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Category: DevBlog

DevBlog: Pushing carts

Anno is about building an empire, starting with just a handful of coins in your pocket and a few buildings in your newly founded settlement. It is a long road with many challenges to overcome but with skillful management, you will soon grow your city into an impressive metropolis. Seasoned Anno players might already know this of course, but efficient logistics is the key to a successful economy.
Today, our Senior Game Designer Christian opens his ledgers and gives you an exclusive look at the logistics system in Anno 1800, including interesting insights for both experienced economists and new players taking their first steps into the world of Anno alike.

Hi my name is Christian and I am Game Designer for Anno 1800. I joined the team for the production of Anno 2070 and have since then worked on all following Anno titles. My job is to work on the core economical parts of Anno 1800 and I am excited to give you a little glimpse into our logistics system!

Your economy’s pounding heart
If you break it down to a very basic level, logistics is the system of transportation of goods. In Anno, it is a complex system of interacting cogs in a wheel, powering your economy in order to build, maintain, and expand your city.

Whether you are the min-maxing perfectionist or a beauty builder who wants to create the most picturesque cities, meeting your citizens’ ever-increasing demands for goods and resources is at the very heart of the Anno gameplay formula.

Of course, many of our players want to go beyond simply meeting those demands and instead take pride in perfecting their logistics to build massive empires with huge production lines and dozens of trade routes. That just shows what a massive and complex topic logistics is in an Anno game, so we will focus on the transportation of goods on your main island for today’s DevBlog. Of course, trade routes will play an important role in Anno 1800 as well, but we will save that topic for another day.

Let’s get visual, the returning of physical goods
In the last Anno game, the position of the goods on the map or their distance to the next production building was largely irrelevant. This will drastically change with Anno 1800, as physical goods celebrate their comeback to the series, and in doing so bumping up the complexity of gameplay that many of you have asked for.

To make that possible, the game needs to be able to measure the distance to a building and other targets, while taking the current location of the goods into account. This is once again all visually represented in the game world, allowing you to follow your wares’ cart journey from production to warehouse; this helps to immerse players in the world, but also to make logistics easier to grasp through visualization. And of course, it really adds to that crowded and lively feeling that you expect from a flourishing Anno city!

Cart pushers, carriages and smart decisions
In order to optimize your economy, you have to keep a keen eye on your production chain to ensure that all goods find their way through your thoughtfully created street layout. We all know that this can be a rather demanding task; building a complex production chain, ensuring that all goods find their destination and identifying blockers when there is a sudden shortcoming of resources.

To explain some of these concepts better, let us look at a typical production chain in Anno 1800: steel production.
Our newly built smelter is ready for production but in order to fuel our steel industry, we need to ensure that it gets a steady supply of coal and iron ore. Luckily, a charcoal burner is close by and cart pushers ensure that the coal finds its way directly to the smelter.

If the smelter is sufficiently stocked with coal, or if there is a general overhead production of coal, it will instead direct the goods to the warehouse for storage (unless there is some other immediate demand for it in the vicinity). This is where horse-drawn carriages come into play. While it is the job of a cart pusher to deliver resources from one production building to another, the carriages loads up excess production to bring it to a warehouse for storage.

As mentioned before, our logistics system checks the shortest way between a supplier and your production buildings. The basic rule for efficient delivery is that – in order to reduce bottlenecks – emptying your storage has the highest priority. In our given example, the charcoal burner detects that there is a demand for coal nearby and sends a cart pusher to the smelter instead to the nearest warehouse. The game will also decide if it sends out goods before the cart is fully loaded to fulfill demands or if it would be more efficient to wait until it has loaded more before sending the delivery.

So what are these decisions based on? Deliveries are prioritized by the necessary travel distance on streets. To help with planning, you can see a building’s “reach” on the map. Upgrading your streets from a muddy path to proper cobblestone will increase speed, which furthermore means that a production building might be capable of reaching facilities in corners that may have been too far away to reach previously.

Wonders of the industrial revolution (pre-alpha)

Warehouse and queue management
Our goal is to give you more options when designing your city, from optimized street layouts to the decisions on where to put your manufacturing districts.

We added a new layer to the warehouse itself, which now has a loading and delivery bay. As more transporters try to access the warehouse, it will get crowded outside, which can lead to a delay of the loading process. When too many carriages try to store resources and goods in the same warehouse, you will be able to see how they queue up in front of the loading bay. However, don’t worry about traffic jams on your streets, as this will only affect the warehouse gates.
Transporters also check the nearby warehouses and might prioritize a warehouse with less traffic, if it would result in an overall shorter delivery time.

This will all be represented in the warehouse menu, where you can see detailed information about delivery and loading processes, as well as the actual goods in storage. As your progress through the game, you will also be able to upgrade your warehouse to increase the number of loading bays, allowing more carts to be serviced, simultaneously.

Depots will further increase the islands storage limit but will not have an effect on loading and delivery. These will come in handy when you expand your empire and establish trade routes. Warehouses themselves share one island bound storage, where all stored resources on your island will be accessible from any of your warehouses. This is still an experimental new feature we are working on, but we are so far quite happy with it and hope the additional visual feedback not only makes it easier to understand, but also adds some additional entertainment.

With Anno 1800, we want to create a complex logistics system while enhancing the visibility and readability. Added options will be a welcome addition for Anno veterans while making it stays comprehensible even for new players.

Somebody should tell them how to queue up properly (pre-alpha)

What’s the deal with trains?
We also know that there is one specific topic where you are thirsty for details: the trains, relentless steel horses of the industrial revolution. The train feature is not 100% set in stone yet, and we are currently evaluating some possible design scenarios for how trains could work in Anno 1800.

We have many ideas on how we could implement trains into the game and we want trains to reflect the advancement of the industrial age. Trains presented a reliable new way to transport tons of goods over long distances, overcoming one of the major hurdles that threatened the progress of the industrial revolution.
It is a complex topic and of course, we want feedback from you, the Anno Union. With this logistics DevBlog, it was also our intention to explain some of our underlying systems in order to give you the knowledge to give feedback on potential train gameplay designs.

We are looking forward to reading your comments and are curious to see what you think of the logistics in Anno 1800.

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Interview with the illustrious Artur Gasparov

It was an exciting election, with the crème de la crème of Anno’s aspiring governors coming together to fight for your vote during the big Anno Union NPC election. Without a doubt, it was the visionary Artur Gasparov who took your collective hearts by storm, but not without some controversy. Several months have passed since then and we finally managed to get Mr. Gasparov agreeing to an exclusive Anno Union interview.

Before we have a chance to sit down and talk, Mr. Gasparov gets the obligatory tour of the studio. Disappointed by the lack of notable architectural features, he shows me his chin. As I pass Mr. Gasparov a mug of machine coffee in the hope it soothes him, I begin to get a sense of the person behind the opulent facade.
Basti: Mr. Gasparov, you’ve been elected by the Anno Union to join the ranks of AI characters. It was a tough competition, was it not?
Artur Gasparov: Not at all – I was streets ahead from the start. You would call it a landslide victory, but to me, it is altogether more dignified. To be honest, I am a little piqued not to have been among the original cast of characters – I am after all, the embodiment of originality. But…vox populi, and now I am their god elect!

BT: What should players expect from you?
AG: Demolition! Hoping to compete with the finest architect and city-planner in the entire Empire? They must be completely cuckoo! I will create the grandest, most sumptuous metropolis ever beheld by human eyes! My people will share my intense dedication to this vision, or else be made to! I will level any mountain that blocks my path! And if some interfering human player tries the same, rest assured, I shall make a great exhibition of them!

BT: Sounds like you have an aggressive, even militant outlook?
AG: No, no! I am a friend to all who treat me with due deference. Those who respect me, who fulfil my wishes, shall be rewarded appropriately! ‘Though of course, a chance to assist me is itself, the highest of rewards.

BT: Wow, that’s great. So do you know yet if there will be another member of the Jorgensen family in ANNO 1800?
AG: What?! I am here to talk about me – my divine draughtsmanship! What is this obsession with the numbskull Jorgensens? The Gasparov family tree goes back aeons – generation after generation of the Empire’s most enigmatic and impressive personages. Why does nobody inquire after my noble bloodline?

BT: Moving on swiftly-
AG: -do not sweep my heritage under your cheap rug!

BT: We don’t have rugs at Bluebyte.
AG: So I see, and no drapes, no plaster of Paris, no fluting, nor filigree.

BT: It’s great to meet someone who can open our eyes to art.

AG: Art cannot be seen, if it has not been lived! It is not enough to have a vision – one must be a vision!

BT: And what does this vision mean for the ordinary people?
AG: Ordinary people? Oh yes of course. The more ordinary the better! They will have an impossible amount of work to complete, in a ridiculously short amount of time, if we are to capture the spirit of the age.

BT: And what to you is the spirit of the age?
AG: Architectural Eclecticism.

BT: Care to elaborate?
AG: Always.

BT: Ok…that’s great. What about industrialization in the era, isn’t that a problem for an aesthete like you?
AG: A great problem! I need industry, furnaces to cast my elegy in fire. But such monstrous eyesores must be hidden in the hills! Why, oh why, must chimneys belch and fug my life?! Or warehouses weather me away like a church gargoyle? Why do mistuned orchestras of manufacture drown out their diva? This is the oily slick that smears my reflection in the pond, leaving my love for myself to go unrequited.

BT: Oh I think I hear the horse and carriage drawing up outside, how unfortunate. Thank you so much for your time Mr. Gasparov.
AG: Time is a precious commodity, even for the immortal.

We hoped you liked our interview- but entertainment was not our only intention! Anno is about more than just building cities; our goal is to immerse you in the industrial age with Interesting characters and a well-crafted narrative. Now, we want to hand the torch over to you in order light your creative minds in our first Anno Union story contest!

We want your take on the big Anno Union NPC vote, written in the role of the governor of your own island paradise. Whether it is a personal role-play style letter, your own newspaper article or even a whole story about how you perceived and react to the results of the election, we leave it to your imagination and creativity!

The contest begins today and will end January 15th. At the end of the vote, we will pick the best three entries by early February. The form, length and whether you want to support it with some visual assets is entirely up to you. You can create your story either in English or German.

You can enter your stories in our Writing Contest thread in the Ubisoft forum: https://forums.ubi.com/showthread.php/1801690

The best three stories win a spotlight on the Anno Union and one of the following prices:
Place One: Signed Collector’s Edition of a previous Anno game
Place Two: Anno Goodie Bag, including some signed swag
Place Three: Game signed by the development team

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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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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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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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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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DevBlog: Anno 1701 – Back to the future

With its first release on October 26th , 2006 (international release dates varied), Anno 1701 changed the look of the series drastically. The evolution into a 3D game brought new content and expanded on features. To move from an isometric 2D perspective into a 3D world was an enormous task and therefore required an ambitions and talented team ready for the challenge. With the passing of the scepter from former Anno developer Max Design, it was the studio Related Designs which accepted the challenge. A development studio that is today of course better known as Ubisoft Blue Byte Mainz. As the team had some experience with strategy titles and development in 3D, the studios own 3D engine was chosen as the tool to bring Anno 1701 in the third dimension. These learnings later (with Anno 1404) became the cornerstone of the “Anno engine”, which is still used to this day in a heavily enhanced and modified form.

The conversion into a full 3D world became a turning point, which resulted in a critical success, with not only the reception of the acclaimed Anno 1701, but also with the experience gained during development; these became very important in the development of the following Anno 1404 and the later titles.

It is said studio, consisting of veterans and new talent alike, which is currently working on the upcoming Anno 1800, which we hope shall join the ranks of the old and beloved Anno titles; combining their complexity and unique flair while taking advantage of improved features of modern entries in the series. While we highlighted the best Anno 1701 memories of our fans with the last Union Update, we want to tell stories from a different angle today: original developers of Anno 1701 and their interesting, personal and sometimes funny memories about the development of Anno 1701!

Burkhard Ratheiser, Executive Producer
Hi, my name is Burkhard Ratheiser and I am the Executive Producer for Anno 1800. Back in the days, I was Managing Director at Related Designs and Lead 3D Engine Programmer for 1701.

What was „ANNO WAR“?
Anno 1701 had its beginning as a strategy installment in the Anno franchise. Back then, Thomas Pottkämper and I met with Sunflowers Development Director to brainstorm about possible high concept ideas (we usually had our meetings at a pizza place around the corner of the former Sunflowers office). It was one beautiful day where we planned to discuss the ANNO WAR concept further, when the Development Director asked us how we liked the idea of working on a “real” Anno 1503 successor. While we were initially surprised by the offer, it didn’t take us very long to realize that it would be a great opportunity for our team to create the next main installment in the Anno series. We accepted that offer, put ANNO WAR on ice and started to work on 1701…

An exclusive look on one of the Anno War concept mockups (NOT RELEASED)

Anno’s own “Beauty Shader”
Beauty Shader was an internal term I used for our own pixel shader effect, which was responsible for that uplifting and colorful look of the game world. Eventually that term was even used by gaming and hardware magazines, which was always good for some general amusement in the team. Every time someone asked me why I picked that term, I answered casually “because it makes everything beautiful” – hey, it was probably the “first” coded make-up ;-)! Later on, during some celebration event, (I cannot even remember the reason of the celebration anymore) someone from the team gifted me a small can of model paint as a reference to the “Beauty Shader” and it is still on my desk today.

Terrain Engine: The engine in the engine
I am the kind of guy who loves to code and back then, I was responsible for our own „Terrain Engine“. As a result of my coding habits, the Terrain Engine mutated into a huge, bloated C++ “Monster” which worked as its own 3D Engine including own resource management systems (such as shaders) and included complex features like Undiscovered (aka fog of war), all living in our own engine.

Fun Fact(s)
–          The camera in Anno 1701 is rotating with the sun and that is the reason that players always see a perfectly illuminated scenery. You can notice that when looking at the shadows, which move together with the camera.
–          We were especially proud about the rendering of the rivers in the game. It consisted of a string of planar triangles and pixel shaders to create the final illusion of a stream of water and depth.
–          Anno 1701 was the first Anno in real-time 3D. When we had our first presentation to reveal the game to the press, we had a rendered ship on the start screen, which looked like a very complex rendering. When we started the presentation, the picture would blend into a real-time presentation of our engine and the ship and the water started to animate, transitioning everything smoothly into the actual gameplay part. Every time we did that, there was a noticeable “ooh” in the crowd.

Throwback time to the Anno 1701 announcement event: Burkhard Ratheiser, Thomas Pottkämper, Anno voice actor Sky du Mont and Dirk “Karrenschieber” Riegert

Christian Rösch, Software Developer
Hi, I am Christian Rösch and I have worked for nearly 13 years as a programmer in the Anno Team, taking part in nearly every feature you can imagine.

My first task in the development of 1701 was to create the navigation and pathfinding routine for all units, as I had just written a thesis about that topic. One of my first changes was the actual movement of the naval units. I built myself a small test map, consisting of a few deliberately miss-shaped islands and several ships and then started to develop an algorithm to let the ships navigate around all edges and corners in a nice angle.  Everything was working at some point, which left me satisfied and happy. The next day, my co-workers immediately integrated this function without any further questions and it was included in any development client and therefore save game of everyone in the team. Unfortunately, it resulted in a corruption of all levels and save games, so literally nobody was able to play the game anymore – the economy was completely broken. All because I had applied the new algorithm not only to the ships, but also to all cart drivers in the game. The problem was that on narrow streets cart drivers had no space to maneuver anymore and as a result, they were helplessly spinning in circles. Since that spinning day, every time I work on something, I try to think first which elements of the game could potentially be affected or messed up by this change…

Wolfgang Klose, Lead 3D Programer
Frank Hoffmann, graduate back then, now Senior 3D Programer
To develop our engine further for Anno 1701 was an exciting and sometimes difficult task. Back then, many of our team members had just graduated from university, so we had a team full of ideas but some of them were missing practical experience in game development. Our own engine, which we used for the game Castle Strike, served as a fundament for the development. The engine had to go through many modifications and expansions, as both games had quite different requirements for the engine. Anno was an already established series with very specific gameplay elements and therefore, it was hard for us to foresee if the switch from 2D to 3D would play out well in the end. It was also a time when video card technology evolved at a drastic pace. That allowed us to utilize new technologies and resources in order to test new features and tools during the development. For example, we could move on from formerly simple Shader technology, written in Assembler, to way more complex “HLSL Shader”. This enabled us to now write our own Shaders in C++ like code instead of machine language and that allowed us to implement new technologies faster than ever before. That offered us a wealth of opportunities to work with.

One example for these opportunities was our new shadow system which expanded the detail grade of the game significantly. Incredible important was the implementation of the ocean, as it was a major part of Anno’s game world. We also added reflections, foam generation, surges and navigable water for the ships. For the ship’s sails, we had our own internally developed cloth simulation.

However, our team invented not all improvements. One good example is the technology used for the lava from volcanic eruptions. Created by NVIDIA, the original purpose of that feature was to make blood run down walls in horror games 😀


Last but not least, a screenshot from the first Anno 1701 prototype, “Beauty Shader” included!

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DevBlog: Union Exhibition Vote!

With our recent DevBlog about the world fair, we called on the creative force of the Union to provide us with interesting exhibition ideas, which would fit into the 19th century setting. Unsurprisingly, you all more than delivered, contributing to a huge list of ideas ranging from exotic takes, representing the technical advancements of that new era, to the progression and evolution of its society.

We spent the last weeks gathering all of your ideas and discussing them in detail.  We compiled them in a list of nearly 40 different suggested themes and added additional notes such as interesting stories we could tell, ideas for related items and possible gameplay impact. During those discussions, we had a hard time picking our favorites, so we mixed some ideas and story background from Union posts together and checked which of the exhibitions would work best to benefit certain features. In the end, it was not only about picking the best idea but also about considering which exhibition rewards would offer an interesting addition to the gameplay.

This also tells you that exhibitions will have an influence on various aspects of the game so this is something we always have to take into account.

Without further ado, let’s draw back the curtain on the three candidates vying for your attention and support as the third exhibition to make it into Anno 1800:

A: Agricultural Exhibition: The Cream of the Crop!

An exceedingly cultivated affair! Enjoy agricultural diversity, as strange seeds from every compass-point sprout before your very eyes! Join the rural revolution, as shiny new machines shake the tree of tradition, finding new and measurable agronomical efficiencies! Honk the horns of plenty, and let this fecund feast of farming foment

B: Urbanism Exhibition: Progressive City Development!

Do your dreams lack design? Then here is the architect-tonic! The finest draughtspeople gather under one roof, to conceive cities of style and character! Discover blueprints to enrich and beautify your metropoles, yet still provide the conduits of modern convenience – sewerage, electricals and gaslight – with their fair share of logistical love. Truly ornamental!

C: Naval Exhibition: The Pride of the Ponds!

Ships galore! Immerse yourself in oceans of possibility as to what the future harbours! See what pier-led researches have in store for quay areas of interest! Render trade and travel trivial with the latest innovations, and if feeling nautical, discover naval deterrents to really float your boat! Behold an era of sea change!

It is now up to the members of the Union to vote for your preferred exhibition. Once you have made your choice, let us know why and share your ideas on how your favorite exhibition might have an impact on the world of Anno 1800.

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DevBlog: So where is the fish?

One question that keeps popping up  in the comments is how the Anno Union will have an impact on the game’s development. As previously explained, this can happen in a variety of ways- some very direct and immediate (as is the case with our votings), others less so. For today’s blog, our Brand Manager Marcel Hatam will show you how feedback from players lead us to move around some production chains to ensure that 1800 is a proper Anno game.

We decided early on during the development of Anno 1800 that working closely with our community would be a big focus for the team. We had two main reasons to do so: one is that the opportunities for game developers to interact with their communities have dramatically changed in recent years (think of Twitch), and we knew that we wanted to use these tools to get closer than ever to players. Secondly, we had the testing phases for the Anno 2205 DLC packs as a catalyst that deeply impressed the teams. Seeing some players spend hundreds of hours testing these DLC packs, and sending hundreds of suggestions sent our winds wandering…what if we could find a way to get this same amount and quality of feedback long before the game is released, so we would have a chance to let the players influence the day one product? And could we find a way to take this idea a step further, not just giving our community several opportunities to play the game early and give feedback, but to also directly influence some of its content?

The downside of this decision would of course be that we would have to announce the game early, even if that meant that we would not be able to show a lot of gameplay footage for the first few months, as many things were still work in progress during these early pre-alpha stages. As we are a German studio, we eventually agreed to announce Anno 1800 to the world during gamescom 2017, over a year before our planned release.

However, we also knew that gamers want to deeds, not just words, so we did not want to announce the Anno Union with just future promises and big plans, but wanted to show at gamescom that we are serious about involving the community from the start.

Willkommen in Mainz!

And so it came to pass that in late July 2017, roughly a month before we would unveil the game to the world at gamescom, a group of ten long-time Anno fans found themselves in the Ubisoft Blue Byte offices here in Mainz, lured in with an invitation to “discuss the future of the Anno franchise” with us. On the first day, we gave our guests an opportunity to give their general feedback directly to us, sitting down with our Creative Director Dirk and our new Community Developer Bastian to tell us anything Anno-related they had on their minds- praise, criticism, questions, hopes; all was fair game.

Afterwards it was time for us to put the cards on the table, and introduce our guests to the industrial age with a presentation and an exclusive gameplay demo of Anno 1800. Here we could already see the first indication that the Anno Union could be a success, as the questions and feedback on the presentation started pouring in immediately. In fact, there were already more questions than we were able to answer, given that the game was (and still is) in an early pre-alpha, where many things are not final or still in flux on the development side. Finally, Bastian gave our guests a first look at our plans for the Anno Union, before it was time to cap off the day with dinner.

It’s hands-on time

Because on the next day, they became the first people outside of Ubisoft to play Anno 1800. Under the watchful eyes of our Game Designers, who were very excited by the opportunity to see players get their hands on their work and to take notes, the first buildings and roads were being placed. Fast forwarding three hours, and we sat all of our guests down with our Blue Byte GamesLab Team (who regularly conduct playtests for Ubisoft Games), to gather their feedback for the team. The questions asked ranged from the general (“Does this feel like an Anno game to you?”) to the more specific topics such as the game camera or the transportation of goods.

We want to give you a specific example and for that, we need to have to look at the answers given to the question “Do you like the goods and production chains you have encountered so far?”
While everyone was overall happy with what they had played, we did receive several complaints about the missing fishing huts! “Hold on” you may say while grabbing your pitchfork, “an Anno without fishing huts?”

Hear me out!

In the version that our guests got to play, we had sausages as our first source of food in the early game (with a production chain of pig farm => butcher => sausage), whereas we wanted to give the classic Anno fishing huts a new, more industrialized 19th century spin, introducing them later via a new production chain for canned fish.

However, this new approach felt wrong to our fans for two reasons:

  1. Anno games always started with an “one-building” source of food, like the fishing or hunting huts in previous games, so immediately requiring a production chain of several buildings to get any kind of food was overwhelming on the gameplay side. We want our game to be complex and deep, but we also want this complexity to ramp up over time, as was the case in previous Anno games.
  2. Seeing how islands, ships and the ocean are central topics in any Anno game, not having a fishing hut simply did not “feel right”. As we outlined during an earlier DevBlog when we talked about our Vision, creating a world that feels right as an Anno game is an absolute priority for us. In addition, this would be a perfect early introduction to the concept or coastal and harbor building, of which there will be much more later on in the game.

After the event, when our intrepid players had travelled home to wait for the game’s announcement, we discussed the feedback reports from the GamesLab team- and found ourselves agreeing with the feedback from the test session. The production chain for sausages was more complex than usual for Tier 1. In our quest to react to player feedback about Anno 2205 being too easy, we had turned up the complexity a bit too early. On top of that, the lack of the classic Anno start with a fishing hut clearly was something our long-time fans felt very passionately about. So we decided to see what would happen if we moved things around a little bit.

So in the latest version of the game, fish is once again the first simple one-building source of food for the early inhabitants of your island, while the sausages got pushed back to a later stage of the game. Whenever we finish a Milestone, the team will spend the following Friday playing the game, before everyone fills out a survey to see what we think off the new build. As you can see from the screenshot, we quite like these changes, so unless anything unforeseen happens (such as player feedback :p ), you can most likely expect to once again build a fishery as one of your first buildings once you dive into the world of Anno 1800.

So the moral of this story…

So what is the takeaway from this story? First, never get between an Anno fan and his early game fish. However, on a more serious note, I hope that this DevBlog was also reassuring to those of you voicing their concerns that the votings will be the only way the community can influence our development. There are many ways your feedback and ideas can have an impact on the game besides direct voting, and there will be many more opportunities once we invite more Anno Union members to play the game.

Before I leave you, I am curious to hear what some of your favorite productions chains from previous Anno games are, either from a flavor or gameplay aspect. Until next time, and feel free to say “Hi” on the Anno Discord or Twitter,

Marcel

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DevBlog: It begins with art!

“That typical Anno feeling!” – A common comment from long time Anno players when they talk about the very special feel and look of an Anno game. But how do we actually go about designing that familiar Anno art style? It all starts with concept art and today, we want to give you an exclusive look into that work with our Senior Concept Artist André Kieschnik:

Hi, my name is André, and I have now worked as a concept artist on the Anno series for over seven years. From my first Anno steps (or lines) in the middle ages to exploring settings on a futuristic earth and now arriving in the industrial revolution, this journey was a chance for me to earn experience as an artist and to learn many things, some of them are valuable lessons for my craft and career. I want to share a part of said experience with the Anno Union and show you why concept art is important.

Three factors that make for good concept art
Gamers loves concept art, as it gives us a glimpse into the creative vision and direction of a game; but it is not only an eye-catcher, it is also an important part of the development process of a game. Concept art sets the tone for the art direction, helps to visualize concepts and works as reference piece for other departments. You can say that there are three important factors:

Visualization
We talked about the vision for our game in the past, and it is the concept artist’s responsibility to take all these creative ideas and to visualize them. That can be straightforward, like the first concept sketch of a new building, environmental concepts or a panorama visualizing how a whole cityscape could look like. But we also create mood slides, where we capture a certain atmosphere or feeling into a concept art piece, and work sometimes with abstract ideas to get them into form and shape. Visualizing ideas helps Game Designers (but also other disciplines) to get an idea on how game elements could look like, but also to figure out if and how they could function in the game.

Functionality
Functionality is another important factor. Sometimes, an idea sounds great in our mind but once we can see it visually presented in an artwork, we might realize that it is not working out as we hoped or that it needs at least some more thought and iterations to function properly. Imagine you have an idea for a new crazy factory building or a cool 19th century machine. A concept artist can help to figure out if that concept for a factory could work well together with the other buildings in the game or if the design of your machine feels plausible and convincing. Our credo here is “not 100% realistic but believable”. We take advantage of creative freedom when creating concept art but the right mixture between reality and fiction is what makes an asset believable.

Art Design
Finally yet equally importantly, concept art helps to set the visual tone for a game. Having a set art direction is crucial to create that beloved Anno feeling. So what exactly is the tonality and feeling that we are aiming for with the upcoming Anno 1800? The 19th century with its industrial revolution was, especially in large cities, often a dirty and sometimes gritty time. However, as with our Anno games set in the middle ages, the tone for Anno 1800 should reflect memorable aspects of that era without becoming too dark or dirty. For an Anno game, we all want that sense of satisfaction and wonder when observing our citizens bustling around a carefully crafted diorama of a city.

Which of course does not mean that Anno 1800 will not give you that soot-blackened feeling of the 19th century, as the depiction of the industrial revolution is an important part of immersing players in that that era.
At the end, artful architecture, rural buildings and industrial revolution should create a harmonious overall architectural impression. A good mixture allows us to represent everything, with vibrant cultural buildings or other eye-catchers compensating for your brick-stone factories covered in industrial smoke.

From first ideas to final concept art

Step one: Hitting the books
We always start with research. Anno is a city building game and therefore, architecture is the most important aspect we have to visualize. Our team usually starts to browse through various sources from that era, like old photos or paintings. Over time, we gather a good amount of reference material. However, it is not only the 19th century we take inspiration from.
When you do research about production buildings of that time, you quickly realize that many buildings were mostly made out of brick stones and all shared a similar architecture, which makes it hard to distinguish various types of buildings or their functions at a glance. We of course had to admit repetitive buildings made of red brick stones are not very interesting to look at, or not even what people expect when they think of the industrial revolution.

That is the point where creative freedom becomes important: we are also using modern references to include steel and iron, which most of us imagine when we think about the 19th century.

Step two: Time to scribble
The first visualization of a concept is usually a sketch. Let us stick to the factory for this example. We are done with our initial research and can now start to scribble down all the ideas we have in mind to create many variations in shape and form. At this point, while being rough, our scribbles should demonstrate various shapes that could fit in an Anno landscape but also show what is inside the building.

Here is something interesting to consider when creating buildings for Anno. When you take a birds-eye look on a real cityscape, it is hard to identify the various types of buildings. You might be able to spot houses, if it is some kind of cultural building or an industrial estate of sort. In Anno, we need you to be able to easily identify the type of building you are looking at. To immediately make you understand the type and function of a building, we make use of open walls or we even place elements that should be hidden inside the building (like big kettles or a smelter) outside to make it more readable.

We usually draw several sketches to create a variety of concepts for a building. In previous Anno games, the first sketches were usually black and white line-arts. However, our team got more experienced and with that, much faster over the years. That means that today, most of our scribbles already have some coloration to give a better idea how things could look like in the final game.

Step three: Decisions
Once we have a variety of concepts, it is time to pick the most fitting sketch of the building. Our team decides which sketch would work best as a concept for a building, with feedback from our Art and Creative Directors and Senior Artists. There might be a case where we have a hard time deciding on one sketch, which can lead to picking two variants or even mashing them together to create a new concept. Once we have picked the best concept, a 3D Artist will create a low-poly 3D Mockup of the factory. That allows us to compare it to already created Anno buildings and helps to identify if size and proportions are working or if we have to alter the concept a bit. After we have checked various scenarios with our 3D dummy and decided that we can go ahead with the concept, it is time to go back to the drawing board.


Step four: Let’s finish this
In the last phase, we take our first sketch and start to work on the final concept art. That means a lot of detailed work: we create a high definition file, work out all the missing pieces such as props, small details (which can be as minute as a poster on a wall) and define all the materials used in that building. It needs to be clearly visible what is made out of bricks, wood, metal and even if it is in a pristine or worn down form, especially for the later work with shader effects. Having all the details and the correct proportions is incredibly important as a reference for our 3D artists who work with that concept later on.

When the final piece is ready, it is time for the last approval check. If we get the okay from the Creative Director and Senior Artist, it’s time to move on to another piece. If the concept art needs to be changed after the revision, we usually go back to the beginning of step four.

I hope you found this behind the scenes look into the world of Anno’s concept art interesting. In a future Devblog, one of my fellow artists from the 3D side will take over to show you how our factory continues its journey into the finished game. Before I leave you, I would love to hear what some of your favorite Anno concept arts from the previous games were, so hit the comments. You might have even a few questions to our team regarding our work on the concept art for Anno 1800?

Best,

André

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