Mass Effect

There Are Two Things You Shouldn’t Touch EA and EA – Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

There are two things you shouldn’t touch, EA and EA.

Firstly, I never buy an Early Access game. Secondly, I will never buy an Electronic Arts game anymore.

Mass Effect Andromeda

MEA1 MEA2

After 5 hours of gameplay, I completely quit Andromeda. This, is the sequel to the once revered RPG franchise Mass Effect.

The quality is an utter disgrace to Mass Effect series. This, is an unfinished project that is hurried to the market.

After the patches, it’s still impeccably bad. The facial expressions, animations, weird control. It doesn’t feel ME. And do I need to clarify how bad a client Origin is? No screenshot function, awful transactions. And the game itself, sucks so bad gets into Origin Access just 3 or 4 months later. I appreciate the efforts from the devs, this game, looks like Mass Effect but doesn’t feel like it. The plot is inconsistent, and un-mesmerizing. Side missions are just as pointless as what Dragon Age Inquisition did. They are so pointless that you don’t want to accept at all. Gladly they have that “no” option, unlike Fallout 4. The jokes are real, the roasts from Internet.

I would like them to just have a ME3 game. With the same engine, same structure, new plot new maps. Nothing big has to change, just details.

This game is so bad in so many levels. It’s unfinished, so obvious. And they dropped the support for this unfinished game. Really?

I have to make this video here, it’s just… too fun.

EA

After the Araga encounter, I can feel the utter disrespect from devs, how they delivered this unfinished project. Boom, EA money grabbed and gone. EA knew they were pushing an unfinished project onto market, they knew in the first place, and their strategy is smart.

Firstly, secure some of the fans’ money by pushing earlier into the Origin Access. While everybody found out how bad the game was, EA has already secured a large sum of money that they wouldn’t pretty much get if they don’t do so. For an unfinished game.

And reviews delay. So on day one, exciting fans wouldn’t really have a clue on the game whatsoever. They can’t find any comparison from reviews, any advice from people who have played it. The only thing inside their heads is the blood pumped by adrenaline that drives them buying the game whatsoever. Because there was a review delay, and EA did this to secure more people on the first launch week, which is where most of the game sales come in.

After that, expect a drop down on sales chart. A good game, the line would be a mild drop. A bad game, the line would be steep and that’s when you know, you fucked up.

The Development Process

I think this isn’t something new. When the jokes, memes and roasts exploded on Internet, everyone was trashing Mass Effect Andromeda. And whatsoever whatsoever, Andromeda team BioWare Montreal, still wrote an open letter to everyone on Twitter, describing the 5 years development of the game.

Well, that’s a lie.

The game, actually only took 1 and a half year to finish. Makes sense, if you had spent 5 years into making a game, the game couldn’t possibly become an unfinished failure.

In interviews of several Montreal employees, they described how the game was packed and rushed the bulk of its content in the last one and a half year.

Andromeda, in the 5 year struggling development, had a budget of 1 million CAD, roughly 78 million USD. And says over 200 developers participated into the game, while I think the full-time workforce could be only 100 people around or even lesser. Since the article has pointed out how understaffed some departments of the studio were.

The Story Behind Mass Effect: Andromeda’s Troubled Five-Year Development

Almost every failed game I’ve encountered, especially 3A level games, they all share a same trait–internal instability.

Andromeda had a long history of inner instability. The lead personnel had all left during the first few years of development. Game director, Gérard Lehiany. Executive producer, Casey Hudson.

By the end of 2014 at least a dozen people had left BioWare Montreal for other studios, and it wasn’t clear to the remaining staff whether those positions would be replaced. The animation team in particular was understaffed, sources said, and when people left, their positions sometimes weren’t refilled.

The 2K game The Bureau: XCOM Declassified had the same problem–failed inner communication, especially how studio 2K Marin worked with its publisher, the relationships. It’s ugly.

To be short, from internal instability, understaffed, rushing, many other factors have caused the failure of Andromeda.

Failure communication, simply incomplete pipelines. Andromeda’s main development team is Montreal, but the co-work has been done across the continent. The participation had Edmonton, the headquarter of Bioware in Alberta and Austin in Texas.

“Game development when you’re all in the same building is hard enough,” said an Andromeda developer. “When you’re spread across the globe, it’s incredibly challenging.”

And apparently they haven’t had a good pipeline system to walk these all through
them. I can attest how difficult it is to work with someone else in a different time zone, i.e. freelancing. Mostly you will need to wait for a day, fastest, to get the job done. And it’s painful, especially for tight time projects.

Plus, Montreal had suspected whether the collaboration from Edmonton was conspicuous. Rumors were Edmonton was trying to steal ideas and take over project from Montreal. The kind of bad seeds only breeds instability.

mea regressionRegression. This has a big part to do with the engine and I personally have suspicion on it. In this video, you can clearly see how exaggerated the difference is. Developers stated that whenever they put together something, they will soon collapse just when they turned their backs on. One is that this definitely has something to do with the engine. And two, is rather conspicuous. Could be someone intentionally sabotaging the work, as you can see there were already people unhappy about the project.

Because I have played with the developing softwares before, Maya, Unreal Engine etc., and I know how this works. Unless there are software updates, none of these software would just “auto-collapse”, or your projects. Computer is not random, it’s absolute. The other possible cause would be bad code, simply the foundation of their softwares, how they taped up the things together with engine was flawed. And that would be suspected during the process and if they ever tested it after finishing it, they would know at once. So, I’m no sure how they actually worked on the project. But it’s a speculation.

There could be somebody, either intentionally or unintentionally sabotaging the project. Because whenever a big studio work together, it’s a messy situation. Somebody is communicating, somebody is not, focusing on his screen. It’s complete plausible the art team and sound team have just finished their parts, and later designers and coders “unintentionally” destroyed the sequences. Just my personal speculation.

No Man's Sky

Aimed too high. Multiple times have I noticed the term “No Man’s Sky” from the article. At the brainstorm and pre-production stage of Andromeda, directors came up with the idea of creating infinite universe. Well mine is inner infinite. Get it? Inner Universe? 😆 Infinite possibilities, says the director Gérard Lehiany. By the time No Man’s Sky was yet to announce, they came up with the same idea.

Personally, I tend to think of it as a tended possibility. Whenever you want to develop a cosmic game, you definitely would want to step in the opportunity of discovering as many planets as possible.

Before the time, it was not quite possible due to the technologies, and resources. But now, it’s likely. The reason I said likely, is because all two games trying to achieve this grand idea have failed, and miserably.

On a theoretical level, it’s complete possible to develop environment like this. Use algorithm to generate as many as possible land-able planets. And you can initially hand select elements and types for each one of the segments of the planet, and later let the computer generates possibilities.

The problem with this idea though, is that it’s complete random. It’s like doing a math matchmaking problem. The infinite possibilities is good, but you can’t guarantee each one of them is good. Because what these people want, are exotic and never-seen-before planets filled with interesting activities. Let’s ditch the interesting activities first, that’s for game’s sake. The two conditions are already hard to achieve even in reality. Other planets in our solar system do not look as beautiful as we look bare eyes. They have peculiar features inside and outside the atmosphere.

The idea can be possibly described as cosmic wonderlands. It doesn’t exist. Hence the game right? 

No Man’s Sky is just an indie studio, consists of 4 people, their aim was ambitiously and unprecedentedly high. And of course the result as you can see.

And, and, over top of all these problems Montreal had struggled with, there’s one single problem throughout the process of developing Mass Effect: Andromeda. The Frostbite engine.



Frostbite

The engine has not only poisoned the development of Andromeda, it has also poisoned its predecessor–Dragon Age: Inquisition. Yes, the engine is broken from day one.

Frostbite is an engine that is initially designed without RPG games in mind. Articles have pointed out this several times. Sweden studio DICE never really thought of developing a RPG or anything besides a FPS game. They are Battlefield, all the way, all down.

I’ve seen several people explaining the concept of engine to me, well, I find some interesting ones.

Engines, are basically the foundation of a game. From my own experience playing with Unreal Engine, engine is the stage, the vast environment your game is in. Without engine, your game wouldn’t exist. Because everything you need to do, is do them from scratch. And since you’re developing a modern game, not a retro Pong or freaking arcade. I tend to think that an engine, is a necessity.

Some people described it as a car factory. Games are your to-make cars, without the factory the car wouldn’t be born. Well same idea.

The history of Frostbite is interesting. The debut of Frostbite was introduced in Battlefield: Bad Company. But I think it gets renowned during Battlefield 3 period, updating to Frostbite 2. Later, the engine was used on multiple EA projects, for the likes like Battlefield 4, Need for Speed, Metal of Honor and Visceral studio’s Army of Two.

Well, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s development had also suffered heavily from using this engine. And apparently, the collaborations between the Sweden studio and these North American studios aren’t as smooth as we think of. I said above, poor communication and different time zones.

Normally, I tend to like to think that whenever there are these “first time” problems, the most efficient way to deal with them is to shorten the pathway as long as possible. Bioware studios have to contact those developers in Sweden and wait for a day to get the response, and it’s the fastest situation. So best way to do this is actually send a team of 2 or 3 guys from DICE to help assist studios in NA. And of course, one at a time.

In the development of Dragon Age Inquisition, DA team had struggled to plow through the engine to add more fundamental features for a RPG. And the process was simply horrendous. As it describes as “The coders and programmers of the DA team have to repeat their work every time the engine gets an update.” If the update is normal update, copy paste is the least, if it’s big, it’s going to be lot harder than routines. And bear in mind, Frostbite is an engine designed initially with no RPG intentions. Animation is zero, main menu is zero, save and load is zero. Ever basic element of RPG games is zero in Frostbite. The only thing you could do with this engine at the time as quote “We can probably make a marvelous screenshot generator.” A walking simulator.

Frostbite was initially taken from Crytek’s CryEngine, and DICE has heavily modded it to the current Frostbite. As you know what CryEngines does best–the graphics.

Yes, there is literally no one can beat CryEngine at the time around 2007 or 8. CryEngine was and probably still is the graphic cards killer. Everything produced from CryEngine can look so vivid and realistic. Same goes for Frostbite.

Frostbite never really intended to build a RPG, so do DICE. DA team has put massive amount of time to reconfigure the engine to be of use for them. And they still kind of failed to deliver what they wanted at the start.

However, on the other side of Bioware. Montreal struggled even harder. The Andromeda project started not long later the DAI. So at the time around 2012, it’s basically two teams thinking individually how to tackle the problems with Frostbite. And yes, COMMUNICATION. INNER INSTABILITY.

ME trilogy was made with Unreal Engine, a jake of all trades engine. The reasons why UE is so popular are two, its versatility and it’s free. Epic will take a percentage of the game’s revenue if you developed it with UE. Well reality check, the transition from UE to Frostbite is a very painful one.

Basically, right after DAI’s launch, MEA has been patterned DAI’s mode. And Bioware had summoned all its studios to help crunch the project. However, no matter how much you patterned DAI, you are still not a DA game.

And apparently, the “help” from other studios didn’t really work out the engine situation at the end.

We are not sure what levels Bioware have modded Frostbite, but I am firmly sure that next RPG titles from EA can benefit from the disasters of both. And yeah, I probably wouldn’t care less.

Montreal DissolvedEpilogue

EA dissolved Bioware Montreal in August 2017. The team is dissolved and disposed to other EA studios to help finish their projects. The support of Mass Effect: Andromeda is forever dropped, according to the official announcement from Bioware in August. Meaning there will be no more DLCs, no more expansion packs, no more season pass. The game is a clusterfuck and this is a status.

Just a few weeks, probably in a month after MEA’s launch, the game has been discounted by EA on Origin. As huge as 30%. I’ve never seen any game would get a discount in first month. Later that, pretty quickly, the game has entered the Origin Access vault.

Nothing really been repaired, after I played the game recently. Still many problems. Optimization, animations. Yes it still has its animation problems from start, the patches only repair a few of them to look natural, the rest, still look horrible. Hence the reason I said the game is not finished. Plot is pretty much unchangeable, and well, plot sucks. Characters… I don’t know, the character creator should not have been there at the start, it’s horrendous. All the characters generated by this creator in game… are hideous. Bioware is always a company praised by its beautiful facial construction. I think the basic two protagonists are enough.

So, I don’t know. You tell me. EA runs down studios, EA runs down franchises. Well correct. And Montreal really fucked up this time. Well… Montreal is gone.

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