- Union Update
Union Update: Nine years of Anno 1404
This year marks the 20-year long history of the Anno series and this week, we will jump into our time machine once again, as one of the most influential Anno games has its ninth anniversary. In June 2009, the Anno ship set sail for the fourth time and the prominent feature of the number four fits perfectly for one the most beloved games in the franchise: Anno 1404.
This week, we want to celebrate the ninth anniversary of a true fan favorite. Released on June 23rd in North America as Dawn of Discovery and two days later as Anno 1404 in Europe, the game embraced and expanded many features of its predecessor, Anno 1701.
With its renaissance setting, from gothic architecture to the exotic orient, its complexity and rich feature list, there are many reasons why many Annoholic’s still play Anno 1404 today.
It was the first time we introduced items, expanded on end-game content such as monuments and added a completely new eastern climate zone, to only name a few. The following February, the Venice expansion added even more to the package, with a new neutral Venetian
faction, additional buildings, fresh scenarios and more.
Anno 1404 is one of our main inspiration for the upcoming Anno 1800, as we bring back many of the features fans have asked for while also adding new exciting mechanics and content to the series.
Many of you also might remember the Anno 1404 collector’s edition, coming not only with an art-book and poster but also with truly special items such as a real compass and almond seeds, packed in a nice wooden chest. Who of you proud collectors owns one of these rarities?
If Chris and John managed to get you into the right mood for Anno 1404 entertainment with their AnnoAfternoon Community stream last Sunday, we have more for you! If you missed our last community stream, you can catch up with the VoD here: AnnoAfternoon Episode 2
This Friday, we will host another special anniversary stream here in Mainz. Tune in this Friday 29th at 4.30pm CEST, when the developers of Anno 1800 jump right back into a time of discovery!
Popcorn, anecdotes and backseat gaming allowed: twitch.tv/ubisoftbluebyte
Burkhard Ratheiser, Executive Producer
Anno 1404’s development was as extensive as the amount of content, which the game had to offer. Even 9 years ago, creating one building from concept to finish took roughly 20 days of work. Still under the name Related Designs back then, we were able to benefit greatly from our experienced gathered from the work on our first Anno game: Anno 1701. That experience and previous big step into the world of 3D should benefit us greatly, Anno 1404 was more detailed and complex as its predecessor and added many fan favorite features to the series. There is a reason why if you ask Annoholics, Anno 1404 is still one of the most beloved Anno titles.
But the Union is not the first time that we share development details with our communities. Some of you might remember our developer diaries, and Anno 1404 gives me immediate callbacks to the technical progress of that time. Multicore CPU’s started to become a new standard in PC gaming and we wanted to make use of that potential for Anno 1404.
It is crazy how much has changed since the beginning of the Anno series, two decades ago: from pixel cities to the big leap into 3D, from multithreading to multisession. With Anno 1800, we not only want to follow the footsteps of Anno 1404s complexity, we will also enrich the classic Anno formula with new exciting features.
A snapshot from our 1404 release party. Many of the veterans are still working on Anno 1800 today.
Christoph Knauz, Project Manager
I have fond memories of Anno 1404. Back then, I was a new addition to the studio with my position as “Head of Localization & QA” and Anno 1404 was the first game in there series where I was heavily involved into development. Before that, I was part of Sunflowers and worked on Anno 1503 as well as Anno 1701 as a part of their QA team.
Anno 1404 was for my one of the best productions I ever had the pleasure to be a part of. The team was great, the game was promising and the collaboration with the Community was something special, as we to work with our fans intensively. Compared to today, internet was kind of underdeveloped back then, so we had to rely more on personal contact with our fans. If I recall correctly, we had almost a dozen focus test groups, consisting of almost ten Annoholics, to test the game during the “Beta phase” (which means the period shortly after Alpha but before Beta).
These testers had the chance to test the game for almost 6 hours on a Saturday, in order to provide us feedback in the form of questionaires. Following this, we invited them to roundtables where we gathered furtehr feedback. Developers volunteering from almost every department to guide the players during the tests.
If you so will is the Anno Union with our focus tests also following Anno 1404’s tradition.
Volker Sassen, Game Designer
With the introduction of the orient setting, deserts and their non-flat dunes became a topic in development. They kind of contradicted Anno’s premise, in which you can place buildings and create settlements on a flat 2D plane. Our first try was a mix between even construction terrain and uneven dune areas, but that reduced the construction space significantly and also felt unrealistic.
We started to work on texture solutions, so we painted light and shadows on to the actual texture. But that was not providing satisfactory results, as islands had now only good lighting from one specific viewing angle.
One of our coders came up with a solutions and saved the day, or better to say the dunes. With the use of bump maps, we were able to include light and shadows to the texture in a more granular and dynamic way. The system would interpret these texture layers differently, depending on the camera angle, which gave us beautiful and dynamically looking dunes – a simulated 3D terrain on a 2D construction space.
Throwback: Here our small Anno 1404 booth at gamescom 2009. Who of you where there and do you plan to visit us this year?
I used to (and still do sometimes) go over to my friend’s house every weekend to play Anno 1404 multi-player. It is probably one of the games I’ve played most in my entire life, almost every weekend for 6 years. We usually played multi-player with easy or medium AI players (mostly Leif :D) because we were decent, but not the best Anno players out there.
One time we decided to play against two AI players on hard. I think it was Cardinal Lucius and Giovanni di Mercante.
My friend and I made an alliance and as soon as we hit patrician level, we declared war on the AI players. Our plan was simple: wipe out their fleet as soon as possible and control the sea. This way we could slowly start besieging their islands. I sailed out with a huge fleet to control the seas while my friend was creating a massive siege army. We destroyed Giovanni’s fleet quickly and we just left a sea blockade. The Cardinal was a bit harder but we managed to defeat his fleet as well. My friend immediately started the siege of his main island. This siege took several in-game days and we came together for several LAN parties over the course of several months. Eventually we defeated the Cardinal and left Giovanni’s Island suffering from starvation and the plague.
I have been playing Anno for so long now and it never gets old. For some reason, every continuous game I start is somehow different from all the other ones. And this is, why we still play Anno 1404 today.
My best 1404-Moment was a contest in which i participated, without having played Anno 1404 a lot before. Through the other contestants and discussions with them, i learned a ton about the game and had a lot of fun. That was always, what excited me about the Anno-Community: Experience something with others. I think, that it might not even matter, which Anno-game you do that with, as the specific requirements for such a contest are always focusing on the areas on the edge, that get excluded normally. This creates a “First Time” Feeling.
And you need humans for that, not features.
One of my favorite Anno Moments was, when my younger brother challenged me, to play against him and i was only allowed to settle one! island. After 4 hours i had enough nobles to build my large warships and after 8 hours his island went up in flames due to my blockades. I thought i was the greatest (i was pretty young back then).
Or when i played Anno 1404 again, many years later, after the Anno 1800 Announcement, just to play a “quick” game only to have my girlfriend tell me the next morning that “it’s 11 AM, you’re going to bed now”. But i just warmed up from playing (in 18 hours).
Despite it’s age, Anno 1404 looks still beautiful today, thanks to it’s incredible details and love which went into it.