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Category: DevBlog

DevBlog: Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the New World
The idea of splitting the game world into the orient and occident quickly became a fan-favorite feature in Anno 1404. With Anno 2205, we expanded on the idea of different biomes and created the multi session system, which allowed us to ramp up the scale of Anno’s world with separate and vastly different new habitats to colonize. With Anno 1800, we will combine the best of these two worlds: a new biome and culture brimming with details on a large separate map on which your empire and your opponents can compete over new islands and resources. Welcome to the New World!

This new fascinating archipelago will both challenge your skills as a city planner and allow you to exciting new characters; who knows, you may even be able to help them in their struggle for independence as part of Anno 1800’s campaign! But keep in mind that characters from the Old World will also follow your new trade routes and bring your existing feuds or alliances into this lush new world.

This is the first DevBlog in a two-piece series, covering the “New World” session in Anno 1800. Today, we show you the scale of the second session including the setting and gameplay elements. In a future second blog, we will focus on the new production chains as well as the new residential tiers you will find on this new continent.

Enter the jungle – armed with square and compass
At the dawn of a new industrial era, which would eventually pave the way for our modern globalized world, people craved for anything new and rare from continents they’ve only heard of in their local newspapers. The rise of the working class and private entrepreneurs fueled not only a craving for luxurious goods but was also fertile soil for the curiosity first sowed during the Age of Enlightenment.

But getting your hands on goods like cotton, tobacco or precious gold is a bold venture, as your competitors never sleep, and the islands at the coasts of the new continent are covered in dense jungles interlaced with rivers and rocky ridges.

However, the New World will not only present a welcome visual change to the familiar European style environment of the Old World, as the second session will also spice up the gameplay with often challenging islands layouts. If you manage to establish your empire in an area, which seems inaccessible at first glance, you will be rewarded with a gorgeously scenic settlement surrounded by lush forests and colorful animals.

To immerse you in that completely different hemisphere, we created two new residential tiers (both of which come with unique production chains!), new characters to interact and new sets of flora and fauna, which will populate the densely covered islands.

The two residential tiers are inspired by 19th century South America, including unique portraits, visual feedback as well as new third party characters like Isabella Sarmento, who are coming with their own islands, storylines, and quests for players to undertake. And while we can’t go into this topic too much yet, we can tell that Isabella’s fight for independence will play a focal role in Anno 1800’s campaign.

Seamless multisession and world map
But how will it exactly work? As previously mentioned, the new session is the best of two worlds: the Anno 2205 multisession system and the visual and gameplay variety from Anno 1404’s orient and occident.

As soon as you reach tier 3 (Artisans) in the old world, a discovery mission for a new route to the New World will become available. After your brave crew manages to open the new trading route across the great ocean, you will be given free access the new session as you please – seamlessly and without lengthy loading times, which is something we had received a lot of feedback on.

From there on, you can jump back and forth, managing your empire in the Old World while changing to the New World in the blink of an eye to check on your newly established settlements.
When sending ships between both sessions, they will leave the map in real time before entering the world map, which allows you to keep track of your trading ships traveling between sessions or your expedition vessels on their way into unknown waters. When establishing trade routes between sessions, you also have to take into account that your ship will take some time to cross the ocean.

While the New World will offer exciting new production chains, you can decide for yourself when and with how much dedication you want to tackle this new adventure. AI opponents of the Old World will follow your new trade route but will not discover it by themselves. That means that you can decide when it is time to branch out without being afraid that you are too late to the party. Then it is up to you if you want to spread your empire extensively into the new territory or if you just want to establish a small romantic settlement to stay in contact with local characters.
Many new Third Party characters are eager to trade their new goods with you, naturally, and for a price reflecting their considerable expenditures. But word is that Madame Kahina in the Old World has extensive contacts to the new continent and might strike a deal with you if you need some of the goods from these far away lads.

Especially your higher tier residents in the Old World love to get their hands on luxurious goods from the second session while your residents in the new lands in turn favor imported goods from your first session. Furthermore, the New World will be the main source for oil, and a steady supply of the fossil fuel from the second session comes in handy when you want to run a big electricity business. But more about production chains and goods in the second part of the New World blog.
How your feedback influenced the New World
Now that we have revealed the New World, we can also tell you how player feedback was crucial into turning it into the version you will see at launch. Our initial concept for South America was very different and definitely smaller in scale, but the strong, constructive feedback from our Ann o union testers in our previous playtests convinced us to expand our plans for the New World significantly: a lush new world of challenging islands with two separate citizen tiers with all-new production chains. This has been a truly collaborative effort between our team and our playtesters, and we are grateful both to them, as well as to all the other Union members who shared their wishes and suggestions for the second session and its gameplay with us online.
And while we are on the topic of your feedback- we are happy to announce that after we put some additional work in, you will be able to access both sessions in your multiplayer matches, giving you and your competitors access to the full breadth of Anno 1800’s world when facing off.

In the next episode of our New World blog, we will show you the two residential tiers and their production chains in action. A lot of feedback and a great amount of work went into that feature and we hope that it will provide you with many hours of exciting new content. So what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

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Devblog: New features at gc2018

Today, we want to give you a brief look over four new features shown at gamescom 2018. While only a glimpse at the content we present in Cologne, the new features will get their own dedicated and detailed blogs in the weeks ahead.


Travel the world for fame on a fortune with expeditions
Expeditions are an exciting new addition to the series that will bring your Anno world to life like never before. Send ships crewed with specialist characters out on a variety of adventures as they seek fame and fortune, with gameplay that is a throwback to classic “choose your own adventure” books. Will your zoological expedition return with an exciting new addition to your zoo’s menagerie, or will your crew succumb to one of the many perils they will face on their journey?


Welcome to a new world
Once your European industrial revolution is in full swing, you will soon be able to expand your growing empire to the lush jungles of South America, where all new challenges await. Discover separate resident tiers, master new production chains and race your opponents as you seek to secure the gold and oil reserves needed to power your industrial arms race.


Welcome to the era of archeology!
Listen up beauty builder and explorer; a museum opened its doors in town. With the second big cultural project, the museum will allow you to display the wonders of the world, from fossil findings to artifacts from times long gone. As with the zoo, the museum allows you to place various modules to display your rare items, which your adventures acquired from expeditions to lands far away or from trading deals with other characters.


Blueprints – plan your utopia
With the blueprint mode, you will be able to plan your city layout ahead to create your truly visionary metropolis. With the toggle of a button, you can place buildings before actual construction, which makes it easier to map out your city center or industrial districts before investing your construction material.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the new features and what is your favorite of all four?

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DevBlog: Audio Design

To create an atmosphere of a lively metropolis in Anno 1800, we not only makes use of an high amount of detailed visual feedback, audio design plays also an important role to breathe life into the world of the 19th century. Today, we invite you into our audio studio, where we show you how our audio team creates dynamic sound landscapes with an ear for detail and of modern technology. We strongly recommend grabbing your headphones for this week’s Devblov, as this one is for all audiophile Annoholic’s out there.

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DevBlog: Construction AI

We are Jonas (the fella with the glasses) and Johannes (Mr. Smirk) and we work as Gameplay Programmers on Anno 1800. Together we are 53 years young and have worked for roughly 9 years at Ubisoft Blue Byte. What we did the 44 years before that, you ask? We played Anno, of course!
But today, we’d like to give you some insights into a feature which has kept us both busy for many months now: the construction AI.

Teaching bits and bytes something about human behavior
For many Annoholics, sinking dozens of hours into trying to find the perfect city layout is a big part of the game’s draw. How can I make the best use of these last few remaining spaces, and is there any possible way I could fit my zoo in there?

Another fundamental part of the Anno experience is playing alongside and against computer-controlled – or as we say AI (artificial intelligence) – opponents. However, creating a believable AI is quite the task, as the AI views things through very different eyes than human players; that’s why it falls to us to teach it how to construct functional and believable cities in a language the program can understand.

Anno 1800 will go back to the roots of older Anno titles such as 1404, where the second party AI (the characters settling and building on islands) follows largely the same rules as the player. Hidden under the hood of the so-called construction AI system are algorithms, which mimic the behavior of a player. Similarly to the player, your AI neighbor will need to generate money from taxes, produce resources to construct buildings and to fulfill the needs of the population to make them happy or to advance into the next tier. The number one rule when working on the AI system is that your friendly, aggressive or even quirky AI controlled players should behave like, and follow the same rules as, the player.

Anno is a real beast when it comes to the sheer amount of features the game has to offer. Among them are some gameplay systems, which are too complex for the AI to use but still are important to compete with the player. To give you an example, it is not possible for AI characters to take on and finish quests and therefore, they cannot gain any items from this or similar systems. To avoid that the second party has to suffer a major handicap because of that restriction, we will provide ways to enable the AI to get other access to needed items.

Quite the character – a personal touch for every opponent.
By nature, programs like to calculate, compute and optimize things in split seconds, but transforming the AI into memorable characters like the envious robber baron von Malching is quite a task. We want that every second party character is memorable, from their diplomatic preferences to city layouts or what they focus on economically. All of these should be reflected in their construction behavior and result in a personal touch when observing their cities.

Every character will follow a specific strategy, which defines things like whether they invest more money and resources into the culture or prefer a strong military fleet. Furthermore, this deeply layered system also differentiates between their preferred types of military ships, investment in defensive structures or what kind of cultural buildings they prefer.
If a very rural looking island with plenty of golden fields of wheat fit a character, we will set parameters that the AI creates an overhead production in certain categories. In the case of the exploitative nature of von Malching, he will not show much love for vistas in his city and rather concentrate on mercilessly expanding his industry.

The way they build street networks and plan residential areas is also taken into account, as each AI simply building the same artificially optimized layout would feel cold and unnatural. That customization goes as far as even allowing AI characters to prefer specific types of ornaments.

In this simulation, we just let our AI build a city with unlimited resources (the green plots are ornaments)

This personal touch, behavior, and difficulty of a second party character depends on many different parameters which enable the AI to make decisions. These parameters define things like the general construction speed, which determines how many resource-producing buildings a character builds to generate construction materials or the previously mentioned fleet or defense construction.

To illustrate it better, we want to give you a few examples for some construction AI parameters:
– Difficult second parties will make use of construction materials as soon as they become available.
– Easier opponents will wait with their decision what to build, even if the material is available.
– We can decide what types of ships an AI favors for trading or military fleets.
– How fast will the AI expand? Will it try to capture a new island quickly or wait before the main island is well developed?

How to make decisions: location scores
While parameters are the general behavior rules, the AI also needs more specialized systems to be able to make a decision such as where is a good spot to place a building. While finding the right place to construct a production building might be trivial for us, an AI relies on various criteria to be able to make decisions, as it cannot rely on intuition as we do.

Let’s give you an example where the AI wants to construct a windmill for its bread production. Firstly the AI rates possible spots by the following criteria:
– Try to avoid wasting construction space on the island, by not leaving small empty plots between production buildings or street layouts.
– The windmill should be within the influence radius of a warehouse.
– It should be close to other buildings of the same production chain.
– As the windmill is a production building, it should be outside of the residential city center.

The system will now check the whole grid and will assign scores based on these criteria. Location scores tell the AI where the best, acceptable or bad places are to place the building. There might also be scenarios where the island is so densely populated, that the AI has to rely on acceptable but not perfect areas. But there are additional factors to consider when deciding where to place a building- for example, what happens if the AI has several islands? Could it make more sense to outsource certain productions within the controlled archipelago, or perhaps even to a different session?
Here you see the score system through the eyes of our AI.

Programmers: Teacher and problem solver
Such a complex system is neither done in a week nor can it be completed in the early stages of development. The programming team needs to tell our AI to react to constantly changing development builds and newly implemented features.
When Game Design implements something new, the AI simply does not know how to deal with it, so we need to help it to adapt to the new situation. Imagine fire incidents were just implemented and the AI has no idea how to deal with the inferno as we need to tell it to construct fire stations beforehand. Without this criteria or knowledge so to speak, the AI would just have to watch its city turning into a cinder.

There is another good recent example, which shows how a new feature can create seemingly unsolvable issues for the construction AI.
We just implemented rivers into the game, which adds a completely new construction layer for bridges but blocks other constructions. As our AI has no clue what the new system is all about, it might try to place buildings into the river or completely ignore the landmass on the other side. Our job here is to teach the program why and when it needs a bridge, and where to place it. What sounds easy in theory is creating a new simulation including a lot of working hours and code work.

In our job, we always chase after the latest feature implementations to keep the AI up to date and allow the AI to use all the available game features to compete against you, the player.

This gif visualizes how the AI maps out construction space, determining where it can be build, which areas are blocked and the distances between them 

The sum of its parts
When you think about the ton of intertwining features in Anno, creating a believable AI is an enormous task where every new content might interfere with something else. Construction AI is obviously only one aspect to create a lively and challenging second party, among many others such as military behavior or diplomacy.
When setting the scope for our Anno 1800 construction AI, we had a lot of feedback from our community to work with. We hope that we are not only in a good way to deliver a believable but also fair and charming construction AI.

We hope that we were able to give you some interesting insight into our work and looking forward to your feedback, as the construction AI is a joint effort between our experience and feedback from our fans.

 

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DevBlog: Electricity

Driven by the ever-present urge of territorial expansion, Anno 1800 will see you venturing forth to claim new islands, expand your industrial machine and grow your population. Your once scenic rural hamlet will grow into an impressive metropolis, bringing with it all the challenges of managing dozens of complex production chains at once. Thankfully, if you are feeling a little adventurous (or always strive for perfection), there is one wonder of the modern age that may come in handy: electricity!

Power for the new age
Upon reaching the fourth residential tier, the future suddenly becomes reality, as your first power plants start boosting your industry and giving you a significant advantage over your competition. Once connected to your factories and other modern production buildings, electricity will significantly buff your productivity, which will allow you to grow your cities without losing crucial building space needed for your residents or to expand your trading empire. Thanks to this breakthrough, a smaller production island could quickly turn into an industrial powerhouse, being able to provide the majority of resources to supply your main island.
Storing electricity and transporting power over long distance was a song of the future back then, which means that your power plant will provide electricity on a radius based on street distance. All factories and craft business can benefit from a connection to the local power plant, while farm buildings (such as the pig or grain farm) will not receive a boost from electrical power.
While electricity can boost the outcome of your older production buildings significantly, some modern facilities will require a connection to your electrical network to begin operation.

To drive home the atmosphere of this brave new world, electricity will also be visualized in the game world, with electrical poles on your streets showing you which areas are connected to your electrical network. With boost up to 200%, the cart pushers of old will not be able to handle the higher demand for production relevant material to keep the machines running. To solve that issue, boosted production buildings will swap their old horse carts for modern steam powered contraptions and the UI of connected buildings will undergo significant changes as well:

Get things rollin! Not all assets are final.

But not only modern factories are hungry for power, your dear investor friends will have a serious chat with you at the country club if you are not providing their modern city mansions with electricity. They obviously cannot be bothered taking care of the logistics of establishing electrical supply to an apartment district in a 19th century metropolis, but they are certain that you are up for the task.
Many assets and visual feedback are still a work in progress but we are looking forward to show you the system in action!

Running the electricity business
While power plants are an incredibly effective tool to boost your production, they are also fairly challenging to operate. The trick is that your power plant runs on fossil fuel, and its hunger for oil is not to be taken lightly. Refineries, which extract the fossil fuel from natural deposits, can provide the huge amount of oil needed to run your power plant – but that still leaves the question of how you transport all this oil!
In order to support large parts of your city with electricity, you will need to pave the way for the train to transport tons of fuel across your island.

This is where the oil harbor comes into play, giving your tankers an opportunity to unload and store all the oil coming into your production islands. But you still need to get it from the harbor to the power plants, right?

The industrial revolution lead to an incredible demand for resources and materials, creating a logistical challenge impossible that called for  modern solutions. Enter stage left: the railway, the trusted iron horse powering the advances of the 19th century!

The train will load the fuel from your harbor to transport them to any connected power plants on the island. Of course, that means that you have to connect your oil harbor to your power plant via railway tracks to get things moving. Depending on your islands layout, this can pose an interesting challenge in itself, making sure that all power plants are connected to the harbor (or an oil field, assuming you were lucky enough to have one on this island).

Establishing an efficient supply line is therefore by no means a trivial task, from finding and tapping oil reserves, putting all the needed workforce in place to the logistics of getting it all to the power plants near the factories you want to power with electricity. This is where good predictive building of your industrial districts pays off, ensuring that you can group your factories efficiently to ensure that as many of them as possible benefit from your power plants.
This diagram gives you an overview about the logistical network required to support a power plant.

A new century on the horizon.
During development of these features, we closely followed the many creative and passionate community discussions revolving around the railway. Because of that, we wanted to create a meaningful endgame feature for Annoholics who want to optimize their economy as well as for enthusiasts who want to experience technology advance alongside society.

Together with features like our item system or Influence, electricity allows for a level of customization and strategic gameplay rarely seen in the Anno series. Imagine dense industrial districts powered by electricity, further boosted by items and Influence specializations. A feature, which also greatly benefitted from our Anno Union play testers, as their feedback helped to shape and improve the system.

We are eager to hear your opinion, so feel free to share your feedback on the new electricity feature in the comments below!

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DevBlog: Happiness

Hi guys, my name is Jan Dungel and I am the Lead Game Designer on Anno 1800. I worked on many different games in the past but Anno 1800 is an especially exciting project for me. Even compared to other strategy games, the incredibly large feature list of intertwined systems makes you realize how everything in Anno’s grand scheme is deeply connected. The setting in the era of the industrial revolutions with its many social changes is just an added cherry on top: Anno 1800 educates you, encourages smart thinking and breathes creativity.

Will you be remembered as a liberator or robber baron?
Happiness as a gameplay mechanic is nothing new to Anno fans, but as with many other features in Anno 1800, we refined the system to make it more meaningful than in any previous title in the series. But before we go into the details, let’s break down what that actually means for you.

Happiness tracks how satisfied the residents on your island are. And as freedom of choice is one of our design philosophies, you will be able to decide if your residents will remember you as a saint or robber baron, with both approaches being a valid playstyle. That means that an altruistic approach is as much of a valid strategy as exploiting your residents. To make that possible, we changed one important rule in the Anno formula: It is no longer necessary that your residents are happy in order to advance to the next tier.

With that requirement out of the way, we went ahead and re-designed residential happiness. The needs of your residents are now separated, with one part being relevant for happiness and the other being relevant for the population of your residential buildings. That allows you to just fulfill the bare minimum of subsistence needs to push your population while ignoring the satisfaction of your residents. Think about the rise of the working class, where people moved into the big cities to work in the modern factories, while often being forced to live a simplistic life, lacking any form of luxury. And still, the big cities were expanding at a rapid speed, having a hard time to catch up with the needed living space to host thousands of newly arriving residents.

Let’s look at an example. The first farmers come in because you provide a marketplace. But if you want to attract more farmers, you have to provide the different population needs such as fish or woolen smocks, which will stack up until you have the maximum amount of 10 farmers in one building in order to advance. Schnapps and a pub will surely make them happy, but they are not required in order to become part of the working class, as luxury needs won’t attract more people to your residential buildings.

Push them hard or lend them your hand
But what are the gains if you treat your residents mercilessly, or should you even care about your populace just for the peace of mind? As you are now able to advance your people based on population needs alone, you are not forced to provide luxury goods, which will save you production space and money. Imagine you want to establish a smaller production island, where you decide to maximize the profit and outcome while keeping construction space and investment as low as possible. Or maybe you have to quickly establish a working infrastructure to provide your main city with some urgently needed goods. You also might engage in large scale economic or military warfare and therefore want to concentrate your actions effectively in order to not lose the lead against the competition.

Neither happiness nor population needs are a global stat, which means that the artisans on one island can celebrate you as their savior while they desperately wait for better times to come to the next one. Remember: You can further impact the happiness of your residents when changing their workforce conditions. They won’t be pleased if you force them to harder work but on the other hand, loosening the reigns on their working conditions will make them happier at their working place.

The exact dynamics of revolting residents will be highlighted in a future blog but for now, keep in mind that happiness is separated by islands, residential tiers and even the living areas and workplaces of your population. Why should an engineer care about the exploited working class? Besides the fulfillment of happiness relevant needs and working conditions, there are other factors which might have an impact on Happiness, such as the in the Influence blog mentioned propaganda or being in a state of war with other parties.

This concept video shows the different extremes of your citizen’s happiness

Workers on strike who put your steel production on hold or farmers rallying through the streets might be an obvious downside, but how about the benefits of your satisfied citizens? Not only are happy residents are less likely to start a riot, their loyalty towards you will make them more willing to stand behind their governor’s reign when an enemy fleet besieges your island. But there is more to that- if your folks like you, they might reward you for your service with small quests or even direct rewards. If you manage to become a true hero of the people, they might even start festivities to celebrate you as a leader, which will not only affect your city attractiveness greatly but also reward you with truly exciting visual feedback. Your happy residents will also give something back to society, such helping you out with a neighborhood watch or amateur fire squads.

The different faces of happiness
Your residents have different states which show how satisfied they are with their living standards and you as a ruler. These states range from absolutely euphoric to rage against the machine, with five different states in total: Angry, Unhappy, Content, Happy and Euphoric.

A familiar element for Annoholics is the residential tiers info layer, which you can easily access by clicking on one of the residential buildings and which will tell you about their current mood. It will show you the current state and a rating how happy they are (an important stat to know how far you can go before their mood changes). The residents will also talk to you, telling you how they feel and what’s on their mind. For that, we make use of voice lines and text but also of animated portraits. By looking in their face, you should immediately get an idea how they feel, and whether they are currently happy with you or if they are concerned or angry. Besides being an important visual information layer for you as a player, it also allows us to give the people inhabiting the world of Anno 1800 some real personality:

This mock-up gives you an idea of how the Happiness UI could function in the game

You write your own story
The new Happiness system adds a few more wheels to the complex machinery and together with other features such items for specific public buildings, influence or working conditions, which make Anno 1800 to a real sandbox experience. What do you think about the changes, are you looking forward to play around with the many different systems, do you have questions or feedback with us to share?

 

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DevBlog: Influence

Hello Anno fans! My name is Erwin, and I work on the game design of Anno 1800. As a player myself, I have a fairly competitive mindset. I love attempting to gain an edge over other players or the AI where I can, especially when I am given the freedom in how I gain this edge. For this reason, I am very excited to talk to you today about a new feature we are introducing with Anno 1800: Influence!

Anno is many things to many different players: it’s a city builder, an economic simulation, tense naval engagements against both human and AI opponents- and that is only scratching the surface in terms of Anno’s unique gameplay mix.
Anno players love to tinker around with all these features, creating their own strategies, tactics and setting their own challenges for themselves through various handicaps. What goals will you set for yourselves? Will you attract more residents than anyone else? Do you plan to exploit your workers and production lines to their fullest? Or maybe you will reach just one more company level before it is time to go to bed? And if all else is too easy for you, you can of course always stack the deck against yourself with a crazy challenging map and game setup.

Tying into this freedom of choosing your own playstyle and what challenges you want to tackle is the Influence system. With this feature, we want to both challenge grizzled veterans who are looking for interesting new ways to play, while helping to ease new players into the complex gameplay systems of the age of industrialization. It also encourages and incentivizes players to experiment with different gameplay styles, adding to the game’s overall replayability (which is a high priority for the team).

Influence: A resource that defines your playstyle
Influence is a new global resource, which you can invest depending on your playstyle, for example by raising the production limits on certain buildings or units. This allows players to go all in on certain aspects of the game. Do you have ambitions of becoming a feared warmonger, fielding the largest fleet of mighty dreadnaughts the world has ever seen? You can- just be prepared that you will not be as successful a trader as another player will who instead choses to focus his influence in that area.

When setting the initial construction limits for buildings and units, we take the community feedback we have seen on the Anno Union and our forums into account. It is important that you as the player should never feel too restricted, even if you chose to invest all of your influence in just one area. That is why you will be able to dabble on all areas of the game a little bit; it is only after you reach a certain threshold that you will need to invest influence points. The goal here is clear: the system should feel empowering to the player, asking them to make interesting gameplay decisions without feeling too restricted.

When you start a new match, you will have a set amount of influence that will slowly grow over time as your company level increases. A familiar system for many Anno players, the company level is a representation of the players overall success, determined by the total population of residents on your islands. So whether it is growing your main island or expanding across the world, the growth of your empire will provide you will additional influence that you can invest.

Unlike gold, influence as a currency does not deplete; it is instead a pool of available points that you can allocate freely in the various categories. Think of it as an investment: If for example your trade fleet is not delivering results as hoped, you can remove some of the influence used by it and instead allocate it in another area such as harbor defenses. With this kind if freedom, it is also crucial that players never feel punished for making “the wrong choice”. It also adds a lot of dynamics and meta-narrative to your games, allowing you to react to aggressive moves by an AI opponent or the unpredictable actions for your human multiplayer opponents.

Investing influence in a certain category will grant you titles, which both work to help other’s in the game known what they are facing (someone with a military title is likely not planning to keep things entirely peaceful) and to provide you with useful global buffs.

How it all works in the game

By now, you are probably very curious of how the system works during the moment to moment gameplay. As discussed, you will be able to freely use your available influence points in a variety of categories, each of which is related to and supporting a different kind of playstyle.

Currently, we are planning to have six such categories: Propaganda, Trade, Military Power, Optimization, Culture, and Expansion. However, please keep in mind that the feature is still heavily under development and everything might be subject to change, as we try to allow interesting customization options while still keeping categories meaningful and not convoluted.

On a base level, investing Influence points in one category allows you to expand your building, unit, and module limit. But here comes the catch: If you spend enough influence in one category, such as 50% of all your points, you will get a global buff, which additionally empowers and enhances your playstyle. We also want to support hybrid playstyles, which would allow you to not only rely on one big global buff but also give you the option to split influence on different categories to gain several smaller bonuses. That opens the gates for really interesting strategic combinations.

To give you an idea, investing in Optimization will allow you to expand your public building limit, which is currently three buildings. By investing points, you can easily add many additional items to your guildhalls and harbor offices to optimize your economy further. If you invest the majority of your points into optimization, the title granted will further buff the effectiveness of your public buildings. Investing in Expansion will allow you to settle on more islands and affects the amount of routes you can create to move your workforce between settlements.

A giant armada or enough public buildings to boost your whole city
The categories themselves are also divided into different sections. For the Military category, you can either spend influence to expand the maximum number of warships or defensive structures. This allows some interesting combinations; for example if you spend all your influence on warships, you will not only be able to create a huge fleet but your global buff will make your ships even more powerful. On the flipside, it would leave your islands defenseless apart from these ships, as you would need to rely on a smaller number of coastal defenses. You could also split it up equally, allowing you a decent fleet of ships and strong harbor defensed. Alternatively, you just invest a crazy amount of points into military defense or split it with other categories, to be able to defend yourself while also optimizing your economy. As you see, completely specializing makes you a force to be reckoned with, but cleverly splitting your investment on the various categories makes you a true jack of all traits.

Culture will allow you to invest in projects like the zoo, which will allow you to increase the number of modules and push your attractiveness when you spent enough points to benefit from the global buff. To give you a better idea what we are talking about in numbers, we are currently planning with around 10 free modules before investing influence. We think that this is a high enough number to allow players to create a varied and great looking zoo; if however you want to create an entire zoo island with dozens of modules (“Welcome to Anno Park”, anyone?), you should be able to do this with your influence. And before you ask: Ornamental structures will be free, as we think that the space they take up on your island is investment enough.

Influence becomes more and more relevant, especially during the end game of an Anno 1800 match. However, Influence is not limited to expanding unit or building limitations.
Propaganda will allow you to influence and manipulate the populace in various ways. But as it is tied to another new feature, we cannot talk about it in detail right now. We think that this additional new feature deserves its own dedicated DevBlog further down the road.

So what do you think?
Influence is still heavily work in progress, so the balancing is of course still far from final. However, the Anno Union will come in handy to balance the game, especially some of your larger future focus tests.
We are looking forward to your feedback about the new Influence feature, so let us know in the comments below!

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DevBlog: Investors

What do you give the guy who has everything?

Maybe he was born into wealth, maybe he wasn’t – it doesn’t matter. Money means upper class now. The Investor is an industrial dynamo, a believer in hard work, who is simultaneously charismatic and ruthless. He is a new breed of breeding; one that is rich for a reason.

His is a life of member’s clubs, champagne and pimped steam carriages. His expectations are unequalled, for both quantity and quality. Nothing is ever enough. More, more, more!
Once the servants have cleared breakfast, he snaps open the morning newspaper. Falling stocks and shares, a scandal involving a society girl eloping with a postman. He feels empty.

What his life needs is some meaning. Something to stay the terror that grips his conscience. Charity, philanthropy! A big project to make things right; to gain him fame and profile, and most importantly, to milk the fat cash cow.

So when he stumps up the cash for your next big idea, don’t do something boring. He won’t tolerate it, not a jot.

A time of change, where soldiers of fortune build world-spanning conglomerates overnight, competing with an old aristocracy, which refused to lose their grip on dwindling empires.
Power build on century old family ties, all of a sudden threatened by the autonomy of striving companies or the progressive and social thinking of a newly arisen social class; for us a rich time with plenty of inspirations and stories to work with.
Our fifth residential tier, the investors, incorporate many of these fascinating elements. They are the old monarchs, fascinated and threatened alike by the modernizing world. But they are also the new wealth aristocracy, who are willing to take any risk on their hunt for the next big deal and their thirst for reputation and influence. The 19th century was a race about investment, stocks and bonds where the new money and if you were not able to keep up with the pace, you could lose everything in a heartbeat.

Designing a society driven by blood ties and modern economics
Our investors are a snapshot of the wealthy elite of that time, with the focus on the monarchs and especially the new financial aristocracy. The wheels of modern economics turned fast and not even the old counts and kings could allow themselves to just lay back and enjoy their wealthy inheritance.
When designing the portrait and feedback units of the investors, we wanted to convey the self-esteem of the ruling people, the serious etiquette of the time but also the extraordinary lifestyle of the upper class. In a sense, they like to insist on their dignity (if build on heritance or by making a fortune with wits and their bare hands) as well as being something greater, standing above the populace. At the end, the rise of the working class not only modernized our society, it also fueled the conflict between the classes itself.

When it comes to their residential buildings, we aimed for clean and almost marble like appearance, using only a few accents which help them to pop out in your cityscape. The green rooftops creating a great contrast, red highlights convey that feeling of luxury and royalty.
While Engineers and Artisans like to enjoy themselves in a cabaret or other easy to reach amenities, investors are more likely to take their marvelous new steam carriage to fancy restaurant or a dinner party at the clubhouse. Pompous apartment blocks, posh public buildings and sublime parks should feel like crown jewel of your metropolis.
Let the future entertain us – Gameplay
How can you please someone who has more money than you could ever spend, who buys fleets of ships filled with the most precious goods, before overnight, throwing everything overboard and investing in modern factories? In a world of the wonders and scares of modern economics, investors want to savor to the fullest and to collect only the most extraordinaire pieces, to show them to their rich friends and business partners in their fancy smoking rooms. What demonstrates your prosperity more than drinking Champaign while enjoying your rare collection of high-tech toys?
Tier 5 production chains reflect their craving for the most exclusive of all goods: from finest jewelry, to wonderfully designed gramophones or astounding new technology like steam cars.
While some of their beginning needs might start moderate, later production chains reflect their big investment and become an intricate challenge for a player.

The future is here and money loses as fast its worth as a rotting shipment of exotic fruits – You have to demonstrate power in that shark basin full of rival companies. A monopoly on menacing weaponry or stellar reputation as a host of truly marvelous events might impress opponents, allies and populace alike. The tier 5 production chains are only one element that reflects the investors influence on technological advancements. Investors become are a substantial part in the mechanic revolving around Anno 1800’s big monument, the world fair. As they are the patrons of your monument, they provide the investment capital to host exhibitions and having enough influential supports can decide how fast and often you can run the exhibition events (and reap the harvest from your stellar event).

Here the gramophone production chain in moving pictures. You island neighbor mentioned that his steam-car production is way more impressive and complex to look at.

From humble beginnings to a world spanning company
The residential tiers are a picturesque tour through the classes and reflect the changes of that time. With the last residential tier, we close the brief look over Anno 1800’s high-level progression. Starting traditionally with the farmers, every tier will make production chains more modern, complex and will unlock exciting features. On your journey to the end game, gameplay will more and more open up and when reaching the last tier, provide you with all the tools to allow the replay-ability and complexity Anno fans have asked for.

As always, your elaborate feedback was very insightful for our team. Thanks to blog comments and the focus test, we were already able to improve many aspects of the game, such as complexity, balance and even whole production chains. As always, we are looking for your feedback, from expectations, suggestions or even a confirmation that our take on the last residential tier of Anno 1800 is something that resonates with you. Please let us know in the comments below!

On a different note, we have another AnnoAfternoon Community live stream this Sunday at 5pm CEST. Join Chris and John from our Community team once again when they continue their journey through the fan favorite Anno 1404. Watch it as always on twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte

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DevBlog: User Interface

Hi Annoholics, my name is Khajag Jabaghchourian, and I am one of the UI Designers working on Anno 1800’s user interface. When I joined Ubisoft Blue Byte’s UI team six months ago, it was just in time to get ready for our big UI overhaul project. During the last episode of the AnnoCast, I had the pleasure to chat with you about the style and functionality of our user interface and why that is especially tricky and important when it comes to strategy games such as Anno. Since then, we received some feedback regarding the UI from our community- a great opportunity to invite you all to have a look at the daily work of a UI Designer.

UI and UX in a nutshell
I bet that most of you have heard the term UI before and what seems simple at first glance, is the result of a fairly intricate design process. The UI (short for user interface) is, to put it simply, the first thing a player encounters when interacting with Anno 1800. It consists all of the interface elements of the game, such as buttons, menu windows, and contextual info layers.
The first thing which comes to your mind is probably a variety of colored boxes and icons. This visual layer on top of your gameplay screen hosts all information a player needs in order to understand what is happening and in the next step, enables you to interact with the game via your input commands.
You can say that the UI enables communication between the player and the game, translating the game language for the user and making the players input understandable for the game.

Especially a management game like Anno needs to convey huge amounts of information to the player.
The user experience (UX) ensures the usability and readability of our UI, as we need to make sure that it is easy to understand, gives clear feedback and takes the least possible effort to achieve a task. Think about Anno’s construction menu, where you want to be able to build complex production lines, consisting of many different buildings and materials, with the smallest amount of clicks (interaction) possible. We want you to be able to focus on your gameplay strategy and not distract you with busywork such as browsing through too many windows to figure out which buildings are connected to what production line. The UX basically serves as a blueprint map, defining the steps you need to take until you reach your goal, while the UI consists of all visual elements which accompany you on your journey.

Why is UI/UX design special or important in an Anno game?
For a complex strategy game like Anno 1800, a good UI and UX design can be the maker or breaker when it comes to ensuring a smooth gameplay experience. While units like ships utilize direct interaction with the player, many other interactions happen between the player and the UI.
If you compare it to a typical action game, most interaction usually happens through direct input to an avatar and it’s interaction with its environment. Here, the avatar reacts to your direct controller input such as a quick press of a button to cast a spell. In a strategy game like Anno, it would mean that you have UI elements such as buttons to command the avatar to perform that action.

But it is the huge scale of the management and building aspect what we all love about Anno, right?

One of the challenges is to find an easy solution for understanding the complex information -> as an example: trade routes (loading, unloading, a big list of items, islands, ships etc.). Without functional design, controlling a complex strategy game can easily overwhelm the player rather than providing an exciting gameplay experience.

And to achieve that goal, we have to prioritize functional design over the artistic touch. As our form follows the function, we can reduce the cognitive and physical workload for the player.

The Anno 1800 UI design
For Anno 1800, we decided on a clean design, including only a minimal amount of ornamentation, materials, and textures. Our focus was on preserving the functionality in our designs, aiming for a more contemporary and refined look that fits our “industrial revolution” setting. We want it to be easy on the eyes of the player, allowing fast access to all needed information. If there are too many visual elements, the UI itself would start competing with the actual game for the player’s attention; such distractions that quickly start hurting the gameplay flow. Talking about the colors, we decided for darker colors for the HUD (heads-up display). As the HUD is constantly visible, bright and flashy color schemes could quickly become tiring for the eyes and also steal too much attention from the actual gameplay screen.
For pop up information or notifications windows, on the other hand, we picked a brighter color to draw the immediate attention of the player.

Let’s start creating
Okay, so far so good, but how do we actually create our UI and UX design? When we start working on a new UI element, Game Design provides us all the gameplay information and details about the game logic we need to make accessible for the player. We discuss which details are the most important information the player needs to know and what tasks they need to be able to perform within the interface element. The trade route menu is again a really good example, as you need to be able to see all the needed information about your ships, the routes, goods, islands and what kind of orders you can give on the different destinations.

In the next step, we grab a pen and some paper and start sketching out so called wireframes, which serve as a blueprint. This wireframe holds all information about the functionality and the flow of the menus, which further allows us to create interactive prototypes to actually test the UX.
When we are confident that the wireframes are working, we can start on the actual visual UI elements. This means creating mock-ups, defining the text and color style as well as the shapes we want to use. Concept Art from our art department serves here as an inspiration and a visual guideline. The UI team has also dedicated Icon Designers, who support us by designing and producing the icons we need for our UI. That can be something simple like a specific button or something complex like the tourist ferry timer we have shown during the last stream.

From mockups to final assets, we usually use programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop as well as After Effects for animations.

Once we have a functional wireframe, including all the boxes and visual elements we need, it’s implementation time! For that, we will discuss the technical requirements with our programming team.
They will then go ahead and build a working skeleton for our UI. In the final step, we make final preparations for the design and then apply it on the skeleton, to implement our UI into the game.

We need your input!
We hope we were able to give you a good understanding of Anno’s intricate UI/UX design, and why it is of such importance for strategy games. Up to the release of the game, we will continue to work and improve our interface but one of our challenges is a lack of community feedback, as the UI is something many players take as a given but rarely discuss in detail.

And here is where the Anno Union comes into play: we would love to get your feedback on our current state of the UI, as seen in the stream and on this blog. Is the overall look satisfying? Is there something from previous Anno games you especially liked about the UI? What is of most importance to you for an exciting and functional Anno 1800 user interface?

Our team is looking forward to your feedback!

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DevBlog: Eli Bleakworth

Hope is the most coveted, yet rarest of goods on the dreary rock called Wormways Prison, home for the worst of the worst. And of course for those unfortunate souls who dared to question or defy the absolutely authority of its warden, Eli Bleakworth. He is equal parts cruel taskmaster and calculating bookkeeper, mercilessly ruling his godforsaken rock under the dutiful guise of a faithful servant of the empire.

Eli Bleakworth, the Governor of Wormway Prison is just one part of our diverse cast of supporting third party characters in Anno 1800. He might style himself a dutiful servant, but the truth is that his honor and compassion have long since withered away, alongside his youth. Beneath his lawful façade, he secretly enjoys his power over his prisoners. After all, they would not be on his island if they were not scum that defied the empire’s laws, would they.

Introduced with Anno 1701, third parties quickly became an integral part of the Anno series. The feature has come a long way since then; what started as a collection of free traders has turned into a varied cast of important characters that breathe color and life into the world of Anno 1800. While they are neither direct allies nor competitors, they are an important part of the look and feel of the game world, and offer a variety of gameplay options and challenges.

The role of Wormway Prison in Anno 1800 – Atmosphere / Gameplay
His prison is not only an atmospheric snapshot of the more unruly and hapless elements of 19th century society; the island also offers different gameplay opportunities to the player. For starters, it is not just a prison, but also a business made profitable by its barely existent employment cost. Every day, under a merciless ocean sun, the prisoners toil in the island’s coalmines. Coal is in high demand during the industrial revolution and Eli offers a quick solution for the hungry blast furnaces of your factories.

But there is not only profit, there are also dependencies. Labor might be cheap on Wormway Island, but it’s Governor still need to provide basic good such as food and soap for his involuntary workers. Players should always look out if specific goods are in high demand by AI characters, as trade for sought-after goods might be the better bargain than paying in cold hard cash to bunker coal.

You could also overhear the prison guards mumbling about some their employer’s special interests, which might come in handy if you want to strike a good deal with the Governor.

The island is not only a great location to fill your trading ships’ holds with coal; Eli is also always on the lookout for business partners who are willing to lend the empire a hand in matters of the highest importance. If you decide to help him with his chores, he will provide you with a variety of rewarding bounty quests. There is always demand for work as the gatekeeper, but during challenging times like these, even hell itself can get overcrowded. It is worthwhile to visit his island occasionally to see whether Eli might be willing to restore the freedom of one of his special guests- always contingent, of course, on your willingness to pay their bond, as well as a paltry fee for his corrective services. Gameplay freedom is a core pillar of Anno 1800, so third-party characters present one opportunity where players that are less interested in luring tourists into their attractive cities can get their hands on some specialist characters. Who knows what kind of special talents one could acquire from the more or less guilty souls trapped in Wormways prison.

Transition into the end of the blog: Third party in Anno 1800
Eli will not be the only third party character to offer his stock of resources to the willing buyer. The cast of third party characters in Anno 1800 will not only represent a colorful variety (including some… less law-abiding citizens), but every one of them will allow for different player interactions based on their background and personality. From pirates and traders to curiosities, what kind of third party character would you like to encounter in Anno 1800?

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