notice and attack it is also much lower than it is for more conspicuous creatures.

Army Ants

The relentless march of the army ants is legendary. These ants form large colonies, living a nomadic lifestyle. They scour the rainforest, sending out waves of workers to demolish anything in their path to feed their expanding empire. Like many species of ant, they have a distinct caste system. In these pictures we see two separate castes of Eciton burchellii – small and medium-sized workers.

Featured below is the soldier caste – analogous to the large majors that the leafcutter colonies produce. These brutes protect the flanks of the army’s trails from attack. Their large mandibles are more than capable of delivering a killing blow to any number of arthropods and a painful nip to things larger. Unless prepared for battle, it would be advisable for the denizens of the rainforest undergrowth to avoid the trails of the army ants lest they incur the wrath of their imposing protectors.

In Empires of the Undergrowth, the leafcutter colony will encounter army ants overlapping its territory. They represent a strong existential threat – unlike our leafcutters army ants readily eat meat, and the brood of a fledgling leafcutter colony would be a nutritious prize.

One Year On

As of 1st December 2018, it’s been one year since we released the early access version of Empires of the Undergrowth to you all. We’ve had incredible support, love and kindness from all of you and that makes each day we work on the project a joy. Such an ambitious project is not without its difficulties and pitfalls, particularly for such a small team, but with you guys behind us we feel we can achieve everything we’ve set out to do.

The last year has seen some big changes to not just the game, but the lives of those of us on the team. All three of the developers have been able to give up their day jobs to work exclusively on the game. Our entire lives have been restructured around it and that’s a very exciting thing.

As far as the game itself goes, we’re not too far from a huge update in the form of the leafcutter levels. We know you’re all desperate to sink your jaws into them, and we can’t wait to get them out to you. There are still some more surprises in store for this update, and we’ll be teasing a few more of them as we complete the work. Keep an eye on our social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – for those.

So, here’s to the future! And here’s to you all, you lovely bunch. Continue being awesome.

YouTuber Highlight – Flexible Games

Flexible Games / Buggi has been playing Empires of the Undergrowth diligently for several weeks now. What’s made his playthrough fun to watch for us as developers is that he’s gone into the game blind, with very little knowledge of what’s in store. Genuine reactions like this are often hard to come by, and it’s been an experience watching him get to grips with the systems. Here’s part 1 of the extensive series – he’s now completed the current campaign levels and moved on to Freeplay.

Screenshot Central

Once again it’s time to have a look through the Steam screenshot gallery for our favourite submissions of the past few weeks. As always, that’s the easiest way to get them to us (F12 by default from Steam) – but if you want you can email them directly to mike@slugdisco.com.

Testing the limits in Battle Arena in this snap from xw_elite06_wx

A funnel web spider claims a victim from z0mbiesrock

A simple, pleasing shot of a wood ant queen from M O T H