The invention of the light bulb was more than a mere boon to comfort and luxury. This new way of illuminating the darkness was also an inspiring force for creative minds and a motor for the industry, unshackling them from the natural rhythm of day and night. With electricity playing such an important role in Anno 1800’s economy, there was a strong desire from our community to have a true day and night cycle in the game. Finally, this wish became reality with Game Update 4. As the days are getting ever shorter, what better time to shine a light on this major visual update than in today’s DevBlog!
A true passion project for the players – the beginnings
Since the early days of development, we had been toying with the idea to add a day & night cycle to Anno 1800, similar to the one from 2205. In reality, game development often means throwing a lot of ideas onto a wall and then deciding which ones may be a crucial must-have features, while others end up on a potential “nice to have later” list. While the day & night originally did not make the cut, many Union members told us repeatedly that they would love to see a return of that feature to the series.
Therefore, when some members of our art team had a bit of time available after launch, they immediately set out to realize this previously scraped idea from the early days of Anno 1800. This plan was quickly validated by the modding community jumping on the topic, which showed the big interest in having this functionality in Anno 1800.
Let there be light – developing the Day & Night feature
As is often the case, our artists are perfectionists once they have their hearts set on a topic.So it was clear from the get-go that an official day & night cycle could not simply be about adding a dark night, and sun and moon cycles. Instead, almost every asset players can build would have to be reworked to make sure they look their best, no matter the time of day. Ranging from new glowing textures for illuminated windows to tons of new light sources to ships sailing the nocturnal oceans, we added over 1000 new light sources and changed more than 200 existing assets to provide the intended ambience during the night.
We also had to ensure that the new light sources would start shining during specific times of the day and account for the additional gloom of our dusk and sunset scenarios. In the 19th century, cityscapes started to change drastically with the introduction of the lightbulb. We depicted this in the game world with a more blueish tint to our electric light sources, as opposed to the warmer, yellowish light of candles and fireplaces; this way, a heavily industrialized metropolis will look and feel notably different from a rural hamlet’s atmosphere.
Our modern cities are awash with artificial light during the night but back then, they were comparatively sparsely illuminated. Once more, we decided for a tradeoff: we wanted to create an appealing contrast to the darkness while we also did not want to outright dismiss that feeling of a gone century in the midst of transformation into the modern world.
Players would also expect that their city would appear much quieter during the night, but Anno’s cityscapes are normally famously bustling with life. As a result, we had to send our feedback units through another development pass, where we had to reduce the overall amount of residents following their daily business while again, adding and altering light sources. As a result, the streets are less crowded during the late hours. You may also notice some other subtle changes, such as removing the kids from the schoolyard during the night or adding more musicians to the pub to let it appear livelier in the after work hours.
Finally but crucially, we wanted to give the player full control over the scenery. For that, we had to program the functionality to allow them to change the time of day at their convenience or to go for one of our presets, such as daylight, dusk, dawn or midnight. While we decided to make the night hours shorter than the actual day for gameplay convenience, players would also be able to decide to stop the cycle altogether to enjoy their sunset for as long as they like.
It’s not always style over substance – Impact on Gameplay
While changing hundreds of assets manually was a huge albeit worthwhile task, there was more to it than just adding another layer of visual fidelity.
In a game like Anno, readability is an important factor to provide a satisfying gameplay experience.
While various tooltips and windows help you to keep an overview about events in your empire, the game also transmits a lot of information through visual feedback happening in your city. A night setting naturally makes it much harder to read what is going on, which necessitated the addition of all these new light sources to make sure that you could still identify all buildings, and not lose track of your ships.
We also played around with ideas how the shift from day to the midst of the night could affect gameplay, and while it would open many possibilities, we realized that doing so would simply add a lot of unnecessary micromanagement, without actually benefiting the overall game experience and player fantasy.
Day & Night, a joint effort
While we have primarily talked about our artists, the day & night update was a collaborative effort from the whole Anno team, drawing on all disciplines from art and engine R&D (research and development) to programming and interface. Judging by the countless of majestically lighted nocturnal cityscapes we have seen online, we are very happy with the results of this effort, and hope you agree as well.
What is your preferred time of day for your empire? And do you make extensive active use of the options available, or do you just roll with the natural rhythm of night and day? Let us know in the comments below!