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DevBlog: Truth or Fiction

As previously announced, we want to use these DevBlogs to give the Anno Union community an opportunity to learn about various team members’ work, and some of the considerations going into it. For today’s entry, we have drafted our Game Writer Matt Cook to explain how Anno cares about history without being historically accurate:

Hi, I am Matt- Game Writer, former Brit turned European, and new to the Anno-Team. Welcome to my world! A world a bit like our own, but then, not quite…

A history in broad strokes

Anno’s world is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of mercantilism, in which time, place and identity blur. Yet we expect the game as a whole to define the 19th century as an era of industry, discovery and revolution.

Some of you wonder if real historical figures will appear in our game. The short answer is no. The long answer is that this has never been the Anno way. It shows how inspiring and evocative this era is however, that people have already come up with so many good suggestions for historic personalities they would like to see.

A matter of opinion of course, but I often find divergence from history, and anachronism jarring in games (unless of course this is a conscious choice) – and by parallel and parody, Anno has always sought to avoid this. For example, Napoleon and Queen Victoria will not appear in person in Anno 1800, but you may find their personalities and even their appearances very much alive there.

Playing Anno 1404 as part of my devilish indoctrination into the cult of Anno, I was struck by how close the AI personalities were to satire and caricature. I can’t help feeling Anno characters are at their best when they have that boldness, even if it means humor has realism by the throat.

Anno Character Characteristics
Take the characters in our recent poll; a blend of archetypal and specific people from the period. Somehow they are larger than life, while still remaining unique. I like them all, but the Occultist is my favorite. She really captures the spirit (!) of an era in which rationalism and romanticism meet. Think Verne, Shelley, Dickens and all the rest – Anno could touch upon the curious, the mysterious, even the supernatural – as well as the productive, grounded core we know and love.

I’d be very interested to hear in the comments how you feel about such possibilities, because 19th century people were fascinated by the unexplained. Keep in mind that “unexplained” is a key word. The intention with Anno is always to create a believable, substantial world based on (albeit cherry-picked) historical fact, and we would always be careful never to cross the line into fantasy. But think for example about the emergence of forms of entertainment such as stage conjuring, or how some claim to have caught fairies on photograph, or sailors returning from sea voyages with tall stories, and you get the general idea. How conservative or brave should we be?

A History of our own
Besides anything else, Anno has its own tradition when it comes to the setting: the recurring characters, like a reassuringly gentle Jorgensen in every iteration, or the different guises of our stalwart fish and ships over the years.

Perhaps Goldfurt was your best island ever. Perhaps Lord Richard Northburgh was the sort of person you’d hope to meet in a world as dark and cruel as 1404. Anno has every reason to remain true to itself, and some of that history will not be lost or forgotten in Anno 1800.

Anno: A study.
But does all this “vagueness” about history mean that we aren’t meticulous about detail? Of course not. You can’t create any kind of world (ask any writer worth their salt) if you fail to research your inspiration, which when coupled with imagination, creates a tangible and plausible sense of place. The labor movement, the industrial revolution and other sweeping changes the world witnessed in this remarkable century, are already a huge part of the game.

In our researches at the Mainz studio, we also profit from a collaboration with our colleagues around Ubisoft, who are helping us to steep the game in real history. Alongside the detailed visuals, we believe the atmosphere and narrative will have those with an interest in the period smiling sagely at all the little references, as their picturesque settlements become vibrant metropolises.

So what do you imagine?
As a writer, I am curious as to what ideas the era conjures up for you. What was your first thought on seeing the announcement of Anno 1800? Which event, theme or even personality was your first association for the 19th century? I am looking forward to your comments, and indeed to talking with you all again in the near future.

Matt

23 Comments

  1. nanomega nanomega

    I’m probably a little late but I post.
    Sorry for my low level in English.

    I loved the character of Lord Northburg and I was a little sad not to have known a little more about the character, his life, his projects, his way of thinking, … Because he had accompanied me all along of adventure, he was a charitable person and I really wanted to help him finish his cathedral! I was really attached to him. I would have liked to know him more.
    Maybe in Anno 1800, will there be such an endearing character and whose story will be a little deeper to fully enjoy a complicity?
    I think of a character resembling Talleyrand. You can take inspiration from Talleyrand for a character who is always everywhere, an adviser to all governments, who met many European ambassadors during alliances and even had an armistice signed, … He is a character who would be cultivated and careful who would know many things about the world of the 19th century, as much on the successes as the drifts and the traps of this splendid time. I would also like this character to accompany me in my efforts and advise me. That’s right Richard Northburg misses me …

    When I think of the 19th century, I think of historical figures such as: Napoleon, Garibaldi, Simon Bolivar (very interesting person!), Charles Dickens, and many others …
    It reminds me of the French Revolution, the “Enlightenment”, industrial revolution, colonialism, liberalism, royalism, great expeditions, “national” consciousness, the need for a “nation-state”, and more. ..

    I thank you for taking a look at my post hoping not to delay. I admit to being very excited by the release of Anno 1800 and I am really tempted to preorder.

    Good luck to the whole team. You are doing great work! 🙂

    (Do not hesitate to contact me if you want ideas of side quests, stories, small scenarios: I love to write and invent stories / scenarios, it would be with great pleasure!)

  2. ruuti0 ruuti0

    Very interesting article!

    Keep up good work! 🙂

  3. Hannover8 Hannover8

    When I first saw his title; I thought of a fresh Victorian setting.
    True that industrialization makes up a huge chunk for this period; smoke factories, mass production, even some steampunk..
    But what if we avoided that? And kept a cleaner way of production? The planet wouldn’t suffer as much as it does now with all the climatic issues.

    Since we can’t change our past, I’d love to enjoy virtually a world where things were more pleasant and less about “innovations” that could’ve ruined us.

    Stunning detailed architecture, grand palaces, parks, green pastures for picnics and kids flying their kites. I’m loving what I’ve been seeing so far, and give you many thanks!

  4. wing_hu wing_hu

    > former Brit turned European

    School was long time ago, but I thought Brits are Europeans.

    Anyway, so far the game looks great! My only concern is the genre. I hope so much that you won’t turn in into a steampunk game with those silly machines. The Victorian / industrial era is soooo interesting on its own and there is really no need to mock its achievements with childish and stupid clothes and steam machines that never existed.

    The Victorian era Assassin’s Creed game made a great example that you don’t need steampunk to have a great atmosphere.

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  5. Mendahor Mendahor

    As a french, Napoleon was the first person I thinked about. If you don’t want to be “historically accurate”, or if you think about “XIX century” when you say “1800”, why not include America history ? With a faction of Cowboys and Indians, West conquest, Gold rush, The Civil War (secession war with nordists and sudists), railroads, with NPC inspired by Davy Crockett, Geronimo, the Dalton’s, and even maybe a cowboy that shoot faster than his shadow… You just included Abraham Lincoln with the Visionnary, maybe could we play his faction ?

  6. Mr_Boatyface Mr_Boatyface

    When I saw that Anno 1800 would be launched, I immediately associated it with the rise of the modern industrial world and the fact that many people that lived in agrarian communities were pushed towards the cities to find work, since the agrarian world already was pretty industrialised (although steam engines lacked).

    Perhaps that could be implemented in the game. Could it be possible to let the player, for instance, build artisan workshops in the early game, and then give the opportunity to build factories in the later game, after reaching a certain civilisation level? These factories will work faster than artisan workshops, but require more raw
    materials to keep production up, as well as some kind of fuel (and higher maintainance costs of course).

    It might be exciting to see how small cottage industies slowly leave the field, and are replaced by mighty and high-rising factories that pose the challenge of constantly having enough raw materials for them.

  7. Mendahor Mendahor

    My voice came to the Occultist. The others are too “stereotyped”, and I would prefer not to see another NPC like the one who is on the moon in 2205 (can’t even remember his name, he’s too soul-less, uninteresting, and for me that don’t play the military maps, nearly non-existant).

    I love the pirate from 1404 (Hassan Ben Saïd in French version). He has a huge personnality, we can interact with him, has really funny sentences.

    Now the fact is that the Occultist is out of the podium. But wait, does an “occultist” has to own an island ? I don’t think so, he would better hide, as a leader of secret society would do. So why don’t integrate this NPC as a quest master ?

    For exemple,one day, as you take a closer look at your city, you note that you have some houses with candles (or anything else letting think about a sect) at the windows. The number of candleded house grows as you don’t do anything, then you note that people walking in your city started to wear some mask/mantle/bagde/anything else distinguishing, and some of the citizen sentences change to tell about someone called the Occulist.

    From this point, when you click on one of these citizens, they can propose you a quest with, in addition of ignoring it, 2 differents goals to choose (for exemple : move a stock building far away a police station and increase some goods stock for a while in order to let the Occultist faction steal it, or at the opposite, choose to keep this goods stock under a given level for a while, in order to make impossible for them to steal it… )

    You could choose your side (with or against the Occultist) and that could have impact on gameplay, and/or on graphics : you could gain/loose access to a rare resource, gain/loose a bonus on mining another one (they took the control of the mine), gain/loose popularity with another AI NPC without any explanation (some are on the Occultist side, some against, some don’t mind). You could gain access to an Occultist monument that lower the citizen need of one resource) but with a drawback (the need of another one increase, or they need a new resource, for exemple ckicken to sacrifice).. Graphic impact could be 75% of the citizen designed differently, and/or houses designed differently.

    The other idea behind this suggestion is to bring back players to zoom in their city : 1404 cities requested us to quickly search and catch the spy, in 2070 cities we had to search in our cities for someone. But in 2205, the only things to find were outside the cities… Whatever brings you out of your city decrease the player interest for this city.

    Note that this is only my opinion, but that’s what you want, don’t you ? 🙂

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  8. Twidlledee Twidlledee

    What I have already appreciated about the Anno series is the sense of being in charge and forging something new. I appreciate the realism of the time and how systems of trade and city life all converge in these games. If there was actual historical input it would feel controlling. By having characters that are stereotypes of the era, you get a feel like you are away from the bickering of the major players like England or France or America or Spain. You feel free and unshackled by that.

  9. Prince_Diego Prince_Diego

    I think of a clash between old world and new world. Modern technology and industry clashing with monarchies and empires. I think it would be great to include some of that characterization in Anno 1800, a few AI personalities that represent the old way of doing things, contrasted by upcoming inventors and men of science.

    Victorian era drips of steamships, trains and factories. But there was also another important development, the first automobiles. I think it’d be great to include automobiles (even if it’s just the highest level population driving them around slowly on city streets).

    I’m also really glad you talked about the humor and satire/caricature of the Anno series. I was recently watching the 1602 AD credits, and the humor in all the roles of the townspeople made it one of the most memorable games for me. I hope we get that sense of humor woven deeply into the characters in Anno 1800, beyond the main AI faction leaders (the random comments as people walk around the town, the animations of some stage magician, a newspaper boy shouting funny headlines, etc).

  10. Soulridder Soulridder

    In the 19th century lots of factories got build, which leads me to wonder wether all that grey smoke will be there in Anno 1800. I’m thinking there a bit of the Tycoons of Anno 2070 with there grey islands and all of the smoke there produces. I guess having all of the smoke and maybe even something similiar to the effect the Tycoons causes on their islands with all those factories would definitely give you more of the feeling that you are in the 19th century.

    So will this be in Anno 1800???

    _______________________________________________________________________________
    What I think when I think about the era? Well, all that smoke from above and dark gray cities when there are lots of factories nearby. Also not much space for the workers to life, the labor movement and lots of great inventions. I guess if done right the research part of Anno 1800 could be so cool, but before commenting to this, I’m waiting to see with what ideas you come up about research.

  11. Arkenophas Arkenophas

    First thing I thought when I saw the trailer was about the industry. A century of innovation and discovery !
    I like you prefered not not include historical people in the scenario of this ANNO, it will be hard to make their history fit with the game :/

  12. Swimming-Paul Swimming-Paul

    My first thought when I saw the announcement was all the iron architecture from the 19th Century: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Crystal Palace in London… I really hope that we will get more than one monument in this game, because there were some really impressive buildings in that century.
    I am very happy with the artwork included in this post! It´s not only extremely beautiful, but is it also hinting that we´re going to be able to produce bicycles in the game? 🙂

  13. BertProesmans BertProesmans

    I totally agree with the personality assessment. Defining and cementing the setting for the game seems to be already figured out. Hopefully the visuals and audio will harmonize well!

    Now that the ‘little references’ are called out i’m actually embarrassed i haven’t had any clue about emerging topics/people; it makes me feel i was too young for playing Anno when i did?

    Thumbs up for the overall writing style of this article. It’s a really good, meticulous piece of work!

  14. palemale53 palemale53

    Great scientists and engineers, like Faraday, Maxwell and Brunel. Sorry to be so Anglocentric, but these are the ones I can think of. Mathematicians of course, like Riemann and Poincaré.

  15. RayoOyar RayoOyar

    The emergence of forms of entertainment such as stage conjuring, or how some claim to have caught fairies on photograph, or sailors returning from sea voyages with tall stories sound super fitting! You say you’re unsure, but I think you know how to balance realism and ‘magic’ well. This post made me think of old Hekata, for example, or Istar’s Labyrinth, which were in my opinion great additions to a game that was mostly grounded in realism.

    And even though it was hardly a surprise, the implication of a new Jorgensen made my day :). Even though for Anno 1800 you sadly won’t be able to bring Trenchcoat back (or so I guess, haha), I’m already looking forward to the inside jokes!

  16. RabbitOfRivia RabbitOfRivia

    The first theme I thought of was Scientific discovery.

    The 19th century was the century of industrialization and rapid scientific development. Universities were on the rise and became more and more important in western society.
    Therefore I’d love to see research and development as one of the key principles in the game. I loved the possibilities in the older annos to research via schools and universities and also the laboratories in 2070 (and i am always a fan of huge tech trees).

    My idea was to implement an additional personality like the emperor, that doesnt directly trade and compete with you. By that I mean that once you build your first university a famous professor takes the lead of your university and therefore your research and development. He gives you council, missions and so on.

  17. Olinater Olinater

    Railroads and steam(ships) were my first thoughts. Also the huge growth of population. And as said by Carlctrl, I’m really curious in how railroads could be implemented in the game. Would love to see them.

  18. Carlctrl Carlctrl

    You ask about my first thought: 19th century mixed with a game about trade and logistics, Railroads! Im not sure how you could incorporate that on an archipelago, but i would love to see a rail network in the game somehow.

  19. palemale53 palemale53

    My impression of the 19th century? The Napoleonic war and Beethoven; the year of revolutions and the first trans-Atlantic cable; dark satanic mills and Impressionism; daguerreotype images of stern matrons.

  20. iruet iruet

    What was your first thought when you saw the announcement of Anno 1800?
    I was excited, because it is a great franchise. I personally prefer the Online edition over all offline editions, but what I have seen so far made me doubt about that 🙂
    Which event, theme or even personality was your first association for the 19th century?
    I thought about the worldwide events where things like the Eiffel tower and the Atomium in Bruxelles were build. I’d love to see such stuff ingame as monuments 🙂

  21. diddle783 diddle783

    When i saw the announcement i was kind of jumping..new anno game and as it looks now it will go back to the originals again ( i loved to play them)..the boat arriving in the first trailer looked awesome and so 19th century..i hope the devs will also let people walk with umbrella’s for the sun 😉

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