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Month: November 2017

DevBlog: Of 3D Architects and Construction Workers

Take a second, close your eyes and think about Anno. What is the first image that comes to your mind? Probably hundreds of detailed buildings, swarmed by citizens following their daily life and a majestic view over a formerly untouched island paradise. But how do we create all of this, and how does it come together as a detailed panorama of a model city? In today’s Devblog, our 3D Artist Rolf Bertz will show you how we create the detailed world of Anno, starting with nothing but many ideas and a few simple shapes.

Hi, my name is Rolf, and I am a 3D artist working on Anno 1800, after having joined the team almost five years ago. My first job was as a Concept Artist on Might and Magic Heroes: Online for half a year, before a personal dream came true and I moved over to the Anno side of things. During my work on Anno 2205 I slowly transitioned over to 3D art and becoming a character artist. These days, I enjoy creating lots of buildings for Anno 1800.

First Steps / General understanding 3D Assets
You probably remember our first behind the scenes art blog about the work of our concept artists, which already gave you a first glimpse at the first 3D work, which we create for new assets. But before I start exploring the whole process of 3D asset creation, we need to explain an important thing: what is the job of a 3D artist, and is it all just about buildings?

Strictly speaking, a 3D artist creates three-dimensional assets, but things are a bit more complex when creating a big strategic city-builder like Anno. While there are 2D graphics such as UI elements, the majority of them are made out of polygons. To be able to manage such a big library of 3D objects, many of our artists are specialized in certain types of 3D asset or production processes. We still talk about an Anno game, so many of our 3D artists are of course mainly busy creating buildings as they make up a huge part of our total asset library, but there are also artists responsible for vegetation, islands, wildlife or special effects. Creating all these other elements might be an interesting topic for the future, but with this first 3D blog, we want to focus on what takes up the majority of our time. Without further ado, let us see how we build an Anno building from scratch.

Step 1: Where do we start?
Let us talk about that 3D mockup from the concept art DevBlog for a second. The first 3D step in a creation process plays an important role in the decision process and helps to shape the final concept art, which will later serves us well when creating the final building in 3D.
Building that 3D mockup starts when we get the scribble from our concept art team. Based on that concept, we will start to block out the shape and overall look of the asset. While the process is simple at this point, as we are not wasting time with too many details, the mockup helps to get a feeling for the overall look and proportions of the building and with that, see if the concept fits with the overall art-style or blends well in to our cityscape. Our goal: the building needs to blend in while the player still needs to be able to identify its purpose in the blink of an eye.

Step 2: Now the real fun begins
The next step starts when the design receives its final approval and we get the finished concept art to start creating a high polygon asset of the building. There is a common saying between 3D artists that at this point, you become architect and construction worker at the same time. At the beginning, you have to decide which basic shape seems to be the most prominent in the concept. For buildings, that is mostly likely going to be a cube. With our newly spawned cube, we start to alter its shape systematically. During that alteration process, you add more details and other shapes, which you then merge into the object, until it resembles the basic form and shape of the building you want to create.

When your structural work is done (including walls, rooftop and all the other necessary parts), it’s time for the detail work. With a high polygon asset, that means a ton of details: from the smallest bits like shingles on the roof up to every crack in the wall and from brickwork up to grain on wooden beams. At this point, our assets consist of sometimes over a million polygons (as mentioned, ALL the bricks, cracks and so on). Imagine you build your city out of hundreds of these highly detailed buildings, consisting of millions of polygons each. Sounds like a rough ride for your PC hardware.

Luckily, there is help on the horizon, which ensures that we will have nice looking details in the game while not tanking the performance of your PC into the ground.
So what we do now is to take the high polygon model and create a low polygon version of it, where we reconstruct the high detailed shape in a simpler version. To get an idea, one grid in Anno has a limitation of 250 polygons and a texture resolution of 256 pixels. That also means that we have a bit more leeway with bigger buildings, which have more grid space available.
With our newly created low polygon asset, it is time to quite literally skin the high polygon version of the building in a process called UV unwrapping.
To keep it simple, the surface of a 3D model is actually a flat 2D plane. In order to create that “skin”, we cut the 3D object at the edges, open it like a cardboard house and put everything flat on the ground. As a result, we get kind of a skin or blueprint map of your 3D asset, which we will need in the next step.

An example what a typical Anno building looks like as a Blueprint Map

Step 3: Baking, anyone?
The next step is called baking and has, unfortunately, nothing to do with cake. In order to get our “skin” with the high poly details on the low polygon building, we have to “bake” the high definition shape on it. Imagine putting a highly detailed skin on a low detailed model underneath, where we keep the simple polygon groundwork but the surface will gain depth and detail. The result of that baking procedure is called a “normal map” where all detail and even lighting to a degree is embossed into the skin to create the illusion of depth. It is like staring at a wall and seeing all its holes, bumps and unevenness while in reality, it is a completely flat surface.

Step by step, a high poly model is turned into a textured Anno building

Step 4: Let’s bring in the textures
We are getting closer to the final asset and now it is time for some shader work. With the use of shaders, we can define the various materials, which our building consists of. As an example, we define what is wood or metal and even how the surface reacts, like if it is shiny or worn down surface. After we defined the substance of each part of the asset, it is time to paint it. For that, we have to do some research in advance, as we need to know how materials like burned brick look up close or what would be a fitting color for a rooftop in that age. Metal can be especially tricky, as we have to consider reflections. The best way to explain that is probably gold, as its natural color is actually a yellow tone and the reflections gives it the metal shiny look we are so familiar with.

As with concept art, we use inspirations of that time while our assets still need to convey that special Anno feeling and look. We also have to check how the colors and texture look when you watch your city zoomed out. Keep in mind that an Anno player spends most of the time watching his city from a bird’s eye view and we have to ensure that they look great and harmonize at a larger scale while still looking good when you watch your city up close.

Examples of the different texture maps, which affect things like the perceived depth or shadows

And this is what we do
Our asset is now a detailed, textured and nice looking building, but we are not quite done yet. There is still a lot of work to do, from alterations based on feedback, fixing smaller and even bigger issues and – not to forget – bringing the asset to life with animation work. Nevertheless, we now have a nicely detailed and optimized asset and that might be enough for today, especially as the next steps are a job for one of my colleagues. So how about a second part where 3D Artist Carsten explains how he breathes that crowded living feeling into the world of Anno?

So what do you think? Do you like zooming in on your cities to see all the little details we put into our buildings’ textures, animations and of course the citizens, or do you spend most of your playtime zoomed out as far as possible to keep an eye on your entire city? Let us know in a comment, and until next time,

Rolf

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Union Update: Early Communication

Our community of players has been following the Anno series for most 20 years. That just shows that they all share one major trait with both the veterans and newcomers in our development team alike: an undying passion for Anno.

With our second DevBlog about the military, we have given you all a first look at what naval combat will be like in the upcoming Anno 1800. With hundreds of comments to date, it is fair to say that we have not only received a lot of, but also all very detailed and thoughtful feedback, which shows that the military and ground combat and near and dear to the hearts of some parts of the Anno communities. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts!

We did of course expect that this news would cause some controversy, which is precisely why we wanted to share it now. Our clear goal with the Anno Union is not only to gather your feedback, but also to offer you a transparent look behind the scenes of game development. Being transparent is of course a lot easier when you can deliver positive news, but can in return be all the more important when it is time to be the bearer of disappointing news. That is why it was very important for us to let you know, well in advance of the game’s release, which parts of the military system will be included.

Reading your comments, we can see a clear tendency with some recurring themes. For one, that many of you wish that they had more information about how your naval forces will be able to lay siege to an island.
Most present however, is the wish for a return of land-based combat, after many years of absence. The Anno Union is of course all about finding ways for your feedback to influence the game’s development, as far as circumstances and resources will allow this. That is why your feedback on this topic is very valuable to us.

That is why we will, first of all, take the required time to discuss your feedback within the development team. We appreciate that you would all like to hear back on your concerns and wishes as soon as possible, but we hope you understand that this is not always possible given the complexities of game development.

Rest assured, we will come back to you about that topic in future!

Development work on the Anno Union
As some of you may have already notices, the long-awaited improvement development here on the Anno union website has begun. We will inform you in the future with a full list of changes; for now, don’t be surprised if you can already see some new things popping up as we speak (like notifications emails for comments).

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DevBlog: The Art of War II

With the first part of our The Art of War blog, we talked in detail about the military features in previous Anno titles. Today, it is time to give you insights into the military system in the upcoming Anno 1800. Creative Director Dirk Riegert will now give you a preview on what is to come for all the Anno commanders and strategists out there. Enjoy!

The 19th century gave Anno 1800 its name, and over the course of the game players will progress through the important milestones of this time; from the first and second industrial revolution up to the late 19th century, the golden age of Imperialism. The age of imperialism and industrialization provides many options for interesting gameplay possibilities as it was a time of progress, expansion and diplomacy. There is one overarching philosophy we follow for our upcoming Anno game: “You alone will decide, how the world shall remember you”.

You will be able to shape your own 19th century empire according to your own ideas and vision. In previous Anno titles, you could either cooperate with the AI or other players or destroy them with military force. With Anno 1404: Venice, we added the possibility to overtake opponent islands through economic domination, a possibility that fits perfectly into our 19th century setting- but with Anno 1800, we want to go even a step further!

Domination or destruction!
Until now, settlements on islands, which were either destroyed by military attacks or overtaken through economic power, were automatically cleansed of all structures and credited to the player. That will be still possible with Anno 1800, should you decide to assimilate all islands and totally annihilate every enemy presence on the map.


The shadow of war. Concept art for a heavy harbor fortification in Anno 1800.

However, the era of Imperialism has seen way more than just destructive warfare and we will provide you with an alternate way of solving conflicts. This solution is interesting for players, who want to dominate the game world but do not like the idea of being alone after they swept all AI from the borders of their empire. Instead of just destroying every trace of an enemy settlement, you will be able to annex conquered islands, which makes your former opponent a part of your empire. In this case, the island will pay tributes in form of tax and goods to the empire, while the island will remain under the control of the defeated party.

The following chart demonstrates the new ways of dealing with opposing parties. One example would be military domination to ensure higher income through tribute payments while the neutrality of the defeated islands remains intact. A great option for everyone who likes to bring enemy AI to its knees but does not want to be alone, surrounded by empty islands. That allows new strategic variants and interesting options for the late game of your expanded empire.

Variety of playstyles, whether it is domination or annihilation, military action or economic pressure: you decide!

Focus on naval warfare
With Anno 1800, we want to expand on the naval formula presented in Anno 2070 and add more complexity to sea battles. The 19th century marked the transition from the sail ship era and introduced steam powered vessels and battle ships, which allows us to put new cards on the table to expand strategies for naval encounters and navigation.

While the technical advancements of the industrial revolution lead the charge for many following technical inventions and wonders, it would be a bit too early to introduce air units. We know that back then, they experimented and partially used air balloons for reconnaissance missions and even bombardments, but it was more towards the beginning of the 20 century when humankind strived for more and began to rule the skies.

Naval battles between steam- and sailing ships are the core of our military feature, seen here in an early concept art.

So what about ground units? We had lengthy discussions in our team about the pros and cons of land-based combat, and as a result decided to skip ground units like infantry entirely. We are aware that the land combat system has its fans out there, who love to fight on foreign soil and who would like to see the return of infantry battalions and regiments. As Anno as a series is foremost about city building and management, skirmishes or full scale battles on the actual building zones always came with its drawbacks, such as units getting lost between buildings, as we explained in last week’s blog. A separation between the islands as building areas and the sea for warfare will ensure that both system can shine to their fullest potential.

You might remember the chart from our first military blog:

Land is for building; the sea is for trade and combat. Harbors are the intersection between both.

The idea is that players can plan their industrial areas and develop their cities to real metropolises without distraction, as military conflicts will be fought with naval forces clashing on the ocean. Harbors will play an important role here, as they connect the islands to each other and across the high seas to expand your empire. In order to take over an opposing island, you now have to gain control over the main harbor of the city. To defend these cities, harbor installations can be heavily fortified to defend against enemy attacks. The harbor system itself is worth talking about in more depth in a future DevBlog.

Trade routes will be also of significance, as you will need to ensure their protection during times of war when other empires try to bleed your economy dry by attacking convoys between your islands and sessions.

Always with the breeze
Our focus on naval battles will bring exciting skirmishes on the high seas for new players, while also introducing new options and additional complexity for veterans of the series, who like to engage in deep combat mechanics.

To give you a few examples, we are currently playing around with a new system that will cover the transition from wind to steam powered ships, provide you with special weapon types and allow you to bulk up your vessels with armor plating. We aim for a system that is easy to learn for beginners but hard to master for veterans who like to optimize and test out new tactics in warfare.
In this context, let us have a closer look on the wind feature. We created a short clip for you, where our dummy ships demonstrate the impact wind will have on a sailing ship versus a steam-powered vessel.

Your ship’s speed in Anno 1800 will depend on the direction of the wind

The new wind feature in the game will have an impact on navigation by sometimes changing wind direction. Thanks to the technological advancements of the time, steam ships will not be as affected by wind as their sail-powered counterparts are. However, you should not think that this means the inevitable end for traditional sailing ships, with their capability to use the wind to their advantage to quickly gain momentum and maneuverability. Your steam ships might even end up being outsmarted by an unexpected maneuver, or a change in wind direction.

That means that players who do not want to get too much into details will always have a noticeable benefit from constructing steamships. For veterans on the other hand, it is definitely worth it to have a closer look and to play around with different fleet constellations. It is possible that fast sailing ships, if they use strong winds to their advantage, can make an escape or achieve a tactical surprise turn to attack enemy battle ships with a barrage of light attacks.

Beside the new possibilities for actual naval battles, other military topics and strategies will have an important role in Anno 1800. As you will be able to threaten other parties in the game in order to bring them to heel, why not try threatening your neighbors with a largely non-existent army and a lot of hot air? What if AI sees through your bluff or even tries the same with you in order to appear stronger than they actually are?

There many important aspects of the military system in Anno 1800, where combat, diplomacy and trading are strongly connected and we are still playing around with some more ideas and possibilities.

One thing is set in stone: you will be able to decide between war and peace and give you the agency you want by choosing the AI difficulty, inviting other players or to alter the various difficulty settings when generating your world. It is your choice if you want to avoid warfare entirely as a peaceful city builder or if you are thirsty to wage wars across the isles. It is this player agency, which was always a staple of the series and which creates that special Anno feeling.

So what is next and what do you want to know more about?
The military system alone contains many more aspects, which we could explain in detail in future blogs in 2018. Is there something specific you want to know more about, such as how taking over enemy isles work? Shall we give the sea warfare another spotlight, where we dive deeper into weapons and other special features of naval battles? Let us know in the comments below, we are looking forward to your feedback.

See you next time,

Dirk “Cart-Pusher” Riegert

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Union Update: 2070 Stream Summary

In today’s Community Update, we will give you an overview over the Anno 2070 stream as well as some hints on upcoming Anno Union content. When it comes to community QnA, we count on discussions fueled by this week’s DevBlog. Expect our answers to your questions to be back with the Union Update Monday next week.

Our Anno 2070 party was a success, even with Keto being too late for the anniversary. Based on your wishes, we played a bit with the customize options in the endless game mode in order to ensure a more exciting and challenging session. Funny enough, the actual challenge did not came from the AI itself. As 90 minutes are a not very long span of time for true Annoholics, the real struggle came by our players itself, which had to always clean up the mess of the doing of their predecessors. For future let’s play streams, we thought about starting with a previously created savegame or how about to let you, our community, decide or even create the scenario for us?
As with our 1701 anniversary, we also raffled some goodies during the stream. The winners from the Anno 1701 and the Anno 2070 raffle can expect a package from our studio soon.
Many questions revolved around the profession of our guests and their memories about the development of Anno 2070. Here an overview over the developers wo joined our stream:

Dirk, Creative Director
Christian, Software Developer
André, Senior Concept Artist
Rolf, 3D Artist
Sebastian, Game Designer
Norbert, E.P (Executive Plant)

If you have some burning questions to our guests but missed the chance to get them answered during the stream, feel free to leave a comment below! We will see that we forward your questions to the team to answer a few of them during the next Community Update.
During the stream, Dirk gave us some insights about the with Anno 1800 coming options to customize your game experience to a major degree. Replay value is on top of our priority list for Anno 1800.
When it comes to the decoration about the streaming room, we have to ask you for some more patience. As we have currently some construction work in our development studio going on, we decided to make the changes all together at the beginning of the next year. You can look forward to a nice Anno 1800 wall including your screenshots and other community highlights.
Developer Rolf shared his interesting progress from a former concept to 3D artist and with that, we teased an upcoming “behind the scenes” DevBlog, where we will show you how we create 3D models for Anno 1800.
Furthermore, we had an announcement to make at the end of the stream: we will have one more episode of the AnnoCast until the end of the year, and this time, we will show Anno 1800 gameplay live and in action for the first time!

As you know, running streams is a collaborative effort by the development team and as a result, we can only broadcast once a while and not on a weekly basis. However, it seems that you like our streams and we surely have plenty of ideas in our mind for future shows to come. Maybe you yourself played with the idea to stream Anno on your own or you are already waving the Union flag with your own Anno stream? We want to support you and find ways how we can share the Anno Union with all the people out there. It could be Anno stream spotlights or broadcasting assets we provide, maybe even an Anno multiplayer event, which we run or host on our channel?

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DevBlog: The Art of War I

You have asked in countless comments and forum posts for more details on the military aspects of Anno 1800. As announced earlier this month, our Creative Director Dirk Riegert will tackle this topic in an in-depth DevBlog. In fact, it ended up being so in-depth that we decided to split it up into two parts! Today’s Part 1 looks back at the history of the military across the various Anno games, while next week’s follow-up will explain how we will handle it in Anno 1800. Enjoy!

The military aspect of Anno games and its interesting history. It was only a few years back that I learned, during a lovely chat with one of the original Anno creators at Max Design, that Anno 1602 was originally not even supposed to have any combat elements whatsoever. It was only shortly prior to release that they changed their mind and ended up integrating a trimmed down real-time strategy (RTS) aspect into the game. Even then, they were not sure if they would bring combat back for any of the eventual sequels. But of course, they did, what started as a last-second addition turned into a series regular.

This anecdote helps to illustrate two things: firstly, that combat was not part of the original idea for Anno, which helps to explain some of the conceptual challenges with it that every game in the series has since faced. Secondly, it shows that despite all these challenges, combat has still managed to become an important aspect in every one of the Anno games.

Why is military important for Anno?
At its core, Anno is a rather peaceful and serene game, with an optimistic and upbeat outlook. While the world seems familiar, it is also idealized; you could easily be forgiven for thinking that combat feels out of place in such a world.

Whether in the past or the future, the art of war has always been a part of Anno

During several surveys, we identified three major ways how players approached combat, each of which questioned tens of thousands of Anno players at various times (ranging from all the way back to the development of Anno 1701, to shortly after the release of Anno 2070).

And indeed, the majority of our players (between 45-55%) prefer an ostensibly peaceful approach to playing Anno, with very few skirmishes at sea (those pesky pirates…), while avoiding any planned-out warfare. Another big group of players (35-45%) prefers a more flexible approach, where things can be resolved peacefully or turn to war, depending on the situation at hand. Finally, we have a small group of players (5-15%) who feel that large-scale warfare is that extra something and who prefer to permanently get rid of their opposition.

A policy of deterrence
Things get more interesting once we take a closer look, however. While we had some players who wanted to avoid any kind of conflict via game settings (an option that will once again be available in Anno 1800), the military feature in general seemed to be of importance for many of our players, despite their stated playstyle preferences. In other words, even those players who preferred not to use combat in the game feel that warfare is an important part of Anno. But why is that so?

The answer to that question lies in the overall “feeling” of Anno. The presence of the military and warfare in the peaceful Anno world increases the realism and believability, topics that have always been very important to Anno players. Even many of those players, who would never declare war themselves and who prefer playing with more passive AI characters, like the notion that war could be a potential consequence of their actions. These players view peace as an active process; the direct result of their behavior towards other players, be they human or AI-driven. The knowledge that war could break out is a deterrent to many players and AI alike, as it puts additional importance on their actions. Just as in real life, it asks players to consider what the possible price of their behavior could be, and if they would be willing to pay it. For these players, the threat of potential war is a more important aspect than the actual warfare itself. If they decide to build any military units at all, they mostly do so as a deterrent to their neighbors.

I decide about war and peace!
Things are of course very different for those players who like to actively use their military in the game. In the below diagram, you can see some statements that we polled players on.

How much do you agree with these statements? That is what we asked our Anno 2070 players, with the diagram showing the percentage of those fully agreeing.

From these results, you can see that while gameplay freedom (”I decide on war and peace“) reigned supreme, some concrete actions (“It is fun to sink ships“), confrontational aspects (”I enjoy fighting AI opponents“; ”I am motivated by strong opponents“) and frustrating moments (”I do not like losing everything at once“) are also important factors.

Surveys like this one show that the same gameplay experience can be rated very differently by players when it comes to concrete military action. One player’s trash could be the next player’s treasure. While some players dread the risk of losing what they carefully built up, other players cherish this very risk as an extra incentive. The only factor that pretty much all players could somewhat agree on: the ability to decide whether it was time for war or peace and the strategic freedom tied to it (do I want to help my allies, or should I break my alliance etc.) is the major interest of war in Anno.

The military across the Annos
Armed with this knowledge, we have tried many different things to find the perfect military implementation for Anno. This is not an easy task, given the very specific game design requirements for warfare in the Anno world.

Most classic RTS games primarily use their buildings to build up an army, turning their worlds into real-time battlefields. This classic RTS gameplay collides with the core principle of Anno, which is to build as many buildings as efficiently as possible on a limited island space (see the green areas in the next diagram). Such densely developed cities leave little room for glorious open battlefields.

Land is for building; the sea is for trade and combat. Harbors are the intersection between both.

Things are very different out on the high seas (see the red areas). Apart from harbors, players can’t really build anything here, so they are the perfect stage for both smaller skirmishes as well as massive naval battles in the various Anno games. But, the seas become really meaningful, once you take into consideration its function as a link between the islands, thanks to harbors and trade routes.

The first three Annos (1602, 1503 and 1701) opted for a classic RTS-like (Real-Time Strategy) approach, which allowed you to use land-based units in addition to your fleets. This approach had the advantage of players being familiar with it thanks to its implementation in other games. While some players cherished the direct control and the slow, methodical advances against heavily fortified islands, other players were annoyed by the need for too much micro-management, troops getting lost between buildings and the perceived need to build walls and towers all around their islands. With Anno 1404, we tried to get the military gameplay closer to the core Anno loop. Land-based units were no longer directly controllable, as players instead had to build defensive structures and field camps. This made combat both slower and more strategic. While we again had some players who highly welcomed these changes, others found it too indirect and complex, with some fights turning into an explosion of overlapping circles and colors, as seen below.


Red circles, green arrows… the indirect combat of Anno 1404 led to a cascade of visual aids for the player

With Anno 2070, we returned to directly controllable units, but replaced land-based troops with flying combat units and submarines. There was also fuel as a resource, further adding complexity. Some players liked this new approach; others felt that we had not gone far enough in revamping the combat.

In Anno 2205, we went one step further, removing combat from the core gameplay and instead moving it to special conflict maps. Later on, we considered this for the game’s final DLC, which broke up the strict separation by somewhat reintroducing combat back into the main sessions. A move that was highly welcomed by most players.

So what is next?
For Anno 1800, we have spent a lot of time discussing which previous military aspects we wanted to carry over, and which new elements we wanted to introduce. That’s why I hope you look forward to Part II of this DevBlog, when I will explain the concepts of military gameplay in Anno 1800, including some early details on some of the systems.

But now I want to turn the mic over to you: Which of the three main groups I outlined earlier would you played yourself: those who actively seek war, those who want to avoid it, or those rules to prefer to be flexible and decide on war and please as required? I am looking forward to your thoughts.

See you next week

Dirk ”Cart Pusher“ Riegert

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Union Update: 2070 Anniversary

In 2011, the face of the Anno series changed with a giant leap into the future. With Anno 2070, we changed our sails with high tech ferries and were ready to explore the world of the future, where global warming changed the planet and caused the sea to conquer the continents.

With the futuristic setting came not only drastically changed visuals for the series, but also an expansion of the Anno formula, as it was now possible to explore the deep sea and settle on the ocean floor. As this week marks the 6th birthday of Anno 2070, we would like to share a few memories of our developers and the Anno union with all of you.

Anniversary Stream this Friday
Tune in this Friday to join our Anno 2070 anniversary stream. Based on your feedback to the last anniversary event, we decided to ramp up the difficulty level a bit to keep the tension high. The stream will go live this Friday, 17th November at 4pm CEST, as usual on our Ubisoft Blue Byte Twitch channel:

Developer Memories

Dirk Riegert, Creative Director
I remember as if it was yesterday, when we set the first corner stones for the development of Anno 2070. It was shortly before the release of Anno 1404. Our publisher (back then, Related Designs was not a full part of the Ubisoft network) wanted the fifth installment of the series to be a bigger step and an interesting iteration of the franchise. They wanted us to inject a fresh new take into the franchise and it was on us to bring up ideas for a new setting.

But what should be the new time period for the next Anno? Which solution would work with the traditional game elements of the series but would also offer something unexpected? When the Ubisoft delegation arrived in our office in November 2008, we were prepared with a presentation, including all of our combined ideas for the game with the working title »Anno 5«. We had considered all kinds of sensible and crazy time periods, and spent a lot of time with the ones which made most sense for the series, with options such as Anno 1305 or wild ideas like Anno Vikings. We ended up with five concepts for our setting: Anno 117, Anno 1602, Anno 1800 (yes, we thought about that quite a while ago), Anno 2160 and Anno 3006.

For the Anno 2160 concept, we noted down that it was »probably too crazy«.  However, we still wanted to explore that idea for a setting as we saw the potential for many interesting possibilities for the look and the design of the game. We had the first ideas after watching the movie »Deep Blue« and reading an article regarding the possible economic use of the deep sea. What if the fifth Anno would allow players to not only build their settlements on islands above the sea level, but also on plateaus deep beneath it? That idea was fascinating to us. To our surprise, 2160 was the idea which excited Ubisoft most when we presented our five proposals for the next setting. That they were willing to take a bet on a completely new setting astonished us in the same way it made us happy. It did not took much time to discuss the next step and shortly after, we were able to start working on the game, which would go on to become Anno 2070.

At the end, the risk was worth taking. Up to this day, Anno 2070 is the commercially most successful title of the entire series. Besides the advances to digital distribution, which allowed us to expand to international markets, this was surely also due to the bold move to a fresh new setting.

Christian Rösch, Software Developer
If you followed our last anniversary blog, you might know how much can go wrong when working on the movement of units. With 2070, we introduced air units to the series and with that, we had a lot of crazy ideas to try out. Ships travel across the see and might meet each other along the way, sometimes, a bit too close which might lead to a crash on high waters. That is different with air units as they can alter their altitude. For us a lucky situation to be in, because we were finally able to avoid that annoying collision. I started to work on some kind of a virtual air traffic controller, who had always an eye on the flight routes of air units. If the controller noticed that two planes are on a collision course, he took action and ordered them take a different altitude. A great system which worked out well, not even the cart pusher got weirdly affected compared to the last time. But there was a catch to it, this time the isometric perspective of the human perception. If you watched the airplanes moving, you had a hard time to grasp those planes would fly up and down as your brain always expect that they just move south or north. Often, it seemed that they planes crash and clip through each other while in reality they, just passed by under each other. As it just looked confusing, we decided that all units still get the same altitude to move in order to avoid confusion and that they would only loose altitude when landing.

Carsten Eckhardt, Senior 3D Artist
During the last steps of Anno 2070’s development, most 3D work was done and we, as 3D designer, helped out creating icons for the game. The icons in 2070 were apparently not drawn; each one of them was a small 3D icon, which we created for the game. It usually took some time to find the right lighting and position in order to display the icon to its advantage.  As icons are fairly small, you need to focus on the essentials and cannot really tell a complex story compared to a more detailed picture. The players must understand the meaning and function of the item from the get go. Moreover, icons must be distinctive from each other to avoid confusion. Leveldesign was working on the campaign and for that, they needed an icon once a while, mostly for items which got transported or used by the player. One day, we got an icon request from our level design team including a description of the gameplay purpose of the item. I did a few icons before that but this time; I could tell that this request was somewhat special. This request should proof itself as quite a challenge. The description was a spy camera, which the player should use in an underwater mission, but before that, he had to smuggle it on board of a science station. The catch was that as a smuggling good, the icon should look like the spy camera and like an alga at the same time. Congratulations, I just got the request to create a camera, which should like an alga. Luckily enough, I was able to convince the responsible level designer that it might not be the best idea to have so many information in one simple and small icon. At the end, we could agree on the camera looking like an UBS stick in two states, one version with and the other without the secret information on it.

Community Memories

Bellasinya
Anno2070 ….for the first time a futuristic setting. And it was dark… pretty dark, at least for the tone we are used in Anno games. The multiplayer was awesome, I remember how I picked a friend of mine to only take care of the military aspects. I managed the residents and resources to produce weapons while he was battling the pirates. I am a fairly peaceful Anno player, he likes warfare, the perfect combination!

RPr0
During the last new year’s eve, we schemed the plan to just play through the whole night with Anno and a few other games. As you might imagine, it was a bad idea to play any other game when the first game on the list is Anno. We played nothing else during that night. As we were experienced players, we managed to build and advance our settlements with ease. It did not took too long for us to be at war with the AI and the last remaining free islands, as I never had enough corn to get along with the eco guys. And with that, I played through the whole night and it was around 10am, when I heard a loud snoring noise coming from my friend through the Teamspeak channel. I was able to wake him up but some shouting was involved. It was that moment when we both realized, that we had played Anno for over 12 hours without a noticing it. This night is one of my best gaming memories of all time.

Ixam97
My probably most memorable experience was the „Alwinic Anion Catalyst – Moment“. We played in a group of three and by that time, had spent hours in that one match already. I was looking for the prototype for quite a while, so you might imagine that I was quite euphoric when the Trenchcoat had it finally in its stock. The result was that I was very vocal about to my dear players, and they reacted: One of them threatened my with a change of the offer and the other one just bought it in front of my eyes (and gifted it at the end to me, which saved myself 900 licenses). All in all, I love to think back to this time and it’s many, many moments of joy *sheds a tear*

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DevBlog: “Dear game guide”, a love letter

A relic from the olden days, or an irreplaceable accessory? For our Creative Director Dirk Riegert, there is only one answer to that question. Enjoy his fiery plea for a, in our modern times, redundant art form.

Dear game guide,

You have to be strong now, because you see, no one actually really needs you. The ones who buy you already know the game, which you describe in detail, inside out. They do not need your assistance in the form of a book. It is exactly these players who lovingly pat you on the cover and who reverently carry you around from their couch, to the bath and to their bedroom to bury themselves in your pages. In that sense, you are the ultimate accolade for a video game. You demonstrate that many players love their games so much, that they want to spend time with them even when they are not currently playing.

It was exactly the same with me. I can vividly remember as if it was just yesterday all the times I took my guide from the shelf after I played through roleplaying games to reminisce on the most memorable and challenging parts of my adventures. You, dear game guide, were always a fascinating mixture between diary, photo album and manual for me. And even if your importance for that last aspect keeps on dwindling in the digital age, you are still a must-buy for devoted fans who love to get lost in the pages of a good old book.

And then of course there was that one time where you really saved me in the most dire of circumstances; do you remember? It was in the year 2004, and we just had started the development of Anno 1701. I was quite shocked back then, when I noticed that we had no design documents of the last two Anno games for us to do research, as it was the first Anno game developed by our studio. Anno games were a unique and complex blend of strategy and city building though, so I desperately searched through the various documents I was able to dig out but the results were all less than helpful. I felt utterly destroyed when I finally found you, dear game guide. My knight in shining armor, saving me with your sharp knowledge and trusty pictures. Hardworking people had put together so much useful information, including all the game rules and charts about Anno 1503, all very well written and easy to understand.

I was so thankful and it was calming to know you were at my side for the years to come. As the Anno series was continuously growing, you too grew bigger and more extensive in size and content. From a medium sized, 162 pages paperback for Anno 1701, you expanded to an impressive 295 pages hardcover with Anno 1404. With Anno 2070, your dimensions evolved even further, to an unbelievable 367 pages and I remember how it became quite exhausting to hold you in one hand. With Anno 2205, we thought digital information would suffice, but I can tell that I missed you quite dearly.

Now, with Anno 1800, I wonder if our paths will cross again. If the folks in the Anno Union love you as much as I do, could there maybe be a chance of a comeback? For myself, I would love to hold you in my arms again, dear game guide. Maybe, just maybe, there might be even a chance to exceed 400 pages, who knows?

We might see us in future,

Dirk

We hoped you liked this very personal love letter to the strategy guide. But how is it for you, members of the Anno Union: Is a game guide just a nice collectable memoriam for you or a trusty companion and do you even think that we need them anymore, in this modern day and age?

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Union Update: Welcome November

After a fairly short week for us, we are back and ready to engage the month of November with new content. A big thanks for all the feedback regarding the anniversary week. As you seem to like the anniversary idea, we decided to do some similar content for the upcoming Anno 2070 birthday. Furthermore, the streams are well received and we will see how we can further improve based on your feedback  to bring you more episodes of the AnnoCast and the Anniversary Let’s Plays, as well as showing you Anno 1800 live and in action as soon as technically possible. But the streaming means also means a lot of additional work for us and for that reason, we won’t be able to bring you requested weekly shows or even expand the streams to two or even three hours. We think that the Union understands – and agrees! – that the development of Anno 1800 is our top priority. We also have to report that Norbert filed a complaint, as he was so far not given the screen time fans asked for. We surely don’t want to get in trouble with our HR department, so we are looking at ways to include him in the future.

Regarding development, we are currently working on our next big development milestone and will share an update about the state of the game with you soon. As previously announced we will give you some interesting details about military this month as well as spotlight the work of a 3D artist. Also, please welcome our Senior Game Designer and stream operator Christian, as he will help me out with today’s Community QnA.

But before we start with todays QnA, here comes the call to action for the Anno Union: Share your Anno 2070 memories, crazy stories or anecdotes for the upcoming Community blog in the Anno 2070 anniversary week!

Community QnA

NK3D
I am happy about the fact that you are planning to have a player testing capable version of the game ready by this year, does that mean we can expect a small stream?

Basti: We currently discussing requirements for our development build in order to show you Anno 1800 gameplay sections during a Developer Stream. While we still want to improve our general stream setup, we know now that it works. We cannot give you an ETA right now but we want to show you Anno 1800 in action as soon as technically possible. I can tell that we will start displaying certain elements of the game including developer talks rather than a let’s play format.

Sir_Obelexxus
One question regarding the selection process for testers. It is clear that not everyone will be able to make it into the first play test. Would it make more sense to create a small application process, where you can ask important questions such as “which way you want to travel to the location? The city of Mainz is over 400km away from some places in Germany, which is a bit much to just “show up” to test Anno 1800. Is there anything like that coming or planned?

Basti: We plan various Anno Union playtests until the release of Anno 1800. We will invite a small focus group for the first test, where the participants will visit us in our studio in Mainz. More tests will happen in larger groups in our studios, at different place or playable from your own home PC. The best-case scenario for us are these latter tests, in which you will be able to participate from the comfort of your home. This allows us to invite a larger numbers of players from all players, and to have the game tested on a wider range of possible hardware configurations, depending on our needs for the specific test. The idea of an application process is interesting and we will see in which form it could make sense for us for future tests.

Julius_A.
How will it work when citizens die in my settlement? Will there be a graveyard or something similar in the game?

Basti: While we will have a church as a basic need, dying citizen won’t be a gameplay element in Anno 1800. Citizens might leave your settlement because of missing fulfillments of basic needs or other elements but adding that layer would overcomplicate things more than actually benefit the Anno game design.

Montanus77
As with the voting with the AI character, it is quite hard to vote for something if you are missing the greater picture or don’t know how it will affect a feature in a larger scale. I would like to ask you to provide more insights about the content of future voting’s and also tell us, what kind of decisions were set in stone about that content before starting the community vote.

Basti: Good Feedback, we will see how we can keep that in mind with future votes in order to provide a little bit more background information about the underlying systems of voted content. While AI characters are a long established feature in the Anno series, the world fair blogs showed us that it was not clear for every Anno Union member, how the event feature actually works in detail. We however also have to consider development timelines, where many things are being work on in parallel; by the time one element may be fully set in stone, it could already be too late to have the community vote on related elements.

Depace
Personally, I would have liked it more to have a bigger production line from the get go, as complexity in the game is a really important part for me. Also, the fishing hut was always the first to go building to kick off the food production, a change to that would have been a great chance to mix things up a bit without having too much of an impact on the games feeling.

Basti: During the concept and development phase, we take a closer look at all game elements to evaluate if it makes sense to perform certain changes to the Anno formula or if that could even damage the overall feeling and balancing of the game. Decisions often being made based on experience and sometimes a certain feeling what could work but with Anno 1800, we want to take advantage of the Anno Union initiative to directly work with your feedback as an additional layer, from allegedly small features like the first tier of the food production chain to crucial larger scale content. Based on that feedback, we made the decision that, with the traditional start in the food supply chain, newer players will have an easier start, veterans a familiar environment while it will not y have a negative impact on the overall complexity of the game.

Lord1anni
I think it would be really cool if the transported goods (in this case on horse-carts) would not just vanish from the roads and instead drive to the actual production building. I would not mind if the crates would just appear just like that on the cart.

Christian: With the current implementation state of the feature, we want that the market carts are visible while unloading their goods. But as the visual representation of the logistic system is not fully implemented yet, a lot of that might be subject to change until we reach Beta state. As you might have heard already, we are currently experimenting with goods being actually moved from one production building to another instead of just being picked up at a warehouse. The main reason is that we want to show how busy the warehouse can get in the game world. If you see that there are too many market carts causing a small traffic jam in front of the warehouse, it might be a good moment to think about building an additional one or upgrading the existing warehouse.

Are you guys interested in getting more details about the logistic system or do you want to rather explore it your own when the game comes out? Let us know in the comments below!

HippoKillar184
I would be interested what kind of goods will be in the game, my favorites are the more complex production chains like wine or candle sticks from 1404.

Christian: The production chains will be a mix between familiar and completely new goods. That means you will see some traditional chains such as bread or fish, while the industrial revolution allows us to implement new ones like steel production. While progressing in the game, goods will become more advanced and as a result, production chains longer, more complex and difficult to handle. We will dive into that topic into greater detail in a future DevBlog.

Swimming-Paul
Do you think you could make an update in the future about ornamentals? Or isn´t that considered important enough?

Basti: Whether it is beauty building, trading and economy or military domination, players have always had their preference for their favorite game approach. Beauty building is a very important aspect of the game and for that reason, we will provide more development insights about ornaments and other beauty building aspects in future. It would be interesting for us to know what beauty builders are hoping for in the game.

Annosofeles FORUM
How will mining resources look in the game? Will it be more like 2070 or 2205, where you have general spots for where you can decide which resource you mine or more like 1404, where each resources has a designated spot for reach resource type. How about the quantity of resources in each node? More like 1404 (limited but you can refill them with money) or like 2205 (unlimited) or even like 2070 (limited and only refillable with items)?

Basti: Mining resources have set spots, which are generated with the isles when you start a new game. The various resources have their designated spots, which means you have to construct your coalmine on a coal node. The amount of coal or any other mining resource will not be limited and as a result, cannot deplete. When we show you more about the production chains in future, we will also tell more about the mineral extraction.

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