Winter is… approaching. Since the last newsletter we’ve released what we’ve called the “interim update”, version 0.13 – interim meaning between Freeplay and the upcoming major update. That update introduced the planned challenge modes to the 2nd tier Formicarium levels, added a new level to Freeplay, addressed several issues, and included a spooky spider-based extra that you guys seemed to have a lot of fun with. In the meantime, the guys have also been working solidly on the next set of levels for the game, which of course will feature leafcutter ants. Let’s dive in and see how we’ve been doing!
V0.13- Interim Update
Our intent when releasing the Interim Update was to fill in some clearly missing gaps in the game as it stands, consolidate the game systems for future updates (and deal with issues arising from those system changes sooner rather than later), as well as giving you guys some fun extra stuff to do in the meantime. We also re-designed the main menu for clarity, going back to a more traditional system.
Tiger Beetle Larvae
The 2nd tier Formicarium levels (2.1 Rising Tide, and 2.2 Queen of the Hill) have gained their own challenge mode. In the 1st tier levels, activating challenge mode introduced a new creature to the fray (the mole cricket). In keeping with that spirit, the 2nd tier introduces the beach tiger beetle larvae – the juvenile form of the tiger beetles that are found in these levels. They live in small burrows in the sand, hiding away for safety but listening for the vibrations of a suitable meal. They will snatch ants away one at a time, then quickly kill them – and it is in that brief moment alone that they are vulnerable.
We’ve particularly enjoyed seeing some of our more seasoned players reacting to the difference the presence these critters makes to the level experience – on higher difficulties, the number of larvae that spawn can be huge! As always, there’s a way to overcome these difficult odds with skill and experience.
Towhead is a brand new Freeplay level. It’s set on a small island or sandbank near the mouth of a river, and has some features that make it an entirely different experience to The Dunes (our first Freeplay map). Firstly, it’s a lot smaller which makes the experience of jostling for resources significantly more intense. It also has a unique element – a periodic flood, which will purge the lower level of the map of all creatures. This is an optional addition to the map, but if activated it adds an extra thought and planning element to your food collection.
The release of Towhead also saw some necessary balance changes to Freeplay in general. After listening to some feedback by players, we’ve changed it so that at lower difficulty early game time, only lower-level creatures will spawn. This change happened in patch 0.133 – click here to read the full notes from that patch.
Minor Improvements System
The Minor Improvements System has been added as a way to spend spare Royal Jelly. Some players have been sitting on a cache of jelly with no way to spend it, and some players find themselves with some left over after they’ve purchased their desired upgrades. The MIS allows players to spend initially small amounts of jelly to make improvements to their ant’s stats. The amount of jelly this costs will increase exponentially after multiple purchases, so there is a practical limit to how much a colony’s ants can be upgraded.
To access this new system, open up the Royal Jelly Tech Tree Menu from the top-left of the Formicarium hub. Select the icon of the kind of ant that you’d like to improve, and choose the jelly icon that pops up.
Please don’t feel that you need to grind for Royal Jelly to use this feature; it really isn’t intended to be used that way (hence the increasing cost for additional improvements)! It’s more a way of spending left over jelly efficiently before you progress to the next Formicarium tier.
Extra / Improved Dialogue & Audio
We’ve recently done our recording sessions for the third Formicarium tier levels with our three voice actors. It all went swimmingly, but while we were at it we asked them to record some extra bits and pieces that we felt were missing from the existing game content. This is most apparent in Freeplay, where the narrator now introduces your fledgling colony to its world when the game starts.
Scientist #2 will also give some vocal indication when he drops food on the Formicarium surface during the gateway missions, and we’ve re-recorded Scientist #1’s voice lines entirely with better recording equipment. Whilst doing that, just about all the game’s audio has gone through improved filtering for consistency and clarity.
Ant Movement / Swarming
In preparation for the aforementioned major update, the code that governs the movement of ants about the nest and above ground has undergone an extensive re-write. Leafcutter ants, which will feature in the major update to come have a complex, multi-caste society and getting them moving efficiently around their environment has necessitated the creation of several new systems for movement and swarming. These are now also driving ant movement in the current build of the game – but you shouldn’t notice a huge difference right now. We’re laying the groundwork for the future with these changes.
Hungry Spider Level
It was a pleasure to be able to have a little surprise ready for you all in time for Halloween! We’re delighted with how well the Hungry Spider level was received. For those who didn’t catch, it, a cobweb appeared on the main menu, which when clicked would take you to a special level where you play as a ravenous wolf spider, with your aim to consume everything in your path. It’s a devilishly difficult level, with not many managing to complete it.
Some members of our community have written fantastic guides on how to tackle this fiendish level, which was unexpected and awesome. If you didn’t get a chance to play, don’t worry – the cobweb will return whenever there’s a full moon!
Whilst all this has been going on with the interim update, of course the guys have been hard at work with the third tier Formicarium levels. In the last newsletter we showed you all about the different castes that leafcutter ant society has, but this time we’d like to focus on their environment. As previously mentioned they will feature leafcutter ants, and are set in the subtropical rainforests of Ecuador. Our artist Matt has been hard at work producing some beautiful landscapes for our leafcutters to inhabit.
The above screenshot is from level 3.2 – we’re keeping the level names to ourselves for now, but you can see the detail that Matt has included to make these levels entirely unique to the beach environment that is featured in 2.1 and 2.2
As for the question of when we expect the leafcutter update to be ready, we have to be careful – history has repeatedly told us that we’re not very good at judging release dates, but we’re in pretty good company in that regard – even the really big studios have trouble pinning it down. Rest assured, Major Update 1 (as it’s described in our internal plan) is in good hands, and we appreciate the kind patience of you lovely bunch.
Leafcutter Enemies – Trap Jaw Ants
Leafcutters share their rainforest home with many other impressive animals. Trap jaw ants are one of their many foes, boasting the fastest-moving predatory appendage in the animal kingdom. Their jaws are so fast that they can close within microseconds, maiming their targets, or even using them to catapult foes or themselves away.
The leafcutters will encounter these ants in their various trials, and they’re fearsome opponents.
YouTuber of the Month
Dad’s Gaming Addiction
DGA is a long-time follower of Empires of the Undergrowth and we always enjoy watching his relaxed, considered gameplay. He was one of the first to put up a play of the Hungry Spider level on YouTube, and although he may have been a little surprised at how hard the enemy wolf spiders bite, he came back for more anyway!
Freeplay High Score
Let’s introduce a little competitive element to Freeplay. The current highest-documented Freeplay score belongs to JaXm at 6,360,777, and he posted the screenshot on 31st July 2018 to prove it. Can you do better? Upload your screenshot to Steam or post it on our forums to let us know if you’ve unseated the current champion!
In making these newsletters, it’s always a cleansing experience to have a gander at the screenshots you lovely people have been uploading – because when captured at the right time, Empires of the Undergrowth can be a very pretty game. If you’d like to participate, submit your screenshots to Steam (F12 by default) or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org!