Mass Effect Andromeda’s Bulk Was Created in Less Than 18 Months; Frostbite Wasn’t Capable of Performing Basic RPG Functions
Mass Effect Andromeda has been in development for around 5 years, but when the game launched last March it was evident that something went wrong during development. Stories detailing the troubled development of BioWare’s latest RPG have surfaced online in the past few weeks, but a bigger report on what went wrong emerged online today.
Kotaku‘s report goes pretty in-depth about the many Mass Effect Andromeda development issues. Apparently, the game’s bulk was actually created in less than 18 months, with a director change, several re-scopes, technological challenges and more influencing development negatively.
The development of Andromeda was turbulent and troubled, marred by a director change, multiple major re-scopes, an understaffed animation team, technological challenges, communication issues, politics, a compressed timeline, and brutal crunch.
During the course of the 5 years when Mass Effect Andromeda has been in development, the project has been re-scoped multiple times. The team originally wanted to achieve proper space exploration, something they didn’t manage to do in the original Mass Effect and to do so they were aiming to introduce procedurally generated planets, something we already heard about in the past few weeks.
“The goal was to go back to what Mass Effect 1 promised but failed to deliver, which was a game about exploration,” said one person who worked on the game. “Lots of people were like, ‘Hey, we never fully tapped the potential of the first Mass Effect. We figured out the combat, which is awesome. We figured out the narrative. Let’s focus on bringing back exploration.’”
Another of Lehiany’s ideas was that there should be hundreds of explorable planets. BioWare would use algorithms to procedurally generate each world in the game, allowing for near-infinite possibilities, No Man’s Sky style. (No Man’s Sky had not yet been announced—BioWare came up with this concept separately.)
Procedurally generated content was in until the end of 2015, when it became clear that things wouldn’t work. First, the number of explorable planets was reduced to 30, a number further reduced to seven. A massive re-scope that created many other issues.
Almost every video game goes through some sort of scope change during development, as designers and artists start sacrificing their babies in order to ship the game on time, but Andromeda was unusual. Typically, a massive rescope like this would have happened during pre-production, so the developers would have time to pivot and plan things out before starting to build the game. “If there’s one thing that should’ve happened in hindsight, the cuts that were made should have happened earlier,” said one person who worked on the game. “So there would’ve been less of them. I think in general the team tried too hard to execute a game that was not doable.”
Many of the gameplay mechanics—the combat, the multiplayer, the driving—were on time and proceeding smoothly. Those weren’t touched by the rescope. But the content—the story, the levels, the cinematics—was way behind schedule after Andromeda’s messy pre-production cycle. That was a problem.
Mass Effect Andromeda is among the EA published games to be powered by the Frostbite engine, but the DICE developed engine created many other issues for the team, as it wasn’t capable of performing basic RPG functions, such as party members management and more.
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.
With so many issues, it’s no surprise that Mass Effect Andromeda ended up being underwhelming, and BioWare Montreal paid the price heavily, with hopes of a sequel getting immediately dashed.
The results were catastrophic for BioWare Montreal. Even as the team kept plugging away on patches to fix bugs, add more romance options, and polish animations, their management informed the Montreal studio that it would be scaled down and that Mass Effect was going to be shelved for a while. All hopes for an Andromeda sequel were immediately dashed. EA moved many of BioWare Montreal’s developers to EA Motive, putting others on support roles for BioWare’s other games, including Dylan and the next Dragon Age (internally referred to as Dragon Age 4).