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DevBlog: Anno 1701 – Back to the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

9 Comments

  1. ruuti0 ruuti0

    Very interesting tecnical information on Anno 1701. I myself study Computer Science and have done some programming so getting this kind of more technical information and stories are very interesting!

    Hopefully war play bigger role in Anno 1800, Anno War sounded also very interesting!

    Good works guys! Keep it coming! 🙂

  2. Soulridder Soulridder

    Sadly I missed the live stream yesterday (so watching it now), but interesting article. 😉
    Interesting that such a small thing in the pathfinding (with the cart drivers) can break everything. xD
    Isn’t/Wasn’t it a bit overcomplicated with the terrain engine beeing an engine inside of an engine?

    I’m wondering if we can see in Anno 1800 cart drivers which work like in the real world with traffic lanes (Fahrstreifen) for each direction. I always wanted such a feature in Anno.

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  3. diddle783 diddle783

    thanks for this blog, so fun to go back..i loved to play this game for hours and hours and it is a pitty that the game on disk is not working anymore since windows 10 🙁

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  4. AmpeImann AmpeImann

    So cool to get a glimpse or the technical achievements of the past. Thanks for putting this together!

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