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Category: General

Union Update: PC Gaming Show, Community Roundtable and more

Welcome back to our regular Union Update, as the last week has been quite busy bringing Anno 1800 to the PC Gaming Show in Los Angeles. However, before we dive into the news, let us talk about upcoming Union content.

This week, we will reveal the last residential tier of Anno 1800. The 19th century was not only a time of progress; it was also the time of big business, from old aristocrats to soldier of fortune trying to build the next big company. New production chains will be challenging and exciting alike and as mentioned in our last Q&A, the last tier will unlock interesting end-game content. After that, it is time for the anniversary of one of the most influential Anno games of all times: Anno 1404. After the anniversary content, you can look forward to blogs that will tackle the technological marvels of the 19th century. On that note, we are still looking for any 1404 anecdotes from our community. If you have a special, funny or just awesome 1404 moment to share, let us know in the comments below!

Anno 1800 at PC Gaming Show 2018
Last week, Anno 1800’s Executive Producer Burkhard and Community Developer Bastian traveled to Los Angeles to present our game during the PC Gaming Show. To show the game to PC players and strategy fans out there, we revealed our new trailer, kicked off a new Anno Union vote as well as talked about the game, setting and why community feedback matters. However, the PC Gaming Show was only the beginning, as we are looking forward to see Anno Union members and Anno fans at this year’s gamescom 2018.

Save the date: Community Roundtable
The next community roundtable is happening! Meet our community developer and members of our community team to chat about anything Anno 1800 and Anno Union related. Our Annoverse Fan-Discord will host the roundtable session, in which you can join, ask us questions, discuss or just listen to the ongoing conversation.

This time, we will run the two roundtables (one in German and one in English) on two different dates:
Second Anno Union community roundtable German: Monday, June 25th, at 7PM CEST
Second Anno Union community roundtable English: Monday July 2nd, at 7pm CEST

We use Voice Chat to communicate during the roundtable, but you can also ask questions in the chat if you don’t have or want to use a microphone. We will share some further details with the next Union Update.

You are hungry for more Anno or want to get in touch with other Union members and Anno fans out there? Check out our growing Anno fan Discord community: https://discord.gg/V4xhZ8Z

Current vote and availability of the AI ships
Many of you mentioned that they would love to get their hands on every ship and we heard you. We will make sure that you can get the hands of most, if not all, of the special ships via gameplay. While you will not be able to build them in your shipyard, there will be different ways to acquire the ships when playing, if it will be from third party NPC’s or via other features. Do not worry about the variety of ships you can construct, they will cover a lot from sail to steamships and we will share some details when we highlight the while Naval system in a future Union blog.

With the current vote, we want not only to get insights which ship is your favorite (and especially why from gathering your comments), it will decide for which ship we will create a second variant designed by the Anno Union itself. Do not worry about the missing details; we will share some examples and details when the contest starts.

Next focus test has already started!
The next round of our Anno Union focus tests is currently live. We invited a new group with over a dozen Anno Union members to test Anno 1800 inside out while providing daily reports to the development team. If you did not make it into this round, do not worry, we will continue the focus test program throughout the year and will invite bigger groups of players later on.

We heard your feedback that you want more details on what and how focus tests affected the development of Anno 1800. When the current focus test round concludes, we will provide you with a more detailed update about our insights and findings from this session. As always, our “player stories” are a combination between Anno Union blog feedback, discussions in our forum and fan groups as well as detailed feedback from our focus groups.

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Union Update: Livestream week

This week, it’s all about the upcoming next episode of our Anno 1800 development live-stream. AnnoCast 04 will be the most ambitious episode as of yet, as we not only show the latest state of the development but also present the city attractiveness system in action.

Our first guest, UI Designer Khajag Jabaghchourian, will demonstrate our big UI overhaul, as also provide insights about the importance of a well thought UI design for Anno 1800. A perfect chance for Anno enthusiasts and future game developer to learn something about intricate UI designs for complex management and city building games.
Our second guest might be familiar from our Monument and City Attractiveness blog. Game Designer Natacha Hentzien will take you to a small trip to our island paradise, when we follow our tourists through our panoramic city including a nice trip to the zoo but also not ignoring the smoking dark side of your modern industry.

As always, you will be able to watch the stream on our twitch channel twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte as well as on our Anno Union website. We will make the blog including the video player available by Thursday noon, to give you enough time to share your questions in the comment function.

AnnoCast Episode 04 – A trip to the zoo
Thursday May 17th at 5pm CEST / 1 AM ET / 8 AM PT
Follow us on: twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte

Other than that, it will be the first time we use our new streaming room. Expect a new look while we will continue to improve decoration and a few other elements in the upcoming episodes.
As there is another bank holiday coming up, we will do a short break from our regular Union Updates, which will not affect next week’s DevBlog.

But before we leave it to this week’s community Q&A part, we have another small announcement to make. Our Ubisoft community team taking care of Anno, among them some familiar names such as O5ighter and Seraxia, will host a new streaming show on our channel. Join them this Sunday, when they dive into old classic Anno games in our new Anno Afternoon Community stream. Feel free to watch and comment – backseat gaming is welcome!

AnnoAfternoon #01 – Anno 1404: Maiden Voyage
Sunday May 20th at 5pm CEST / 1 AM ET / 8 AM PT
Also on: twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte

Community Question and Answer

loex1337
Is it possible to merge different enclosures to larger modules into each other, so that I can create a big elephant enclosure if I connect two of them?
Answer: Allowing the enclosures to merge into bigger compounds leads to different issues to tackle, such as what happens if you unequipped one of two elephant items or how do you expand visual feedback, as animals and visitors heavily rely on pathfinding. One solution would be to develop preset modules in different sizes, but that would also ramp up the workload to create said assets. The various different and free to place enclosures offer many customization options for your zoo project. As it is a vast feature already, we think that we are doing the zoo a favor if we invest that development time into quality and variety of the different animals.

Revadan
Will Anno 1800 have a mobile companion app like Anno 2205?
Answer: There are currently no plans for an companion app for Anno 1800.

banan1996.1996
In the devblog about artisans glass was produced by workers and here it is produced by artisans. Did you change your mind about it or is it a mistake?
Answer: During development, we continuously work on the balancing, from small bits and pieces up to the re-work of whole production chains. Just recently, we reworked some of the production chains, which are one of the biggest balancing points for an Anno game. Rebalancing, as well as minor and major changes to the game, will continue for a while, often fueled by feedback gathered by the Anno Union blogs and especially playtests.

HarroLP
How much impact had the last playtest, did you made any major changes based on player feedback?
Answer: The playtest gave us a lot of important feedback on the current state on the game. Every feature has its own “player stories” note in our development plan. The “Player Stories” are insights and findings we gathered from blog and forum comments as well as from our playtest groups. That feedback will be gathered in reports, which are then being discussed in the team. The last playtest lead to a lot of smaller and even some minor changes to the game, from pure balancing to altering content. We are looking forward to the next test, which is planned to start in June. From that on, we will run further focus playtests throughout the year.

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DevBlog: Beauty Building Part 1 – City Attractiveness

Anno is a strategy series that asks its players to manage complex economies and to build vast cities. Since its the beginning, the franchise has always occupied a special place in the hearts of players who love spending hours creating stunning city dioramas from different eras, be It futuristic or historic.

While past Anno games have offered a variety of aesthetic buildings and ornaments to support that playstyle, the focus of the core gameplay always favored efficient city layouts and optimized production chains. With Anno 1800, we finally want to give those players with an eye for beauty the option to turn their beauty building into a valid and rewarding playstyle.

City Attractiveness – Power to the beauty builders
With Anno 1800, we are introducing a new system called “City Attractiveness”, which assigns every island its own attractiveness rating, which will affect various aspects of the gameplay.
Six different criteria will have a positive or negative effect on the overall attractiveness level of your island. Three positive aspects will raise your level when reaching a certain threshold of points, while the three opposing negative ones can cause a downgrade of your city rating.
This will elevate beauty building to an engaging endgame activity where reaching the highest attractiveness level becomes a challenge in itself. Reaping the harvest of your efforts will be quite rewarding, as it gives you access to special benefits such as unique visitors, among them specialist which can boost certain aspects of your city.
Let’s talk about the three different positive criteria first, as they give a good overview how you can actually influence the beauty of your island:

Culture: The cultural rating consist of all the cultural elements you have placed on your island, such as ornaments and cultural buildings. With that, you can not only boost your rating significantly with a well-planned park area, but can also benefit from transforming otherwise wasted spaces between production buildings with small ornaments and decals. Large projects like the world fair or special attractions like the zoo will not only be popular destinations for your own residents, but will as also attract generous visitors to your metropolis.

Nature: The industrial revolution changed not only our society, but also the surrounding environment significantly. With the expansion of modern industry, untouched and serene nature increasingly became a rarity. Every bit of natural landscape left on your island will benefit the nature rating which will naturally go down as your expanding city takes its toll. We will go more into detail about the nature feature at a future point, but we are planning that the player can have a direct impact on that rating by deciding to make room for Mother Nature by removing industry and other buildings.

Festivity: You remember how we emphasized that you are the writer of your own story and that your actions will decide if your people will see you as their progressive savior or as a robber baron? If you care about the happiness of your residents, supporting all their needs and providing them worthwhile distractions and attractions, your people will show their gratitude. Celebrations held by your happy citizen or from events such as the grand opening of the world fair will boost the attractiveness of your city greatly and impress tourists on your island. Similar to city incidents such as the Riot, celebrations will get a lavish visual representation.

The three positive criteria cover a variety of ways how maintaining a pleasant look-and-feel of your city will attract visitors. But rather than just adding attractiveness points in a linear manner, there are also three criteria which will have a negative influence and could even downgrade the attractiveness level of your island:

Inelegance: Certain buildings are simply not a good looker. A strolling pedestrian might not be very font of the scent of a pig farm and the remnants of ruined buildings will damage the scenic look of your city. The system calculates the amount of unpleasant, noise producing and even smelly buildings- the odor of a 19th century soap factory is something for the faint of heart, or stomach.

Pollution: Every production building has a certain pollution factor, indicated by a variety of visual feedback. While some smaller production and manufacturing buildings might only blow a small amount of white smoke out of their chimneys, the black clouds coming from full-blown industrial districts are not kind to the lungs of your residents.

Instability: City incidents such as groups of demonstrators rioting through the streets are a rather unsettling experience. From civil unrest to blazing fires, every kind of incident will have a negative impact on the attractiveness of your city, albeit a (hopefully!) temporary one.

Find your own playstyle
Influencing criteria creates a balancing act, in which every positive aspect has its own counterpart. You can imagine them as three axis: culture against inelegance, nature against pollution and festivity against instability. Here are a few example how this can encourage a certain playstyle:

Culture versus Inelegance: Will you spend time to beautify your city with ornaments and cultural buildings or do you not care about that, leaving ruins or dirty buildings on your island. The fundamental question: are you a beauty builder at heart or someone who does not care about the aesthetic look of your city?

Natural Landscape versus Pollution: While humankind was always interfering with Mother Nature for its own needs, it was the industrial age where exploitation began at a previously unimaginable scale. Do you want to be the magnate, repressing nature for your steaming industrial machine, or an idealist who wants to preserve the slowly dwindling natural landscape as much as possible?

Festivity versus Instability: Are you a progressive thinker, who roots with his residents like a father who takes care of his children or the robber baron who dominates everyone for power and profit. It’s up to you how your residents will remember you.

While every positive criteria has its own counterpart, it does not mean that you have to strictly counter one element with another. Your city can be a true sanctum for culture and architectural wonders while an ocean of industrial chimneys belches black clouds into the sunny sky. As the attractiveness level is an accumulated value, you don’t have to reduce the amount of factories to benefit your cultural buildings; your marvelous parks can also be supported by the natural habitat of a nearby mountain range or by happy citizen celebration their benevolent governor.

You tell your own story – you create your own playstyle in Anno 1800
With our new feature, classic endgame activities such as controlling the worlds economy or military domination get additional company and with that, expand Anno’s gameplay quite significantly. 
We want to create a meaningful gameplay feature for every Anno player, where keeping your city at a high attractiveness level is a challenge with different rewarding outcomes. Moreover, as we always like to emphasize how the world of Anno shall remember your actions, the attractiveness level will affect your reputation and standing with other second party characters.
We briefly mentioned visitors and large-scale projects like the zoo. Only two of the many features, which are not only new to the world of Anno, but are also intricately connected to the city attractiveness of your island. With our next DevBlog, we want to talk about another fundamental, albeit more familiar feature in Anno 1800 but we will come back to you with the second part of the beauty-building highlight in the very near future.

While you probably picture visitors strolling around your parks, leaving a small fortune in your cities treasury, we are curious about your comments on the new feature. As you might see, it is a significant addition to the gameplay and such your comments can become a valuable pool of ideas and feedback for our team. We are looking forward to your comments!

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Union Update: A toast to Anno 1602

It was 20 years ago, in March 1998, when the Anno series first raised anchors and set sails to conquer the PCs of gamers everywhere. Anno 1602 would go on to have a long lasting impact on strategy fans and the genre, spawning six follow-up titles in the main PC series over the next two decades- not to mention several other adaptions and spin-offs on platforms like the Nintendo DS, Wii, mobile or tablets.

To really take a trip down memory lane, and to make those of you who were with us from day one feel sufficiently old, let’s take a look at the game’s system requirements:

Operating System: Windows 95 / 98
CPU: Pentium 100 Processor
RAM: 16 MB RAM
GPU: PCI graphics adapter with 2 MB
Sound Processor: DirectX 6.0 compatible or better
Hard Drive: 160 MB
Drive: 4x CD-ROM

For the younger Anno fans among the audience- yes, that really says 16 megabyte (!) of RAM. The times, they are a-chaning in the Anno world! Another fun anecdote is that at the time of release, both gamers and gaming press alike stylized Anno as the big new challenger to Blue Byte’s beloved Settlers series, which was at the time the benchmark title in the historic city-building genre. Fast forward two decades, and the once fierce rivals are now a happy family united under the Ubisoft Blue Byte banner, with our Düsseldorf studio working on the ever-popular Settlers Online, while we in Mainz develop Anno 1800. It is a small world, after all.

With Anno 1800, we want to go back to our roots while utilizing the knowledge we gained over so many years. From humble beginnings 14 years ago, the team has grown together with the Anno series and our fans but many old veterans are still part of the team, while new additions to the team bring their creative and inspiring visions to the table.

While this week marks the 20th anniversary of the series, we want to celebrate Anno and our communities of fans out there throughout the whole year. Starting this week, we will host a small celebration live-stream this Wednesday at 4pm CET. There is enough space left in our time machine, so join us when we play old classic while probably eating some cake and losing ourselves in memories. There will be probably some talks about CRT monitors. However, keep your expectations in check- this stream will be about the series’ history, and won’t include any Anno 1800 news or footage.

Complete your Anno Collection with the Uplay Spring Sale
Did the nostalgic trip down memory lane make your fingers itch for some old-school Anno? If so, you are in luck- the Uplay Spring Sale is running all week until the end of March, including some great discounts on all the older Anno games and DLC packs. It is the perfect excuse to complete your collection in one go!

Buy your missing Anno games on Uplay

Anno Cast 03 aired last Thursday
Last week, our Anno Cast streaming show finally came out of hibernation. In case you’ve missed it, you can just watch the saved broadcast on our Twitch channel.

Watch AnnoCast 03 – Anno 1800 GameDev show from ubisoftbluebyte on www.twitch.tv

During the show, we answered some questions from our community, chatted a bit about the development process and demonstrated how the trade routes work in our gameplay section. Here are some of the answers from our stream:

OneClickLP: Why is the sun moving together with the camera, resulting in shadows turning with the camera angle?
Answer: When playing the game, you move the camera around a lot while also going through different camera angles. We want that, no matter from which angle you play, you always get the best scenery and lighting, which has been an Anno hallmark since the early days. However, you can choose whether the sun is moving with the camera or should remain fixed in the options menu.

loex1337: Talking about the working conditions, will there be sings for an imminent strike?
Answer: Yes, there will be visual feedback in the game and also context menus which enable you to get insights into the current happiness and developments in your city.

BlueBreath: I wonder if you also implemented an operating costs adjustment for buildings proportional to percentage of filled work spots.
Answer: A factory has not necessarily less operation cost if you are not able to keep your production fully going. However, things like that are in fact more complicated in reality. For Anno 1800, we do not want to overburden the micro-management part, so the operation cost won’t be affected by the working conditions.

Community: Is it possible to get high definition pictures from some of the concept arts and other screenshots you used on the Union? I would love to use them as a wallpaper.
Answer: We are currently working on a big web update and a new community section will be an important part of that. With the new community section, we want to create a space to highlight community creations and fan sites but also provide wallpapers and some other requested assets.

Palemale53: Will I need to satisfy the needs of my inhabitants separately on each island?
Answer: All buildings unlock globally but if you establish a second island, you will need to fulfill your residents’ needs in order to level them up to higher tiers or to keep them happy.

banan1996.1996: How does transferring workforce between island work? Will ships be needed for that?
Answer: You won’t need to build or use your existing ships to transfer your workforce. However, there will be a proper visual representation for workforce being moved to other islands. The system will have some similarities to the energy transfer from Anno 2070, but we will share more details at a later stage.

XGrindYourMindX: Will there be unemployment or is workforce overhead just waiting quietly?
Answer: We tried many things during the early conception phase but we do not think that managing the employment of your residents would do the game any favor. With other resource, operation cost and especially construction management (not talking about trading and other economic aspects), the game can get already pretty complex and deep if you want to make use of all features.

zelsphere: My guess is all these beautiful buildings must be using 2k resolutions textures, with diffuse, spec/gloss, and normal how are you you able to run the game so smoothly with all these buildings utilize such high texture maps?

Dawnreaver: Would it be possible to go into more detail on the technical aspects? I know that previous versions of the engines worked with LODs, but do they also batch the textures?
Answer: Indeed we can’t keep all the textures in memory. We dynamically load them depending on the current camera location in the game. Textures that haven’t been used for a long time are kicked out of memory. One challenge for a strategy game is the highly dynamic camera, e.g. sudden camera jumps via the minimap: If a building’s texture is suddenly needed but isn’t loaded yet, we usually have at least a low-resolution version in memory. In the meantime the high-res version starts loading in the background. With that said, a buildings’ texture size actually depends on its grid size, so a 3×3 building has smaller textures than a large factory. Finally, our buildings usually have albedo, normal, gloss, metallicity and ambient occlusion textures, all BC7-compressed. Some of them are packed into other ones (e.g. normal and gloss are a single texture map)

We are looking forward to the stream this Wednesday and hope that many of you join to share their own Anno anecdotes with us. As the Easter weekend is coming up, there won’t be a DevBlog this week, and no Union Update next Monday.

 

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Vote: Community Island

Annoholics have discussed the art of island design since the dawn of the Anno series. With our Anno Union island contest, we put your knowledge, design skills and creativity to the test to create a truly community-shaped island for Anno 1800. You impressed us with almost 100 entries to the contest, ranging from well thought gameplay concepts to the craziest playgrounds.

It was far from easy for us to make the final selection. Over the last weeks, our team went through every single entry and finally, we have a list for the five islands competing in the next Anno Union vote.

And the finalists are:

VulcanixFR
We liked VulcanixFR’s entry especially because of the well thought out mix between bigger and smaller construction spaces. With its opposing beaches, this island offers an iconic vista to build an interesting harbor installation.

MW.TRIBUN
The natural form of this island convinced our team. Hills, beaches and rivers are well placed and come together in a harmonious overall concept. The arrangement of the construction site and the fascinating landslide in the south create an interesting hotspot.

fabian_eiter
This islands got our attention because of its unique shape. The narrow parts of the island offer a great challenge for city builder and the jagged hills surrounding the bay add an adventurous element to it.

Phyllus1
The crazy idea to use the hat from the Anno 1602 cover was creative and humorous, while the nice curves and long cliffs offer a great challenge for Annoholics.

GmExpresso
We liked this isle for its simple form, providing ample space for huge cities. The high plateau in the north allows you to play around with the new uneven terrain of Anno 1800, which creates a great gameplay twist on a simple concept.

It’s now up to you, the members of the Anno Union, to decide which entry will make it into the game, as the first community created Anno island. We will further provide frequent updates about the state of the community island, including its creation up to all the final details. Keep in mind that we might need to change a few things, though we will be faithful to the general concept, feel and shape of the winning island.

Thanks to every single participating in the contest, putting so much effort and thought into all these glorious creations. If you want to browse through all great community entries again, you can do so here:
Island Contest entries international 
Island Contest entries German

16 Comments

Union Update: Quality Assurance and Q&A

Welcome back to our newest Union Update, today with a short teaser about what’s to come before we move over to answer some of your burning questions.

Many of you answered our call for player created islands and your creative submissions have been in the center of internal discussions already. Some of you wondered if the map needs to be a digital drawing and if the use of a specific program is required. To clarify, you can submit a hand drawn map in form of a scan or uploaded photo. When it comes to format, we prefer .JPG or .PNG and the shape/color comparison is not mandatory, it just makes it easier for us to get a quicker idea of the design of your island.

You can find more information about the island creation contest here: https://anno-union.com/en/union-update-island-creation-contest/

We bet that most of you encountered various bugs in your gaming life, is a topic often discussed with passion in communities. For that reason, our QA team invites you to learn one or two things about quality assurance for Anno 1800. If you ever wondered how a QA team operates or how complex the game development really is, we will provide answers in our next DevBlog.
With the QA blog, the Behind the Scenes content will take a short break, as we want to highlight a few important game elements in the upcoming weeks. The look behind the scenes will return at a later stage and we can already tell that the Union gave us some cool ideas for future topics.

While we take about a short break, there is something called “Rosenmontag” in Germany, basically German carnival. As it seems that the folks around Mainz are really into it (and it is a bank holiday in our county), the usual Union Update will return February 19th.

Community Q&A

Craftingfan
Hi, I would like to know if the game will have a diplomacy feature like the one in 1404. Itt was sad that you were not be able to form an alliance in 2070, as I am a fan of both titles.
Basti: Diplomacy will play a role in Anno 1800, an important feature that deserves its own dedicated Devblog, as interactions with NPC’s are a great tool to benefit the games complexity. Diplomacy ads not only another gameplay layer, it also encourages different playstyles and gives the cast of Anno 1800s AI depths to each’s unique character and quirks.

MattMcCorman
In 1602 and 1503, coastlines on islands were extremely long, you could place contors nearly anywhere – even several on one island in 1503.
With 1701, beaches became way shorter (okay, the oriental islands in 1404 had fairly long beach segments) and the new islands shown for 1800 had all short beach segments. Is there a reason for the limitation, such as technical restrains caused by the trade route system or gameplay reasons (challenges, landing military, island protection etc.)?

Basti: There are different factors that play a major role in our island design. Beaches play an important role in the actual gameplay. Limiting the amount of beaches for an island forces the player to think strategically, as the position of a harbor encourages establishing production districts to ensure an effective transport of goods. The amount of beach segments varies from isle to isle and as variety is important for us, many islands will haven even more than two of them. We have not shown many islands as of yet but we are confident that players will like the handcrafted set of distinctive islands Anno 1800 will have to offer. By the way, 1404’s biggest beach segments were roughly 50 grids in size, while Anno 1800 will have beaches with way over 100 grids and with that, allow you to build big and extensive harbors.
When it comes to level design, it allows us more visual variety for the coastlines similar to the uneven terrain on the island. If you look back on the islands in 1404, you will notice that the flat islands had only two design elements: mountains and beaches. With the use of cliffs, valleys, plateaus and other elements, we can create more natural looking limitations for Anno 1800.

DiruKamachi
How many faces, surfaces and polygons are used for an average map?
Are you allowed to tell us what kind of hardware you use? I am especially interested if you use several CPUs at once, what kind of video card and how much RAM you use.

Simon: That is actually hard to put in numbers. We make use of different techniques such as GPU-tessellation, which sends only rough squares (patches) to the GPU, which can further be broken down to triangles when viewed from a distance. That allows us to show every tiny detail from the 3D geometry close up while it uses the simpler triangles when zoomed out.
Regarding the hardware, we have workstations with different setups depending on the workspace. We make use of high performance CPUs with several cores, a lot of RAM (usually 64gig) and usually use high end gaming video cards rather than rendering cards.

Sabdrian
Is Ubisoft open for the idea to release a smaller, trimmed down version of anno 1800 for home consoles, such as the Nintendo Switch?
Basti: We want to concentrate on the PC version of Anno 1800, as it is the platform where Anno’s gameplay and complex features shine. We cannot say if there will other versions of the game in future as of yet. We want to invest all of our development energy in a great PC release version of the game.

Der3ine
Will it be possible to customize your player profile, as it was the case with Anno 2070 and other Anno games before? I am talking about player color, title, maybe starting ship or skins for different things in game?
Basti: Customization of your player profile hereby confirmed 😀
What kind of options and to what extend is something we could probably demonstrate best in a future stream.

Vernandes
How complex will the production chains be? I liked the complexity in Anno 1404, as it was hard to progress far into the game without getting bankrupt. Everything was expensive and the income was not exactly high. Taking the time to produce everything was the main driver for me. The difficulty level and complexity is something I would love to see in Anno 1800.
Achtarm124
How about a blog where you describe your approach to consumption of production chains which require at least two resources?
Basti: We do not want to spoil too much but after we talked about the many aspects of Anno 1800’s logistic system, we will tackle the civilization tiers and their production chains soon. With the next Anno, we want to provide challenges for experienced players while also offer the gameplay freedom to overcome them in various ways. Complexity plays an important role here and the production chains are a core gameplay element of the game. We don’t want to have a too difficult start for new players, especially as veterans usually rush through the early portion of the game with ease. In the spirit of the industrial revolution, we want to raise the complexity when advancing through the tiers.

Enterprise737
Will there be a visible difference between the citizen tiers? Like a distinctive working class district which is separated from the other classes.
Basti: Civilization tiers are more than a game mechanic as they play a leading role to bring the 19th century to life. Keep an eye on the Union, as we will highlight that topic soon.

AmpeImann
Quick question, do we actually need to register to participate in a focus session, or will active Anno Union members be invited to participate without having first to apply to participate?
I haven’t seen anywhere to apply yet, am I missing something or have applications not started?

Basti: Applying for the focus-tests is mandatory for everyone. Rest assured that we keep track of the Union activity of players who apply for a test. Here the link to the application page: https://anno-union.com/en/playtests/

4 Comments

Union Update: Studio playtest in Mainz

Last week, we opened the doors of our studio in Mainz to eight Union members, giving them the chance to play an in-development version of Anno 1800, in order to provide us early feedback on the current state of the game. All the great discussions in the Anno Union non-withstanding, these playtests are an important tool for us to check small details, analyze the game flow and observe the play behavior of our veterans.

That brings up the question how such playtest events actually work, and how they can help us during development.
It is not only a matter of observance, experience and analysis of Union comments; instead, the devil is in the details. Exactly these details are important for us to see if the game flow is working and if we can identify blockers, which might sour the gameplay experience.
To get a feeling if we are on the right track or need to work more on certain aspects of the game, we utilize various forms of feedback- from soft data or community sentiment such as Union comments all the way up to metrics providing hard data or reports from our playtests. While the Anno Union is a great way for us to tell how the community feels about the state of the game or to gather ideas from Anno veterans, playtests allow us to have very precise observations.

During last week’s playtests, our guests played an early version of Anno 1800 for several hours and shared their evaluation of the game in extensive feedback interviews.

Playtesters enjoying the session

Detailed examination and interviews
Even before the interview part, we started to observe our players pretty closely. While our GamesLab team recorded the sessions and preserved the savegame for further analysis, they also took many notes and asked them very specific questions. Small tasks, such as showing if they can find a game element, are time tracked to get a feeling if our UI and UX design are working as intended. However, our testers had also many comments and findings during the sessions, which not only piqued the interest of our GamesLab team, but also that of our Game Designer Christian, who watched their play behavior closely.
After the play session, our Union testers had the chance to give a detailed evaluation of the different game elements and told us how they liked the experience and evaluated if we are on the right track.

Even more data!
After the event, our GamesLab team provides us with a report, so we can sit together to discuss and analyze the results and feedback and furthermore, compare them with our own observations and previous data. That is why a number of playtests are necessary, as one play test alone is not enough to get the full picture- we need further stats, results, Union sentiment and of course more playtests. While the Anno Union allows us an excellent overview of the community sentiment, on-side playtests and Close Alpha studies provide us with detailed observations (when did players reach a certain point of progression, what  do to they like to build etc.).

And it was only the beginning…
The outcome of those observations sometimes result in immediate action, while others might need further evaluation. If we see that a specific UI element is not working, we can give that directly to the UI team to review the issue. If there is something not right about balancing of a unit or production chain, our Game Design can start to work on a solution for that issue. You can replicate that process on various elements of the game, from coding, bugs, which have to be reproduced by our QA team or visual elements, which still need some work.
Sadly, not every problem is as easy to identify as a harbor district, which has a habit of frequently burning down for no good reason. Gameplay or content changes can have quite an impact on the various game elements and we need to get an idea how much work hours would be needed in production to work on an A or B solution.
So rest assured that this playtest was only the beginning and we will continue to get as much feedback as possible from you all in order to create the Anno 1800 you all deserve.

So as always, keep a close eye on announcements about further playtests in the upcoming year.

An exclusive look behind the scenes – the studio tour was a special highlight during the day.

Communtiy Update
We are currently preparing the next episode of our Anno Cast, which will take place this Thursday with a real world premiere: For the first time ever, we will show Anno 1800 live and in action!
So keep a cup of coffee ready and tune in this Thursday, 16:30 CET on: twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte

We will also provide a blog article with the embed stream, as usual.

Community Spotlight
As some of you might be already aware of, our community has moved to a new Discord channel. So let’s out the spotlight on Medaurus, Admin of the Annoverse fan Discord:

Hi all, we are Annoverse!
We are an English and German speaking Discord server, and our goal is to be a platform where Anno fans can discuss and connect. Our focus is not only on the newer Anno titles, as we have also many active fans of the classics Anno games. Here you can meet up for multiplayer sessions, share your works and achievements or work with other fans on solutions for any Anno relevant topic.
Other than Anno chatter, there is surely also space to talk about anything our community is also interested in.

You can find us under the following link: https://discord.gg/V4xhZ8Z

 

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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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