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DevBlog: The Skyscrapers

The most prominent and central element of “The High Life” – both visually as well as from a gameplay perspective – of course is the Skyscrapers. So, in this first DevBlog for the upcoming DLC, let’s take a look at how the Skyscrapers came to be and which challenges we faced during development.

The topic of Skyscrapers came up when we initially started planning content for Season 3 and decided on the Old World focus. While “Docklands” and “Tourist Season” were supposed to be DLC to accompany and support Anno 1800’s midgame, “The High Life” would focus on the lategame with its Skyscrapers as a way to maximize population in existing cities – and without a need to expand further, going up instead of wide – and more needs to provide an additional challenge.

Skyscrapers – The historical references

Skyscrapers already visually present the start of different times – away from a city where buildings are not differing much in height, to the architectural challenges of constructing buildings multiple times the size of normal houses.


Let’s check with our Narrative Team, Game Writer Intern Lotta and Lead Narrative Designer Matt, for some historical context on the Skyscrapers first:

The High Life DLC is strongly inspired by the dawn of American Skyscraper construction during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, the arrival of the hydraulic elevator, and iron-framed buildings enabled these new feats of skyward construction.

Many of the early skyscrapers were built in New York and Chicago, spurred on by large-scale fires that destroyed existing housing, in combination with a population boom. The iconic look of the early skyscrapers was shaped by the Chicago school of architecture by combining the French Beaux-Arts or Renaissance style with practical and commercial elements. Influential examples include the 1908 Singer Tower, the 1910 Woolworth Building and of course the 1930 Empire State Building. Constructing these behemoths was a difficult and expensive undertaking and numerous unsung workers made them possible, many of them were Native American ironworkers, their hazardous work referred to as ‘walking iron.’

The points above might lead to a question we have seen occasionally pop up in discussions about “The High Life” across various channels: Does Anno 1800 slowly move forward in time in the course of its DLC?  Aren’t skyscrapers too modern for a game titled “Anno 1800”?

Anno has always played fast and loose with time and connections to real history, spanning entire eras, which in our game go unaccounted (i.e., you don’t see any dates fly by as in titles that try somehow to simulate history). Of course, the downsides of this approach are exaggerated in Anno 1800’s century because there is so much rapid technological progress. We began with sail and ended with steam— but to tell the story of the industrial revolution, we had to make each resident tier feel like progress. Our production goods begin with fish and end with the first steam cars— so before we get to DLC we can say the game spans the entire 19th century, with “1800” as its starting point – which also nicely fits in with our tradition of having the checksum 9. What then are an extra few decades on top of that? Ultimately the passing of time is more connected to the resident tiers than the DLC, which is why the Skyline Tower at Tier 5 is one of the last things you are likely to build at this point.

The following graph visualizes this quite well – and does in fact date back to the time before Anno 1800’s release.

The visuals, creating the Skyscrapers

By now, you have already seen some concept art for the new Skyscrapers, so let’s talk visuals with Tim, our Lead Artist: Did you have specific inspirations for the skyscraper design? How did you make sure Investor and Engineer Skyscrapers are easily distinguishable?

The regular Investor and Engineer houses already have their own designs and color palette to be easily distinguishable. We just followed their rules for the design of the Skyscrapers to make sure on the one hand they are easily distinguishable and on the other hand, they are always fitting the design of the houses they’re placed on. When looking over your vertically expanded city after release, you shouldn’t have any troubles telling Engineers and Investors apart.

Additionally, we used a lot of old photographs and reference images of early skyscrapers (you can for example get some impressions on this Wikipedia page) to get some inspiration for their visual design.

Below you can find an early 3D blockout of the Engineer skyscraper we shared not too long ago.

A modular approach

The Skyscrapers in “The High Life” can be upgraded, having five levels total (or three, for the Engineers). Each level adds one “module” to the building, adding to its size and increasing the maximum population as well as the number of needs the residents have. These modules come in different shapes and sizes and are randomized when upgrading the building.

But: If you don’t like a specific module, you can simply change it by going into the customization menu of each building. The only restriction is, that you cannot add bigger modules on top of smaller ones – but the UI will tell you that when you start playing around with the system 😉

All this proved to be a challenge since a new system was required: This is the first time for Anno 1800 that you can build assets upwards. On top, it’s a modular system, which offers lots of different combinations. This system had a couple of new challenges for us to solve, graphical as well technical, like making sure the module system is working no matter which combination you will use.

New Mechanics & Challenges

Only offering an upgrade to your existing residences resulting in space for more people would be boring, of course. So, there are some challenges attached to it:

  1. Each building costs maintenance and especially the bigger ones can quickly become expensive.
  2. Counter this by making use of the Panorama Effect (see further below in this blog) where your skyscrapers receive buffs based on their placement and surroundings.
  3. And, of course, fulfill new needs with several new production chains and buildings to further increase resident numbers and tax revenue.

Phew, lots to keep an eye on – only to increase your population numbers? But no, aside from tax revenue, Skyscrapers also provide you with additional influence points depending on their level.


Talking with our Game Designers, the new systems did not come without their challenges during development: The way the game handled consumption turned out to be a problem when the same population class lives in different types of houses.

This is a premier for Anno 1800: With the old system of “one house type per tier” we could set the needs per population based on the house they would live in, so one residence would consume X amount of a specific good depending on the house type they live in (e.g. cause both Workers, as well as Artisans, consume Bread).

(That’s also the reason why Tourists are so hungry for Bread, one already eats for 500 people instantly – hungry fellows).

This was good because this reduced fluctuation in consumption. Upgrading a residence and unlocking a new good would instantly trigger the maximum demand and would not change until more houses are upgraded.


However, that had to change because of the Skyscrapers and the Skyline Tower: Both buildings can have their maximum population changed after being built (in contrast to regular residences) by getting additional needs added.

For you as the player, this has no impact on your gameplay experience: When we previously assumed “residence type X consumes Y amount of good Z”, we are now calculating the same consumption via the maximum possible population of said building by adding up the population each need provides (e.g. for Artisans we now calculate: 6 residents for Sausages + 6 for Bread + 4 for Soap + 4 for School + 4 for Canned Food + 2 for Sewing Machines + 2 for Fur Coats + 2 for University = 30 total. And those 30 people consume the previously mentioned goods by a certain factor). As you probably noticed, for regular residences the results are the same and we still assume this maximum number when you construct a residence or upgrade one. But a Skyscraper receiving new needs which increase the maximum population after being upgraded – that’s a different story.

In fact, we already did this kind of calculation whenever an item or buff increased the maximum population, basically an exception to the previous system.

To streamline it and cause we needed it for the new residences anyway, all residences now use this new calculation, making balancing the new features significantly easier for us, without causing any gameplay changes for you. So yes, a single Tourist will still eat cartloads of bread 🙂

Fun fact

Our Technical Test version had an in-between version of this system, so to speak. That resulted in, for example, instead of the intended 2.5t of toys for 100 skyscrapers level 5 (which can already be harsh) they actually needed 8.75t.

But despite this, you still unlocked the Skyline Tower, which greatly impressed us!

In addition to consumption, the maintenance costs of the Skyscrapers were another point of balancing.

During development and testing, we had both hard balancing (Dark Souls of city-builders!) and gentle balancing, but in the end, we found a compromise and even added a new difficulty setting, similar to the one for the Influence system, which lowers or increases the maintenance costs.

So now each game (including old save-games) can be customized according to your preferences.

A UI solution for Skyscrapers

Since both Engineer, as well as Investor residences, can be upgraded to Skyscrapers, Engineers, however, also have the upgrade option to Investors, we had to come up with a solution that allows you to choose either action. We tried two different variations, the classic and the split button. In the end, we decided to go with the split button as the information is more discoverable and consistent. Both buttons also have their own tooltips with additional gameplay information.

Not only the buttons but also the rest of the Skyscraper UI went through multiple iterations, like every time we have to design new UI elements. You can see some early tests for the UI below.

“We start our decision process with how prominent the information needs to be displayed. From there we try out layouts with different information hierarchies.”

– Farah, UI Designer

For example, in Variation B, the panorama and level information have the same priority as the upgrade button. Players could process the information faster when upgrading or downgrading the building, while variation C might have suggested a connection between the needs/happiness tabs and the panorama effect/skyscraper level below and was therefore discarded.


In addition to the split upgrade buttons in the building’s UI, you also have a separate general toggle that highlights all skyscrapers that can be upgraded – like you’re used to from the already existing upgrade button.

Another issue we ran into during development was the general size of the building’s object menu:

In the beginning, the height of the object menu is tailored to correspond with the number of residence needs. But due to the number of buffs players could potentially have with the new monument as well as the increased number of needs, the object menu grew so much in size it started overlapping with the speed bar in the top right corner.  During our Technical Test, we received feedback that players want to see more needs simultaneously.

Our first solution was to keep the current size and implement a scroll bar. However, player feedback on the visibility of said bar eventually led to the decision to increase the number of columns for needs from two to three to fit all the new icons and thereby reduce the amount of scrolling players need to do.

Panorama Effect

One important thing to keep in mind when building and upgrading your Skyscrapers is the Panorama Effect. This effect gives a boost to your Skyscraper’s maximum number of residents, reduces maintenance costs, and provides bonus residents – as long as the skyscraper in question is not surrounded by other Skyscrapers of the same height or higher.

For you to quickly spot if nearby skyscrapers have a positive or negative influence on the Panorama Effect of the respective building when selecting it, we went for a color-coding solution: Positive influence is marked in green while a negative influence is marked in brown.

This was, however, not our first choice: We tested several different solutions before we ended up with the final version.

Initially, some icons were also tested on top of the skyscrapers, but these weren’t easy to match with the corresponding buildings, especially when zoomed out. We also tweaked the colors a few times, to indicate the positive/negative effects while also making sure it’s color-blind friendly and easily readable.

Left – testing icons that would clump up when zoomed-out, and a radius indicator.
Centre – one version of colours we tried.
Right – current colours for the Panorama Effect

The panorama effect has a few more nuances and is of course also reflected in the building’s object menu as it comes in different intensities. More on that topic in the second DevBlog.

On that note, we’re at the end of the first of our two “The High Life” DevBlogs and have hopefully provided you some exciting insights into the development of the Skyscrapers! This leaves us with one final piece of information to share today: The release date! You can expect “The High Life” to release on Tuesday, August 31st, at 6 PM CEST (9 AM PST).

Do you still have more questions or want to know about a specific aspect of the Skyscrapers? Let us know!


*Please be aware that many screenshots or images in this DevBlog show “work in progress” states of the DLC and are not representative of the final version.




  1. Q Queglar August 20, 2021

    Kudos to the Anno team to not only keep adding DLC, but it’s always DLC that massively expand on the game play.

    The *only* criticism I have is – what about the great unwashed masses of the working class? The ability to upgrade engineer and investor residences is awesome, but what about everyone else? An artisan module upgrade need not be a skyscraper, how about just a “loft” to produce terrible paintings/poetry/artworks to sell to gullible tourists? Those workers cottages are downright spacious, surely we could “upgrade” them to cram in another 3 families in narrow inner city terraces? (which is another thing too – there should be far more workers as a percentage of the population in general). Farmers it’s time to finally get that roof upgrade – and I’m sure you can fit another family in there when your roof is not longer made out of thatch right?

    Actually I don’t know if this would help with performance or not, but when you have sooooo many people items, I sometimes think it would be easier to just make it so you can only put “laws” in the town hall and union activists in the union building with range. All production buildings get like a single people slot that only benefits that building. Instead of clustering everything around a trade union you can then spread everything around a bit, but also even add a bit of personality to each production building. Like why is the Publican hanging out in the Town Hall – get back to the pub!

    The ability to name more things would also be a lot more… colourful…

    (Basically these new game mechanics are great, it would be nice to see them spread back a little bit to the original buildings)

  2. M Malika_Versace August 19, 2021

    Just Amazing !
    You really made a wonderfull job and i’m so in love with what you done with ANNO1800.
    It is far the best ANNO ever.
    Thanks you ♥

  3. t thekingkupo August 17, 2021

    This is beautiful. But I want to know if you guys are planning to take off the fog that covers certain area of crown falls? would love to have my city view reach the whole island. For season 4 I hope you guys are considering going orient(China or Japan) would love to see a region where we can trade silk and tea.

  4. D Drkvn. August 14, 2021

    sell the game on steam too, this is not fair

    • W WillieTheSlug August 14, 2021

      Why, you’d still need uplay regardless. Only difference is the overlay from steam.

  5. L LV_TITAN August 14, 2021

    Greetings from Brazil, Dev team!

    It is nice to see skyscrapers. I only hope not to be the last season. Because we could have a lot of new developments in the new world and gameplay itself. I would love to experience characters not associated with difficult level. For example, I would love to change some two star to act like 3 star.
    I loved to see that you are adding new game difficult change option related in terms of maintenance.

    Also, like design drinks from history. Sky rappers started in USA. We could have new things for new world. Because the concept still like colony/metropolis . But new tier level in new world to create more relations between new and old world would be great.

    During the 1850 to 1889. Pedro II the Brazilian emperor (who was a nephew of Bonaparte) was so keen in modernizing that he wanted to bring techs to Brazil. Rio was one of the first to have electricity.

    So having this in mind. I think we could have some kind of mixed tiers 3 and 4 new tiers in old world to have some needs shared by engineers and investors.

    • A Acidello August 15, 2021

      Totally agree: I also hope in a Season 4, there is so much that can be done in the New World or in a NW-biome continental island like Crown Falls, could belong to a DLC bringing electricity to NW, a 3rd Tier, river slots for NW and new productions, or also new ways to produce Old World stuff in the New World, not to mention new storylines: I love the narrative aspect of Anno, especially in Land of Lions, it is always so charming and keeps you playing even more! 😀 I would pay as much as I can for such a Season Pass!!

  6. i iznano4nik August 14, 2021

    Thanks for information. Will be in this dlc new area (map)?

    • F FHackner August 15, 2021

      when they revealed season 3 they specifically said there would be no new region

      •   Ubi-Thorlof August 16, 2021

        Correct, Season 3’s DLC are focused on the Old World session and won’t add any new sessions/regions to the game.

  7. E EliteNoobna August 13, 2021

    Thank you for the detailed information on The High Life DLC. Can’t wait to play around with it at my capital – Crown Fall.

    Will there be an update that add new specialists to the game?

    I understand what the 1800 has right now is making the game pretty easy to play. Such as for the biggest production line – Cab Assembly Line, I only need Filament Factory and Coachmakers to produce it. For Jewellers, I only need Gold Mine to produce it.

    It was surprising there were no new specialists added when Tourist Season is released. It’s ok, it doesn’t affect the gameplay experience. If added, at least for me, I will have more time to beautify my city at high difficulty. Just a friendly suggestion.

    One more question: with more people live in one building, will they provide more influence points?

    That’s all my questions! Thank you for your time and patience!

    Can’t wait for “The High Life”! Higher tax rate, more space, don’t mind fulfilling their needs and happiness. That max efficiency of Research Institute and Iron Tower are so difficult to fulfill…

  8. F FHackner August 13, 2021

    I can’t help but notice that most of the new consumer goods (specially the alcohol, pool table, typewriter and violin) look significantly brighter than the rest, standing out weirdly.

  9. B BreVDD August 13, 2021

    Will the skyscrapers require some new kind of fire stations or will it be harder to extinguish, e. g. require 2/3 active units? (That would be cool :)).

    • F FHackner August 13, 2021

      Agreed, would be cool, but I don’t think it will happen…maybe with mods

  10. T TNightLT August 13, 2021

    Are the last three pictures in ”Panorama effect” showing skyscrapers final version we will get or are they just for demonstration purposes, because right now they look just stretched and odd.

  11. c cnc_viii August 13, 2021

    Are we getting new specialists and/or are the old specialists going to work on these new production chains. Also I am assuming none of this will be available for trade in the docklands?

    Thanks and I can’t wait to bankrupt my self with to many skyscrapers!

  12. G Goose7118 August 13, 2021

    Хотелось бы узнать насчет производительности системы под такое увеличение численности. Например у меня уже население 500тысяч, небоскребы судя по скриншотам поднимут его в 3.5раза минимум. Игра вышла до появления видеокарт 30й серии. Даже сейчас заметны просадки до 30фпс в полностью застроенных городах с моей системой 2060super, i7-10700kf и 32гб оперативной памяти, при разрешении 1920на1080. После появления AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution ситуация стала получше, но что будет с ФПС при таком огромном населении без видеокарт 3080 и 3090 от nvidia? Так же наблюдаются проблемы с DirectX 12,с ним фпс почему-то ниже на примерно 20,чем с DirectX 11, приходится пользоваться 11ым. Так же хочу отметить, что DSL выглядит невероятно интересным, возможно оно станет одним из лучших, в отличии от туристического ДЛС, который занимает очень много места на островах и дает слишком мало бонусов, так же имеет сложное производства, без возможности доставки товаров через доки.

    • G Goose7118 August 13, 2021

      “с ним приходится примерно 20”-“с ним фпс примерно на 20 ниже”

    •   Ubi-Thorlof August 16, 2021

      Generally speaking: Sure, the bigger your savegame, the bigger the potential impact on performance, depending on your hardware.
      Anno 1800 is especially demanding on your RAM and CPU and not so much the graphics card. So, a high-end GPU from the 30xx series won’t help you much if you have an older CPU or lower amounts of RAM.

      Regarding the upcoming DLC: More details on Thursday! 🙂

      • G Goose7118 August 17, 2021

        я думаю процессор i7-10700KF очень даже не плох, но с 500к жителями просадки идут хорошо) т.е в одном месте (например в открытом море) может выдавать под 170фпс,а в городе до 30-80прыгать. Это не нормальная оптимизация.

  13. M MrNFOX August 12, 2021

    I am really looking forward to this dlc. Finally a dlc that us “min/maxers” can utilise.. I was not lucky enough to get into the test program this time, so i have many questions.. The main one being, i hope the new production chains have specialists/ boosts asigned to them, i felt the lack of such boosts for tourist season was a missed opportunity. If they do have dedicated specialists, i look forward to abusing them and filling the
    whole map with skyscrapers. ?

  14. D Darkbirt August 12, 2021

    I’m excited for the release. My question is do we get more land? I see ever time a long list of new goods (And we didn’t even see the happiness goods.) So I’m worried that we just don’t have the space to build all those new production chains. And more important, do we get more and new items? And what will change with the current items? Most legendary items that give +2 people in the houses will lose their worth. Half of the legendary items will give issues. I hope we get some new info about the items. But, more importantly, I’m looking forward to the new decorations and this new building method. I also hope that it’s still possible to make self sustainable cities (I like building small cities that don’t need trade routes (An habit from the early Anno games that I still have.) with this DLC it’s possible to get more than 3000 investors on a small island, without supply of other islands. I’m looking forward to it.

    • H Humility925 August 12, 2021

      Same thing on my mind! Is some item that gave more populations worth less because now it’s goods eat up by population and not building, many island don’t had space to support if player want every island to be self sufficient, go on.

      • D Darkbirt August 13, 2021

        It’s not for all the islands. The islands needed for recordbuilding on Crown Falls are exclude. I’ve got a self sufficient island in each region. One in the New World, one in Enbesa and one on the Arctic (yeah, I’m still shocked by the positive balance with the help of some items.) Most of them are in the old world and in cape. But, those of the old world and cape also have a positive influence balance. (Most of those small islands are influence factories, with only investors living their. Those islands operate without workforce. So, I make a profit out of them. I’m playing on a custom expert level ( with +2 influence for investors). Because of the lack of mines and a lack of fertility, I’ve got enough space on the large islands (I’ve chosen mainly large islands in the custom settings. If I got a lack of space, I can always steal some islands from Margaret, Alonso or Vicente. I’m only level 70 on the moment, so I’m in the early late game. If you got a problem with a lack of space, I would recommend the workforce lowering items. when lowering the needed workforce, you can also lower the population in the New World, Enbesa and the Arctic. This lowers the supply for those populations and so you can win space for you’re investors supply. For example my coffee island in the New World provides a +291 coffee (Currently Cape needs +137, so I’ve got some breathing space.)
        Another tip: put a museum on every island with the Gods of Delta set on. This halves the influence used for the Town halls and the trade unions.

    • M MCR_1998 August 13, 2021

      That’s what I was thinking … I hope he does something about it, we definitely need space

  15. f fluffytom82 August 12, 2021

    “during the late 18th and early 19th centuries”

    You probably mean “during the late 19th and early 20th centuries”? There were no skyscrapers in the 18th century, the first ones were only built in the 1880s (which is the 19th century). The examples you give from 1908, 1910 and 1930 are 20th century.

    •   Ubi-Thorlof August 12, 2021

      Very true, thanks for pointing it out, fixed.

  16. W WillieTheSlug August 12, 2021

    I am very stoked. The designs look great and I think variation B looks best, as the icons are easy to spot when analyzing through the UI screen. I was afraid that “small on top of big” would’ve result into a pyramid-looking building, but that was not the case and the way you guys made it looks very natural and neat. Fantastic job.


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