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Category: DevBlog

DevBlog: Treasures of the soil

From rags to riches – your industrial machine shall never rest when your soot-blackened empire rises into a glorious new era. Manufacturing the first goods is easy enough but soon, you will manage a complex logistical network to ensure a steady flow of resources for your hungry industry.


Today, our Game Designers Christian and Sebastian illuminate our lodes and fertility system, which are kicking off a series of posts focusing on the focal point of Anno 1800’s core gameplay: production chains.

In the first stages, Anno is dominated by simple production chains, such as establishing a basic food supply. Harvesting natural resources such as capturing fish at your coastline or chopping wood is enough to get things rolling. But soon enough, your small settlement will start to expand and production lines will become more complex. When your production will be evolving into a real industry, it will start to require harder to find resources.
Fishing and lumbering won’t be enough anymore, when advanced goods will require you to grow various crops or to tap into the mineral deposits on your island.
The growing complexity of the resource management is an important challenge when progressing through the game and soon, you might realize that the conditions on your main island are not enough to support your demanding society.

Reaping the harvest – Fertility
In the real world, every plant has certain requirements in order to grow properly. The right enrichment of minerals in the soil determines the fertility for certain crops and other plants. Additionally, there are other ground and weather conditions which might affect the fertility of the soil.
Agriculture makes up a big part of Anno’s production chains, but we simplified the complexity of Mother Nature and translated the concept into our fertility system.
In Anno 1800, not every plant will grow on any island and players have to seek out other isles with the right prerequisites. When progressing, you need to either settle on other islands or establish trading routes in order to improve your production. The scarcity of some resources drives the economic aspect of the game and fuels conflict between different factions that compete over the most interesting islands. Later in the game, we will give you options to have an impact on the fertility of your island. But that is bound to a different feature, which we will highlight in a future blog post.

Have a look on our hops production – the beer must flow!

Earth riches – lodes
In general, lodes work similarly to fertilities with a few additions. Lodes are mineral deposits on your island, with ores like iron found in mountain ranges, while some others, like clay, can be found in a pit rather than a mine. There is one major difference with the fertility system. While you can cultivate crops and other plants at any spot if the needed fertility is provided, you have to construct your mining buildings on fixed deposits, which will get randomly generated with each new game.
That means that you have to build your coal mine on an actual lode and cannot freely start mining anywhere. In difference with fertilities, you won’t be able to add or change existing lodes during a session. The location of the lodes on an island play a role in your strategy when designing your city, as they create a natural center for your production districts. Will you create your district effectively around your mining area or will you decide to make use of a clever supply line for your distant factories to avoid having your heavy industry close to the city center?
To account for the effort you put in to optimizing your city layout, lodes won’t deplete after time, unlike in Anno 2070. We don’t want to force the player to completely re-arrange an already complex supply line.

Coal for the thousand fires of the industrial revolution

Resource restrictions and their gameplay importance
The fertility and lodes system can have a major impact on the gameplay, as the players need to make important decisions based on the availability of the necessary resources:
When is the best moment to expand? Should I rush for other islands to dominate the fight for resources or choose a more laid back approach, where a small outpost or a trading network will do the job?

How you tackle on expansion, diplomacy, trade or even the size of your empire, depends on your approach, define your playstyle and let you set your own goals for a match.
We want to encourage different approaches and never take away your free will. You should not only decide how you want to play the game, we will also allow you to modify the difficulty of the game based on your preferences. Higher difficulty settings will make resources more rare while easy settings ensure that you don’t have to worry about fertility too much.

But that’s it for today, a good foundation for us to build upon in the upcoming weeks. Whether you are a veterans used to fertility and lodes systems or new to it, we are curious to read your feedback in the comments below.

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DevBlog: QA Detectives

Hi guys, my name is Dorina and I am in charge of the Anno 1800 QA department. I have been working in games for 13 years by now, starting as a student assistant on Anno 1701. A few years later, I got a permanent development testing position and then worked on Anno 2070.
It is a great honor to lead the QA team for Anno 1800 and I hope that this blog will give you an interesting look on the diversified tasks of our Quality Assurance team.

When it comes to game testing and QA, most gamers out there already seem to have a set opinion about that matter, and often make their voice heard. If you are able to identify bugs in your favorite game, then it surely can’t be that hard for the developers to fix the issue, right?
Today, we want to shine a light on the Anno 1800 QA team and give you a look behind the scenes of our daily work, in order to paint a clearer picture of game testing and the complex nature of game development.

QA tropes – playing games, all day long
There is a common trope that working in QA means playing games all day long, and while getting your hands on the game is surely part of the deal, reality is quite different. In fact, spending the day playing the game to check its overall shape and functionalities happens only occasionally. Our day-to-day work consists of specific tasks, where we have to test a certain feature of the game to evaluate its quality or to investigate reported issues. A complex matter, as reproducing a situation can be a demanding task and the causes and effects might often seem totally unrelated at first glance. We get an extensive features list to test for every new development milestone. To reach our goals up to the next big milestone, cooperation in our team and with the feature stakeholders (such as a game designer responsible for said feature) is crucial.

Our QA team’s desks are located in the middle of the studio, as we are a central focal point of production, being the team with a broad overview on the entire game. That allows us to build a strong connection with the other teams; you can almost say that QA is the watching eye of the production. People also might get a bit nervous when we spawn at their desk, as that usually means that their features are partly broken in some way.

The detective and his handbook
When we start investigating, our analytic skills, experience and knowledge about various development disciplines are our main weapons. While being on a case, the detailed design document (also referred to as DDD) is the QA detective’s handbook. While testing the game or analyzing issues, we always check back with the DDD if the game elements work as intended. As the DDD defines the function of every  element in the game, it allows us to create both kinds of test cases: the ones where we check if the game behaves as intended and those where we try to break the system on purpose. We will then compile all data in feedback reports and deliver those to the responsible developer and to the other stakeholders.

You all remember how we talked about the trade routes feature in last week’s DevBlog? The DDD describes that feature and all underlying rules of the system in detail, such as how the ships are being added to the routes, but also how menus should work and look, related audio elements, text display, button functionality and much more. When testing that feature, we have to work with the feature checklist to ensure that every single point is properly working. After a bug is fixed, we have to perform further checks to see if the fix breaks any other element of the game.

But it is not only about testing if every element works or if there are hidden bugs, we also help to test the balance of the game, from the production chains to the assessment of the difficulty of the battles. We always have to ask ourselves: is it working as intended and is the feature complex enough (or sometimes even too complex)?
A task rarely finished in one day, as it involves feedback reporting and ongoing discussions with the responsible developers. When the feature owner then applies changes based on that feedback, it means back to the testing process again.
But that is not all- another difference between the QA and QC’s (quality control) work is that we also check the projects globally. If we find out that a tool is not working properly or if there might possibly be a blocker in the production process, we will provide a report to the production team.

Bug hunting!

If we find a bug during the testing process, we will track it down in our bug-tracking tool and forward that report to the responsible game designer. As described before, that kicks off the testing and feedback loop until the issue is resolved.

Are you familiar with the saying that goes “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”?
When testing and resolving bugs, there is always a probability that the fix breaks something else in the game. Most of the time, we do not know where a blocker is rooted so we have to find out what’s actually causing the issue first. Games are incredibly complex and there is one general rule: if we fix one bug, it might cause another.
When explaining that, I like to refer to the “butterfly effect”, where every flap of a wing can cause something unexpected and kick off a whole series of events. Therefore, before we release an update, we have to test the whole game again to verify that the fix is not breaking something different, which might not seem to be related to the initial issue at first.

This is a case-by-case process and the complex nature of a game, where bugs appear often during the development and we have to ensure that this doesn’t block anything in production process, as bug fixing can require hours of work from our coding team.

Make the game better
But there is another layer of our work which is not necessarily related to bug testing and fixing. When going through the DDD and observing the game, we might notice that something is missing or might cause gameplay issues based on our experience. If that occurs, we will provide a report including improvement suggestions of what might be missing or what could be changed, in order to improve or to balance the game’s content. The knowledge in our team is hereby of a deciding factor, as we are all different types of players and experience levels. That exact level of variety is important to be able to observe things from as many perspectives as possible.

How about you?
I hope that this blog gave you a good overview of the complex nature of game testing, as it affects every aspect of a game’s production across every development discipline.
Working in QA requires enthusiasm, passion and a deep understanding of the games in general, as well as the title you work on.

What your takeaway on the role of a professional game tester? Was the topic all too familiar, or did you get new information? I would also love to know if you have ever tested bugs in the past for games or other projects, maybe just as member of a community or even on a semi- or professional level?
It requires a passionate and dedicated team of experts to tackle the daily QA challenges of a complex strategy title like Anno 1800.

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DevBlog: Your own trading empire

Hi, my name is Sebastian and I am one of the Game Designers for Anno 1800. I have been part of the Anno Team since about two and a half years now and today I want to share some information with you on something we have been working on for a while now, the trade routes!

More than just a city builder, Anno 1800 is also a game about growing a small settlement to a real economic empire. Over the course of the game, the needs of your capital island will raise and you are in charge to fuel your hungry industry and fulfill the demands of your citizens.
Your main island can be a demanding beast and at some point, you have to expand to other islands to support your advancing metropole or to buy needed goods from other characters.
With trade routes, you can connect your islands with a transport network to ensure a steady flow of resources.

Here an example familiar to most Anno veterans:
“These pesky citizens! It seems whatever you do, they always ask for more and not exactly in a polite manner.” To fulfill their demand for beer, we could rely on trading but we decide to get our own production going. Unfortunately, the needed hops does not want to grow on our island so we have to establish our beer production line on our outpost, which is located on a nearby island. Of course, you do not want to order your ships back and forth manually, so you setup a trade route to ship the harvested hop or even the brewed beer over automatically. The beer will flow and hopefully make them happy for at least a while.

As you know, we want to bring back more complex features to the next title in the series. Instead of the more recent and simpler iteration of the trade routes, you will be able to make use of two different systems this time. One for the players who like to modify, tinker and optimize their routes for maximum efficiency and another one for simpler and faster but potentially less efficient routes.

Trade Routes
Let’s start with the more complex system. As this one is much closer to the ones from 1701, 1404 and 2070 you could call it the “classic trade route system”.
It allows you to transport goods between your islands or to trade with other parties automatically.

To give you an idea about the complexity of the system, here is an overview over most of the available options: You can freely set stations and define which goods should be loaded and unloaded by your ships. You will again be able to assign multiple ships to a route and each of them will be able to transport multiple goods. There is no limitation to the amount of routes you can create. Of course, you can name your routes for better overview and for those who do not like to come up with route names themselves we implemented an automatic naming system that should give you an idea of what this route is doing. The routes overview will also display the most common goods transported by a route.

Here a design study, or so called mockup of the trading route feature. Not representative of the final version in the game.

With several ships following one route, you might encounter the situation that one first ship is fully loaded with goods at a harbor but there is not enough left to load the second one. Instead of leaving with an almost empty storage, you can order the ship to wait until the full amount of goods is loaded. Additionally if a ship arrives at the destination and wants to unload its cargo, but the harbor has no space to load up your ships delivery, you can command your vessel to throw stuff over board in order to make space for the goods you would like to load. These two options called “Wait until full” and “Throw overboard” – very creative, I know – can be configured for every station separately.

Waypoints

When creating your trade route, you trust your ships’ captains to find their way across the sea on their own. With no further instructions, your ships will naturally take the shortest route, which might be problematic as this does not factor in hostile areas or wind direction.
It might be an option to guard your ships against loot hungry pirates but maybe avoiding their territory might be the wiser strategy in the first place.
To account for this we will also bring back waypoints for routes. When two consecutive stations are assigned, the route automatically draws a line between them and the player can add and move a waypoint to change the path of the ships.

Visibility and complexity go hand in hand. The UI elements shown are not final.

None of this is limited to islands on your current session; you will be able to expand your trade routes to other sessions as well.
What we are aiming for is a complex system, which favors the freedom of the player. It can also be seen as a challenge for seasoned Anno and strategy player, as it brings room for error and mismanagement back into the game. However, sometimes even the most seasoned logistics expert needs a fast and easy solution to get things done to take care of other, more pressing matters.

For that, we added a second system to the game.

Charter Routes
If you know the routes system from 2205, the charter routes will sound familiar.
They are a much lighter system that allows you to rent ships in order to transport goods between your own islands. Easier to handle but also more limited than their big brother, they can only transport one type of good in one direction between two of your islands. This is one ship per route. The chartered trading ship cannot be controlled manually but can be attacked by opponents or other AI characters. Chartered ships also have higher upkeep costs than your own trading vessels – in the end the captains need to pay their crew and want to make some profit too. As a result, players who spend time creating their own routes save money and players who are in a rush or don’t care so much about the money can save time.

Here an early version of the charter route menu. Amount of items and general loading capacities in this blog are also not representative.

It’s your time to share!
Supporting your ever-growing cities is part of the fun and with these two systems, we want to give you the tools to create an impressive and world-spanning economic empire.

And with this matter at hand, I would love to know what kind of player you are. Are you a transport tycoon who builds a highly efficient transport network with trade routes? Are you willing to invest a bit more in charter routes in order to concentrate fully on your city planning? Or will you mix and match the systems as you like?

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DevBlog: Island creation

Hi, my Name is Simon Wolf and I am a Level Artist on Anno 1800. I joined the team here in Mainz roughly a year ago and today, I would like to give you some insights into my job- both what motivates me and how us Level Artists shape the world of Anno, one island at a time.

At its heart, Anno is about vast cityscapes, ships on high waters or citizens roaming through narrow streets. But at one point in any discussion about the series, you will be able to hear players talking about another really important element of the game: the islands themselves.

Islands are both the playground to let your creative energy loose and the challenge which stands between your goals, such as expanding your city’s population by just a few thousands citizens.

The importance of your game world
Playing a game is more than progressing in the campaign or advancing your city. Becoming an explorer of the game worlds around me, always on the hunt for hidden secrets and stories, fueled my passion and creative investment in videogames since I was a kid. Questions like, “is there something hidden behind that mountain?” or “look at that landslide, is there a story why it collapsed?” was probably even the driving factor for me to become a level artist.

That enthusiasm allowed me to experience games beyond gaming. I started to play around with level editors to create my own levels and with that, to become the writer of my own environmental stories.

Anno 1800 is in fact the first strategy game I’ve worked on. In the game, islands are more than just a blank space, islands have personality, add to the feeling of the game and even create gameplay challenges, as players have to work within the given space.

It’s a creative puzzle you need to solve as you alter and shape the game world surround you.

Islands in Anno come in various shapes and sizes, some of them making it easy to expand and to grow your city while others have a higher difficulty, challenging the player to optimize and deal with the situation at hand. The specific features and difficulty level of an island has a strong impact on the gameplay. We call that “Creative Constraints”, where limitations result in solutions and interesting designs in order to overcome that challenge. Overcoming that limitations feels rewarding and often results in a more organic and beautiful city layout.

The creation of an island
Okay, let us see how our level team actually creates and shapes that playground for you.

It all starts with a shape!

It usually starts with a shape: Ideas for the look and form of an island come often from different sources, sometimes just creative brainstorming in the team full of crazy ideas but we also spend time researching satellite data or photos from real islands as an inspiration.
We are always on the hunt for the right middle ground between interesting shapes, a good challenge and gameplay freedom.It also depends on the type of island currently needed for the game. Do we need a few larger but easier islands or are we talking about a design which should test the skills of our veteran players? Beginner islands should not have overly complex structures, mountains or other obstructing details as these terrain elements can determine the difficulty level.

The first concepts for island shapes often include color-coding, where we block out construction areas, mountains and other obstacles. When defining these areas, we usually check back with the Game Design team for their requirements such as the size of a beach or mining resources, but how we implement that is usually up to us. We always have to keep one thing in mind: from the beaches to mountainsides, the layout will have an impact on your future city layout, such as having the choice of two beaches allows you to decide where to build your harbor and start your city.

Tools of an level artist
When our shape got a thumbs up from game design or other stakeholders, we can start to work on the actual 3D model. In our daily work, we make use of various tools fitting the needs of the different steps we are working on. While we spend a lot of time in our actual engine, handy tools such as World Machine, allow us to create a basic preset terrain based on various parameters (ground land mass, cliffs, plateaus, mountains, beaches, erosion etc.). The resulting model is a perfect foundation for the next steps.

When we are happy with the three dimensional form of the asset, we implement the island in our engine. In this first iteration of our future island, we will bring it to a playable state. That means basic texturing, defining construction and harbor areas, placing obstacles, mining slots, basic vegetation and more. The next step is a feedback process where we will decide if everyone is cool with the design or if we have to change something
.
And here the final work piece, you can see blocked out areas and basic level of terrain.

Environmental Storytelling and future steps
And now it’s time to bring some individual character to our island in the so-called “visual stage.”
In this stage, we take our time to make it look natural yet interesting by texturing, placing decorative objects, vegetation and sculpting. While our engine does offers some neat sculpting tools, we often take a piece of terrain to a sculpting tool called Mudbox to work on the fine details.

With the visual stage completed the island is about 80% done, with further polishing work to be done for the release version of the game.

On average, a large island takes roughly 80 working hours to complete. In the polishing phase, which usually comes a bit later in development, we will add the smallest visual details and include even some environmental stories, such as landslides or other unique things to discover. Keep that in mind when examining screenshots or discussing the footage seen during a stream, as the polishing phase will have an impact on the final visual fidelity of the islands.

It is all about ideas, inspiration and handicraft
I hope this blog about the daily work of a level artist on Anno 1800 gave you some interesting insights. The next time you play an Anno game, you may want to hunt down all the handcrafted details and secrets we love to hide in a level.

I know that you started many discussions about your favorite islands types already. To shake things up a bit, I would like to hear your ideas about small visual elements, remembered from previous titles that could make up for great environmental stories in Anno 1800. You can share your inspiring ideas with the level art team in the comments below.

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DevBlog: Visual Feedback

Hi, my name is Carsten Eckhardt and I am a senior 3D artist at Ubisoft Blue Byte Mainz. I am a part of the company for almost 15 years now and as a result, worked on almost all Anno titles in the past. My main responsibilities are 3D environment art (houses, terrain elements etc.).

Going from the initial idea and the first concept art up to the final version of a 3D asset can be a long and winding road. Developers across many disciplines are involved in that process in order to bring the brimming era of the industrial revolution to life in Anno 1800.

The last time, we invited you to watch and learn how our 3D designers work as digital architects, so this time we will add visual feedback and animations to breathe life into our future 19th century buildings.

Visual feedback
Do you remember the final version of the brick factory from the last 3D Art DevBlog? Well, sadly I have to break it to you that there are even further steps to take until it reaches the level of quality and the appropriate Anno feeling we want for our game.
Before we start to get things (literally!) moving, our building needs to get implemented into our game engine. This will add our object to the asset library, which enables us to place it in the game, block out clipping areas and add visual feedback such as actors, effects and much more. As soon as the building has been imported into the library, we can start adding visual feedback.

“Hold on”, you may say, “what exactly is visual feedback, and why do you keep talking about it?”
Visual feedback helps the player to have a better understanding what is currently going on in their metropolis while also making the game world more believable. While you can inform players about nearly every aspect of the game with contextual menus, actually seeing what is going on makes everything easier and faster to grasp, not to mention way more enjoyable to watch.
For Anno, it is not surprising that we make use of a lot of general and event based animations for the variety of buildings, such as moving steel kettles, smoking chimneys or special effects work like sparkling fire.

But it is not only for the sake of the atmosphere. As mentioned, visual feedback also gives you an indicator whether a building is currently productive, idling or affected by events like a blazing fire spreading through your residential district. For that, some buildings have different animation states. A factory as an example needs a state which defines if it is currently producing (workers being productive, machines working) and one where the factory is currently in idle state (effects like smoke and fire toned down or removed).


T
he BoB and Feedback editor
To create and modify the visual feedback elements, we developed our own tools internally, one with the thrilling name BoB (Bombastic Object Builder) and the other one rather pragmatically titled “Feedback Editor”. Originally developed for Anno 1701, the BoB’s main purpose is to block movable areas; it defines the space where units and actors (such as unloading carts or the workers of the building) can move as well as construction areas to ensure that buildings do not clip into each other (the size the unit needs on the construction grid). Furthermore, BoB allows us to place ornamental objects on existing assets in order to bring a bit more variation and life to them.

The feedback editor on the other hand allows us to give buildings feedback trigger to coordinate the movement sequences of units on the previously in BoB defined movable area.
If that sounds a little bit abstract for you, how about a small example: We all love the small stories we encounter when watching our city up close. If you observe your bakery, you can watch the baker going around minding his business, maybe even slacking off from work once a while. Or how about animals enjoying the day on a green meadow of a farm or even cat and dog chasing scene on the market place. Flying animals or other wildlife are an exception as they are not part of the eventful story we create for a specific building and more part of the actual game world.

Enough explanation, let’s see the system in action
Okay, I bet you have a pretty good understanding what we are talking about right now, so let’s start working. The first step is a straightforward process: in BoB, we define movable and inaccessible areas of the building, as we need to tell the engine on what area of the building units are allowed to move. Imagine that we paint the different parts and areas of a brick factory in different colors. The courtyard should be a movable area while we do not want that the workers clip through the walls or take a stroll on the rooftop.
The next step is to use the BoB to place effects, such as smoke for chimneys (hey we are in the industrial revolution; smoke galore!) and to place props like streetlights, crates and various kinds of vegetation.
Once done with that step, we have to define so called 3D selection areas, which ensures that players can actually target a building with a mouse click. A small, but important detail to keep in mind.

Here we define movable areas and use hitboxes as a blocker on our Pub asset.

But enough of BoB for now, it is time for the Feedback Editor to shine. Here, we first have to think about what kind of movement behavior for units would make sense for this specific building. There is for example a lot of lively stuff going on with the pub or the market place, such as a marching band, guests etc.
In case of a steel beam factory, it is more about bustling workers operating industrial machines.
That is the magic trick and crucial part of creating the crowded and lively feeling which Anno games are beloved and known for.
To catch your attention and keep you excited when you observe your industrial district, we want there to always be something exciting going on or that you can take a break while enjoying special eye catchers like the zoo or the crowded market place.
Quite some work can go into that process, and a building with many and complex units, such as the market place, can take a whole work day to finish. As we also we like to hide small details for the explorers out there, I strongly recommend to keep a keen eye on your city life.

Okay we are nice here and provide these fellas a path because they seem a bit lost right now 🙂

Let’s make that a bit more random
As you all are familiar with Anno, you know that there is way more than one thing going on at a time and that there is a surprising variety of visual feedback. Our animations will not play out the same any time, due to the good portion of randomization parameter we add to a building. The Feedback editor also ensures that we have randomization in the movement areas going on, as we do not want the units doing the same stuff on the same spot repeatedly.
From the baker, the farmhands on the field or the innkeeper of a pub, the so called actors use a building as a stage to perform a show for the player. We can set variables how often an actor shows up, duration of their performance before they leaves, usually using a variation of a set path. An actor on the market place could enter the scene from the entrance of the market before leaving through a door or as a variation, entering the market hall. The movement of a unit or in this case an actor is usually defined by dummies or splines; imagine a variation of rails, which it can use to move through the scenery.

Okay you might get the idea what we mean when we say “there is a ton of work and detail hidden in every asset”

Final thoughts
As you can see, a lot of handiwork goes into that one building, from the previous steps from game design, concept art up to our 3D art team. We are now ready to let our asset lose on the world, the last final bits, like defining hit points and other game parameters is usually a job for our programming and game design team. While not every building you might see on the stream or clips has all its animation or even detail right now, all buildings get the same treatment for the release version of the game.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing the journey an Anno 1800 3D asset takes during its creation and I am curious about your most favorite visual feedback, from small stories going to animation from previous Anno titles.

The comment section is right below and shoot if you have any questions, as we might have the chance to answer some of them in an upcoming community QNA.

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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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