Mass Effect Developers – Frostbite to Blame for Andromeda Woes
Ashley Allen / 4 years ago
Mass Effect: Andromeda’s release in March disappointed many. Critics attacked the game’s wonky animations, persistent bugs, and cringe-inducing dialogue. The game ushered in many changes from previous franchise entries. A new studio, largely unfamiliar with Frostbite, EA’s favoured game engine, was tasked with creating the game. A new behind-the-scenes look at Andromeda, courtesy of anonymous BioWare developers, blames these changes for the game’s failure.
Frostbite: The Hardest Engine to Use
DICE created the Frostbite engine to build Battlefield series, a task at which it excels. However, building an RPG proved a bridge too far for Frostbite, BioWare insiders claim.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier writes:
“Over the past few years, one of BioWare’s biggest obstacles has also become one of EA’s favorite buzzwords: Frostbite. In the video game industry, Frostbite is known as one of the most powerful engines out there—and one of the hardest to use.
Developed by the EA-owned studio DICE, Frostbite is capable of rendering gorgeous graphics and visual effects, but when BioWare first started using it, in 2011, it had never been used to make role-playing games. DICE made first-person shooters like Battlefield, and the Frostbite engine was designed solely to develop those games. When BioWare first got its hands on Frostbite, the engine wasn’t capable of performing the basic functions you’d expect from a role-playing game, like managing party members or keeping track of a player’s inventory. BioWare’s coders had to build almost everything from scratch.”
No Animation System
BioWare engineers, understaffed and overworked, were forced to create a custom animation rig for Frostbite:
““Frostbite is wonderful for rendering and lots of things,” said a person who worked on the game. “But one of the key things that makes it really difficult to use is anything related to animation. Because out of the box, it doesn’t have an animation system.” (Frostbite was later attached to an animation system called ANT, that source said, but it was full of “duct-taped issues.”)”
A Formula 1 Car
The powerful Frostbite engine excelled at its intended purpose: first-person shooters. Building an RPG in Frostbite, though, proved taxing. As one anonymous BioWare developer laments:
“Epic’s Unreal Engine, that developer said, is like an SUV, capable of doing lots of things but unable to go at crazy high speeds. The Unity Engine would be a compact car: small, weak, and easy to fit anyplace you’d like. “Frostbite,” the developer said, “is a sports car. Not even a sports car, a Formula 1. When it does something well, it does it extremely well. When it doesn’t do something, it really doesn’t do something.””
No Man’s Andromeda?
BioWare’s first concept for Andromeda relied on a procedurally-generated galaxy, à la No Man’s Sky. However, BioWare’s idea predates the first announcement of Hello Games’ equally panned space explorer. Procedural generation, though, was nixed due to staffing issues:
“Some teams felt perpetually understaffed, and there were technological difficulties. BioWare’s level designers used a tool called WorldMachine that could simulate erosion and build realistic mountains on each planet, but other teams had trouble figuring out how to generate high-quality worlds without getting in and doing it by hand. “Unfortunately that was the only team that was able to figure out how to do stuff more procedurally,” said a person who worked on the game. “No one else had the resources.””
The Future of Mass Effect
Following Andromeda’s poor reception, EA has mothballed the Mass Effect Franchise. While EA suggests a future for the series, don’t expect another Mass Effect game anytime soon.