The idle ants problem - colony maintenance update?

#1
When you have no groups deployed outside of the nest, you end up with a big swarm of ants sort of milling about doing nothing. This is by far my biggest issue with the game, and I think it could be solved if the game gave the ants more to do.

There’s always stuff to do in an ant nest. Some ants look after the larvae. Others organize food stores. Some make sure no one is going hungry (walking around with full social stomachs, doling it out to hungry nestmate. Another group tends the queen. Brave souls and older ants might patrol outside for food. Many species seem to have wards where they tend to the wounded, and special procedures prepared to decontaminate themselves in an outbreak of an infectious disease. Give them more to do!
There’s always stuff to do in an ant nest. Some ants look after the larvae. Others organize food stores. Some make sure no one is going hungry. Another group tends the queen. Brave souls and older ants might patrol outside for food. Many species seem to have wards where they tend to the wounded, and special procedures prepared to decontaminate themselves in an outbreak of an infectious disease. Give them more to do! Here’s some of my ideas:

1) better nurseries. If a larva has not been tended to (in real ants this means feeding , checking for parasites and illnesses, and grooming it) it will die. If you’ve sent too many ants out of your nest, there won’t be any left to take care of the babies.

2) Dormant state. If a real ant has absolutely nothing to do, it will go into a sort of trancelike state where it just sort of stands there for hours on end until a task comes up. This would be cool to see, and it would make the game a little bit faster without a constantly swarming mass concentrated at one spot on the screen.

3) Tiny killers. I keep ants, and last year alone I lost seven queens to a combination of a parasitic worm inside one’s thorax, a mold outbreak in two of their test tubes, a swarm of parasitic mites on ones head, and some mysterious illness I was only aware of because of the large amount of disinfecting spit the rest of the ants were spreading about not long before they all died. Ants spend so much of their time cleaning themselves, their brood, and their queen because these types of incidence decimate colonies of all sizes! Having to think about sanitation would surely give them more to do. And maybe we’d get to see cool grooming animations…
What if we had to deal with consequences for spreading our workers too thin? Brood dying from neglect or mold breaking out in the food stores? That would be a wild bonus challenge for any level!

4) The option to let them choose. Instead of having a group automatically idle, you could toggle it to allow all of the ants to adopt a task of their choice, like some of the examples listed above. Alternatively, you could keep them waiting for further instructions in that place, like they do now.

5) Better nurseries cont.. Why not make the nursery tiles upgradable? What if an upgrade allowed one tile to hold more than one egg? Then we would get to see the cool rows and piles of eggs that real ants build, and it would be another strategy to help save space. Maybe an alternate upgrade to a nursery tile would make an egg hatch faster, or require less attending by the workers.

Shoot, I’d love to see some of this, any of this in game! (Devs, please read my word vomit. Your game is amazing and thank you for your service to ant-lovers everywhere!)
 

MikeSlugDisco

Community Manager
Staff member
Community Manager
#2
A very detailed post, thanks for taking the time to write it.

Almost all of these suggestions would make perfect sense if we were making a simulator, rather than an RTS game. Every time an ant does something simulation-y that doesn't affect the core game (which is digging, placing eggs on tiles, collecting food, fighting and responding to pheromone marker changes) it makes those core parts of the game feel much more sluggish.

The large swarm of ants milling about is very deliberate - we've increased the amount of ants that do that more than once over the course of development. This makes them much more responsive to when you move a marker, rather than having more of the ants on the trail at that time. It's a very delicate balance to make something that "feels" like an ant colony, rather than actually behave like one (which would be very slow for a game). Quite simply, things have by neccesity become more "gameified" as development has gone on. Instant feedback to the player that their actions are having an effect is very important.

If you've got the time I'd strongly recommend watching this lecture by Alex Jaffe, about what he called "cursed problems in game design". In our case, the two parts of the curse are having something that feels natural but plays well. We have to make compromises to get there.

On the topic of more than one egg on a tile, that'll be an ability that level 3 fire ant nurseries have.
 
#3
I say when you release the game start working on making some of these suggestions togglable in freeplay so those who want a more simulation like feel can have that while the main campaign stays its natural RTS like self but that's just a suggestion of mine.
 
#4
I say when you release the game start working on making some of these suggestions togglable in freeplay so those who want a more simulation like feel can have that while the main campaign stays its natural RTS like self but that's just a suggestion of mine.
That’s really smart! And I totally get about the gameplay not allowing for certain additions. This idea might be a good balance?
 
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