Why the game "Mass Effect: Andromeda" turned out the way it turned out: the developers talk about the problems

In 2012, the Mass Effect series was, if not at the peak of popularity, then close to that. Even before the release of the third part, when it was clear that the development process was close to completion, some team members began to discuss what should be a continuation. Doubt that you need to continue the series, there was no one. Moreover, the game world was decided to significantly expand, to give players more freedom. The developers thought that gamers would be happy to have the opportunity to explore hundreds of planets in a practically unlimited world. Everyone liked the idea and the work began to boil. But five years later, when Mass Effect: Andromeda went on sale and was tested by fans of the series, it became clear that something had gone wrong. Some people think that “not so” is everything here.

Literally everyone, even the most devoted fans of the series are disappointed. The problem with graphics, frequent bugs, the plot (or rather, its absence) and other things led to the appearance of a huge amount of criticism on the Web. It is impossible, however, to say that the game is absolutely terrible - no, despite all the flaws, it is more or less playable. But on Metacritic, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” received only 70%. This minimum BioWare score, including even Sonic Chronicles . But why in five years the developers could not create another masterpiece? After all, it would seem, with BioWare resources and for that period you can create a masterpiece, a work of art, no more, no less. Now the situation is a little cleared up - some project team members told about the details of the game creation process.

By the way, despite the fact that the game was developed for five years, the main part of the developers created in just 18 months, and in a hurry. We started discussing how the game should look like in 2012. There were a lot of ideas. The main thing is to return the spirit of the first part, which was planned for a long time, but it did not work out for various reasons. One of the early ideas is to make a prequel to the whole series, to return to the game universe at the time when humans first got into contact with aliens. True, after the developers reviewed the players' opinion on what the new part of the game should be, the idea had to be dropped. Most wanted to see a sequel, not a prequel. And it was decided to change the plans, to give gamers what they want.

Initially, there were no problems with this - the team worked smoothly, there were more than enough resources. Therefore, developers have begun to implement ideas, some of which have been added already during the development. Responsible for the new part of the office made BioWare from Montreal.

In 2013, the project has a new leader, who had a lot of ideas regarding the new part. For example, he offered to give the player the role of leader, whose task - to restore civilization in the entire galaxy. The second idea was already mentioned above - it was to provide the player with the opportunity to explore hundreds of planets. For this, algorithms were created that generated each new world in the game in a random order, which gave almost infinite possibilities.

The developers have created several prototypes in which the protagonist explored the galaxy, studying some of the planets for their habitability and the potential to sustain life. But the problem was that in the game universe, where hundreds of worlds are available, it is difficult to follow the plot of the game itself. In addition, there were also technical difficulties - for example, only one team achieved the possibility of generating planets in the desired landscape quality and filling, in a random order. Other teams did not have the necessary resources for this, there were no software tools for this.

Another technical problem is the Frostbite engine. This is one of the most functional game engines. But the problem is that it is difficult to work with it technically. He also did not allow to realize some of the simplest features characteristic of a team game: for example, you cannot switch between members of the same team or track a player’s inventory. We had to do everything from scratch, adding more and more new modules to this engine. It took a decent amount of time. Plus, the size of the world in Frostbite is limited - you can get a maximum of 100 * 100 km. But if we are talking about hundreds of planets, accordingly, a much wider world is needed.

The conjuncture was added to the purely technical problems. Team members argued, conflicts arose between representatives of different offices of the company. Some blamed others for what they could, including sabotage and unwillingness to work. In a number of teams, including the one that dealt with the animation team, there were not enough employees - someone left, but the vacant seats did not take anyone.

In 2014, many people left BioWare, including several “ideologues” and key technicians. As a result, the remaining team members found it difficult to implement the ideas that they decided to use a year ago. Plus, many teams simply did not have the tools needed for the job, as mentioned above. The work, of course, was moving, but slowly. Employees worked mainly on prototypes in order to test the implementation of the ideas proposed earlier. The prototypes were really good. As a result, in 2015, the developers realized that they have a lot of cool prototypes, but there are doubts about the possibility of their implementation. Flying through the galaxy and planets, randomly generated, have so far remained a concept. As a result, it was decided to reduce the number of planets from hundreds to only 30. Their landscape had to be generated using WorldMachine, but the "contents" had to be created manually. For this reason, the number of planets was finally decided to be reduced to seven, since there simply was not enough resources.

A number of elements of the game teams were able to develop in time. This applies to the mechanism of fighting, multiplayer, control. Everything was good here. The worst thing was the content — the levels, the plot, the physics of the game — all this remained unprepared. Content work was moving very slowly. This was caused by conflicts between individual offices, employees, and management.

Back in 2009, BioWare employees were divided into three offices, which was originally a good idea, and all of them worked fruitfully. But then the problems started, caused, first of all, by the time difference - because the time zones were different. As a result, even the basic tasks were performed very badly. Representatives of one team that worked, for example, on facial expressions of characters, could be in different cities: two people in Austin, four - in Montreal, three - in Edmonton. In order to work on one object, they had to act synchronously. But the difference in time greatly influenced this process, so harmonious work was simply absent. Some tasks were performed, then they “hung up” due to the fact that there was no intermediate specialist in one of the offices (for example, this employee could simply sleep - not because this specialist was lazy, but simply in his country still night, at a time when his colleagues from another office needed it).

In addition to graphics and plot, there were no dialogues, quests, all this was yet to be created. Managers argued about what to do in the first place, employees were “idle”, and there was less time left. As a result, the main work was done between the end of 2015 and March 2017. Then it became clear that if all this goes on, the game will not work. To speed up the development process, we had to abandon the basic ideas and urgently add “crutches” to everything, including the plot. Many ideas were removed, it took too much time to implement them.

All were in a hurry, if something did not work out, the task was postponed and work began on a new TASK. In the usual case, game developers have a few months to "polish" the project. The schedule is updated, bugs are eliminated, dialogues are improved, other work is being done. In the case of the new part of Mass Effect, this was not the case - it was necessary to pile together heterogeneous elements, creating a single system. All new problems were found, sometimes nothing worked out. Several times the team responsible for the work of the engine, updated its core, and problems started with all other teams, including those responsible for developing models of the main characters and NPCs.

The quality fell, it concerned everything - graphics, plot, playability in general. If you study this video , you can understand what it is about. And this “regress” most actively occurred in the last few months of development. In an effort to be in time, the teams simplified everything that could be simplified by abandoning complex tasks in favor of simpler ones.

And the problems continued to manifest themselves with enviable regularity. For example, the graphic design of the characters' faces was outsourced; the Egyptian company Snappers first dealt with this task. And she coped, but the problem — it turned out to be impossible to implement the graphics technically — did not allow the game engine. FaceFX software package decided to take to synchronize the sound and movement of the lips of the characters. One of the developers later said that in many cases the graphics of the characters' faces were automatically generated by the software, and the designers simply did not have time to optimize everything.

Initially, everything looked decent

Almost at the very end of the development, the management decided to switch from 3D Studio Max to Maya, which added a lot of work to the designers. There was simply no more unsuccessful moment for migration from one platform to another. In fact, the company's employees have wasted several months of working on graphics, which then had to be redone. All this is still aggravated by the lack of a sufficient number of employees in the animation team.

Anyway, the work was moving, albeit slowly and with a huge amount of problems. In the end, the developers felt that what was done could be shown. Five days before the official start, the game was given to test a select circle of users. Of course, the management of the company expected criticism, but no one expected such negative feedback.

The consequences were fatal to the BioWare division of Montreal. Despite the fact that the team tried to solve most of the problems noticed by users, to polish the graphics, add some features, the management stated that the Mass Effect title would have to be postponed for a while, that is, no continuations will be issued in the near future. And since it was the office in Montreal that was responsible for the whole project this time, the unit employees were the first to be “in charge”. Many developers from the office in Montreal rassasoval in other hotels and projects, and those who stayed were assigned to provide technical support to other games from Bioware.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/404461/

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