Union Update: That was 2017!

Looking back on our journey, the last four month were an incredibly exciting and sometimes tense journey. The Anno Union started with a vision and like the great explorers of old, we always believed in our idea but nobody could foresee where the journey would lead us along the way.
The Anno Union is still sailing strong and we are confident that our fleet is on the right track, thanks to all the amazing support from our Anno fans.

We want to close the first chapter of the Anno union and the year 2017 with a short recap of everything that has happened so far. This was just the beginning, and we hope that you are as excited for 2018 as we are!  We will be back with new content for you all in January, and however you spend the festive season, we hope you will have a great time!

The great Gamescom Announcement
How would it turn out? We were confident that our fans would enjoy the 19th century setting of our new game, but the Anno Union was still a big experiment for us. And yes, I can tell you that seeing the positive reactions to the surprise announcements of Anno 1800 and the Union were quite the rush for all of us. However, it was only the opening salvo, and over the following weeks and months, we worked with you all to shape the Anno union into what it is today.

The spirit of the Union
To start things off, we had a lot of ground work to cover. Game development is a complex science, and even game ideas that are great on their own ill not necessarily result in a great game when combines with hundreds of others. Reacting to your questions, feedback and even skepticism was our answer and helped us to improve the program. It is an ongoing journey, where we listen and improve, while you react and inspire. As we are getting closer to our release, let us all push the Union forward together to become a great community hub even beyond the launch of Anno 1800.

DevBlogs – a look behind the curtain
Having exclusive looks behind the scenes is surely exciting but that was not our only intent. Game development is a complex task and an Anno title is a collaborative effort of a big development team. We have seen countless great ideas from our community but adding all of them to a game would end up in a development process, which would probably never end. So we decided to give you insights, explain how we set up our development roadmap, how we evaluate your feedback and even gave you a detailed look on the production processes.
From concept art to logistics, we will continue to give you more artistic and informative insights into Anno 1800 and its features. Of course, this important foundation will also give you the needed knowledge to impact development and it enables us to ask you, true Anno experts and veterans, for very specific feedback on certain game elements.

Alpha Cake! We got to treat ourselves sometimes, right?

Votes, Feedback and Improvements
With the Anno Union, we promised to give you exclusive insights in the development process while your feedback should help us to shape the game during development.
Not surprisingly, you definitely knew how to deliver on your end. In the first week alone, we received countless comments and feedback on our game direction and the Union. But how would your feedback actually improve the game?
With our first Vote, we had you decide about the last AI character in the game, while additional development votes would be our weapon of choice to let you have the final word on specific aspects of the game. As such, the first Union vote was only the kick-off, as we soon after decided to let you have more creative impact with the voting for the world fair event.
So Mr. Gasparov was first and it is safe to say that the visionary architect appreciates that you decided that the Urbanism Exhibition will be the fourth event for our world fair monument!

In the future, we want to mix things up further, ranging from votes where you help us decide on certain content to having an impact and influence on future votings.
With our blogs, you gave us constant quality feedback in our comments and started further discussions in our forums. Since then, that feedback has fueled our development meetings, from the production team discussing your ideas up to Union sentiment becoming constant topic in our big milestone and other team meetings.
While the Union greatly benefited the game from the get go, we will utilize that power in our communities even further with upcoming playtests and future improvements to the Union program.

The first stream
The idea for a stream was born in the early days of the Union but building the streaming room, working on a concept and finding ideas how we can talk about the development and show you the game was not always an easy task. There is one thing I have learned over the years: no matter how many times you setup a streaming room and prepare a show, something can and probably will go wrong.
But break a leg, the first AnnoCast was a well-received success and we knew that there is potential to talk about the state of the development and to show you the progress we made. This year was a test-run and with the latest reveal of gameplay, we look forward to upcoming episodes and further production updates. Besides the AnnoCast, we will also continue to celebrate anniversaries of a game series, which will already turn 20 in the upcoming year. There might be the one or another idea for a special episode?

Did you miss our big gameplay reveal stream? We got you covered!

Alpha and Union Playtest
Showing the state of the game is one thing but to let you actually play the game allows us to get pinpoint feedback on the game experience. And as we just achieved Alpha status with the game, we are ready to use that feedback to its full potential. Over the course of the next year, we will continue to utilize community feedback via the Union, forum, votes or surveys but the Alpha is also the time when feedback from Union playtests matter. So keep an eye on the Union for future updates about upcoming playtests and other events.

More to come…
The year 2017 already felt like a tour de force but things will get even more exciting next year, as every month will bring us closer to the long awaited launch. Beside continuous DevBlogs, streams and playtests, we want to improve existing formats and bring you new content to the Union. More support for fan projects, more ways for you to interact with us and to let your creative energy loose. The great entries to our story contest alone shows us that there is so much potential for great creations in the Union.

And in the spirit in the Union, where we all work together to create a true Anno game for the fans, what are your wishes and ideas for the Union in 2018? What was your favorite Union moment, what would you like to see us doing more or is there something we could improve or even which is currently missing? Share your thoughts about the start of our journey and things to come with us and we cannot wait to come back to you after the holiday season!

Happy Holidays,
Your Anno Team




DevBlog: Pushing carts

Anno is about building an empire, starting with just a handful of coins in your pocket and a few buildings in your newly founded settlement. It is a long road with many challenges to overcome but with skillful management, you will soon grow your city into an impressive metropolis. Seasoned Anno players might already know this of course, but efficient logistics is the key to a successful economy.
Today, our Senior Game Designer Christian opens his ledgers and gives you an exclusive look at the logistics system in Anno 1800, including interesting insights for both experienced economists and new players taking their first steps into the world of Anno alike.

Hi my name is Christian and I am Game Designer for Anno 1800. I joined the team for the production of Anno 2070 and have since then worked on all following Anno titles. My job is to work on the core economical parts of Anno 1800 and I am excited to give you a little glimpse into our logistics system!

Your economy’s pounding heart
If you break it down to a very basic level, logistics is the system of transportation of goods. In Anno, it is a complex system of interacting cogs in a wheel, powering your economy in order to build, maintain, and expand your city.

Whether you are the min-maxing perfectionist or a beauty builder who wants to create the most picturesque cities, meeting your citizens’ ever-increasing demands for goods and resources is at the very heart of the Anno gameplay formula.

Of course, many of our players want to go beyond simply meeting those demands and instead take pride in perfecting their logistics to build massive empires with huge production lines and dozens of trade routes. That just shows what a massive and complex topic logistics is in an Anno game, so we will focus on the transportation of goods on your main island for today’s DevBlog. Of course, trade routes will play an important role in Anno 1800 as well, but we will save that topic for another day.

Let’s get visual, the returning of physical goods
In the last Anno game, the position of the goods on the map or their distance to the next production building was largely irrelevant. This will drastically change with Anno 1800, as physical goods celebrate their comeback to the series, and in doing so bumping up the complexity of gameplay that many of you have asked for.

To make that possible, the game needs to be able to measure the distance to a building and other targets, while taking the current location of the goods into account. This is once again all visually represented in the game world, allowing you to follow your wares’ cart journey from production to warehouse; this helps to immerse players in the world, but also to make logistics easier to grasp through visualization. And of course, it really adds to that crowded and lively feeling that you expect from a flourishing Anno city!

Cart pushers, carriages and smart decisions
In order to optimize your economy, you have to keep a keen eye on your production chain to ensure that all goods find their way through your thoughtfully created street layout. We all know that this can be a rather demanding task; building a complex production chain, ensuring that all goods find their destination and identifying blockers when there is a sudden shortcoming of resources.

To explain some of these concepts better, let us look at a typical production chain in Anno 1800: steel production.
Our newly built smelter is ready for production but in order to fuel our steel industry, we need to ensure that it gets a steady supply of coal and iron ore. Luckily, a charcoal burner is close by and cart pushers ensure that the coal finds its way directly to the smelter.

If the smelter is sufficiently stocked with coal, or if there is a general overhead production of coal, it will instead direct the goods to the warehouse for storage (unless there is some other immediate demand for it in the vicinity). This is where horse-drawn carriages come into play. While it is the job of a cart pusher to deliver resources from one production building to another, the carriages loads up excess production to bring it to a warehouse for storage.

As mentioned before, our logistics system checks the shortest way between a supplier and your production buildings. The basic rule for efficient delivery is that – in order to reduce bottlenecks – emptying your storage has the highest priority. In our given example, the charcoal burner detects that there is a demand for coal nearby and sends a cart pusher to the smelter instead to the nearest warehouse. The game will also decide if it sends out goods before the cart is fully loaded to fulfill demands or if it would be more efficient to wait until it has loaded more before sending the delivery.

So what are these decisions based on? Deliveries are prioritized by the necessary travel distance on streets. To help with planning, you can see a building’s “reach” on the map. Upgrading your streets from a muddy path to proper cobblestone will increase speed, which furthermore means that a production building might be capable of reaching facilities in corners that may have been too far away to reach previously.

Wonders of the industrial revolution (pre-alpha)

Warehouse and queue management
Our goal is to give you more options when designing your city, from optimized street layouts to the decisions on where to put your manufacturing districts.

We added a new layer to the warehouse itself, which now has a loading and delivery bay. As more transporters try to access the warehouse, it will get crowded outside, which can lead to a delay of the loading process. When too many carriages try to store resources and goods in the same warehouse, you will be able to see how they queue up in front of the loading bay. However, don’t worry about traffic jams on your streets, as this will only affect the warehouse gates.
Transporters also check the nearby warehouses and might prioritize a warehouse with less traffic, if it would result in an overall shorter delivery time.

This will all be represented in the warehouse menu, where you can see detailed information about delivery and loading processes, as well as the actual goods in storage. As your progress through the game, you will also be able to upgrade your warehouse to increase the number of loading bays, allowing more carts to be serviced, simultaneously.

Depots will further increase the islands storage limit but will not have an effect on loading and delivery. These will come in handy when you expand your empire and establish trade routes. Warehouses themselves share one island bound storage, where all stored resources on your island will be accessible from any of your warehouses. This is still an experimental new feature we are working on, but we are so far quite happy with it and hope the additional visual feedback not only makes it easier to understand, but also adds some additional entertainment.

With Anno 1800, we want to create a complex logistics system while enhancing the visibility and readability. Added options will be a welcome addition for Anno veterans while making it stays comprehensible even for new players.

Somebody should tell them how to queue up properly (pre-alpha)

What’s the deal with trains?
We also know that there is one specific topic where you are thirsty for details: the trains, relentless steel horses of the industrial revolution. The train feature is not 100% set in stone yet, and we are currently evaluating some possible design scenarios for how trains could work in Anno 1800.

We have many ideas on how we could implement trains into the game and we want trains to reflect the advancement of the industrial age. Trains presented a reliable new way to transport tons of goods over long distances, overcoming one of the major hurdles that threatened the progress of the industrial revolution.
It is a complex topic and of course, we want feedback from you, the Anno Union. With this logistics DevBlog, it was also our intention to explain some of our underlying systems in order to give you the knowledge to give feedback on potential train gameplay designs.

We are looking forward to reading your comments and are curious to see what you think of the logistics in Anno 1800.

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


Interview with the illustrious Artur Gasparov

It was an exciting election, with the crème de la crème of Anno’s aspiring governors coming together to fight for your vote during the big Anno Union NPC election. Without a doubt, it was the visionary Artur Gasparov who took your collective hearts by storm, but not without some controversy. Several months have passed since then and we finally managed to get Mr. Gasparov agreeing to an exclusive Anno Union interview.

Before we have a chance to sit down and talk, Mr. Gasparov gets the obligatory tour of the studio. Disappointed by the lack of notable architectural features, he shows me his chin. As I pass Mr. Gasparov a mug of machine coffee in the hope it soothes him, I begin to get a sense of the person behind the opulent facade.
Basti: Mr. Gasparov, you’ve been elected by the Anno Union to join the ranks of AI characters. It was a tough competition, was it not?
Artur Gasparov: Not at all – I was streets ahead from the start. You would call it a landslide victory, but to me, it is altogether more dignified. To be honest, I am a little piqued not to have been among the original cast of characters – I am after all, the embodiment of originality. But…vox populi, and now I am their god elect!

BT: What should players expect from you?
AG: Demolition! Hoping to compete with the finest architect and city-planner in the entire Empire? They must be completely cuckoo! I will create the grandest, most sumptuous metropolis ever beheld by human eyes! My people will share my intense dedication to this vision, or else be made to! I will level any mountain that blocks my path! And if some interfering human player tries the same, rest assured, I shall make a great exhibition of them!

BT: Sounds like you have an aggressive, even militant outlook?
AG: No, no! I am a friend to all who treat me with due deference. Those who respect me, who fulfil my wishes, shall be rewarded appropriately! ‘Though of course, a chance to assist me is itself, the highest of rewards.

BT: Wow, that’s great. So do you know yet if there will be another member of the Jorgensen family in ANNO 1800?
AG: What?! I am here to talk about me – my divine draughtsmanship! What is this obsession with the numbskull Jorgensens? The Gasparov family tree goes back aeons – generation after generation of the Empire’s most enigmatic and impressive personages. Why does nobody inquire after my noble bloodline?

BT: Moving on swiftly-
AG: -do not sweep my heritage under your cheap rug!

BT: We don’t have rugs at Bluebyte.
AG: So I see, and no drapes, no plaster of Paris, no fluting, nor filigree.

BT: It’s great to meet someone who can open our eyes to art.

AG: Art cannot be seen, if it has not been lived! It is not enough to have a vision – one must be a vision!

BT: And what does this vision mean for the ordinary people?
AG: Ordinary people? Oh yes of course. The more ordinary the better! They will have an impossible amount of work to complete, in a ridiculously short amount of time, if we are to capture the spirit of the age.

BT: And what to you is the spirit of the age?
AG: Architectural Eclecticism.

BT: Care to elaborate?
AG: Always.

BT: Ok…that’s great. What about industrialization in the era, isn’t that a problem for an aesthete like you?
AG: A great problem! I need industry, furnaces to cast my elegy in fire. But such monstrous eyesores must be hidden in the hills! Why, oh why, must chimneys belch and fug my life?! Or warehouses weather me away like a church gargoyle? Why do mistuned orchestras of manufacture drown out their diva? This is the oily slick that smears my reflection in the pond, leaving my love for myself to go unrequited.

BT: Oh I think I hear the horse and carriage drawing up outside, how unfortunate. Thank you so much for your time Mr. Gasparov.
AG: Time is a precious commodity, even for the immortal.

We hoped you liked our interview- but entertainment was not our only intention! Anno is about more than just building cities; our goal is to immerse you in the industrial age with Interesting characters and a well-crafted narrative. Now, we want to hand the torch over to you in order light your creative minds in our first Anno Union story contest!

We want your take on the big Anno Union NPC vote, written in the role of the governor of your own island paradise. Whether it is a personal role-play style letter, your own newspaper article or even a whole story about how you perceived and react to the results of the election, we leave it to your imagination and creativity!

The contest begins today and will end January 15th. At the end of the vote, we will pick the best three entries by early February. The form, length and whether you want to support it with some visual assets is entirely up to you. You can create your story either in English or German.

You can enter your stories in our Writing Contest thread in the Ubisoft forum: https://forums.ubi.com/showthread.php/1801690

The best three stories win a spotlight on the Anno Union and one of the following prices:
Place One: Signed Collector’s Edition of a previous Anno game
Place Two: Anno Goodie Bag, including some signed swag
Place Three: Game signed by the development team

Union Update: Playtest and AnnoCast

While blogs are a great way for you to get insider information about the development and for us to get your immediate feedback, we also need to know how the game actually feels and plays when gamers get their hands on Anno 1800.

That is why our second Anno Union Playtest will happen this week, with a small group of active Union members visiting us here in Mainz to share their feedback about the Anno 1800 gameplay in its current state. Expect coverage about that playtest with next week’s Union Update.
This Anno Union playtest marks only the beginning: From next year on, we want to give more Union members the chance to get their hands on the game, whether it is another on-site event with a small group of players, diary studies or larger online tests where you can participate from the comfort of your own homes.

So keep an eye on future news about upcoming playtests, and keep in mind that being an active and constructive member of the Anno Union is the best way to get an invitation to one of the playtests. We also might leverage some ideas from the Union for future tests, such as an application process to identify potential candidates.

Anno 1800 Livestream: 14th December at 4:30 PM
The end of the first year of the Anno Union draws near, but we wouldn’t want to leave you without some more streaming goodness.  And this time, we will not only talk some more about the game, but it will in fact be the very first time we actually show Anno 1800 live gameplay.
Turns out that, except for some prototype footage and some small clips and screenshots here in the Union, we haven’t actually shown any gameplay at all so far, so we should maybe make amends here.

We will as always provide you an article with the embed Twitch stream shortly before it starts, and if you will not be able to join us, we will of course provide a summary and a link to the show the week after.

AnnoCast 02 will air next week Thursday, 14th December at 4:30 PM CET on twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte

Vote Closing next week
With over 2000 votes, it’s time to finish up our vote for the world fair event. You completely forgot to leave your vote? Then consider this your last call to make your voice count before we close the community vote upcoming Monday. As there are only a few weeks left until the end of the year, expect the next vote to hit the Anno Union early 2018.

Talking of votes, how about we leave you with a small teaser: we bet you still remember our first big vote and its winner, the visionary Artur Gasparov. Well, while he was quite busy after an exhausting election, we managed to steal a bit of his attention for this week’s DevBlog.

As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.


Community QnA

We are still missing some information about the military system and I would like to get the bigger picture (just as an example, how will the takeover of an enemy harbor will look like?). Only then will I be able to share my opinion about the ground units. Maybe share more information first before you discuss things internally?

Basti: Feedback is an important driving force for us but we also need to get the greater picture. For that reason, we often have to discuss certain aspects in the production team first. We understand that especially after the military blogs, you direly want more information. You have to be a bit patient with us for a moment but rest assure that we will come back with further details regarding military.

I always loved the Postcard Mode and used it a lot, especially when I managed to get one of the animals in Anno 1404.

Basti: The postcard mode will be back in Anno 1800 and we can’t wait to see all your creative energy when it comes to Anno panorama pictures.

I have always been very interested in the process by which “assets” are created. I was particularly interested in how you achieve such a detailed texture while not sucking the life out of my poor PC. Is there any chance of a time-lapse video of this process, of taking the concept and making these fabulous buildings in an Anno game? Pretty please …
This may be a big ask, but I would love to see more videos regarding the development of 3D assets.

Basti: Even smaller videos take some to time create but we will see that we can spice up future articles with more video content. Time lapse videos are even more difficulty but let us see if we can find a volunteer in the team for that.

Will there be unicorns?

Basti: I know exactly why you ask that so…..no comment 😀