DevBlog: The Art of War I
You have asked in countless comments and forum posts for more details on the military aspects of Anno 1800. As announced earlier this month, our Creative Director Dirk Riegert will tackle this topic in an in-depth DevBlog. In fact, it ended up being so in-depth that we decided to split it up into two parts! Today’s Part 1 looks back at the history of the military across the various Anno games, while next week’s follow-up will explain how we will handle it in Anno 1800. Enjoy!
The military aspect of Anno games and its interesting history. It was only a few years back that I learned, during a lovely chat with one of the original Anno creators at Max Design, that Anno 1602 was originally not even supposed to have any combat elements whatsoever. It was only shortly prior to release that they changed their mind and ended up integrating a trimmed down real-time strategy (RTS) aspect into the game. Even then, they were not sure if they would bring combat back for any of the eventual sequels. But of course, they did, what started as a last-second addition turned into a series regular.
This anecdote helps to illustrate two things: firstly, that combat was not part of the original idea for Anno, which helps to explain some of the conceptual challenges with it that every game in the series has since faced. Secondly, it shows that despite all these challenges, combat has still managed to become an important aspect in every one of the Anno games.
Why is military important for Anno?
At its core, Anno is a rather peaceful and serene game, with an optimistic and upbeat outlook. While the world seems familiar, it is also idealized; you could easily be forgiven for thinking that combat feels out of place in such a world.
Whether in the past or the future, the art of war has always been a part of Anno
During several surveys, we identified three major ways how players approached combat, each of which questioned tens of thousands of Anno players at various times (ranging from all the way back to the development of Anno 1701, to shortly after the release of Anno 2070).
And indeed, the majority of our players (between 45-55%) prefer an ostensibly peaceful approach to playing Anno, with very few skirmishes at sea (those pesky pirates…), while avoiding any planned-out warfare. Another big group of players (35-45%) prefers a more flexible approach, where things can be resolved peacefully or turn to war, depending on the situation at hand. Finally, we have a small group of players (5-15%) who feel that large-scale warfare is that extra something and who prefer to permanently get rid of their opposition.
A policy of deterrence
Things get more interesting once we take a closer look, however. While we had some players who wanted to avoid any kind of conflict via game settings (an option that will once again be available in Anno 1800), the military feature in general seemed to be of importance for many of our players, despite their stated playstyle preferences. In other words, even those players who preferred not to use combat in the game feel that warfare is an important part of Anno. But why is that so?
The answer to that question lies in the overall “feeling” of Anno. The presence of the military and warfare in the peaceful Anno world increases the realism and believability, topics that have always been very important to Anno players. Even many of those players, who would never declare war themselves and who prefer playing with more passive AI characters, like the notion that war could be a potential consequence of their actions. These players view peace as an active process; the direct result of their behavior towards other players, be they human or AI-driven. The knowledge that war could break out is a deterrent to many players and AI alike, as it puts additional importance on their actions. Just as in real life, it asks players to consider what the possible price of their behavior could be, and if they would be willing to pay it. For these players, the threat of potential war is a more important aspect than the actual warfare itself. If they decide to build any military units at all, they mostly do so as a deterrent to their neighbors.
I decide about war and peace!
Things are of course very different for those players who like to actively use their military in the game. In the below diagram, you can see some statements that we polled players on.
How much do you agree with these statements? That is what we asked our Anno 2070 players, with the diagram showing the percentage of those fully agreeing.
From these results, you can see that while gameplay freedom (”I decide on war and peace“) reigned supreme, some concrete actions (“It is fun to sink ships“), confrontational aspects (”I enjoy fighting AI opponents“; ”I am motivated by strong opponents“) and frustrating moments (”I do not like losing everything at once“) are also important factors.
Surveys like this one show that the same gameplay experience can be rated very differently by players when it comes to concrete military action. One player’s trash could be the next player’s treasure. While some players dread the risk of losing what they carefully built up, other players cherish this very risk as an extra incentive. The only factor that pretty much all players could somewhat agree on: the ability to decide whether it was time for war or peace and the strategic freedom tied to it (do I want to help my allies, or should I break my alliance etc.) is the major interest of war in Anno.
The military across the Annos
Armed with this knowledge, we have tried many different things to find the perfect military implementation for Anno. This is not an easy task, given the very specific game design requirements for warfare in the Anno world.
Most classic RTS games primarily use their buildings to build up an army, turning their worlds into real-time battlefields. This classic RTS gameplay collides with the core principle of Anno, which is to build as many buildings as efficiently as possible on a limited island space (see the green areas in the next diagram). Such densely developed cities leave little room for glorious open battlefields.
Land is for building; the sea is for trade and combat. Harbors are the intersection between both.
Things are very different out on the high seas (see the red areas). Apart from harbors, players can’t really build anything here, so they are the perfect stage for both smaller skirmishes as well as massive naval battles in the various Anno games. But, the seas become really meaningful, once you take into consideration its function as a link between the islands, thanks to harbors and trade routes.
The first three Annos (1602, 1503 and 1701) opted for a classic RTS-like (Real-Time Strategy) approach, which allowed you to use land-based units in addition to your fleets. This approach had the advantage of players being familiar with it thanks to its implementation in other games. While some players cherished the direct control and the slow, methodical advances against heavily fortified islands, other players were annoyed by the need for too much micro-management, troops getting lost between buildings and the perceived need to build walls and towers all around their islands. With Anno 1404, we tried to get the military gameplay closer to the core Anno loop. Land-based units were no longer directly controllable, as players instead had to build defensive structures and field camps. This made combat both slower and more strategic. While we again had some players who highly welcomed these changes, others found it too indirect and complex, with some fights turning into an explosion of overlapping circles and colors, as seen below.
Red circles, green arrows… the indirect combat of Anno 1404 led to a cascade of visual aids for the player
With Anno 2070, we returned to directly controllable units, but replaced land-based troops with flying combat units and submarines. There was also fuel as a resource, further adding complexity. Some players liked this new approach; others felt that we had not gone far enough in revamping the combat.
In Anno 2205, we went one step further, removing combat from the core gameplay and instead moving it to special conflict maps. Later on, we considered this for the game’s final DLC, which broke up the strict separation by somewhat reintroducing combat back into the main sessions. A move that was highly welcomed by most players.
So what is next?
For Anno 1800, we have spent a lot of time discussing which previous military aspects we wanted to carry over, and which new elements we wanted to introduce. That’s why I hope you look forward to Part II of this DevBlog, when I will explain the concepts of military gameplay in Anno 1800, including some early details on some of the systems.
But now I want to turn the mic over to you: Which of the three main groups I outlined earlier would you played yourself: those who actively seek war, those who want to avoid it, or those rules to prefer to be flexible and decide on war and please as required? I am looking forward to your thoughts.
See you next week
Dirk ”Cart Pusher“ Riegert