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DevBlog: Building Blocks and Milestones

  • 07.09.2017

Have you ever wondered how game development is structured and how we work on certain features of the game?

To let you help us shape the future of Anno 1800, we will provide exclusive insights into how our team in Mainz works and with that, get you ready for future feedback sessions and playtests.

Concept phase
With our vision (outlined in this previous post), we had an idea about the game’s premise but the concept phase would help us to define what features the final game would need in order to achieve our goals. That process can take a while and involves a core team of experts, dedicating their time researching and designing the concept. There are creative aspects, game design elements and production steps, which ensure that our vision is achievable and feasible. Every game developer would love to create the biggest game ever seen, but we have to work within the boundaries of development time, work force and budget, with all of them being closely intertwined.

With our final concept for the game, we build our first playable prototype. Often called “vertical slice”, this first prototype helps to test if our concept works and if we are on the right track. With a complex project like a new Anno, which involves a big team of experts over many years, it is an important step to decide if we can start development with the current vision, or if we have to go back to the drawing board.

Pre-Alpha
While we announced the new title during Gamescom, the team started the actual development several months ago, with the pre-production phase. During this time, we take all the features and concepts from our vision to work on the foundation of the game.

So at what stage is Anno 1800 now? To be even more precise, we are right now in the pre-alpha state, which is when all building blocks of the early pre-production come together. During this time, the game is playable but usually in a very rough state and many features are still very bare bone or even placeholder. With the pre-alpha state, our goal is to achieve the full Alpha version of the game to follow up with a similar process for the Beta.

One example from our Milestone Meetings- a clip of one of the new ship assets in the game

Getting the game ready for the Alpha phase requires the manpower of the whole team. Game development is split into various disciplines – from concept to 3D artists, game designers, various coders (gameplay, engine, network etc.), writing and content creation, QA and many more. It would be too much to dive into that today, so we decided to dedicate some of our future DevBlogs to these various disciplines.

While talking about disciplines, it is the responsibility of the production team to oversee that process and to ensure that the work of all disciplines comes together. As the different development disciplines rely on each other’s work, the production team defines a roadmap to ensure that everything comes together at the right time.

To create the development roadmap for Anno 1800, they need to define the important parts to work on and ensure that the allocation of the workload is doable and fair. Our roadmap has set milestones, which are two-month long development cycles to check if we are on track with our development. Think about it like managing an extremely complex production pipeline in an Anno game.

And if you wondered about the header photo of today’s blog- at the end of each milestone, our team sits together for a two hour long meeting to through everything we achieved in the last two months.

To give you an idea about our latest achievements up to this milestone, we were busy creating ship assets and polishing the ship AI, the monument functionality is now working in a basic playable state, we had basic implementation for multiple savegames and did the groundwork for the AI construction behavior. In future development blogs, we will give you more insights into the current state of the various game elements.

Here is the same ship with a technology called cloth subsurface scattering enabled, allowing the sun to shine through the sails for a more realistic look

Playtesting and Feature collection
When we reach the Alpha milestone, feedback becomes a crucial part to further develop the game. And as you might imagine, the Anno Union will be a major factor to get that feedback.

Our Alpha goal is to see if the implemented content works, if we need to change/correct anything, if something is missing and if it feels great to play. Complexity and gameplay experience will also be focal points for the Anno Union.

During Alpha, we will perform frequent playtests in our own team as well as focus-tests and diary studies where we allow a small group of people to test the game. We will evaluate that feedback and perform feasibility checks to see if it is possible to implement certain suggestions and ideas into the game. Just changing existing content or even adding new features could lead us to cut down other content. For that reason, such checks are important to ensure that we stick to our design principles and vision for the game.

After implementation, we proceed with further playtests if the newly implemented features are working. That process continuous until we reach the release state of the game but changes in scope and focus during the Beta stage, where it is more about bug-testing and balancing.

How your feedback impacts development
Innovative features or major changes often cause discussion in our team and that is where Union feedback becomes incredibly valuable. With the ongoing series of developments blogs, we will give you details about such features and want you to help us making those hard decisions.

Here are three examples of how we gather your feedback:

Make your vote count
A straightforward process is to let you vote on a variety of different possibilities, which we will present you with a vote or survey. That gives us very specific data about content and features and the results will become a major deciding factor in our decision process.

Community creativity
The second way is a more creative approach, such as what kind of ideas do you get when we present you a certain feature. That allows us to see if we are on the right track of if we need to steer the ship into another direction. Sometimes, the result of that are creative ideas from our community, which might lead to feature or gameplay detail we never had in mind.

Answer focused questions
Finally, the third option is to ask you straight away for your suggestions and wishes. We will present you with a framework or scenario and ask you straight out for your feedback and ideas. Also here, we have to always evaluate and see if it fits our vision and design principles of the game. There is still a lot of room for creativity but is more focused.

What’s next
After we gathered all your feedback, our production team will have meetings and will perform further feasibility checks and evaluation. A lot of people working on the game and with such a large project, we have to work in the scope of our possibilities. We plan to give you more insights into the decision making process over time, as we plan to talk more about the state of the game in future update blogs.

And the Community Developer?
The Community Developer takes part in many of the mentioned development processes to ensure that we use your feedback to shape the game. To give you an idea, he will join production meetings, represents our communities in our milestones and provides feedback reports to the team. As communication is key, we placed him in the same room as our producers and our veteran Production Mascot Norbert. As our office plant Norbert has been part of the team for a long time now, he also gets a more prominent spot with more sunlight than our ComDev does.


Producers at work, with a healthy level of oxygen guaranteed by Norbert.

Comments

24 Comments
  1. r ruuti0

    Ships and ocean looked so good!

    Better than ever!

    We have gone long from Anno 1602 graphics 😀

  2. l laptopunder

    awesome post, you talked about Building Blocks and Milestones in this post. This process can take a while and involves a core team of experts, dedicating their time researching and designing the concept.http://laptopunder.net/

  3. V Vladimir1994r

    Хочется увидеть в Anno 1800 захват рынков городов с проработанной армией которой можно управлять как в Anno 1701. Чтобы во время пушечных залпов по городу население разбегалось. При обороне можно было занимать здания и из окон были видны ружья. Строительство оборонительных сооружений – окопы например.

  4. D Dutch_Paratroop

    Looks great!

    I have one small request that is unrelated to this post. I would aprreciate it if you kept the time messages. The little voice message that tell you “You have played X hours” or “how about a coffee” I alway appreciated these messages.

  5. A Arkenophas

    I was thinking, will there be a system of nations ? I can cite nations like America, England, France, and others, who each got their own innovations. Each nations can have her own bonus, and some specific buildings, and maybe can add some diversity in-game ^^

  6. p palemale53

    In 1701 or 1503 the residents start fighting when you push the tax into the the yellow zone. I enjoyed that. It will be nice if you do that in the new game.

  7. t teasercat

    I love this franchise. Perhaps game play could include piracy and plunder the other players with a goal to taking over their territories.

  8. S Soulridder

    Hi,

    the ship looks really nice, thought I am wondering about wether wind will play a role in the animation for the sails as this would look really cool and I guess it is not that hard as it’s basically just some vector applied to the sails?

    It also made fun to read this article and find out more about the process of Game Development with large teams. 😉

    I would also love to see some posts about the technical backend of the Game and the Engine, for example which programming languages are used and which tools are used etc.
    I know for example that most engines are writtin in C++ with DX and/or OpenGL/Vulkan, but also most engines have a second language and custom tools for the Game Designers to implement features easier.

    I would also like to find out about the military possibilities of Anno 1800 as I feel that those part of the Game was always a bit behind the rest of the Game. You could for example re-implement foot-troops like in Anno 1404, but this time with more controll over them like you have with ships in order for better strategies for land attacks. 😉

    To this site: Currently it looks great to me, thought sometimes the header photo and the first photo of the survey doesn’t load correctly while the rest loads perfectly. A reload of the site fixes this problem, thought.
    Browser: Vivaldi 1.11.917.43 (Stable channel) (64-bit)
    JavaScript V8 6.0.286.54
    (Note, Vivaldi is based on Chromium)

    Also the website shouldn’t state “Login for comments” at the top when you are alreadsy logged-in and when you have already registered for the playtests the “Register Here” button above the survey should be removed or replaced with some information stating that you are already registered.
    Also the ability to have push-notifications on this site would be nice. 🙂

    I guess this should be enough feedback for today. 😉
    Soulridder

  9. A Arkenophas

    I’m waiting to see the devblog of the 3D artist, as I want to do this job, it will be useful for me 😀 Nice idea to let us see how you work, and where you are in this fantastic project 🙂
    Long life to the ANNO serie and long life to Norbert !! :p

  10. B BiddinWar

    Have you decided how you’re going to lay out the complexity for production lines and the feedback on how much our population needs?

    Like, is it going to be just like in 2205 where you saw a number saying “+8” or “-2” with the extra menu showing how much you’re over/under what your population needs?
    Or is it going to be like 2070 where you only saw how much you had in storage and had to “guess” and or use calculators like “http://anno2070.atspace.eu/” to know how much you needed of a resource?

  11. f fredlangva

    Absolutely cracking on the ships.

    As a Sr Systems Architect, I am always interested on how others approach design decisions and implementation. There has been a lot of progress in software design since the first ANNO.

    I gather that you perhaps have rolled your own Game Engine instead of using one of the current favorites (Unity, Unreal, Banshee).

    I am looking forward to your dev blogs!

    • B BB_CR

      Indeed, Anno uses a proprietary engine developed by our team.

  12. D DoomDutch

    I have a question (and maybe a concern) regarding the Community Developer: Does he represent both the German and International communities?
    I know that the German community is much bigger than this one (international), and I noticed that international forum doesn’t get any activity (yet?) from the (Com)Devs.
    (While there is clear activity from the devs on the German forum.)

    • B Bastian Thun

      We have many passionate communities our there and they are all equally important to us. I create and handle all EN and DE content on the Union website. I also check both forums frequently. But it is not only the Community Developer taking care about community matters, we also have a dedicated Community team handling our forum and Social Media channels. Our Community Managers and representatives engage there and I will sometimes post if there is a specific topic where a response from the Community Developer is helpful. As I am also responsible for bringing the dev team up to speed about all your feedback and working on processes how to implement that in our production pipeline, I won’t be able to respond there all the time. For that reason, you won’t find too many posts from my account in the forum yet. However, I get reports from our community team about the engagement in the forum and it is important for us, that the EN forum gets the same treatment.

      We also talked about streaming and video content in the past: such content will be also mainly available in EN as we want to reach as many people as possible.

      Cheers,
      Basti

      • i iruet

        Well, overall it is strange towards people that don’t speak German, or not enough German, that there ain’t posts at the English forum… tbh, I would say, post all answers in English (also on the German forums), so everyone can understand what devs, managers and such say about the new game, especially if you just post it on one of the two forums and not on both…

        • B Bastian Thun

          I will have a look and see what we can improve there. In general: important information and community questions will be always answered via QnA blogs and future stream and video formats on the Anno Union website. Answers in the forum are aimed at very specific discussions from the community which might need clarification. Our main goal is that all Community relevant information and details are available here, as the Anno Union is our central hub for Anno fans.

          • A AgronaAlecto

            If you want to reach a more international audience, you should switch to 100% English.

            I understand Anno is German based, but unless non-German is only a very small percentage, you should switch to English. Everybody wants to follow the great things that are happening here. And I am sure 95% of your German customers can read/write English without ease.

            Don’t shut us out. Create an single English site and forum!
            Lets conquer the world!

          • i iruet

            Yup, that is what I meant, I do understand German, just don’t know how to say things, so writing aint German easy for me…. If I need clarification, I would have to ask on the English forums; where no-one from UBI/BB/MODs seems to react… I feel like you leave that part of the community out, next to that: If I look at the television, I only see advertisements from other companies, which concerns me, since anno has way more potential if more people would know about the game (especially the online version)

            I think that your playerbase could be way bigger by advertising more in other countries, yes I know this is not about Anno Union specific atm, but it might be something to consider when this game is out for the public ☺

            I like the idea of the blog though, it’s easy to read and not too hard to react ☻

  13. B BlueBreath

    Wonder if the wind plays a role in the game.

  14. t timhageman

    If the whole game looks like that, I might have to switch from my gaming laptop to a rendering cluster 🙂

  15. R RayoOyar

    Out of curiosity: how do you determine system requirements and all? I know they’re never shared until very late in the development process, and the renders of these ships look awesome already, so does that mean you first create the high-res textures and then “work down” until you find a balance between low system reqs and high-quality renders? Or am I thinking too simplistically?

  16. S S.A.S_Potato

    Damn, this game doesn’t need to be this beautiful. Im not complaining, just sayin’

    • T Twidlledee

      yeah I have high hopes for a deliciously complex anno game with the same feel as 1404. I would advocate for more complexity though.

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