UPDATE 27/04/2016: The new kickstarter for this project is now live, go give them your money so I can play with ants on my computer…and so you can as well I guess.
Something you may not know about me is that I love ants. I think they are endlessly fascinating and have been known to sit for hours watching them go about their lives. Another thing I really enjoy is programming, though my skills at this endeavour are somewhat lacking. Now the sort of programs I like to write generally tend to be scientific and simulator orientated in nature. So, for example, I have written a couple of programs that demonstrate evolutionary principles, such as mutation and natural selection, as well as very basic ecosystems, with various little bugs running around eating and reproducing and stuff.
For a long time now however the program I have wanted to, and on numerous occasions tried to, write is an Ant Simulator. I love the way that ants work together, how one ant will find a food source and then convey that information to his fellows who then form a line of ants, moving back and forth between the food and their nest. I have tried programming this sort of thing many times and, due entirely to my sub par knowledge of computer programming, have never been able to get it working correctly.
But it appears that I am not the only one who loves the idea of an Ant Simulator, and these other people are clearly far, far better programmers than I am. Empires of the Underground is an Ant Sim under development by Slug Disco that makes use of the Unreal 4 Engine, which basically means it looks really pretty. Now they have already tried to get funding for this project on Kickstarter last year, but unfortunately at the time there clearly weren’t enough of us Ant Simulator enthusiasts willing to cough up the cash, and their Kickstarter sadly failed. But the Slug Disco team did not give up and, after overhauling the whole program to make it look even better, they will be relaunching their Kickstarter on 26th March. Go give them your cash, do it for poor people like me who need an Ant Simulator of their own.
In the meantime they have released a downloadable one level demo of their game that I spent a good number of hours playing last night. And I must say it is good fun, if somewhat harder than I was expecting. In many respects it plays like a standard real time strategy game, in that you build up the nest, gather resources, and produce different types of ants to deal with the various threats around you. Where it differs however is that you have no direct control over the ants. You basically set them things to do, like build a nest or dig a tunnel, and the ants will move to complete that task, once they have finished any other tasks they are currently engaged in. As such the game focuses on overall management of your nest, rather than micro managing the individual insects, which is good given that you will end up with a lot of them.
Another difference, and one that caused me to fail the level multiple times before I worked it out, is that your ants are fairly weak and combat in the game relies on both overwhelming numbers and, more importantly as I found the hard way, a constant stream of reinforcements. So you’ve built up a large force of fighting ants, awesome, but if you haven’t left enough resources in reserve to replenish your ranks you are going to find your whole nest under threat in no time. In short, don’t get attached to your ants, they die easy and they die often. A nest survives because these losses are almost instantly replaced.
The demo only showcases the underground section of the game, and only two of the various different types of ant that will be available in the finished thing. Personally I really hope it gets funded this time as I think this game is both good fun and amazing looking, as well as appealing to my strange love of Ant Simulators. I’ve added a video of one of the developers playing the demo level below. If you need me I will probably be off trying to write my own version of this thing again, I can feel the urge building.