Mass Effect: Andromeda disappointed almost everyone. The game had such a great idea — what if players could explore hundreds of different planets? Something went wrong. One of its biggest problems is, of course, animation, but that’s not the only trouble. How could such an experienced game developer released this mess called Andromeda? Kotaku published a huge article on the reasons for the game’s problems. They’ve even managed to talk to some of the developers to find out what really happened.
In early conversations throughout 2012, a team of directors in Montreal brainstormed ways in which to make the next Mass Effect that felt distinct. This group, which included several veteran BioWare employees as well as Hudson, who wanted to help guide the project through its infancy, had lots of fresh ideas for a new Mass Effect. There’d be no Reaper threat, no Commander Shepard. They could pick a brand new area of space and start over. “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.’”
Sounds exciting. How did it all end in such a mess? A new director, Gérard Lehiany, proposed tons of great ides. For example, he thought about creating hundreds of explorable planets. The team would use algorithms to procedurally generate each world in the game, allowing for near-infinite possibilities.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, Andromeda’s developers played with all sorts of ideas that today sound distinctly No Man’s Sky-ish. They built prototypes in which you would pilot a spaceship around the galaxy, then use it to land on planets. From there, you could hop into your Nomad space rover and explore each new world, hunting for habitable terrain. Then you could go back into space and fly around some more. “It was a very ambitious project,” said one source. “We wanted to give the feeling of really exploring space.”
There were some hiccups, however. One lingering question for the Andromeda team was how they could possibly implement a BioWare-caliber story in a game with procedurally generated planets. 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.”
One of the team’s problems was the engine. Frostbite is known as one of the most powerful engines out there, but it is also said to be one of the hardest to use. It is capable of rendering astonishing scenes, but it hadn’t been used for RPGs before Andromeda, so that was one of the challenges.
Pre-production on Mass Effect: Andromeda was a tale of two cities. Several people from the team described 2013 as one of the best years of their professional lives and 2014 as one of the worst. Whereas 2013 was full of possibilities for the developers of Andromeda, 2014 was full of politics. Conflicts emerged between BioWare staffers at the company’s two main studios, in Edmonton and Montreal. Developers in Edmonton said they thought the game was floundering in pre-production and didn’t have a strong enough vision, while developers in Montreal thought that Edmonton was trying to sabotage them, taking ideas and staff from Montreal for its own projects, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dylan. 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.
There’s so much more to this story. Make sure to read the full article here.