DevBlog: Building Blocks and Milestones
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.