- Anno 1800
- Season 3
DevBlog: The Skyscrapers
The most prominent and central element of “The High Life” – both visually as well as from a gameplay perspective – of course is the Skyscrapers. So, in this first DevBlog for the upcoming DLC, let’s take a look at how the Skyscrapers came to be and which challenges we faced during development.
The topic of Skyscrapers came up when we initially started planning content for Season 3 and decided on the Old World focus. While “Docklands” and “Tourist Season” were supposed to be DLC to accompany and support Anno 1800’s midgame, “The High Life” would focus on the lategame with its Skyscrapers as a way to maximize population in existing cities – and without a need to expand further, going up instead of wide – and more needs to provide an additional challenge.
Skyscrapers – The historical references
Skyscrapers already visually present the start of different times – away from a city where buildings are not differing much in height, to the architectural challenges of constructing buildings multiple times the size of normal houses.
Let’s check with our Narrative Team, Game Writer Intern Lotta and Lead Narrative Designer Matt, for some historical context on the Skyscrapers first:
The High Life DLC is strongly inspired by the dawn of American Skyscraper construction during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, the arrival of the hydraulic elevator, and iron-framed buildings enabled these new feats of skyward construction.
Many of the early skyscrapers were built in New York and Chicago, spurred on by large-scale fires that destroyed existing housing, in combination with a population boom. The iconic look of the early skyscrapers was shaped by the Chicago school of architecture by combining the French Beaux-Arts or Renaissance style with practical and commercial elements. Influential examples include the 1908 Singer Tower, the 1910 Woolworth Building and of course the 1930 Empire State Building. Constructing these behemoths was a difficult and expensive undertaking and numerous unsung workers made them possible, many of them were Native American ironworkers, their hazardous work referred to as ‘walking iron.’
The points above might lead to a question we have seen occasionally pop up in discussions about “The High Life” across various channels: Does Anno 1800 slowly move forward in time in the course of its DLC? Aren’t skyscrapers too modern for a game titled “Anno 1800”?
Anno has always played fast and loose with time and connections to real history, spanning entire eras, which in our game go unaccounted (i.e., you don’t see any dates fly by as in titles that try somehow to simulate history). Of course, the downsides of this approach are exaggerated in Anno 1800’s century because there is so much rapid technological progress. We began with sail and ended with steam— but to tell the story of the industrial revolution, we had to make each resident tier feel like progress. Our production goods begin with fish and end with the first steam cars— so before we get to DLC we can say the game spans the entire 19th century, with “1800” as its starting point – which also nicely fits in with our tradition of having the checksum 9. What then are an extra few decades on top of that? Ultimately the passing of time is more connected to the resident tiers than the DLC, which is why the Skyline Tower at Tier 5 is one of the last things you are likely to build at this point.
The following graph visualizes this quite well – and does in fact date back to the time before Anno 1800’s release.
The visuals, creating the Skyscrapers
By now, you have already seen some concept art for the new Skyscrapers, so let’s talk visuals with Tim, our Lead Artist: Did you have specific inspirations for the skyscraper design? How did you make sure Investor and Engineer Skyscrapers are easily distinguishable?
The regular Investor and Engineer houses already have their own designs and color palette to be easily distinguishable. We just followed their rules for the design of the Skyscrapers to make sure on the one hand they are easily distinguishable and on the other hand, they are always fitting the design of the houses they’re placed on. When looking over your vertically expanded city after release, you shouldn’t have any troubles telling Engineers and Investors apart.
Additionally, we used a lot of old photographs and reference images of early skyscrapers (you can for example get some impressions on this Wikipedia page) to get some inspiration for their visual design.
Below you can find an early 3D blockout of the Engineer skyscraper we shared not too long ago.
A modular approach
The Skyscrapers in “The High Life” can be upgraded, having five levels total (or three, for the Engineers). Each level adds one “module” to the building, adding to its size and increasing the maximum population as well as the number of needs the residents have. These modules come in different shapes and sizes and are randomized when upgrading the building.
But: If you don’t like a specific module, you can simply change it by going into the customization menu of each building. The only restriction is, that you cannot add bigger modules on top of smaller ones – but the UI will tell you that when you start playing around with the system 😉
All this proved to be a challenge since a new system was required: This is the first time for Anno 1800 that you can build assets upwards. On top, it’s a modular system, which offers lots of different combinations. This system had a couple of new challenges for us to solve, graphical as well technical, like making sure the module system is working no matter which combination you will use.
New Mechanics & Challenges
Only offering an upgrade to your existing residences resulting in space for more people would be boring, of course. So, there are some challenges attached to it:
- Each building costs maintenance and especially the bigger ones can quickly become expensive.
- Counter this by making use of the Panorama Effect (see further below in this blog) where your skyscrapers receive buffs based on their placement and surroundings.
- And, of course, fulfill new needs with several new production chains and buildings to further increase resident numbers and tax revenue.
Phew, lots to keep an eye on – only to increase your population numbers? But no, aside from tax revenue, Skyscrapers also provide you with additional influence points depending on their level.
Talking with our Game Designers, the new systems did not come without their challenges during development: The way the game handled consumption turned out to be a problem when the same population class lives in different types of houses.
This is a premier for Anno 1800: With the old system of “one house type per tier” we could set the needs per population based on the house they would live in, so one residence would consume X amount of a specific good depending on the house type they live in (e.g. cause both Workers, as well as Artisans, consume Bread).
(That’s also the reason why Tourists are so hungry for Bread, one already eats for 500 people instantly – hungry fellows).
This was good because this reduced fluctuation in consumption. Upgrading a residence and unlocking a new good would instantly trigger the maximum demand and would not change until more houses are upgraded.
However, that had to change because of the Skyscrapers and the Skyline Tower: Both buildings can have their maximum population changed after being built (in contrast to regular residences) by getting additional needs added.
For you as the player, this has no impact on your gameplay experience: When we previously assumed “residence type X consumes Y amount of good Z”, we are now calculating the same consumption via the maximum possible population of said building by adding up the population each need provides (e.g. for Artisans we now calculate: 6 residents for Sausages + 6 for Bread + 4 for Soap + 4 for School + 4 for Canned Food + 2 for Sewing Machines + 2 for Fur Coats + 2 for University = 30 total. And those 30 people consume the previously mentioned goods by a certain factor). As you probably noticed, for regular residences the results are the same and we still assume this maximum number when you construct a residence or upgrade one. But a Skyscraper receiving new needs which increase the maximum population after being upgraded – that’s a different story.
In fact, we already did this kind of calculation whenever an item or buff increased the maximum population, basically an exception to the previous system.
To streamline it and cause we needed it for the new residences anyway, all residences now use this new calculation, making balancing the new features significantly easier for us, without causing any gameplay changes for you. So yes, a single Tourist will still eat cartloads of bread 🙂
Our Technical Test version had an in-between version of this system, so to speak. That resulted in, for example, instead of the intended 2.5t of toys for 100 skyscrapers level 5 (which can already be harsh) they actually needed 8.75t.
But despite this, you still unlocked the Skyline Tower, which greatly impressed us!
In addition to consumption, the maintenance costs of the Skyscrapers were another point of balancing.
During development and testing, we had both hard balancing (Dark Souls of city-builders!) and gentle balancing, but in the end, we found a compromise and even added a new difficulty setting, similar to the one for the Influence system, which lowers or increases the maintenance costs.
So now each game (including old save-games) can be customized according to your preferences.
A UI solution for Skyscrapers
Since both Engineer, as well as Investor residences, can be upgraded to Skyscrapers, Engineers, however, also have the upgrade option to Investors, we had to come up with a solution that allows you to choose either action. We tried two different variations, the classic and the split button. In the end, we decided to go with the split button as the information is more discoverable and consistent. Both buttons also have their own tooltips with additional gameplay information.
Not only the buttons but also the rest of the Skyscraper UI went through multiple iterations, like every time we have to design new UI elements. You can see some early tests for the UI below.
“We start our decision process with how prominent the information needs to be displayed. From there we try out layouts with different information hierarchies.”
– Farah, UI Designer
For example, in Variation B, the panorama and level information have the same priority as the upgrade button. Players could process the information faster when upgrading or downgrading the building, while variation C might have suggested a connection between the needs/happiness tabs and the panorama effect/skyscraper level below and was therefore discarded.
In addition to the split upgrade buttons in the building’s UI, you also have a separate general toggle that highlights all skyscrapers that can be upgraded – like you’re used to from the already existing upgrade button.
Another issue we ran into during development was the general size of the building’s object menu:
In the beginning, the height of the object menu is tailored to correspond with the number of residence needs. But due to the number of buffs players could potentially have with the new monument as well as the increased number of needs, the object menu grew so much in size it started overlapping with the speed bar in the top right corner. During our Technical Test, we received feedback that players want to see more needs simultaneously.
Our first solution was to keep the current size and implement a scroll bar. However, player feedback on the visibility of said bar eventually led to the decision to increase the number of columns for needs from two to three to fit all the new icons and thereby reduce the amount of scrolling players need to do.
One important thing to keep in mind when building and upgrading your Skyscrapers is the Panorama Effect. This effect gives a boost to your Skyscraper’s maximum number of residents, reduces maintenance costs, and provides bonus residents – as long as the skyscraper in question is not surrounded by other Skyscrapers of the same height or higher.
For you to quickly spot if nearby skyscrapers have a positive or negative influence on the Panorama Effect of the respective building when selecting it, we went for a color-coding solution: Positive influence is marked in green while a negative influence is marked in brown.
This was, however, not our first choice: We tested several different solutions before we ended up with the final version.
Initially, some icons were also tested on top of the skyscrapers, but these weren’t easy to match with the corresponding buildings, especially when zoomed out. We also tweaked the colors a few times, to indicate the positive/negative effects while also making sure it’s color-blind friendly and easily readable.
The panorama effect has a few more nuances and is of course also reflected in the building’s object menu as it comes in different intensities. More on that topic in the second DevBlog.
On that note, we’re at the end of the first of our two “The High Life” DevBlogs and have hopefully provided you some exciting insights into the development of the Skyscrapers! This leaves us with one final piece of information to share today: The release date! You can expect “The High Life” to release on Tuesday, August 31st, at 6 PM CEST (9 AM PST).
Do you still have more questions or want to know about a specific aspect of the Skyscrapers? Let us know!
*Please be aware that many screenshots or images in this DevBlog show “work in progress” states of the DLC and are not representative of the final version.