Andromeda Part 1: So What Happened?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 16, 2018

Filed under: Mass Effect 161 comments

I’m sure most of you remember the novel-sized retrospective I did on the original Mass Effect trilogy that ran from July 2015 to June 2016. At the end of the series we were still looking forward to Mass Effect Andromeda and wondering how that would turn out. Since then the game has been released, received mixed reviews, became an industry-wide joke due to bugs and glitches, was patched up by the developers, and then faded from public memory. It began as a hot mess and ended as a disappointing footnote in the history of BioWare. Now I’m finally getting around to playing it, over two years after my original Mass Effect series ended.

Frustratingly, this game is neither as good nor as terrible as I’d hoped. This is not a return to the energetic worldbuilding of Mass Effect 1, but neither is it an affront to reason like the final act of Mass Effect 3At least, not the main story.. There are a few good ideas here, mixed in with the bog-standard gameplay, open-world busywork, and cringy dialog.

While Mass Effect 3 was at times frustrating and irritating, Andromeda‘s great sin is that it’s merely disappointing. There’s not much to get worked up about here. Mass Effect 3 had the problem where its story unraveled right at the moment where it should have started wrapping up, and it was the conclusion to a story we’d been following for three games over the course of five years. This game tells a stand-alone story. The stakes were lower this time around, and so were our expectations.

What Happened?

Some parts of this game can be quite interesting or striking. Those moments are sadly lost in a vast sea of stuff that doesn't quite work.
Some parts of this game can be quite interesting or striking. Those moments are sadly lost in a vast sea of stuff that doesn't quite work.

If you’re a longstanding fan of BioWare then one question probably hung in your mind as you played through Andromeda: What happened to this game? Janky animations, un-BioWare gameplay, linear dialogs, Ubisoft-style open-world stuff, pervasive bugs, oddly scripted cutscenes, and a host of other problems all work to pull your mind away from the game and turn it towards thinking about its development.

The previous games came from BioWare’s Edmonton studio, while this game was created by the new studio based in Montreal. I deliberately avoided looking at the credits during the writing of this seriesNot totally successful, mind you. Partway through writing this series I stumbled on a few names I recognized. Still, I did what I could to keep “the writer” as abstract as possible., so I didn’t know which (if any) writing staff or creative leads this game might share with the previous entries. As in my previous write-ups, we’re going to pretend that this story is the work of some singular unnamed writer. I find this makes it easier for the analysis to feel detached instead of coming off like an angry hit-piece.

Obviously I don’t have any special insider knowledge about the development of this game. I’ve never met anyone from BioWare and I’ve never personally worked on a AAA game. I’m stuck on the outside looking in, just like everyone else. Most of the behind-the-scenes information I have comes from the Kotaku article The Story Behind Mass Effect: Andromeda’s Troubled Five-Year Development. Sure, there are other sources of information out there, but as far as I can tell they all lead back to the original research done by Kotaku.

While I don’t have any insider information, I do feel like this series would be incomplete if I didn’t offer my own take on how things went wrong. As far as I can tell from reading articles and playing the game myself, the problems with Andromeda can be traced to three key decisions: Changing game engines, trying to make an open-world game, and ramping up the scope of a Mass Effect title to include much more content. All three of these are bad decisions, but they’re bad decisions that all exacerbate each other.

The first bad decision is that they decided to…

1. Switch to the Frostbite Engine

I know this looks like a good fit for the Frostbite Engine because we're trading gunfire with humanoids from behind cover, but Battlefield and Mass Effect are very different properties with different needs.
I know this looks like a good fit for the Frostbite Engine because we're trading gunfire with humanoids from behind cover, but Battlefield and Mass Effect are very different properties with different needs.

As the Kotaku article explains, the previous entries in the series used the Unreal engine. But for Andromeda, they switched to using EA’s in-house engine called Frostbite.

The thing about changing engines is that it requires you to retrain your entire creative staff. If you’ve got three dozen people who are all experts in using Unreal Engine to pump out game content, then switching to a new engine will effectively turn them into a bunch of rookies. They may have to change tools, which is hard on both productivity and morale. If you’re fluent in one 3D modeling program and you’re forced to adopt another, then you’re going to spend weeks struggling with what used to be simple tasks. The team will certainly need to adopt a new workflow. Sure, your artists can get the basics down in a few weeks, but they probably won’t be fluent in the new tools until they’ve shipped a game with them. (This game came from a new studio, so it’s possible they hired Frostbite experts. Still, they no doubt began with a seed team from Edmonton or Austin.)

The new engine will also oblige you to restart your entire asset library from scratch. Let’s say you’ve just spent the better part of a decade building up a vast collection of talking animations, ship models, weapon models, character models for several different species, models for “furniture”Computer consoles, crates, chairs, doors, and everything you use to fill in the environments.,and modular interior room sectionsSounds and texture maps should translate just fine. It’s the 3D models that are a problem.. If you were sticking with the same engine you could draw from that collection to fill in your gameworld, and maybe just touch up the oldest ones to make them appropriately “next gen”. Even if you end up remaking a lot of them over the course of development, it’s really nice to have the old content to serve as a placeholder during production or a fallback option if the schedule gets tight. But if you have to wipe the slate clean then you end up starting with a blank canvas.

Worse, the team was switching to a less mature game engine with fewer features. The Unreal Engine is about twenty years old and is a generalized set of tools to support many different types of games. Frostbite is ten years old and is mostly focused on linear first-person shootersAlthough the FIFA and Need for Speed teams were able to adapt it to their needs.. There are assumptions built into the engine that simply don’t allow for non-linear exploration-based content. You’re supposed to run through a level, shoot all the dudes, and then leave for the next level. The engine didn’t originally have allowances for the idea that the player might have a branching dialog with someone in zone ATalk to the quest giver on a space station. that will cause changes to the content in zone BOnce you have the quest, the bad guys spawn at their designated location on the planet. that can be reactive and persistentOnce I shoot the bad guys, they need to stay dead even if I fly to another planet. and which can make further changes to the contents of zone AOnce the dudes are dead, I can come back to the quest giver for the reward and wrap-up conversation.. All of that needed to be added.

This engine switch is a heavy burden to place on a team. All by itself, it would make for a challenge. But on top of that the team decided to…

2. Create a Procedural Open World

BAD: Make a procedural open world that's a boring desert planet. WORSE: Hand-craft a boring desert planet. MUCH WORSE: Make TWO desert planets.
BAD: Make a procedural open world that's a boring desert planet. WORSE: Hand-craft a boring desert planet. MUCH WORSE: Make TWO desert planets.

If not for the Kotaku article, I wouldn’t have believed this. You certainly can’t tell from playing the game. Apparently the team wanted to run with the idea of being a space pioneer and give you massive procedurally-made worlds to explore.

While this does indeed sound like a great idea for a videogame, it sounds like a horrible idea for a Mass Effect game, a worse idea for a team dealing with sweeping changes to their development tools, and worse still for a game built using the Frostbite engine.

Mass Effect is a game about telling science fiction stories using cutscenes and branching dialog trees. In a story-rich game like Mass Effect, the writer needs some control over the order in which you encounter content and the pacing of that delivery. I won’t say it’s impossible to do that in the context of a procedural world, but it’s never been done before in the AAA world and there’s no obvious way to reconcile these two vastly different ideas.

This idea ran against the genre of the series and the new engine. It’s an idea that leaves a lot of question marks in the design and requires a lot of R&D to sort out. It’s not something you should be messing with when you’re also changing engines and trying to rebuild your entire content library and trying to break in a new team.

This feature was obviously abandoned for a more traditional design, but it still ate up a lot of time and development resources. This is bad because they also decided to…

3. Ramp up the Scope

It's not a great boss fight, but maybe you'll appreciate it once you're fighting it for the third or fourth time.
It's not a great boss fight, but maybe you'll appreciate it once you're fighting it for the third or fourth time.

This is a big game. There’s a lot of content here. Sure, a lot of it doesn’t fit together and none of it is polished, but someone on the team felt like Mass Effect needed to “go big”. Possibly different creative people had different ideas about what content the game should include and what it should be about, and rather than settle on a singular vision they just decided to take two and a half conflicting game designs and blend them all together. Or perhaps the creative leadership just had runaway ambitions. Either way, we wound up with this oversized, unfocused mess.

  • In terms of story, the main plot has you facing off against the bad guy for control of the space-MacGuffin. This is a bit like the core of Mass Effect 2, where you have a chain of fixed missions that are more or less divorced from the side content.
  • The main plot is about the MacGuffin, but most of the gameplay is focused on making five different planets habitable and sorting out the local political conflicts to make the places safe for colonists. Each planet has its own questline to sort the place out. Back in my Mass Effect 1 write-up I divided the game’s story into “episodes”. Each of these five planets feels like at least an episode worth of content.
  • As with previous titles, each of your six squaddies has a story you can go through to unlock their full potential. Unlike previous titles, some of these stories can span multiple missions and run in tandem with the main plot.
  • On top of the main plot and the planet-fixing stories, you have the missions where you rescue the arks. These missions exist in a sort of neutral zone between the other content. One of them acts as a stop on the main story, and another is the personal mission for one of your squad mates, while the third is completely standalone. You can sort of claim these parts have already been accounted for above. But these missions have more in common with each other than they do with anything else in the game, to the point where they sort of feel like yet another independent questline.
  • There are more romance options than ever before. You can romance five of your six squad mates, plus a couple of additional crew members, plus a few random people sprinkled around the gameworld.
  • There’s this whole side-plot where the player unlocks Alec Ryder’s memories to learn the backstory of Alec, the Andromeda Initiative, and AI buddy SAM. It’s a very simple story (no branching) but it’s really heavy on content. Every memory is a full cutscene that runs for several minutes.
  • On top of all that is a huge collection of random sidequests. Even after getting all five planets to 100% habitability and completing the game, I still had dozens of open quests and countless more quest markers on offer. I had emails offering me quests, people on the NexusThe central hub space station. offering quests, people on planets offering me quests, and even people on my ship offering me quests. None of them are particularly deep or engaging and they offer very little worldbuilding. Most of them follow the form of “click on three things” or “shoot three groups of dudes” or “find and scan three things”. It’s shallow content, but it still has voiced dialog and brief cutscenes associated with it. Which means these quests were eating into the time budget of all the other content.

That’s What Happened

You're wrong, Narrator. This mess was never my dream.
You're wrong, Narrator. This mess was never my dream.

On top of these three bad decisions was the unavoidable fact that this team needed to do some sort of soft reboot / reset to the Mass Effect universe, because making a same-setting sequel wasn’t possible and the public didn’t want a prequelAgain, according to the Kotaku article.. Any one of these decisions would have created challenges for the team, but when you combine them you end up with an insurmountable mess. The team was in a situation where making content was going to be harder than ever while also embracing a design that required more content than ever before while also messing around with experimental designs that required lots of prototyping while also breaking in a development studio that was at least partly new to the franchise.

I know it’s popular to dump on EA, but I don’t think they can claim more than a third of the blame for this. I’m sure the move to the Frostbite engine was their idea. Frostbite is EA’s in-house engine, and this move was probably done so they wouldn’t have to pay the licensing fees for the Unreal Engine. It’s entirely possible the accounting nitwit who imposed this decision on BioWare didn’t even understand why using Frostbite for a BioWare game would be difficult. You can imagine the technologically illiterate thinking behind this: Both games are about shooting dudes! How hard could it be?

But that decision wasn’t enough to kill Mass Effect Andromeda on its own. If the team had stuck to the tried-and-true design and limited the scope of the project, they would have enjoyed much better odds at making it out of development with a polished game.

But Shamus, isn’t it unfair to fault the developers for trying new things? They’re just trying to push the medium forward!

If this was a new franchise, then I’d agree with you. My problem is that they were “trying new things” that ran counter to the kind of game they were supposed to be making. If they had a design idea ahead of time that would be one thing, but from reading the Kotaku article it sounds like they began making the open-world stuff first, without any clue as to how they could reconcile that with the linear story they wanted to tell. “We’ll figure it out later” is a pretty dangerous attitude, particularly when you’re also trying to change to a game engine with no support for “open world procedural” content.

A Lack of Polish

Here we have a AAA game where the final dialog in an important questline doesn't have any lighting anywhere in the scene.
Here we have a AAA game where the final dialog in an important questline doesn't have any lighting anywhere in the scene.

What we ended up with is a scattershot game that’s being pulled in six different directions at the same time, built atop wobbly technologyYes, the Frostbite engine is pretty solid. But the Frostbite+RPG engine was still coming together at the very end of the project., where all of the content suffers from a glaring lack of polish. It’s a sad end to a long development cycle and possibly even the end of the franchise.

Over the next 22 entries, I’m going to go over the major story arcs of the game and point out the failings. I’m not going to do a deep dive on the entire game mission-by-mission the way I did for the previous entries. This is an enormous game and covering it in detail would take forever. Worse, most of my analysis would boil down to “This mission is poorly paced, poorly animated, poorly scripted, and contains too much repetitive busywork.” These problems are pervasive, and I don’t feel the need to document it every time they crop up.

 

Footnotes:

[1] At least, not the main story.

[2] Not totally successful, mind you. Partway through writing this series I stumbled on a few names I recognized. Still, I did what I could to keep “the writer” as abstract as possible.

[3] Computer consoles, crates, chairs, doors, and everything you use to fill in the environments.

[4] Sounds and texture maps should translate just fine. It’s the 3D models that are a problem.

[5] Although the FIFA and Need for Speed teams were able to adapt it to their needs.

[6] Talk to the quest giver on a space station.

[7] Once you have the quest, the bad guys spawn at their designated location on the planet.

[8] Once I shoot the bad guys, they need to stay dead even if I fly to another planet.

[9] Once the dudes are dead, I can come back to the quest giver for the reward and wrap-up conversation.

[10] The central hub space station.

[11] Again, according to the Kotaku article.

[12] Yes, the Frostbite engine is pretty solid. But the Frostbite+RPG engine was still coming together at the very end of the project.



From The Archives:
 

161 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 1: So What Happened?

  1. Lame Duck says:

    Personally, I felt like Andromeda was a tremendous success as a platform for generating hilarious gifs and videos of terrible animations and ridiculous bugs. It looks just AAA enough for all the truly awful animation mistakes to contrast perfectly and transcend incompetence into absurdity. It’s possible that’s not enough to justify 5 years and however many tens of millions of dollars they spent but I got 20 or 30 minutes of laughs out of it, so I’m happy it got made.

  2. ShivanHunter says:

    Andromeda retrospective hype!

    My initial impression was pretty similar – not the atrocity the Internet claimed it was (the gameplay was genuinely enjoyable for me, mostly, except the parts where you went an hour with no checkpoint), but nothing near ME1. I kept looking for any bit of content that rose above “mediocre” and was consistently disappointed, but nothing was much worse than “mediocre” either.

    The animation memes were pretty funny but the hyper-focus on them at launch irked me, since the worst bits were fixed pretty quickly and the real problems with the game go way deeper than that.

  3. Paul Spooner says:

    Man… sounds like that procedural open world space colonization game would have been amazing! Like, a 3D AAA version of Rimworld? But, yeah, that’s not Mass Effect even a little.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      So, a triple-A version of No Man’s Sky?

      1. Decius says:

        I’d settle for several indie games that between them had all of the games that NMS promised and tried to be.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        A triple-A version of what now? Sorry, I had an aneurysm a couple months back, things get a little fuzzy.

  4. ElementalAlchemist says:

    There are a number of factual errors in this article. I’m not sure how much of this can be ascribed to Schreier, but I’d caution taking too much of what he says regarding technical matters at face value.

    For starters, assets like models, textures, animations, are all engine agnostic. They are merely imported into, and used by, an engine, not made in the engine itself. There was nothing stopping them reusing all the ME1-3 assets in Frostbite if they wanted (and you can see this in action with mods, content from all sorts of games – including ME – getting ported to other engines). They chose not to because it was time for the series to get a facelift. We are a decade plus out from the first game at this point. The AAA industry has moved on massively, technologically speaking. All new assets were a given regardless of what engine they used (it’s actually less effort to create stuff from scratch rather than trying to repurpose old assets).

    Regarding the engine choice itself, it wasn’t actually a choice. EA has mandated that all internal projects use Frostbite for a number of years now, so this at least is something that Bioware is blameless in. They had to use Frostbite whether they wanted to or not (see also Dragon Age Inquisition). However, the notion that a different engine would have resulted in less issues is a misnomer.

    Assuming that Bioware were still independent, or otherwise excluded from the Frostbite mandate, the two logical choices they would have had were to continue with Unreal 3.5, or switch to Unreal 4. The former would have required something similar to what Firaxis did with XCOM 2 – trying to cram a PBR renderer into an aging engine without any support from the engine licensor (Epic). It still would have required all new assets, and plenty of learning for the all new production pipeline. The result probably would have been similar to X2, an engine pushed beyond its capacity and suffering massive performance problems as a result.

    The other option, switching to Unreal 4, probably would have caused more problems than using Frostbite. At the time MEA development was spooling up, UE4 was very bare-bones. Much like Frostbite, its origins lay in catering to shooter mechanics, and even now it’s not ideal for RPGs, even less so for open worlds. If they had gone with UE4, not only would they still have to code a whole bunch of their own framework to make the game, given the pace of Epic’s development at the time they very quickly would have been using a deprecated branch. As a programmer, I’m sure you are familiar with the joy of trying to backport a bunch of new features to an old and incompatible branch of the codebase. So they probably would have been forced to essentially reinvent the wheel and code a whole slew of fundamental features themselves rather than rely on Epic (this is, incidentally, pretty much the exact scenario the Austin team found themselves in with the Hero engine they used for SWTOR – they quickly diverged from the main codebase and were unable to backport updates and improvements from the engine licensor).

    1. theTDC says:

      With regards to assets, this is somewhat true. The purely art assets are indeed engine agnostic, and while I’m sure there were some teething pains importing the first assets, if Frostbite has serious issues with importing art assets then Frostbite is just broken. They would probably have taken just a few hours to get up to speed and working on that, or at least should have if they were not an incompetent studio.

      In-game assets are a different story. Take the code that controls which animations are playing. That is very much not engine agnostic, and every engine does things differently, with drastically different systems for this. On top of that, the gameplay code that controls when these animations play would have to be completely rewritten for the new engine, because all of their gameplay code would have to be rewritten for the new engine. Shaders would also have to be rewritten, although the old shaders could be used decent references. Then again, debugging shaders is a total nightmare, and there’s a thousand ways they can trip you up from engine to engine, such as doing matrix transformation in reverse order, which will compile but be totally broken. On top of all that, putting shaders onto objects, however that is done in Frostbite, will be done differently in every engine. So while it’s true that you don’t technically need any changes to the art assets, you are putting a massive amount of work on your programmers and technical artists, just to get back to the point where you used to be. What that means is that getting finished art assets into the game is absolutely more of a challenge using the new engine, which is going to be expensive and cause delays.

      It’s probably true that Bioware had no choice, and was forced to use the Frostbite engine to make this game. Assuming that the Frostbite engine is a decent engine with decent tools, which actually is a pretty big assumption, then I don’t actually think that switching engines was such a bad decision. While Epic does give you all of their source code, minimizing the “you can customize the In House Engine” argument, I can totally understand EA requiring their teams to use their engine for financial reasons. However, as Shamus points out, it’s totally insane to start increasing the scope of the game after transitioning to a new Engine. They should have done the entire opposite approach, releasing a small game with limited scope to get the team accustomed to the new engine. The fact that they increased the scope with little reasoning beyond “I dunno” is pretty damning for the studio, and for EA allowing that to happen.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Why does game logic code need to be re-written when changing engines? Shouldn’t it all be decoupled and isolated from the game engine, with some small pieces of code to translate whatever data is needed?

        1. guy says:

          “Should” and “is” are rarely synonyms when it comes to computer code. Especially code that was written to tight deadlines.

          There’s also some degree of performance hit from having pieces of code to translate needed data. Games are unusually sensitive to minor performance hits because they’ll have a strict framerate target and AAA games want to push the envelope and do as much as they possibly can on their recommended hardware while keeping to the framerate target. Most other programs either aren’t trying to max out performance or are less sensitive to timing issues. If you click a button on a website and the database takes an extra second to respond due to being made system agnostic you don’t necessarily even notice. If you click a button in a game and it takes an extra second to respond that’s grounds for a refund.

        2. theTDC says:

          Game logic code will need to be re-written because your game logic code has to act upon actual game entities, which are going to be different for each engine. Different game engines have differences for something even as basic as what the GameObject/Entity/Actor base class is going to be. For instance, in Unity, everything inherits from a Monobehaviour script, which gives you a transform. Everything else is added through a component system. In Unreal, if you want something like, say, a player controller, you need to inherit from the APlayerController class, which itself inherits from AController, which itself inherits from AActor, and so on until you get to UBaseObject, which you never actually write yourself, since we’re using inheritance here. On top of all that, Unreal has a sort of component system added onto this. So what I mean is that creating something as simple as a character that moves forward when the player pressed the w key is massively different between the two engines, and you absolutely cannot simply transfer gameplay code from one to the other. Of course, Unity scripting is done in C# whereas Unreal and Frostbite are C++, but the fundamental differences in the Engines remain.

          What I’m saying is that it’s actually the opposite of what you think here, not that I’m trying to attack you or anything, but the engines themselves are what are logic independent, the actual logic for the gameplay is massively engine dependent. I can say from experience that if you want to do something like rotate the character to face a certain direction that the code to do this is extremely different in Unity than in Unreal, even leaving aside the language difference, even though those tasks are the same, and are done very similarly. A programmer who is familiar with one engine is going to be programming at a snails pace while they look up the documentation for how to do simple things in their new engine. Knowing EA, the documentation on the Frostbite engine is probably bad, and so this would further contribute to the hampering of their programmers.

          But it gets worse, because while you’re building the pure art assets in a modeling program the level designers need to be doing scripting in the level. In Unreal you would probably prototype some stuff in Blueprinting, and then have programmers optimizing that later in c++. No idea how they do it in Frostbite, but whatever it is, the workflow is going to be totally different. Hell, even doing something as simple as placing a trigger in the level to cause something to happen when the player runs over it is going to be very different from one engine to another, and that’s about the most basic thing you can do as a Level Designer.

          ———————————————————————-
          Edit: I’ve actually understated the problem. It isn’t just that the fundamental game entity is different, everything is different. Game Engines are going to have certain math functions, to use just one tiny example, which are a convenience that save you from writing your own. Let’s say that you have an enemy which needs to “find” the player if the player is within a certain cone of them, and then rotate to the player at a certain speed if the player is within the “vision”. The math to do that is not all that hard, especially if we assume that since the objects are fairly far away, then we don’t have to be really perfect and create a bounding box, but we can instead just calculate from the center of one object to the center of another. We first need use the dot product between the normalized vector we are looking at and the normalized vector from the player to the enemy, which will give us a result from 1.0, -1.0. We can compare that to a value that we want to find if the angle is within the maximum angle and the player is now either seen or not seen. To get whether they are to the left or right we now need to take the cross product between the normalized vector to the player, as well as our forward vector. This will give us a vector at a weird angle either mostly up or mostly down. Now we take the dot product of that vector with our up vector (think arrow from your feet through your head no matter how you are rotated), and if that is positive then according to the right hand rule the object is to the right. If it is negative it is to the left. Of course, apparently following the right hand rule is more of a guideline and some engines do the opposite, so there’s no way to find out except to test in the editor and see if the enemy is rotating in the correct direction.

          *Edit, this was probably not a great example of “not hard math”, because before I knew Linear Algebra this would have seemed like gobbledygook. However, trust me when I say that this is not hard math, and pretty much everyone can learn this very easily. Any gameplay programmer, or AI programmer is going to do this fairly trivially. Think of it as more like knowing that you need to do some operations as opposed to being able to calculate 190843×5250982 in 3 seconds.

          But wait, we haven’t even gotten to the actual rotation part. So in Unity, what we would do is get a pointer to our Rigidbody, which is going to look something like:
          Rigidbody rBody = GetComponent();
          Hoping that the rigidbody is at the same level in the Entity heirarchy as this script, which it might not be, in which case we’re going to get null. Anyway, so now that we have our Rigidbody we can now start rotating it. In Unity this is probably going to be done by getting the vector in euler angles, applying a small rotation in the correct direction using Time.deltaTime * rotPerSecond, then shoving that back into the Transforms rotation.

          But wait, I haven’t actually attached this code to a GameObject/AActor/WhateverFrostbiteUses, which is an extremely engine specific task, which is going to require either someone experienced over my shoulder a few times or just suffering and tears while reading massive amounts of hopefully not terrible documentation. This last part cannot be understated at all, and this is just on the programmer side.

          I have no idea how to do this in Unreal. I looked up some of it online and apparently they put their Vector math in an FVector:: namespace, as opposed to Unity’s Vector3. static class. I don’t know how to get the forward and up vectors, although I suspect that is simple to look up. Getting the rigidbody, however that is defined, would be another lookup. Getting the deltaTime is yet another lookup. Exposing the rotation speed in a variable for designers is an even trickier problem, requiring another lookup, and attaching this to an actual AActor is yet another problem, which could require hours of frustrating debugging. All of what I did is fairly trivial, and would come up in almost every game in some way shape or form, for example, homing rockets, turrets, whatever. I have no idea how to do this in Unreal, and I suspect that Bioware had no idea how to do this in Frostbite. And this is just one example of something that honestly isn’t even that hard. And the math part is actually the least hard, because it is the most objective, and therefore the most similar between engines.
          ———————————————————————-

          1. theTDC says:

            I should have stated, if we want to look at the value in an angle we need to multiply that 1.0,-1.0 value by inverse cos. But that’s not the point, the point is that it’s impossible to do anything in any game engine without interfacing heavily with the Engine, doing things the way it wants to do things. And there’s never any examples of gameplay code that exists on it’s own terms as something you can just plug and play into an engine willy nilly.

            1. guy says:

              Well, you totally could write most of your code to be engine-independent and then write translation layers for each engine, just like how you write code to run on multiple operating systems. But there’d be some degree of overhead converting “move player forward at 2m/s” into the engine-specific implementation and if you aren’t changing engines it’s a total waste of time.

              1. theTDC says:

                No you can’t. Switching engines is not a trivial detail, where you write 95% of the same code, but then you at the end call some specific call that’s differently. We’re not talking about some tool for converting our HLSL code to GLSL here, the engine is the star of the show so to speak. I just cannot understate the importance of the engine to the specific code that you actually write.

                To use your specific example, yes you can write “move player forward at 2m/s” in various engines, but the implementation of something even so simple is going to be so radically different that there’s not any repeated code. Your translation layer idea doesn’t work here, because the translation layer all of the code you have to write anyway.

                I’m not trying to be negative or anything, I think it’s a very complicated subject and I don’t think you should take this personally, but I just think you haven’t really looked at what that “translation layer” would actually look like. And again, changing a game entities velocity is one of the absolute simplest systems in a game engine, and all engines have different versions of it. This idea is just totally broken if we get to things that these engines do very differently. Google how to convert a prefab in Unity to a Blueprint in Unreal, and then think about how it could even be possible to do something like this in code.

                1. guy says:

                  It would look like an abstract class named game entity with an abstract method named set velocity that takes a number as an input, and then you’d make concrete implementations for the engine that do the engine-specific implementation. Then if you switch to a new engine you would write new concrete classes.

                  Since this impacts performance and people rarely switch game engines it’s not worth doing, but it’s no more impossible than running on different processor architectures with different instruction sets; that only looks easy because the necessary work has already been done and compilers convert to an intermediate language that has implementations in all standard Instruction Set Architectures.

                  1. theTDC says:

                    That wouldn’t get you anything. You just sort of rewrote the engine itself. The entire point of gameplay code is that we are performing logic on the SPECIFIC things in our code that need that logic. So in your example, how and where do I put into the code that this is for the Player Character only?

                    Lets take a really simple example. When a player runs into a certain trigger they have their movement speed reduced to 2m/s. In Unity, this looks like this.

                    // Unity runs this silently in the background, will call this for us if we move into a trigger
                    // Also, this in in a script called, say, PC_Controller.cs, attached to some Player prefab in the editor.
                    private void OnTriggerEnter(Collider other){
                    // LVL_SpecificScript is attached to some prefab in the Editor, or just a one-off in the level, again in the editor.
                    // Note: other.GetComponent{LVL_AThingy}() — My formatting is getting deleted
                    if(other.GetComponent()){
                    mMaxSpd = 2f;
                    }
                    }

                    In Unreal it’s going to look (something) like this:

                    // In our constructor
                    AtdcPlayer::AtdcPlayer()
                    {
                    // … Have to actually set up our object to have our collision component actually register collisions
                    tdcColBox->OnComponentBeginOverlap.AddDynamic(this, &ALightSwitchCodeOnly::OnOverlapBegin); // set up a notification for when this component overlaps something
                    }

                    void AtdcPlayer::OnOverlapBegin(class UPrimitiveComponent* OverlappedComp, class AActor* OtherActor, class UPrimitiveComponent* OtherComp, int32 OtherBodyIndex, bool bFromSweep, const FHitResult& SweepResult)
                    {
                    if (OtherActor!=null)
                    {
                    // check if the other actor is of ALVL_Thingy class. We would need to create this in the editor and place it in the world.
                    // if(OtherActor-}IsA{ALVL_Thingy}() — formatting
                    if(OtherActor->IsA())
                    {
                    mMaxSpd = 2f;
                    }
                    }
                    }

                    This isn’t even close to what we actually have to write to really do this, but I hope we can already see the problem. We have to define, not in English, but in actual code the specific thing we’re looking to collide with. We don’t need to rewrite the engine code to check if objects of certain types have collided/overlapped with each other, that’s what the engine is for. What we need to know is whether two specific types have collided with each other, which means that there’s just no getting around writing the specific implementation of ALVL_Thingy and LVL_SpecificScript, to say nothing of actually creating those objects in the Editor, which requires creating an object of type ALVL_Thingy in Unreal, and attaching a component of LVL_SpecificScript in Unity.

                    So if you want to write something like:

                    void HandlePlayerHitMolasses(){

                    #ifdef UNITY

                    #endif

                    #ifdef UNREAL

                    #endif
                    }

                    It’s not possible to put any code in here, because the implementation of the systems required to check this are different in Unity then in Unreal. Now you could say, well I can still put some #IfDef’s in there and write entirely different code inside of this function, but because there is no specific function that you call to handle this event, you have to be using the collision systems of the Engine as the specific Engine wants you to, you can’t. We do not call a function to handle stepping in Molasses, we check if the trigger we entered is effectively the molasses trigger and write the code handling that there, and all of this needs to be in the correct place in code, which it can’t possibly be, since we would need to be already implementing this for the specific Engine to attach this script/class/whatever to the correct data. And even if you could somehow create some really complicated system that somehow did this, which took in some abstract classes and stuffed some function pointers in the right places, and was a templated horror show, you would not have saved writing a single line of code, in fact, just the opposite.

                    And all of this is for a totally trivial example where we just check if we walked into a specific trigger.

                    1. theTDC says:

                      I was hoping that my formatting would remain, but alas, it was not to be.

                    2. guy says:

                      No, you’re not rewriting the engine, you’re creating wrapper classes for the engine. You would use inheritance and polymorphism so you could use the Unity wrapper and the Unreal wrapper interchangably; you could then write a function that takes your abstract player object and your abstract trigger object and check if they overlap, and pass either Unity or Unreal objects into it. Then you can write code to activate stuff based on triggers by using this method, and to switch from Unity to Unreal you’d just change which concrete implementation you use.

                      Is that worth doing? No, no it is not. But if you needed to write code to run on five different game engines (which you don’t) that is how you would do it. Games are not special in this regard; the only reason why the difference between operating systems is a couple of library calls is that people have written libraries to make it easier. The game engine itself is basically a giant pile of wrapper code for various system functions. If it were important to be able to regularly change game engines then there would be wrapper libraries for the game engines. It’s not a harder problem than compilers, it’s just not as important to solve.

                    3. theTDC says:

                      This is getting aggravating. Have you ever written code for Unity or Unreal? For starters, you do not call into the collision system to tell it to run collisions for you, it calls back to you when it has collided with something. There’s no RunCollisions() function in these engines. The engine needs to know the specific GameObject/Actor that has the very specific function pointer to call when a collision is triggered.

                      You cannot get around this through Inheritance and Polymorphism. Your compiler analogy is a hell of a lot more accurate. You need to parse the code you have written and translate it into something Unreal can read, and something Unity/Frostbite/Whatever can read. Your example of: “you could then write a function that takes your abstract player object and your abstract trigger object and check if they overlap, and pass either Unity or Unreal objects into it” is so naive it’s almost unbelievable. YOU NEED THE FUNCTION POINTERS THAT THE ENGINE GIVES TO YOU IN ORDER TO PERFORM COLLISIONS. What are you talking about “Passing either Unity or Unreal objects into it”? Lol wut? What do you mean specifically by this? The Engine is not your servant, that you can just tell to run whatever. THE OBJECTS THEMSELVES NEED TO HAVE THE CORRECT FUNCTION POINTERS ALREADY.

                      I repeat, you need to build the objects themselves from within the engines systems from the get go. Meaning that you need something that comes close to re-compiling your code not for an instruction set but for an engine, which is going to be a massively sub-optimal solution in terms of performance, compile times, code readability, and most importantly, understandability to your Level Designers, who won’t be able to easily compose/tweak things in the Editor anymore. You would have undergone an engineering problem equal to building a compiler, possibly greater tbh, for negative gain.

                      “If it were important to be able to regularly change game engines then there would be wrapper libraries for the game engines.” No there wouldn’t be, and we know that because it IS important to be able to change engines. Teams change game engines quite often. Shamus even had the example of that new System Shock remake which changed engines in development and basically died as a result of having to throw out all their old code, and in game assets. There has yet to be any talk of Engine Wrappers.

                      Also, you keep saying “wrapper libraries”, and not “million+ lines of code text parser that totally rewrite your program for the other engine”. The main reason that SDL, and SDL2 exist is because the Windows API is a nightmare. When you write SDL code to create a window, or read input, or generally interface with the OS that code is far more readable and maintainable than the code for Windows, and I suspect most OS’s. The reason that multi-CPU architecture compilers exist is because it’s so much easier to write in C or another high level language than the individual assembly language for the CPU, and those compilers are millions of lines of code. Unity and Unreal do not expose hideously verbose API’s for you to call, they’re very reasonable and natural. On top of that, they do things very differently at a low or even medium level, so any generic call between them is, at best, going to be no easier to read, and at worst, a total nightmare to understand and write in the first place. So you’re making it more difficult to write code for negative performance gain.

                    4. guy says:

                      None of that sounds harder than writing code that can retrieve data from any SQL implementation, or an internet data source, or an in-memory representation, using identical calling regardless of the source or the underlying format in which that data is stored.

                      There’s a C# library for that. It’s called LINQ. If Microsoft felt making code cross-compatible across game engines was a priority they’d make a C# library for that too.

                    5. theTDC says:

                      So, no, you haven’t written any code for Unity or Unreal. Got it.

                      “If Microsoft felt making code cross-compatible across game engines was a priority they’d make a C# library for that too.”

                      1) Microsoft doesn’t make any game engines. I have zero idea why you think they’d suddenly make some cross platform library for game engines. Also, good luck writing a C# library that interfaces with all these engines. Especially since, although you really don’t understand, you don’t need a library, you need something that recompiles/parses your intermediate language into exactly what the Engine wants.

                      “None of that sounds harder than writing code that can retrieve data from any SQL implementation, or an internet data source, or an in-memory representation, using identical calling regardless of the source or the underlying format in which that data is stored.”

                      2) On what planet is this not harder? LINQ retrives data, and you’re proposing a sort of intermediate language that translates into every game engine on the planet, keeping up with patches. No idea why you think this is comparable. Again, a more apt comparison is a compiler, which is multiple millions of lines of code.

                      You seem to think that this is some trivial engineering problem. I pointed out a lot of problems to you, none of which you have responded to. I also pointed out that some cross platform library is not desirable anyway, which you have also not responded to.

                    6. guy says:

                      I actually have used Unity; admittedly my specific suggestion for how to go about it assumed a certain degree of commonality in how external scripts are called.

                      I don’t mean to say it would be remotely easy, nor is it trivial, any more than building a skyscraper is trivial just because you do it by having a steel frame. I am in fact specifically saying, and have been from the beginning, that it would be harmful to performance and is not a productive use of time under practical conditions because it would take an exceedingly large amount of work to set up and companies don’t move their code between game engines very often.

                      So yes it is rather like a compiler, and like a compiler people could write one if necessary. But unlike a compiler where people regularly compile the same code to wildly different architectures, people do not regularly make the same game on multiple engines. So it is not a worthwhile use of time to write millions of lines of code to make doing that easier.

                    7. guy says:

                      I mean, I work at a company where the entire buisness model is predicated on working with completely incompatible systems that have the same purpose. I am aware it is very difficult, it is why we are paid so much money to solve it. Even data retrieval becomes rather difficult when it’s in different locations and formats and may not strictly speaking exist but you have to successfully retrieve it anyways. That is not an exaggeration, that is an actual problem someone (not me) has to solve.

                    8. Shamus says:

                      It’s amazing to me how often programming arguments are caused by differences in domain experience. Things that seem preposterous to a game developer seem reasonable to someone working with embedded systems, and someone working on databases will have assumptions and habits that seem irrational to a systems developer.

                    9. guy says:

                      Also in this case I think we’ve actually been talking past each other; I’ve been arguing it’s possible vs. theTDC arguing that it’s not easy. Which I concur with; if it were easy people would do it regularly. If it were vital someone would have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on doing it.

                      I mean if we just had to work with one data format we would not have an entire department for reconciling data formats. There’s always a cost to making things interoperable and it’s often quite high so people don’t pay it unless they need to.

      2. At least one branch of Bioware has already done a major AAA game using Frostbite, and they had DLC’s that were worked on by other Bioware studios.

        So, post DA:I release, it’d be reasonable to expect that the coders at Bioware who work on their AAA content are pretty familiar with Frostbite. Plus, one of the stated reasons why EA made ALL of their development studios work in Frostbite was so that the studios could share assets. So they could always call for help from other studios and pick up all the best work that those other studios had done to make Frostbite do this-or-that.

        1. guy says:

          Andromeda’s troubled pre-production would’ve been simultaneous with DA:I’s development, so the Frostbite conversion would’ve been ongoing for both projects. And they were separate studios, so they might’ve had divergent branches and implemented the party stuff differently. Obviously that’d be a mistake, but it’s the sort that’s really common when you have multiple teams.

  5. Daimbert says:

    A lot of this reminds me of Dragon Age: Inquisition: the move to a more open-world or Skyrim type of experience — I call them single player MMOs — while trying to keep the strong story focus that has become their hallmark. The problem is that all of those extra quests and things to do swamp the story quests, and so diminish the story by their presence. And since you had to unlock new areas in DAI by doing those quests to build up influence that you can use at the War Council to do it, it didn’t even really make things less linear. So you had a mostly linear progression where you had to grind these small and disconnected quests to get what you needed which swamped the story and character moments which were the best things about the game. But like Andromeda, DAI isn’t actually a bad game. I just find it way too much of a grind to get through for what I got out of it.

    Bioware essentially clobbered two complete series for me. I like ME and DAO, and like or at least will play to varying degrees ME2 and DA2, but I don’t really want to play ME3 again and have said of DAI that if I NEVER play DAI again it will be too soon. But since they’re all part of the same series playing the first ones always makes me want to play the last one, too, so it discourages me from playing ANY of the games.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      So here’s a thing – I’m currently playing through Tyranny, and something interesting about it: there are very few side-quests* and each and every one is closely linked to the main story.

      …and it’s fantastic. For almost every quest I’m offered, I know why I’d do it, I want to do it, and more often than not it helps my overall goals in the game if I do. Even with good games, I often get a sinking feeling while exploring a new area, but so far Tyranny hasn’t done that to me.
      Meanwhile, I had a very similar experience to Daimbert with DA: Inquisition. I don’t hate it – and am curious about the story – but there’s just no way I’m going to slog through all that filler.

      Bigger is not always better.

      *So far, at least. Haven’t finished it yet.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Right about the same time, I bought and was playing Persona 5 (I played it I think right after I finished DAI). Both of the games take about 80 hours to get through one playthrough. When I finished DAI, as I said above I felt that if I never played it again it’d be too soon. For Persona 5, I immediately started a second playthrough when I finished the first one. Yes, you CAN have lots of content and make a game that doesn’t really seem grindy, and making every quest have some kind of purpose to drive you to do it is a key component of that, as in Persona 5 everything you do is either to further the main quest, further side quests (that further the main quest), facilitate companion links (S-links), or just because you find it fun.

      2. CloverMan-88 says:

        I’m endlessly amazed by how little love tyranny gets. I have never been so immersed in the world and my character as when I played Tyrrany.

        1. guy says:

          I felt like the original story kinda came apart later on if you’ve been playing a loyalist; Kyros expends a lot of dedicated effort putting you into a position of considerable power and engineering your control of the spires, then tries to kill you. It didn’t seem like I’d given any reason to reconsider intentionally making me one of the most powerful people in the world. I mean, yes I’m a threat, but I’d always been a threat so why not kill me when I was a lot weaker?

          Update is supposed to have fixed that; I sorta stalled out in my playthrough where I aimed for it.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Ack! Spoilers much!

            Doesn’t seem massive, but please don’t say any more. Or keep them in spoiler tags.

            1. Mechaninja says:

              The things Guy talks about are telegraphed pretty early on, or at least they were for me. Like a network procedural, where the guest star of the week is obviously the perpetrator, I’m still interested to learn how we’re getting there.

              I’d also like to add my $0.02 on the “Tyranny is underrated”. I’m going to fire it up again now that I’ve finally let my WoW sub lapse (again).

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            It’s not just that he tries to kill you, he tries to kill you in a really dumb way. Like, so dumb and ineffectual that maybe it’s some kind of eleven-dimensional chess not actually meant to kill you. And then the game ends before you get to ask what the hell is going on.

            Everything about the ending felt really rushed (it probably was, the artbook shows two entire chapters were planned and cut), and it wrecked my overall enjoyment of the game. I’m not saying there can’t be a mostly-good game with a bad ending, but Tyranny really needed a good (or at least not bad) end and instead it felt like a mystery novel whose last chapter is “A wizard did it, I dunno if he’ll get arrested, the end.”

            1. guy says:

              Well, the plan is straightforward but generically kinda sensible, I think.

              Kyros puts her questionably-loyal Archons in the same region and sets them against each other, while prepping a loyal and incredibly dangerous Archon to come in for cleanup if she doesn’t like the winner. The normal solution would be an Edict, but as a rising Archon of Edicts in control of the local Spires you’ve shielded the region with your own Edicts. What’s screwy is that Kyros arranged that on purpose rather than having the Archon Of Shadows murder you at the end of the prologue like any other troublesome potential Archon. That only makes sense if you’re being groomed for second-in-command, and if you’re loyal then you give no reason to reconsider.

              1. guy says:

                The other thing is that there’s a running theme that

                Kyros simply isn’t actually that powerful. Oh, sure, Kyros is an Archon, but just a generic Archon. Maybe even weaker than you are. Kyros has gone to enormous lengths to conceal it, but the only reason Kyros rules an invincible empire is that for like a hundred years beforehand she went around learning Edicts and siezing control of all the Spires. No one can ordinarily stand against an Edict, but each Oldwalls region can only power one at a time. So once you raise your Edicts Kyros just has nothing; she can’t send a Fatebinder to proclaim the Edict Of Stone against you like the last renegade Archon.

                The eleven-dimensional chess starts in the prologue; for some unclear reason Kyros has decided to make a policy change and obtain a subordinate Archon of Edicts rather than sticking with the standard “There can be only one!” rule for Archons. The Archon of Shadows is on standby with orders to eliminate you if this goes sour.

                1. Ninety-Three says:

                  Oh the general plan is generically kinda sensible (though as you said, done for some dissatisfyingly unclear reason), the stupid part I was complaining about was the endgame where Kyros turns on you. You raised the obvious question of “Why expend the effort of putting you there only to expend more effort tearing you down?” but there are worse problems.

                  Why not try asking nicely first? You can play the kind of dedicated loyalist who gives every indication that they would just turn over their domain to Kyros if ordered to, but before even sending a letter Kyros inexplicably jumps to “better invade”, and then the game forces you into “Better defend”. It’s like if the US rolled in the tanks and tried to annex California: that’s already yours dude.

                  Why in god’s name an invasion? Kyros knows you control the Spires: the Edict you unleash is so badass that the invading army gets defeated offscreen! Surely this could have been foreseen, so what the hell was the point of throwing away an army? Even as eleven-dimensional chess, the only thing it seems to accomplish is cementing your hostility to Kyros, which can’t possibly be a desired outcome.

                  The “Archon of Shadows on standby” plan also gets stupid. Instead of slitting your throat while you sleep like his status implies he would, he just challenges you to a straight up fight, and you win because this is a videogame. The whole “fighting Archons” business brings up a bunch of ludonarrative discombobs: You are supposedly a Powerful Archon, other Archons demonstrably have a bunch of rad powers and ten billion hit points but you fight at approximately the same power level as your ordinary human allies, and yet a couple of your ordinary human allies plus you at equivalent power level manage to kill several Archons in fair fights, what?

                  Also, the reason Kyros can’t crush you with Edicts isn’t that, as you suggest, there isn’t enough Oldwall Power for a fatebinder to come in and hit you with Edict of Stone 2: A Machine for Pigs. The game implies in some of the mystical flavour text that by controlling the Spires, your territory is shielded from Kyros’ edicts. Which starts raising frustratingly unanswered questions about why Kyros gave you Spire control in the first place: how much of this was intended, did Kyros know in advance Spires worked that way? There are no answers, and speculation doesn’t even get us anywhere because there isn’t enough to go on: the only possible answers I’ve been able to image are the copout of “Kyros works in mysterious ways” and “Kyros is a crazy idiot who makes obviously bad decisions”.

                  1. Ninety-Three says:

                    Uh, the spoiler text seems to have broken in an interesting way. Those four paragraphs are supposed to all be one block of spoilers…

                  2. guy says:

                    The first paragraph was the issue I originally raised; supposedly a big patch has added a proper loyalist path. For the rest:

                    Maybe there’s options I forgot, but what I did was unleash an Edict on Kyros’s capital, forcing the army to abandon the invasion and move to restore order. That raises the question of why Kyros doesn’t just have standing Edicts everywhere to prevent that, but it’s brought up that Archons with the same role don’t have identical powersets and every Kyros Edict is indiscriminate.

                    Archons are unique in many ways, most prominently that they have a unique personal power which is linked to their fame and reputation. You and Kyros have Edicts. The other Archons have their thing which they use heavily in their bossfight. Those powers are why you need party members; you’re new so your Edicts aren’t good enough to slay a targeted Archon like Kyros can.

                    I am 100% sure Kyros knows everything you learn about Edicts and a hell of a lot more; I’m pretty confident the rule about no overlapping Edicts is why they always have termination clauses so Kyros can cancel them and every single other justification given is a cover story so people don’t figure the limitation out. The only possible explaination for why Kyros deliberately arranged for you to read two Edicts and break one and claim a Spire is to have a second person who could create Edicts so Kyros doesn’t have to issue all of them personally. I think the original plan was for you to become an Archon, kill or subjugate the Archons assigned to the area (they’re all unreliable in some fashion and with the entire continent secured their services are no longer required; the Vendrian Well Edict makes it pretty damn clear two are expendable and Turon is more than a little loopy) and become deputy Overlord for the south. If you lose, a reliable Archon is inbound to destroy the Chorus, the Disfavoured, and their Archons. If you pick a disloyal path, onto the kill list you go. It’s just the loyal path where you don’t give cause to revise the plan.

                    Also I’m pretty sure on it being a power thing; it comes up as the reason if you poke around for why you can’t put an Edict on a region where one of Kyros’s Edicts are active. And if it were a shielding effect from the Spire control you couldn’t strike at Kyros; if you ask a Fatebinder to look into Edicts you learn Kyros has attempted to erase every trace of a pre-reign series of visits to claim Spires

                    1. Ninety-Three says:

                      Huh, the Edict I used just messed with the army directly such that they were forced to retreat. But however Edicts work, it fails to answer the question of “Why did Kyros send an army when you could predictably deflect the invasion with your known control of the Spires?”

                      If Edicts work on a one per region cap rather than you having a shield against incoming Edicts, that just introduces a further plot hole. Once Kyros decides to kill you, you spend the rest of act 3 wrapping up business in regions that don’t have any Edicts in them (the menu lets you cast Edicts over your territory, but you can ignore them and leave it untouched): Kyros totally can send a fatebinder in to kill you via Edict, why isn’t this tried? It’s not like you’re impossible to track down, the wrapup has you predictably going to a bunch of locations that a hostile Fatebinder could just camp out in.

                      It was not obvious to me that Kyros intended you to become the Archon of Spires. It’s certainly plausible, but we don’t see any specific reason that Kyros would want that to happen and it’s made extra confusing by Kyros backstabbing a loyalist PC. The alternate explanation, that it was all a coincidence, seems implausible and raises serious questions about what Kyros was thinking (why not kill you as soon as you accidentally took a Spire?) but it’s not like the all according to plan theory avoids that kind of problem.

                      The problem with the Archon fights is that per the lore of the game, there’s no way a few human adventurers should be able to win a fight against an Archon with amazing combat superpowers, yet you do. It doesn’t just do the standard ludonarrative dissonance thing of undermining the lore, it makes Kyros look really silly for relying on the “Kill you with the Archon of Shadows” backup plan.

                    2. Ninety-Three says:

                      I don’t understand why my spoilertext keeps breaking, I’m not doing anything weird. Testing:

                      Paragraph one.

                      Paragraph two.

                      Paragraph three.

                      Paragraph four.

                      Uh, Shamus? I think multi-paragraph spoilers are broken.

                    3. guy says:

                      Kyros’s Edicts are incredibly indiscriminate, so Kyros wouldn’t necessarily want to just release one. And again they don’t necessarily follow the exact same rules yours do; Graven Ashe isn’t the only Archon of War in history but is the only one with Ashe’s Aegis. For Kyros generally, if you go digging you learn that Kyros has expended an enormous amount of effort suppressing key knowledge about Archons generally and Spires in particular and there are almost certainly further undisclosed limitations. One thing Kyros definitely can’t do is proclaim an Edict from the capital that affects the Tiers, hence needing Fatebinders. You have no such limitation but are probably limited in some other way.

                      Kyros is deliberately secretive, but there’s absolutely no way you becoming Archon of Spires is a coincidence; Fatebinders rarely proclaim multiple Edicts and no other Fatebinder in history has survived making and then breaking an Edict. It has to have been arranged on purpose. Why? Hard to say but with the conquest over it’s a sensible time to revise policies like “kill every potential Archon of Spires as soon as they are identified,” which you can find out is policy.

                      Just being an Archon doesn’t really confer a huge general boost; they’re the Archon of X and have some incredible power related to X and don’t age and are the only people who can make a new magic base sigil rather than copying one an Archon made, but aside from that they’re just dudes. Graven Ashe is the Archon of War and his Archon superpower is Ashe’s Aegis and that makes all the Disfavored including himself tougher, and during his bossfight he’s really, really tough. The Voices of Nerat’s Archon superpower is absorbing souls and knowledge, and during his bossfight he pulls out combat techniques from absorbed souls. Your Archon superpower is Edicts, and during the bossfights you should have used it to hamper your opponents and bolster your allies. The thing that makes Archons as big a deal as they are is their minions and their ability to boost their minions with their Archon powers. You beat them with four people because for various reasons (presumably the same reasons Kyros has decided they’re expendable) they don’t call up their entire army.

                    4. guy says:

                      Oh, also I think the reason the loyalist path didn’t make sense is because the loyalist endgame was just straight-up left on the cutting room floor. Obsidian has a really bad habit of cutting important things and the endgame as a loyalist up to that point just ignored the past loyalty entirely and had options as though I’d been plotting a betrayal all along. They patched it back in alongside Bastard’s Wound but I haven’t played to endgame since so I don’t know what it looks like.

        2. Thomas says:

          Tyranny is so underrated. Its the archetypal Obsidian game – great ideas hidden under a bugs and jank – but as soon as I finished it I was up for another playthrough

        3. Bloodsquirrel says:

          The game kind of falls apart as it goes along.

          The truth is that you more or less make your big player decision early on, and after that you’re more-or-less stuck down one of a few linear paths, and then at the end the game railroads you into rebelling against your boss without a whole lot of justification.

          There a lot more detailed discussion on the forum thread:
          http://shamusyoung.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=1100

      3. Olivier FAURE says:

        I’m tempted to buy Tyranny, but boy does the gameplay not appeal to me. That “real time combat with constant pauses” crap is why I couldn’t get past KOTOR’s first level.

    2. Well, it wasn’t so much that the side content swamped the other stuff to do. It actually was at least somewhat integrated into other stuff you had to do.

      The first big area you can go to and the pre-Skyhold plot are actually really well put together. Not perfect, but the stuff you could do and the reasons why you could do it *made sense*. You’re trying to get your shoestring organization some resources while you’re working your way across an area turned into chaos by a couple of fighting groups and portals spitting out demons. Basically EVERYTHING in the Hinterlands revolves around those things: getting some resources (by talking to people or picking them up or scavenging them) and clearing out the warring templars/mages/mercenaries/bandits/demons.

      AAAND then it blew up.

      First, you randomly pick up another area where you can “rescue captured Inquisition soldiers” . . . er, I don’t recall us sending any soldiers into the swamp? Who ordered our soldiers into the swamp?! Is there a cut-scene or decision point or SOMETHING to explain why this needs to be done? Oh, I can read a text box. So, that area was basically a chore. AND it was full of infinitely-respawning undead that were a pain to kill. The whole “story” of the area was dumb. Rando guy I’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again kidnaps soldiers who had no business being there in the first place in order to challenge me to a fight. Even the wrap-up was pretty much a dumb joke. That entire zone could have been cut and you would never have known.

      Then you get another new zone that also has no point except that you can go there and recruit a follower (Storm Coast). It’s tedious to navigate in because it’s very mountainous and it’s hard to tell sometimes whether you can actually go up this part of the hill or not. And, like most 3D zones in games, the 2D map is WORTHLESS.

      Then you get YET ANOTHER NEW ZONE (Forbidden Oasis) that HAS NO POINT except to be the area where you can turn in your shards once you have them all–the mega-scavenger-hunt to end all scavenger hunts, which basically requires you to 100% every area in the game, a tedious chore.

      You don’t HAVE to do these areas before you go to Skyhold (in fact, you don’t HAVE to do them at all).

      Then, once you get to Skyhold, you get access to six more areas, only ONE of which has ANY relevance to the main plot WHATSOEVER. Oh, you can pick up a few tiny dribbles of story in the other areas, and each area kinda sorta has a tiny bit of its own story, but honestly you can skip them and not miss them. The only reason they exist is for farming gear and XP.

      If they’d integrated the post-Hinterlands zones into the game story as well as they’d done with the Hinterlands, it would have been AMAZING. But they didn’t, so it was a pile of tedious, repetitive chores with no real purpose aside from things like “oh, check out this cool idea we came up with for a haunted house!” “What does a haunted house have to do with this game?” “Nothing, we just wanted to do one. Spooky, huh?” “Not really. It’s just another scavanger hunt to get yet another piece of loot that isn’t as good as the stuff I can craft.”

      1. guy says:

        Eh, they made the deliberate design decision to have optional content. It has to be stuff that can be cut from the main plot because it’s stuff players might not do. They had the broad excuse of wanting to close rifts and get more resources to justify going anywhere with rifts and/or resources. But you can also decide you have sufficent resources to close the Breach or stop Coryphus already so you’ll give it a miss (and presumably swing by to seal rifts in the postgame).

        I think the main problem was that they power gated the main plot so you had to engage in some selection of the optional content, potentially more than you’re interested in. And they just had universal power as a resource, which has the advantage that you can just do the things you’re interested in but the disadvantage that doing things to get money, troops, or scholars all have the same outcome. You don’t need troops to fight your way to the Breach, scholars to figure out how to seal it, and money to pay for supplies, and the cutscenes don’t properly reflect differences in how you’d apply different forms of power. Even the mage/templar change was a bit shallow; I didn’t really see it as credible that the Templars could effectively combine their powers against something that vast.

        1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

          In this sense, it was Inquisition that first made me wonder if maybe “open world” and “Bioware-style storytelling” don’t work together well. When that game first came out, I was still drinking the Kool-Aid of “200+ hours of content? What a fantastic value!” Then I actually played the game only to discover that it’s an OCD completionist’s worst nightmare and it turns out that I’m an OCD completionist. DA:I is the game that helped/forced me to recalibrate what “value” means in a game.

          So then I wonder what could be done to make a good game with an open-ish world design, satisfying optional content, and a Bioware story. The best I can come up with is this: Instead of having a Hinterlands or Fallow Mire that are absolutely littered with little quests, have each area contain two or three significant quests that tie into the main quest in a direct way, as opposed to just earning enough points to unlock the next chunk of the main story. No one’s holding a gun to our heads to do these quests, but completing them affects how the main quest proceeds. If you actually craft these few quests to be interesting and engaging and to tell a plot-relevant story, it wouldn’t be a chore to play them anyhow. But if someone is itching to burn through the game without, you know, enjoying it, they can do that and collect their game trophies and just not have as nuanced of a story.

          Like if we take the Hinterlands for example, the two quests that I would say are important (or should be important) are 1) dealing with the mages and Templars who are engaging in open combat and 2) securing horses from Dennet. The mage/Templar stuff is pretty self-explanatory, but getting the horses should’ve been a much bigger deal than it was. At that point, the Inquisition had little-to-no cavalry and securing one should’ve been a top priority. At the technological level that Thedas is at, having a significant cavalry presence in your standing army completely changes the face of the war that you’re now fighting. I tend to think that the Hinterlands would just be an overall better Bioware experience if the questing we did there was either tied directly to dealing with the mages and Templars, or securing horses for the Inquisition – and have those horses matter to the story. I wouldn’t want there to be any quests where I’d stop and ask “Why am I doing this?” “Optional content” and “interesting content” aren’t two concepts that should have to be at odds.

          There may be plenty of people out there who prefer a game where they can return missing rings or herd errant druffalo, but I don’t think that those sorts of things belong in a Bioware game. That sort of mindless Pavlovian Dog Whistle quest should be saved for other companies who want to make that sort of thing. When I turn on a Bioware game, I’d much rather get, say, 30 hours of good content out of it instead of 200 hours of content wherein 185 of that is just me chasing my tail.

          1. Hinterlands actually had several other main-plot important quests with sub-branches:

            1. Do you help out the refugees or not?
            2. Do you deal with the cult or not?
            3. Fighting your way through to Redcliffe.
            4. Hooking up with the only remaining Grey Warden in the area (which leads into later main story stuff).
            5. Clear out the bandits/lyrium smugglers.

            Almost all of the quests in the Hinterlands tie into those larger quests in *some* way, even if it’s only a line or two of dialog. For example, the “retrieve my wedding ring” quest-giver complains that the roving Templars murdered her husband. The roaming Druffalo was part of helping the farmers and getting on Bennet’s good side to get horses (although only in a very distant fashion).

            One thing they could have done would be to make the pre-Skyhold areas all be somewhere you’d go to recruit a companion, and you’d have to do the general meta-quest in that area in order to recruit them instead of just walking up, saying “hi, I hear you want to join up!” and . . . done. The companion-recruiting “missions” were all way too short and boring and didn’t relate to anything.

            For instance, they could have put Blackwall in the Fallow Mire, facing off against the Chasind with your troops instead of slapping him down in an utterly negligible encounter in the middle of a part of the Hinterlands you *probably already explored*.

            They could have tied Iron Bull into the Storm Coast meta-quest involving the weird little Andrastian cult that was kidnapping Inquisition soldiers, so that you meet up with Iron Bull and then investigate the area to find out what’s going on.

            Vivienne could have been recruited in the Forbidden Oasis, which she was checking out both to a.) keep tabs on the Venatori and b.) see if there were any powerful artifacts to recover. The whole “collect all the shards” thing could have been wrapped into her character questline and brought out some interesting conflict between her and Solas.

            Sera you could still recruit in Val Royeaux, and do various things around the city with her.

            Since recruiting those companions was optional, all of that content would still also have been optional, but since the companions also all “bring something to the table” for the Inquisition (Vivienne brings in the loyalist mages, Sera brings in the Red Jennies, Iron Bull brings in his mercenary troop, and Blackwall brought in the Grey Warden treaties and information), it all makes sense from a story perspective.

            And then, after you reach Skyhold, you just have each companion have a tie to the “area plot” in each of the NEW zones, so that to finish their character arc and gain their loyalty, you have to take them to that zone and do at least the main area plot, which should take you through a large but not necessarily comprehensive section of that area. There were EXACTLY as many companions as there were zones with big chunks stuff still left undone (the Fallow Mire is comprehensively finished the first time you visit the area).

            Doing that would have killed THREE birds with one stone–made the companions a lot more interesting and integrated into the story, giving them a lot more individual screen time and also acting as a guide for who to have in your party when, provided you were interested in following up with all of them. It would have integrated all of the zones fully into the main story, assuming you put in a modicum of effort to make all of the companions contribute to the main story instead of being a pointless sideline. It gives you a REASON to do all that stuff without FORCING you to do all that stuff.

  6. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    Ah, the thing I’ve been waiting for. I’ve never been so excited for a writeup about a mediocre game.

    My general gripe for the game as always been that they tried too many new things all at once. Some of that was forced onto them, but a fair amount of it was also their choice. When designing a game, there seems to be some sort of balance to be found between expectation and innovation and this game just seemed to lean too hard into the latter.

    But even with that being said, it doesn’t completely address why the story turned out to be such a mess (despite what I would consider to be a solid basic premise), why the squad members were bland, and why the NPCs made the squad members seem awesome by comparison. Often, the story left me asking “Why am I doing this and why should I care?” I think this is where the open world failed Mass Effect thematically and tonally, but I suspect that if I only stuck to the main missions, I’d still be asking myself why I’m doing any of this.

    In my mind, this game is cosmetically like a Mass Effect game in many ways, but it’s a thin veneer that falls away at the slightest scrutiny. In a lot of ways, this looks like a Mass Effect game without really feeling like one. At its best moments, Andromeda feels like a middling Mass Effect game and at its worst moments, it feels like a humorless parody meant cash in on our nostalgia without engaging with what created that nostalgia in the first place.

    Everybody was quick to mock and meme the glitches and awful animations and I’ve noticed a number of my fellow Mass Effect fans proclaiming that this flood of mockery created the illusion that Andromeda was a worse game than it actually is. But it’s been my experience that if a game is otherwise good, people won’t let glitches and animations get in the way of a generally good gaming experience. Skyrim had backwards-flying dragons and mammoths falling from the sky, but this didn’t cause the game to implode. It went on to do quite well, and I would argue that’s because it was an otherwise-engaging game. And I can only conclude the same thing for Andromeda: Had it been a great game in spite of the glitches, no amount of mockery would’ve done the damage that those memes seemed to do.

    1. Trevor says:

      In my mind, this game is cosmetically like a Mass Effect game in many ways, but it’s a thin veneer that falls away at the slightest scrutiny. In a lot of ways, this looks like a Mass Effect game without really feeling like one. At its best moments, Andromeda feels like a middling Mass Effect game and at its worst moments, it feels like a humorless parody meant cash in on our nostalgia without engaging with what created that nostalgia in the first place.

      This right here. And for me, I don’t know that I even really wanted another Mass Effect game. I loved all my time with Tali and Garrus and Co., but that story was done and I’m okay with that. But I did want another high-concept details-focused science fiction adventure coupled with the emotional connections with the NPCs and the world that Bioware specializes/specialized in. So I was okay if it deviated from the ME I played before. I was ready for some familiar call backs, but mostly new things. Sadly, those new things were, as said above, kind of a veneer. Many/most of Drack’s lines could be Wrex’s. When Peebee geeks out over Remnant ruins, there’s a pang of remembrance for some other young Asari geeking out over ancient technology. Except Liara was a better drawn character in a better game, so the comparison does not make you feel good about the game you’re currently playing.

      I wonder if it had not carried the Mass Effect name, but had been Space Quest: Andromeda (or something) how it would have done. Probably would not have generated the sales, but freed from all the ME baggage (both the love of the franchise and the disappointment about the ending) I can’t help but think it would have done better. A follow up to Mass Effect was going to be hard regardless and I don’t know that any game could have lived up to the expectations/residual anger.

      Also, FWIW, I bought the game long after release, so all the facial animations had been fixed. I can see how, if you shelled out for the Ultimate Pre-Order Collector’s Edition that would be frustrating. But seeing the game without those issues, everyone memeing the faces just seems mean and trying to work out some other anger issues.

      1. Henson says:

        Personally, I’ve really wanted to see a Mass Effect game done with a shadowy pixel art style and dialogue in text. The original game borrowed from ’70s-’80s film elements, why not do the same with old game elements as well?

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Skyrim had backwards-flying dragons and mammoths falling from the sky but this didn’t cause the game to implode

      That’s ‘cos they weren’t bugs; they were features. The glitches are all part of the Bethesda Game Experience.

    3. Joe Informatico says:

      My general gripe for the game as always been that they tried too many new things all at once. Some of that was forced onto them, but a fair amount of it was also their choice. When designing a game, there seems to be some sort of balance to be found between expectation and innovation and this game just seemed to lean too hard into the latter.

      The Dragon Age 2 problem. I commend DA2 for trying to break from the usual mould of not just Bioware games, but fantasy RPGs in general. But it tried to innovate in multiple directions at the same time, whether they fit this story or not, while also having a development time of something like 18 months (DA: Origins had around 5 years)? It’s a miracle it hangs together at all. And yet people got hung up on the recycled dungeons and teleporting second-wave enemies in every combat. Those were issues for sure, but had the rest of the game been more solidly built, probably forgivable ones (and probably wouldn’t have even happened if they’d had a reasonable amount of time to work on it).

      1. Viktor says:

        I feel like the dungeons and multi-wave enemies were both clearly an issue of development time. More polish on the encounters and the combat system would let them avoid needing multiple waves to draw out a fight duration, and the repetitive dungeons were clearly just a shortcut to avoid needing to build more than ~10 layouts.

        On the other hand, I’m pretty sure the decision to focus on a single city over the course of maybe 8 years, changing in response to your actions, was ALSO a shortcut so they didn’t have to make an entire country worth of content, and that was possibly my single favorite RPG design decision of the decade. If they’d had more time, I probably would have liked it a lot less.

    4. Cubic says:

      But it’s been my experience that if a game is otherwise good, people won’t let glitches and animations get in the way of a generally good gaming experience. Skyrim had backwards-flying dragons and mammoths falling from the sky, but this didn’t cause the game to implode. It went on to do quite well, and I would argue that’s because it was an otherwise-engaging game. And I can only conclude the same thing for Andromeda: Had it been a great game in spite of the glitches, no amount of mockery would’ve done the damage that those memes seemed to do.

      Very true.

  7. Christopher says:

    We’re back, baby!

    Having not played Andromeda(why would I after the coverage, unless I was just a colossal ME fan?) I don’t really have any bile left for the series, but I’m excited to see your take on it again. It was a big surprise to me when Andromeda got flak for its jank. Mass Effect already wasn’t the prettiest game around, with lots of glitches, bland environments, ugly models, pop-in textures, bugs and bad animations. The last Bioware game I played was Dragon Age Inquisition, which in my experience was a smorgasbord of jank. Takes something to surpass that.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      Well, as someone who has played Andromeda, and as someone who is a colossal ME fan, I can say that the memes weren’t completely unwarranted. There as always been an acceptable standard of deviation of jank across the Mass Effect franchise, but the older ME games were good enough that we were okay with it. Andromeda is enough of a mess that it couldn’t buy itself enough goodwill to have players overlook the amount of jank.

      If there’s any regret to be felt in that regard, it should be felt for the Mass Effect franchise as a whole because it seemed to have taken a big enough hit from the negative attention that Bioware/EA axed any story DLC they had planned (where I suspect that the best bits of story were to be explored) and deemed the franchise as a whole as something too poisonous to touch for a while.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        If there’s any regret to be felt in that regard, it should be felt for the Mass Effect franchise as a whole because it seemed to have taken a big enough hit from the negative attention Bioware/EA axed any story DLC they had planned (where I suspect that the best bits of story were to be explored)

        Wait, is there any proof that there was such extra story DLC planned?
        Because a not-insignificant amount of the negative attention that ME3 got came from the fact that interesting (it could be argued integral) parts of the story were cut out of the main game and stuck behind paywalls made into DLC.

        If EA/Bioware did the same with Andromeda, and it did contribute to the game’s failure, then HAH.
        Fuck you, EA.

        1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

          I can’t honestly claim to know what the DLC plans were, but we can speculate based on the threads that this game intentionally left dangling.

          To me, one of the most interesting storylines was trying to figure out who “The Benefactor” is and how he/she is involved in a plot-relevant murder mystery. What’s weird about this one though is that it’s hidden behind a multi-level fetch quest that would be very easy to ignore, yet it contains some of the most interesting plot in the game. And it’s ultimately left unresolved.

          And, if people will forgive the minor spoiler, should you play the game to its conclusion, it all but screams “There’s a Quarian Ark DLC coming.” And now none of that is coming. I’d argue that one of the plot-based faults of this game is that it spent more time promising good stories to come than it did on telling a good story.

        2. guy says:

          Given EA’s historical models we can pretty much take as given that they were planning on some story DLC. They definitely put in the set up for a Quarian Ark DLC. That said, to my knowledge there’s no particular reason to think they planned DLC of stuff they’d have put in the main game if they weren’t doing DLC; far as we know the Quarian Ark would’ve been left on the cutting room floor regardless because they didn’t have enough room in the budget to make Quarian models.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      I don’t know if the introductory scenario for ME:A is significantly longer than DA:I’s, but it feels three times as long. And you start with pretty interesting companions in DA:I, and an interesting new problem you’ve never dealt with in Dragon Age–the rifts. In ME:A, once again you’re starting with a couple of boring human soldier companions (you might find they get better later on, but at the start they’re not great) that you’re stuck with for two or three hours, and even though you’re on a brand new planet in a brand new galaxy, your mission amounts to “go to location, shoot dudes, lather, rinse, repeat”. Plus you get to make your own character at the start of DA:I, while in ME:A it’s either Human Boy Ryder or Human Girl Ryder. So I’m wondering if the first impressions count for a lot in the appraisals of both games.

      1. Thomas says:

        Andromeda’s opening is actively off-putting. They do as much as possible to ruin the idea of exploring a new galaxy by rushing you into gunning down the first aliens you meet in waves.

        But either way, I think DA:I did what it set out to do pretty successfully. Its just what they were trying wasn’t a great idea.

        Andromeda copies DA:I but gets much more wrong. Its even simple things – in DA:I when you set up a camp NPCs appear and banners and a unique layout for the setting to make you feel like you’re transforming the map and spreading influence.

        In Andromeda a satellite comes down with a text-based message. There’s no send you’re settling a frontier. In the same way the planetary changes feel much more like they just changed the skybox.

        Andromeda has better ideas but it doesn’t execute any of them fully.

        1. Mozbar says:

          Andromeda gets a lot of things wrong…but I’m pretty sure outposts are set up with NPCs too. You can argue against the architecture being unique due to prefab and limited resources.

  8. Redrock says:

    Oh, I’ve been waiting for this. The treatment Andromeda got is a pet peeve of mine. I think that the game never got a fair shake and the shitstorm about the facial animations was just incredibly mean-spirited and obnoxious. It felt like people were trying to get back at Bioware for the ending of ME 3 or whatever. For what it’s worth, while Andromeda has a lot of problems, I think it tries to do some pretty interesting things with its characters by moving away from the trology’s infatuation with all things military. Really interested to see what you make of it all.

  9. Asdasd says:

    Waitwaitwait

    I actually literally have popcorn downstairs! I’ll be back in ten minutes, don’t take this article down!

    1. Mephane says:

      Shamus, your spam filter failed here. :)

      1. Mephane says:

        Well, now you done goofed, Shamus. :D

        You deleted the non-spam comment that was merely parody, but left the spam comment by “Asdasd” alive. Remember when you talked about the type of inexplicable spam with grammatically correct sentences that nonetheless have nothing to do with the topic at hand?

        1. Viktor says:

          “Ooh, dis gonna be good. *gets popcorn* ” is basically a meme at this point. There’s no indication that I can see that Asdasd is spam other than the name, and I’ve used much odder handles online for various reasons.

          1. Mephane says:

            The comment reads like a valid comment at first sight, but then seems like random some totally random piece of text unrelated to the blog post and with no actual meaningful content.

            Why would Shamus take the article down? Why would anyone believe this could happen? And then, “I actually literally have popcorn” sounds like it would react to some part of the article that mentions popcorn possibly as an allegory or metaphor, but such a part does not exist. Finally, the commenter’s name looks like randomized gibberish.

            There is of course some chance that the comment is legit. Maybe it is really just a false positive cause by over-eager human pattern recognition – it immediately reminded me of some of the spam comments Shamus quoted that did look like genuine comments at first sight.

            1. Shamus says:

              The commenter has left many valid comments in the past. It’s legit.

              1. Asdasd says:

                “The commenter has left many valid comments in the past.”

                Shamus, I’m going to print that out and stick it on the fridge door.

                1. The Rocketeer says:

                  For what it’s worth, I read, “The comment reads like a valid comment at first sight, but then seems like some totally random piece of text unrelated to the blog post and with no actual meaningful content,” in the RSS feed and wondered which of my comments this was in response to.

                2. Droid says:

                  Unfortunately, due to GDPR, you will need Shamus’ express permission for that unless you happen to have no cookies in or around your fridge, in which case I wholeheartedly pity you.

                  1. Asdasd says:

                    No cookies, I’m afraid. Nothing at all, in fact, except a half-finished bowl of popcorn and several dozen packets of spam.

  10. Pax says:

    I feel like “Lack of Polish” covers a lot of the problems. Because of their focus change and their staff being siphoned off by Anthem, they didn’t have time to go back and hand tweak all those auto-generated dialogue scenes in the game. So default lip-syncing was just what was a program’s best guess after being fed the raw audio, camera angles probably set by default to just generically point at the speaker, lighting just left to whatever was set in the room, and character animations just pulled from a generic set based on actor mood or from a drop-down list, if they were set at all. You can tell the difference by comparing things like the original version of the conversation with Miss My-face-is-tired and Cora’s ultimate romance scene. They’re like two different game entirely.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      I often wonder how much of an effect that Anthem’s production had on Andromeda because of Bioware scooping up all of their ME talent and putting them on this tone-shifting MMO. Because the answer to that question is not “zero.” At the same time, it feels way too tidy and simplistic to say “Anthem ruined Mass Effect.”

    2. Kestrellius says:

      Well, lack of Polish seems like an easy enough problem to solve. I wonder if CD Projekt Red would be interested in collaborating with Bioware…

  11. tremor3258 says:

    Been looking forward to this!

  12. Darren says:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition used the Frostbite engine and it turned out fine. I know plenty of people didn’t like it for any number of reasons, but as a functional game I never had a problem with it. It didn’t have weird glitches or broken quests (that I found), had loads of areas, some of which changed over time (the area that starts off in a torrential rain that later clears up springs to mind), and a reasonable amount of reactivity given the limits of Bioware’s approach to such things.

    Fair point that switching engines after years of work was rough on the Unreal developers, but I don’t think that the Frostbite’s strengths as a shooter engine had much to do with the game’s final state.

    Honestly, I would point to Inquisition as a worthwhile comparison point for a number of reasons: long-running Bioware franchise changes engines, gameplay style, and general scope and structure. And among long-time Dragon Age fans, Inquisition was considered decent-to-great, even if they weren’t thrilled by combat changes, whereas nobody liked Andromeda.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      This is an interesting read on the situation considering that Dragon Age: Inquisition came before Andromeda and is, arguably, a larger deviation from Frostbite’s default programming than Andromeda would’ve been. And while I wouldn’t call Inquisition a perfect game by any stretch, I would argue that it’s a better overall experience than Andromeda.

    2. Christopher says:

      Inquisition bugged out more for me than any previous Mass Effect games really. Just on a surface level, I think Inquisition and Andromeda both share the pretty environments/janky characters look, even if Andromeda went above and beyond. That article Shamus references definitely had a dev or two saying the problems weren’t just for Andromeda.

    3. guy says:

      It had some pretty serious glitches at release, to the point where one of them made my graphics card throw an error telling me the game had been programmed wrong. There were also some bad and weird graphics issues that made everyone’s hair look like burning magnesium; I actually made my first character albino so it’d be less of an issue.

      I don’t think Andromeda was particularly buggier, but everything else wasn’t as exciting so there wasn’t any discussion going on to drown out complaining about the bugs. They were both unpolished, but Andromeda had less to polish.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        You never forget the smell of smoldering magnesium

    4. Lars says:

      Inquisition had a lot of glitches. Like Varric constantly clipping through the ground with his right food. Or characters facing walls, while talking to you.
      I liked Andromeda much more than Inquisition. The reason: Inquisition is empty. All the big Hubs contain not more than 10 NPCs to talk to. The desert has only two. A lot of the side quests came from letter found by dead body. Search NPC side quests always resulted in finding a corpse. Beautiful (with floating rocks, due to engine bugs) but empty.
      Andromeda had much more characters and reason to do those quests. Even though: Andromeda had a lot of failures itself.

    5. djw says:

      I don’t know how much of this was due to the frostbyte engine, but the combat was truly awful if you came into it expecting to be able to manage a party to the same extent that was possible in DA:O (and almost possible in DA2).

      In Dragon Age Inquisition party tactics were basically impossible to implement. You couldn’t issue any reasonable sort of instructions to your companions since they would basically ignore them in favor of whatever stupidity the AI has in mind, or they would stand there like slackjawed yokels (or both). I could *NOT* convince Varic to stop face tanking everything with his crossbow, even though he got extra damage if he stood far far away and shot down at enemies from above.

      It is the only Dragon Age game that I did not finish, and it is mostly because of the crap combat (although the mmo style grinding did not help me in any way either).

      Again, I’m not really sure how much of that is Frostbytes fault, but given that it was designed as a shooter engine it does not surprise me that it cannot handle IE style party management. I honestly would have been much happier with the game if they had moved to a ME style where you give orders in combat rather than try to manage the party directly, since the direct management was absolute crap.

  13. Hector says:

    One ship, one crew will fight against the Night and restore the Light!

    1. Hector says:

      I swear I will make this joke once every post until somebody laughs at the reference.

      1. jbc31187 says:

        I get it.

        Andromeda the show wasn’t up to Farscape’s level, but it was different from what I was used to. I was so used to Star Wars / Star Trek type ships, with crews to match the size of the ship and lasers and so forth, and here was the Andromeda with a crew of seven or so, and dinky little missiles and drone swarms. I especially like how the crew all had different-yet-valid reasons to join. The captain wants to restore his golden-age commonwealth, despite the fact that it’s been dead for a thousand years or so. The other captain wants to keep her crew safe and make money. The comic relief wants to live on a floating palace. The missionary wants to use the ship to help people and spread word of his faith, also he’s a space orc. The darwinist mercenary wants to take over the most advanced fighting machine in the current era and build an empire, but he’s also very concerned about the space orc invasion.

  14. Matt says:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition was developed by the Edmonton studio, used Frostbite, came out roughly 2.3 years before Andromeda, and is also a party-based RPG with open-worldish elements. I wonder how much, if any, cross-pollination occurred with the Montreal studio.

    If they had used a seed team from Edmonton, you’d think they would have cut their teeth on DA: I and bring that experience to the new studio.

  15. Henson says:

    As far as combining procedural generation and RPG story elements, the closest thing I can think of offhand is Diablo 2. And if they started with something like that as a base for the design, I think it maybe could have worked: The open world is divided into separate sections, each section devoted to certain quests, and then each section is generated procedurally around a few quest-specific preset areas.

    Of course, this kind of design is better suited for dungeon-crawling, ‘go fetch 3 things’ kind of RPG design, but perhaps that’s what they were going for anyway?

  16. Mephane says:

    Frankly, I mostly checked out of this game before it was even released, when I learnt it was going to be yet another Chose One style story and the possibilities of travelling to another galaxy would turn out to be just more humanoid aliens to shoot.

    When release then came and the game turned out the mess it is, I just chuckled and shrugged, having dodged this particular bullet.

    P.S.: First time using the site on mobile since the last redesign. Looks mostly fine, much more usable than before, but comment editing takes you to a separate page that is clearly not designed designed for multiple devices, showing a tiny edit field in the top left corner (thank FSM for zoom).

  17. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I’m normally not in the business of defending EA, but the switch to Frostbite was absolutely logical. If you have an internal engine you want everyone in your company to use it sooner or later, sooner being better. Sure Frostbite wasn’t imagined for open world RPGs, but since it’s in house they must have been able to modify and expand it.
    Their real mistake was to not budget the time to train their people to it. That’s a very Suit move, considering that switching one resource (person or tool) for another won’t impact development time significantly.

    1. Joshua says:

      “If you have an internal engine you want everyone in your company to use it sooner or later, sooner being better.”

      Ha, I said something similar at the exact same time right below you!

  18. Joshua says:

    “It’s entirely possible the accounting nitwit who imposed this decision on BioWare didn’t even understand why using Frostbite for a BioWare game would be difficult. ”

    Speaking as a CPA who’s worked in corporate accounting for over a dozen years, this is pretty asinine reasoning. The accountant’s job should be to point out cost disparities only as a point of further review, not as the sole criteria for making a decision upon high. In similar situations I’ve experienced, you would use this information to speak with those closer in operations. X is 75% cheaper than the Y, you’re currently doing. How feasible would it be converting to X? What kind of disruptions would this cause?

    When we’ve reviewed competing software packages, what is the price vs. what is the capability of each program? If Program A is $200,000 and Program B is $250,000 but Program B is far better, it’s not a hard decision. If Program A is only $80,000 however, you start having serious discussions of “Will Program A work for our needs because the price is drastically cheaper, or should we still go with B?” I think it would especially be a concern if Program A (Frostbite) is cheaper but will add significant time & labor cost for a project(yes, they’re likely salary but deadlines add considerations), unless the purpose is to gradually move over everyone to Frostbite anyway and this just happens to be the game that takes the hit in productivity.

    In summary, accountants should point out costs as a factor as an FYI, but not automatically assume lower cost = better. This smells more like a management decision where someone’s angling for a bonus because they “cut costs”.

  19. ccesarano says:

    I didn’t really care about Andromeda when it was announced after the debacle that was Mass Effect 3’s ending. The negative impressions at launch crushed any potential curiosity that might have cropped up post-release (you’d be surprised how many games I bought and regretted following the post-release hype).

    However, I’m really, really looking forward to this retrospective. This post alone was filled with stuff I didn’t know (never got around to reading that Kotaku article), and I’m certain to find some interesting thoughts that others have failed to express about the game.

  20. Liessa says:

    I watched some footage of the early game when it was first released and was pretty shocked by the bugs and animation issues, which really were unacceptable for an AAA title. However, the phrase that came to mind most when watching the videos was ‘wasted potential’. The basic premise of the game – starting out afresh in an entirely new galaxy – could have been really interesting, yet Bioware used it to tell a story that could honestly just as well have taken place in the Milky Way. They created some beautiful worlds, and clogged them up with boring filler content. They gave us an entirely new cast of characters, without making any of them particularly interesting or memorable. They finally ditched the Paragon/Renegade dialogue system, only to replace it with something that theoretically should allow for more flexibility, but in practice left every option sounding equally bland and samey.

    I also think that player expectations, or the lack of them, played a big part. Watching the previews and trailers in the run-up to release, there just didn’t seem to be any real interest or excitement around the game. What’s more, the ME3 ending disaster had left a lot of players really furious with Bioware, and I think there were quite a few people just waiting for an excuse to rip apart their newer games (the lukewarm reaction to DA: Inquisition didn’t help). It’s a good example of the ‘time delay’ effect described in this article, where a bad experience in one game affects players’ reaction to the next in the series.

    1. GoStu says:

      I think you’ve got it. They’ve got this beautiful new setting, full of its own new challenges, and then pulled a completely uninteresting bad guy from their backsides. That guy could literally have stepped out of some previously-dormant Mass Relay in the Terminus Systems and have fit perfectly into the Milky Way.

      The Remnant stuff might as well have been Prothean for all the difference it made.

  21. GoStu says:

    To “Go Big”, […] to take two and a half conflicting game designs and blend them all together

    First article in a series, and I think you’ve nailed it already. Instead of staying focused one ONE solid central narrative, it’s like they decided to run with all possible options simultaneously.

    You’ve got an amazing series of Man Versus Nature conflicts with the destination planets being less hospitable than imagined. Without the Mass Relays the colonists don’t have the entire Andromeda galaxy to search, they’ve got one little cluster to settle and exploit and hope to God has enough resources for everyone. That it ended up being less than ideal is a great hook with lots of possible player expression. Are you a fair and equatable Pathfinder who distributes to everyone as fairly as possible, of do you put your own species first and let the others take care of themselves? I know their mere mention might be a red flag, but if you’re going with this aspect the old Cerberus hooks fit pretty well… and the omniscient TIM would definitely be aware of the Andromeda project, and seeing it as a chance to advance Humanity in a new galaxy would be consistent to (some) of his past stated goals.

    You can do a “fight off the mysterious alien antagonists” plot but this feels way, way weaker than the first option; to the point of forced, even. I didn’t get a sense of foreboding when the Kett showed up, I just felt like “Yup, there’s our badguys.” Both the Kett and the Angara felt more like someone crossing an item off the to-do list (new aliens, check… new villainous aliens, check…) and they kind of fly in the face of making this universe vaguely realistic. It’s a huge galaxy with no trans-galactic civilizations known. We land in the ONE star cluster that happens to have a pair of civilizations roughly around our tech level? In the Milky Way this was neatly explained by Prothean tech and the Reapers routinely culling everyone, but in the Andromeda galaxy it’s just staggering coincidence.

    The existence of the Remnant stuff just felt weak as hell. If the Kett were forced, this was even more so. I felt like someone was cribbing off the Bungie teams and I was just waiting for someone to slip up and call it Forerunner tech. These Vaults served no purpose except to make hard problems like terraforming into easy button-presses. You’ve got so much potential for tension with things like:

    – “The Salarians need a warm planet but theirs ended up being frigid, do you help or leave them to be screwed?” The Vault simply increases ‘viability’ however it likes, removing agency and drama.

    – “Do we make this planet into a jungle hothouse the Salarians would like, something human-temperate, or even a dextro-amino ecosystem the Turians like?” Now the Vault handles everything, so there’s no choice here.

    It undermines the first plot option and just shouldn’t be here at all. I think the only reason for its inclusion was some kind of mandate for a techno-species like the Geth and nobody thought twice about it. And don’t get me started on the sort of lame civil war that happened offscreen with people not having the resources to do so, and who rightfully shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

    Andromeda was them “Game Four Big” when they should have started “new series focused”.

    1. guy says:

      What I’d originally been hoping for was that there’d be a bunch of different Andromaden species in some kind of elaborate power struggle, and then we come hurdling in and say “Hi guys! We’re a giant expedition from another galaxy and we can’t go back so we’re going to be grabbing some habitable worlds!” And then the entire game is about making this not a complete and utter catastrophe for everyone involved.

      A game about terraforming could be interesting plotwise, but I don’t think the standard Mass Effect mechanics would hold up for it. They sort of demand regularly coming up against technologically advanced adversaries; there can be missions where you don’t but fighting animals tends to choke off a lot of options, especially for tech classes.

      1. Liessa says:

        Yes, exactly this. They could have had the colonists encounter aliens who are biologically nothing like humans, and either way above our tech level, or way below it – or a mixture of both. Any of these scenarios could throw up interesting ethical questions, with humans cast as the ‘alien invaders’ messing things up for the native species without even meaning to. Instead, the moment Ryder and co. touch down on their first planet, they’re thrown straight into a gunfight with humanoid beings carrying weapons roughly equivalent to their own – such a wasted opportunity.

        1. guy says:

          I was expecting a contingent of humanoid beings with equivalent weapons, again for game mechanics reasons, but I was hoping for there to be ongoing three-dimensional political chess and then we accidentally kick the board over.

          1. Trevor says:

            It is one of the original sins of the Mass Effect series that it is a 3 person squad cover shooter at heart. The problems that you encounter are going to have to be ones that can be solved with a 3 person squad of magic space marines. And magic space marines are best at fighting other magic space marines who also like cover. The ultra-high tech Andromedan aliens would encounter the same problem the Space Cthulhu Reapers did – they still need to be beaten by a squad of people with guns and they need to be thwarted by cover. Cerberus is dumb for all the reasons Seamus has laid out, but it makes mechanical/gameplay sense why Bioware decided to put a lot of effort into throwing an adversary that were similarly armed and sized as you at you during ME3.

    2. Nessus says:

      The issue of the distribution and “tech level” of species being comparable to the Milky Way when they shouldn’t really feels like a golden opportunity that was thrown away for the sake of something safe and simple. I feel like I see this sort of thing a lot with games, movies, TV, etc: writers will see emergent complications as “problems” to be “fixed” via shallow contrivances rather than the writing process itself handing them free opportunities to increase dramatic conflict.

      It’s like killing the golden goose, except instead of killing it to get at the gold inside, they’re killing it because “taking care of a goose is a hassle, and we don’t need any more gold”.

      I mean, I keep hearing/reading about how lackluster the Cat and the Angora were as enemies and allies. The impression I get is they needed something dramatically lateral to the Reapers, but instead they went with something lateral to the Batarians. I mean, sure, the Batarians were objectively villains (the original games halfassedly try to be all “cultural relativism” about it, but slavers who constantly bitch about how unfair and mean everyone is being to them for being slavers is a fucking layer cake of irony), but they were the pissant third-string villains of the franchise.

      If I might be allowed to mix metaphors, the Ket seem like they’re the Kazon of Mass Effect.. Maybe not quite that bad, but the same type of mistake.

      Imagine if the Arks arrived in Andromeda, and discovered that the place was not only already occupied, but already united under an alliance/federation/empire that’s far more advanced and built up than the one in the Milky Way. You thought you were gonna be Cortez, but instead you’re Fival. You can be the renegade who tries to carve out a place for your people Scarface style, or you can be the paragon who tries to balance integrating legitimately without sacrificing identity.

      OR swing the other way: life-bearing planets are rare, and intelligent life is primitive. What if the only worlds worth colonizing already have natives that are just developed enough for there to be not enough room, but not developed enough to present any meaningful opposition if you decided to take their land? You ARE Cortez… but just how Cortez do you really want to be? Are you gonna be the renegade who romanticizes “hard decisions” and “I did what I had to do”, or the paragon who thinks that being more advanced means being better able (and/or more obligated) to find alternatives,

      1. Sven says:

        Imagine if the Arks arrived in Andromeda, and discovered that the place was not only already occupied, but already united under an alliance/federation/empire that’s far more advanced and built up than the one in the Milky Way.

        That seems awfully similar to humanity’s backstory in the Milky Way, though. We venture out into space, and find a vastly larger and more advanced civilization already in place (the council and the Citadel).

        You’d have to be pretty careful to make this distinct from that, otherwise you might as well just make a game about the First Contact War and call it good.

        1. Nessus says:

          It’s similar in an extremely broad strokes way, not awfully similar. Far from having to be pretty careful, it’d actually take some deliberate effort to make it indistinct*. There’s an infinite variety of ways to play it, and mirroring the First Contact war is just one very specific way.

          I mean, to just start with, mirroring Humanities experience would assume, y’know, a war. And that’s just one piece of a fractal many. It’s a different galaxy, you can do anything, And presumably we’ll still need an overarching challenge/adversary that feels as heavy as the Reapers to tie the room together, which can also be anything. Making things similar to Humanity’s first contact in any but the broadest sense would take some colossally grey-minded hack writing.

          That said, deliberately referencing it is actually one of the fun things that could be done, no matter how similar or not the events were. It could be interesting to see the different species’ reactions, with the Turians and Salarians being alarmed by something they’re not culturally prepared for, the Asari being uneasy but cautiously exited, and the Humans and the Krogan just fistbump and go “Same shit, different day, amirite?”

          *Provided the writers have… any imagination at all. Which, granted, is apparently a far bigger ask in the game industry than it rightly should be. I mean, the nature of the game we actually got is the whole point of this discussion in the first place. Yeesh.

        2. Karma The Alligator says:

          That seems awfully similar to humanity’s backstory in the Milky Way, though. We venture out into space, and find a vastly larger and more advanced civilization already in place (the council and the Citadel).

          I don’t see that as a problem. If anything, it’s a way to reboot the franchise by giving similar starting conditions and see how it can go from there (do we end up the same way, getting somewhat peacefully integrated into the existing structure, or do we brute force our way in? Or take a third option and start as the massive underdog and try to compete with what’s there?). And the people who haven’t played ME1 wouldn’t know/care anyway.

      2. guy says:

        I think for it to really work there’d have to be a somewhat level playing field between the expedition and the natives. If one side is too dominant they just get to dictate terms. That doesn’t mean they have to be technological equals, but it means both sides need some leverage. That could work in lots of ways:

        1. The expedition is higher-tech but they don’t have the capacity to replace large warships or a very large population, so the natives would prefer to avoid fighting but can overwhelm them by attrition if pushed.
        2. The expedition is equivalent in tech, but they’re still a substantial fleet and with no way home they’d fight to the death if cornered, so the natives still have incentive to make a deal.
        3. The expedition is lower-tech, but Andromeda is split into multiple factions and even an out-teched fleet could tip the balance of power if it chooses to.

        1. Nessus says:

          Again: you’re leaping to the assumption that this WILL take the form of a war. That’s not only a huge assuption, it’s also implicitly not what I was assuming in my examples.

          In the case of encountering a higher-tech Andromeda society, I’m talking about the expedition having to unexpectedly shift their goals from settling the new galaxy, to merely integrating as immigrants. The challenge is not to try and conquer or overthrow the native society, but rather trying to find the right way to live within it (because it’s old enough to have already claimed, assimilated, and developed the entire galaxy). You can try to make yourself valuable and struggle for representation, or you can take the undeworld route and try to become the Tony Montoya (or Aria T’Loak, if you prefer) thriving in the walls of said society.

          In the case of encountering lesser advanced Andromeda, I’m talking about whether you make the “easy” renegade choice to take land from the natives by force (easy and cheap/safe in the now, but morally dark, and with long term consequences), or the Paragon choice of exploring technological ways to create your own land, i.e. terraforming, or building space habitat colonies (ethically clean, and better for long term prosperity, but more demanding on your people and resources for the first couple generations).

          In either case, the asymmetric match in the event of war is not only a given, but integral to the premise.

          Assuming war (why?) and then trying to “fix” the “problems” this creates by contriving ways to handwave an equal match is EXACTLY the sort of thing I was criticizing in my first two paragraphs. You’re trying to “writer’s convenience” away an entire orchard of dramatic and exciting story developments just waiting to be plucked… because it wouldn’t “fit” with a cookie-cutter hack story.

          1. guy says:

            Well, firstly Mass Effect is a shooter so there will need to be shooting. That’s just outright a requirement of the game genre. And for the shooting to not be terrible and have the Mass Effect mechanics it will need to be against technological adversaries, not just dumb animals. So you’re going to need to be in some level of war with someone, at least fighting the Remnant drones or equivalent, even if you engage in diplomacy with the vast majority of the locals.

            Secondly, if one side has an overwhelming advantage militarily, they just get to dictate terms because they can enforce their terms whether the other side agrees to them or not. So if Andromeda has the overwhelming advantage, you are not able to meaningfully alter the fate of the expedition; you could be convincing but Andromeda has no real reason to bother to listen to you if they don’t feel like it. If the expedition has the overwhelming advantage then you just decide what terms you’re unilaterally dictating; you can’t push Andromeda too hard and have it backfire drastically.

      3. GoStu says:

        To quote Shamus on his own blog:

        Paradoxically, I think it’s really dangerous to play it this safe.

        In having the assorted colonists pit against each other, you already have antagonists and co-protagonists and third parties, all at the appropriate tech level already. Or they could have made a pretty rapid handwave about the natives being equipped with expedition-furnished tech to serve as proxy warriors and shock troops/cannon fodder.

        There’s some strong historical parallels there and a competent writer could have a total field day yanking the player’s morality chains around.

        If they went with “natives are more advanced”, then maybe you set up a delightful and interesting struggle to survive. Maybe desperately trying to close the tech gap so you can carve out a home in this hostile space. That could be interesting too.

        But they did neither. The natives are exactly at the tech level required to pop up and down and trade shots from behind cover. Ho-hum.

        1. guy says:

          I’d have liked the aliens to be on equal footing in some manner but really weird. Much more like the combined Husk forces than Cerberus; maybe they have no biotics but they use nanites and shields and such to form ghostly combatants and their heavy things go down quickly, then dissolve into nanites and reform elsewhere, and even their basic guys have repair clouds and they’ll regenerate armor until you set them on fire or blast them with biotics.

          They’re completely unaffected by the Reaper efforts to shape technological development; their tech shouldn’t be anything like Milky Way tech and not necessarily sensibly categorizable as “better” or “worse”. Game mechanics demand they provide suitable cover shooter enemies, but that’s a very broad category.

  22. GoStu says:

    Also, so much of the negative press focused on various bugs and the like, but I didn’t ever experience any of the real ridiculous ones like screenshots were circulating of. I maintain that if the game had been interesting and any of its potential stories focused and compelling, the gaming collective would have just ignored the occasional animation glitch or odd face.

    The Elder Scrolls has been going on for ages despite weirder shit than this.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      It always baffles me when people defend Bethesda for all the bugs and problems in their games because they’re “open world, it’s hard to do” (or my favourite, “mods will fix that”, as if it was on the players to fix the problems), yet give all other similar games a ton of grief for the same problems.

      1. guy says:

        It’s mostly that people do mind the Bethesda bugs, but we know they can’t be helped. When a company makes a franchise open-world and unleash a swarm of locusts into their codebase we know they could have not made an open-world game.

        That and Bethesda bugs tend to be hilarious and relatively superficial, wheras the games that get customer fury over bugs tend to be outright unstable like AC:Unity. Andromeda I think is more in the Bethesda camp even on launch day, but between residual anger over ME3 and the open-world just not being as fun as Skyrim they became a lightning rod for outrage rather than good-natured ribbing.

        1. GoStu says:

          Graphical bugs made for great shareable memes about “andromeda sux lol”. It’s just hard to make a meme of an unsatisfying, contrived, and generic story that lets it setting down.

      2. Bloodsquirrel says:

        If other companies were making Bethesda-style open worlds, I imagine people would forgive them a few bugs as well.

        I’ve sort of accepted that a bit of jankiness, both in the technology and in the mechanics themselves, is the price for the kind of game that Bethesda makes. Their games are a lot more systematically diverse than, say, Mass Effect or The Witcher 3. Could somebody else potentially deliver the same kind of game without all of the bugs, better storytelling, and better balance? Maybe, but nobody *is* doing it right now, so I’ll take what I can get.

      3. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher says:

        I don’t know… There’s a pretty big difference between Bethesda’s open worlds — which, for all their faults, are drastically more simulationist than most other open world games — and something like Andromeda. Bethesda’s games are absolutely chock full of jank, but there’s also significantly more moving parts in the system than there is in something like Andromeda (which effectively is only populated by NPCs, enemy camps, some quests, and a smattering of wildlife).

  23. Dreadjaws says:

    Oh, man, I just started playing the game in preparation for this series. I thought it was going to take a couple more weeks. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m dividing my time in other tasks and I don’t have much time to play this game. Worse, like you mention, the game looks massive. I’m several hours in and it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

    My only comment so far: by God, are the starting companions bland as hell! Well, that’s a bit unfair, saying they’re bland implies I know something about them. I can’t even remember their names, they’re basically just part of the scenery. I hope they get interesting later, but at the first chance I got I switched one of them for the Turian, and I’m planning to do the same as soon as PeeBee can be chosen (which I assume it’s going to be the case).

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Our plan for the summer was to power through Andromeda before the new school year started. That . . . didn’t happen. I figure if I can replay Final Fantasy X after Shamus’ retrospective, I can make it through Andromeda.

      As far as the starting companions are concerned: they’re human, right? It’s not like Mass Effect has a great track record of memorable human squadmates. It’s basically Ashley . . . and maybe Miranda’s Buttocks?

      1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

        Yes – you start off with two human squadmates that are so pointless that they might as well have been named “Random Andromeda Initiative Soldier 1” and “Random Andromeda Initiative Soldier 2.”

        But if it makes you feel any better, the alien squadmates that come later aren’t much better.

        1. guy says:

          The only thing I can remember about them is that the female one had served in an Asari commando unit as some sort of biotic cross-training thing.

          1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

            She was doing Biotic CrossFit. It’s tough, but you’ll have abs.

  24. Duoae says:

    Yayy! Looking forward to this series. Especially since I have no desire to play the game. :)

  25. MadTinkerer says:

    Over the next 22 entries

    I’m going to need more popcorn!

  26. Greymyst says:

    Why run two retrospectives at once and not just update one retrospective twice a week? I’m curious about the reasoning behind it

    1. Shamus says:

      If you’re interested in game X, then doing two X posts a week might be too much. Conversations on the old post might still be going when the new post appears.

      If you DON’T care about X, then the blog is suddenly barren for you.

      1. Distec says:

        Shamus gives two rides.

      2. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher says:

        For what it’s worth, I appreciate this setup. I primarily come for the retrospectives, but sometimes a subject just doesn’t catch my fancy (due to lack of interest in the game being discussed or whatever).

      3. parkenf says:

        Hey Shamus. I’m always interested in your retrospectives, even if I’m not interested in the games themselves. At best they’ll pique my interest, at worse they’ll give me some insight into the thoughts of the writers, the players, or some context of the culture surrounding the game – hey Final Fantasy X, which I never planned to play and still have no desire to play, but loved to read about.

  27. This video shows the disparity between talent and the overall result.
    YongYea explains quite well how talented a particular artist was on the team, which did te Cora romance/love scene.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I66yzFRwmTg

    So the “fresh team” that had Andromeda dumped in their lap did have talented people working on the project.
    In another video YongYea compares the few fixed/patched animations and similar (just search for Andromeda on YongYea’s channel), and the differences are dramatic.

    Most of the Andromeda issues where in the management not the talent. Given the necessary time the animators etc are able to do really great work.

    I’m also not sure if the Frostbite engine was a bad choice, Unreal engine (at least the builds Bioware used) had some texture streaming/loading pop-in issues. Frostbite is supposedly a better performing and better scaling engine (or was at the time, current Unreal 4.x engine has evolved a lot since then).

    The often memed animations and similar issues looks to me like autogenerated stuff meant to be temporary/placeholders, and the kind of stuff that is polished near the end of development ()no new dialog, textures etc, just touching up stuff, replacing “stock” animations with custom or tweak ones etc.)
    It’s like the entire “polish period” was skipped in the development.

    It’s kinda amusing looking at Andromeda’s launch state, considering that these days Pathfinder Kingmaker have questbreaking and game mechanic bugs all over, missing dialog, and even game/main quest stopping bugs.

    I really hope CD Projekt RED does the right thing, release only when they are confident they got a solid product.
    While users/gamers may be willing to give a game a chance again later and steam reviews hav e a “recent reviews” rating.
    Game reviewers rarely re-view games, so those “industry” scores stick around and are often the first impression a gamer get when they ponder if they should get the game or not.

    First impressions are everything.

    I really wanted to like Andromeda. My favourite part was doing the Vetra companion loyalty missions and ending up with her and her sister on a broken planet/moon with low gravity, dangerous canyons that where kilometers deep or ran straight though the moon that you may/may not be able to jump across in your “moon buggy”. Bouncing around the very desolate place felt entertaining and dangerous and you felt like you could almost reach your arm up and touch the edge of empty space itself, like if you bounced to high and feel like you’d drift off (you can’t though).

    Some of the places/settings are really good. Some of the characters are good/resonated (companions in RPGs are always a mixed bag, you like some, dislike some).

    Roaming around the iceworld was really fun, the krogan desert world was kinda boring, the arrid (!) world with the renegade city was kinda “meh” (the “city” was also barely more than a small station), I did not like the jungle world. I liked the capital homeworld of the “new” friendly species, shame this wasn’t explored more (I think the city is supposed to be much bigger than what you can see/explore).

    While the vault stuff was somewhat repetitive in design/look/layout at times, they where also somewhat fun.

    I’m wondering if Mass Effect Andromeda could have work just as well (if not better) if the big bad (ad the plot twist with the friendly new aliens) had been cut fully.
    Just having these “generation ships” end up in Andromeda, and the human one being the first/only to dock at the hub, then dealing with the renegades, pirates, political intrige and infighting and finding/rescuing the other ships from natural disasters or possibly from themselves could have been equally fun. Midway through the game you could be introduced to these new aliens and your choices and actions from then on would determine if the end of the game is with them being friendly or hostile, there is no need for a “big bad”, the remnant stuff and the “secret HQ base” you find could have been at the very end. It would have made for a nice but open end, they’d now be established in Andromeda and a sequel can start any number of years after (a “big bad” could be introduced then instead).

    Andromeda seemed like it would be a space opera western, planet hopping, discovering new races and resources and remnants and vaults. And instead we got an attempt at re-creating Mass Effect 2’s “collectors” as the new big bad?

    I think the right developers worked on the game, but with the wrong management/and possibly wrong game director.

    The devs should have better management, larger budget and twice as much development time on the game. If they had that they could possibly have repeated the success of the first Mass Effect (and maybe the Shepard trilogy overall).

    Here is a the moon I mentioned https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsYMjscAy3g
    The shadows of the asteroids flying above is hauntingly beautiful.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Damn, that looks nice, and the low gravity makes it look fun. I assume it’s not the standard for every world?

      1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

        It’s actually quite fun. And only happens on that one asteroid.

        Most everywhere else, the driving is a bit of a chore. It’s not difficult or particularly hard to control, but it just feels like a time suck.

  28. Decius says:

    Why is it hard to convert assets from one engine to a different one? A modular room has geometry and textures and bumpmaps and collision, and then flags for which geometry is cover and which can be vaulted or otherwise interacted with… all of those are things that a computer can understand, and it seems like building a tool that converts assets between engines should be a one-time cost that has already been paid.

    I can understand why some assets might be liscensed for one engine but not others, but AAA studios shouldn’t be buying liscenses that don’t allow conversion and most of their stuff should be theirs.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      If game dev were as easy as you make it sound, this blog probably wouldn’t exist.
      If it was just static geometry, maybe. Turns out those are the easiest assets to convert, and things get complicated, especially when you’re dealing with character animations.

      1. Decius says:

        “Things get complicated” when dealing with animations.

        Are the animations for one engine in some way inherently incompatible with the same animations for a different engine, to the point that they aren’t even usable as filler, or to where it’s more work to fix the fiddly bits than to redo the entire process? Do you have to select the output engine for the animation FIRST when opening Blender?

        1. guy says:

          At base, data isn’t just automatically compatible between different software. That takes work, and it’s often not a priority.

          I assume there are converters, but since the animation systems are separate and nonstandardized an automatic conversion is hardly able to guarantee a consistent visual outcome. And animations are notoriously difficult to just fiddle with because when you change how one part moves odds are to get it to look right in motion you’re going to have to change other parts.

  29. Dragmire says:

    You know if they did decide to do a prequel, it would be, “The Freaking Adventures of TIM: Dawn of Cerberus”.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Actually, a management sim with away missions that played as shooters sounds super fun. Basically, try to establish political power and funding for your group and decide how many ethical and legal boundaries you’re willing to cross to get there. If you select too many options that have you interacting with Reaper tech, your options begin disappearing and you’re forced down a certain track from that point. Can you develop a cereal eating, plant pissing super ninja agent under cost? And if you can, will he get his punk ass stabbed to death right as he starts to turn a profit for you?

  30. Jason says:

    One of the things that bugged me the most was just how populated the galaxy was, and not just by aliens, but by humans (and other Milky Way species) as well. You are supposed to be the Pathfinder setting up outposts on new worlds. Except every world already has some type of Citadel species civilization there. What paths are you finding exactly?

    And then there’s this whole “First Contact” scene with the Angara, where it appears that you are the first humans they have ever met. Except you’re not, because they’ve been living and working together with humans on Kadara for months (years?).
    You’re a latecomer to the party on every planet. I kind of get what they were going for, but it just didn’t seem to work.

  31. Mephane says:

    So it turns out the next Experienced Points was released about the same time as this article here. I only learnt about it because I saw someone else link to it on Twitter.

    Not sure how much control you have over the scheduling of these articles, but it feels kind of odd to see this go up before you post about it here.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yep. My column runs on Tuesdays over there but I link it on Wednesdays. That just works better for me for a number of reasons.

  32. Cm says:

    I think it should be noted that the RPG elements of the Frostbite engine had largely been implemented into the engine when they were making Dragon Age Inquisition.

  33. I’ve never met anyone from BioWare …

    I worked at Bioware Austin on SW:tOR. (One of) my direct supervisors was Paul Marino, who was a cinematic designer for Mass Effect 2.

    (Granted, Shamus and I have never met in person.)

    1. Decius says:

      I worked for Lone Shark Games, doing PR support for Bioware at a PAX just before Andromeda released, and Shamus and I have met in person.

      Oddly enough, those two things happened in the same building, although several years apart.

  34. Karma The Alligator says:

    For anyone who played the game, do the new aliens also have biotics, or is that uniquely used by the Milky Way people? Asking because it would seem weird if they do, while it could be an awesome culture shock if they don’t.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      The Andromedeans don’t have biotics, but you fight some enemies that seem to have biotic-like powers.

      As I recall, this only comes up a couple of times when you’re in Kett bases and you can find a couple of files that show that they’re studying the Milky Way races and they’re like “Biotics seem like a useful thing.”

      It plays into the story in no useful way.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        At least they don’t have any, that’s a nice difference. I’d have loved at least one occasion where the enemy just runs away, terrified of the devil that seems to teleport all over the place, but I guess that would have been weird having content for one class.

  35. Jabberwok says:

    Did the first Mass Effect have procedural planets? Or were those just very low maintenance handcrafted terrain?

    I haven’t played Andromeda, so I don’t know how they tried to use the space, but I can see large, generic areas ‘working’ for the series if they were mostly separated from the major content, like they were in the original. Still not the best decision, considering that ME2 probably made the right call by ditching that scope in favor of polish. In that sense, I guess it’s extra strange to want to turn around and go back the other direction.

    I am curious to hear people talk about it, but to be honest, I was never going to play Andromeda regardless of the reception. ME3 cut me too deep. I lost interest in the setting and lost faith in Bioware’s ability to tell a story.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      Throughout this game’s development process, the people making it kept saying that they were taking inspiration from ME1, which gave me hope. Because ME1 had a coherent story, characters that actually mattered to the narrative, and it had fantastic worldbuilding. But then they were saying that they were taking their inspiration from the exploration from ME1 and my thought was “Uh-oh: The people making Mass Effect don’t understand what Mass Effect is.”

      People may disagree with me on this, but ME1 was not about exploring planets. There were plenty of planets to land on, and some of those planets even had things to do on them, but that wasn’t what made ME1 a great game. Those planets were more about tone than anything else. They felt desolate and haunting: They were there to give us some sense of how big the game’s universe is. Space is big and empty. The music on those planets told a story. The vistas painted a picture. “You are alone here.” Even when you had those prefab bases with “raiders” eager to die, this was more tone than anything. The larger stage was being set.

      The planets in Andromeda tend to look beautiful, but that’s really all they have to offer. If there’s a tone or a theme being presented by them, it’s a garbled mess. And while the designers claimed to be making a story about exploration, you never once explore in this game. Everywhere you go, there are already people established there that you either have to shoot, or do chores for. Your character is not an explorer. You either shoot at the actual explorers, or you work as their space janitor. If ME1 was an inspiration for this game, I don’t see how.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Yeah, I could’ve gotten behind them bringing back the large landscapes if they were used for that purpose, but with fewer identical, prefab bases on them. I loved the large planets, but the repeated base raid things were the low point of the first game for me. Improving on that should’ve been very doable, and would look great with modern tech.

  36. C__ says:

    I have to say, Shamus, you have the best comment section on the internet (which is not that hard, but still). I’m learning a lot of cool stuff from comments as much as from your posts. That’s really nice.

  37. Simon says:

    Honestly my biggest problem with ME:A was the lazy and ungrounded writing. Aside from Bobs fears come true (from his YT Video), things like Liam making jokes while being sucked out into space (with the future of all the Milkyway on their shoulders). *ugh* just thinking about it makes me want to puke

  38. PPX14 says:

    The description of the sheer amount of content here actually makes me want to play it for some reason, having had only a passing interest and little intention to play it. I usually think I like tightly-defined story-rich exploration and linear experiences, e.g. I like Mass Effect 1 and KotOR and Thief, and not more diffuse gameplay that deviates too far from the story or mini stories, i.e. open world games do not appeal to me at all. But it sounds rather good having all of these important-seeming things to do in Andromeda.

  39. parkenf says:

    I followed the link to the kotaku story on Andromeda, and followed from there to a discussion on the bad ending of ME3. The general consensus there seems to be that ME1 was a good story in a bad game (specifically the Rover was a pig to play and made planetary exploration no fun), whereas ME2 and ME3 were the games the fans loved, except for the bad ending of ME3.

    I was thinking I could pick up ME1 for £7.99 from Steam and run it on my aged PC – it’s been a while since I read the retrospective and I’m sure I’ve forgotten enough of that that I’ll like the story in the game, but is, in fact, the game a slog? I was planning on stopping after ME1, because clearly the games change and clearly (?) Shamus enjoyed ME1 more than ME2, but have I misread?

    1. guy says:

      It’s a very different set of mechanics. You have many separate long cooldowns on your powers rather than one shorter cooldown so if you use powers heavily you have to rotate them, it doesn’t have shield bars block power uses so you can do more of a pure powers playthrough, it has a heatbar instead of ammo, and it’s not a cover shooter. You can technically take cover, but it’s a lot clunkier and it’s more something you do to get a breather so your shields can regenerate and your weapon can cool down while Tali tanks rockets with her face.

      It’s also got much more item management that’s very clunky where you need to fiddle with an annoyingly large number of things to accrue many small bonuses.

      Overall I think the later games are more competently executed but I liked ME1’s desgin goals more.

      Also the rover is a common point of dispute; it’s very bouncy and can be hard to steer but if you can get a handle on the bouncing you can drive to places that do not look remotely drivable and leap over defensive walls.

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