Welcome to September, the worst month of the year (or so I’m told). I’ll do my best to ensure you don’t have to listen to Green Day on repeat to get through it, with some lovely news about achievements, map contests and difficulty changes coming to Empires of the Undergrowth. If you think that’d cheer you up, read on.

Leafcutter ants swarm over a huge whip spider in this shot from Steam user Bananta

As the art team and two out of three of our devs press forward with tier 5 work, one of our devs has been making changes to the difficulty options to Empires of the Undergrowth which were detailed in the most recent vlog last month. Before we get onto all the ins and outs of that, let’s talk about the recent map contest!

Map Contest

In August we launched a map contest, mainly advertised on YouTube (you should absolutely subscribe to our YouTube channel – we post a whole bunch of great stuff there).

The contest closed at the start of this month, and we have had in the region of 200 entries all told! The brief was to submit an idea for a freeplay or custom game map, which we will then judge and turn our favourite into a fully-fledged map in the game.

John and Mike discussing map designs, whilst John makes an example map (which we will be finishing and adding to the game also!)

We want to do the judging live, so our current plan is to do a livestream at some point towards the end of this month. It would have been earlier but several of our team members are away for the Tokyo Game Show at the moment (more on that later in the newsletter). The exact timing of this is yet to be nailed down but we hope to stream at a time where most people can watch live in some form, hopefully on a weekend.

We’re going to have to cut down the entries to 20-30 for the final judging, or we’d be there all night trying to get through 200! Please know that we appreciate all of the entries, and I’ll do my best to make sure everyone who sent in an entry is credited for it, even if the entry doesn’t make it into the final selection.

Keep an eye on our socials, and on here, for news of when the judging is happening! Remember – it’ll likely be a weekend towards the end of this month or the start of October.

Difficulty Changes

A common criticism of our difficulty choices is that the jump between them is not very linear, and in particular that the difference between medium and hard is more than a little unfair – with hard being closer to insane than to medium. We’ve decided now is the time to get the difficulty selection in its final working order before we finish the project, so one of our three devs has spent a lot of time recently working on that whilst the others crack on with tier 5.

Handy chart showing intended difficulty changes relative to the old standard

As you can see in the chart above, the intent is for difficulties between ‘easy’ and the new ‘extreme’ (which sits where the current ‘hard’ difficulty is) to be a gentler slope upwards. There’s lots of reasons for this, and we hope the renaming of ‘insane’ to ‘impossible’ gives more people pause for thought if they want to attempt it on a first try (perhaps we should gate off this hardest difficulty on a first playthrough – what do you think?).

The increased resolution in the options outside of the toughest one will, we hope, allow people to make a more appropriate choice for their early playthroughs with better-fitting options for their skill level. There will be four options to choose from outside of the toughest – easy, medium, hard and extreme. We know plenty of people have chosen hard for the first playthrough of a level which, by no fault of their own, lies outside of their current skill level, being ‘insane-lite’ in some respects. ‘Hard’ should indicate challenging but achievable with sound game knowledge if not level-specific knowledge – we think that should now be the case.

See the vlog linked below for the full video form of this discussion – the segment begins at 2:38. Also, a reminder that the vlogs also come bi-monthly, in between these newsletters.

Achievements – Nearly There!

We spoke about the achievement additions in the previous newsletter, but we’ve now had the huge list of new ones in testing for a week or so and they should be arriving in the next patch (tentatively scheduled for October)! We’ve tried to include a selection of nice standard ones (complete level X on difficulty Y, that sort of thing, similar to the existing ones) along with quite specific challenges for the more adventurous. Here’s a small selection of what you can expect (artwork pending), specifically some of the more interesting ones for 2.2 Queen of the Hill. Which ones will you be going after first?

If you don’t get the Lord of the Rings reference, we can’t be friends

Tier 5 Progress

Although we’re not ready to officially reveal the setting and theme for the fifth and final tier of the formicarium story, I can talk a little about how it’s progressing. As we’re bringing to a close the tying-up of other loose ends for the project (freeplay, achievements, etc) most of the dev team is currently working solidly on the fifth tier, and a good 70% of the source control commits that come in are related to it.

After revamping the beach assets for the July update, our environment artist has recently sent in his first completed models and textures for the as-yet unrevealed fifth tier setting. Several more creatures are completed, including some of the more exciting titan-class ones and some others that have novel mechanics associated with them.

New systems (which along with artwork always represent the biggest time sink for a new tier) are coming together and beginning to work in unison, and the species we’ve homed in on for tier 5 requires several of them! One such new system involves a local-scale dynamic change to the environment occurring in one of the levels.

Internal discussion has led to the consensus of a more controlled build-up to how we release information about tier 5 compared to previous marketing cycles. Although as the community manager I’m itching to get that information out there, I understand the team’s desire for a firmer marketing regimen given that it’ll be the last of the truly huge updates as we leave early access. As soon as I have the goahead to start sharing more concrete information, I shall!


Last month, the team travelled to Cologne, Germany to attend Gamescom. Empires of the Undergrowth was represented there as part of the Hooded Horse booth (they’re our co-publishers on EotU) – a member of our team was manning that section most of the time! I had my camera with me, and took enough videos to cobble together a travel vlog which was fun to do. It was great to meet some of our players, old and new, from the continent and chat about the game with them. It was also lovely to meet our colleagues from Hooded Horse in person for the first time (for most of us)!

We like to use these public events as a way of gaining a little hands-on feedback from new players, as well – as work-from-home developers, we don’t very often get the opportunity to directly observe people who are completely new to the game interacting with its systems, so we take that chance when we can. One thing that came from this particular event is some changes that will be made to 3.1 The Harvest – we’ll be introducing a few early game objectives for that level, which should serve as something of a mini-tutorial for leafcutters (very similar to how The Crucible, the leafcutter demo level, works) as well as fully implementing some cut narrator dialogue about refuse chambers. Look out for that in the next update.

EotU developer Matt and environment artist Dan C at Gamescom

Slug Disco were also there with Robert Kaufmann, developer of Horticular – a beautiful garden-building pixel art game that Slug Disco is publishing, but not developing. Horticular was at the Indie Arena Booth, and Robert also got the chance to meet a whole bunch of you and gain some valuable feedback. Horticular development is continuing apace and we’re really excited to see everyone’s reaction to the finished game – it really is a remarkable project that we’re very proud to be representing.

The Horticular station at the Indie Arena Booth

Gamescome is absolutely gigantic, the largest such event in the world, and its 2023 incarnation was an unforgettable experience as the world emerges fully from the shadow of COVID-19 that has loomed for the past several years. It’s always great to have the team together and we cherish those times that we can do that. We’re not quite done with events this year, which leads us on to…

Tokyo Game Show

TGS kicks off a few days from the time of writing, and Slug Disco will be represented there with three of our other publishing projects – Horticular and Adapt will be together at the dedicated Slug Disco booth, and Ecosystem will be there as part of the Indie Select 80. Our co-publishers Hooded Horse will be there, too.

Although we don’t have a Slug Disco booth for Empires of the Undergrowth, if anyone is there and has a strong urge to play it we will boot it up for you – tell Liam and Dan that Mike sent ya and they’ll oblige. If you’re nice.

Screenshot Central

We’ve had some beautiful screenies of the beach environment since its release in July, and so this month for Screenshot Central we’ll focus on that.

If you’d like to submit a screenshot, the easiest way is to join our Discord and post on the appropriate screenshot channels. You can also upload to the Steam Community page, and I will occasionally look through there. To get great screenshots, hold shift whilst you enter photo mode (F9 by default) – this will uncouple your camera from the ground and allow you to get some better angles on the action.

Attack of the crabs from BrickyGraph631
The beach in all its glory from Orion (Dilphy)
A wood ant queen safe in her burrow from Pumadog