Andromeda Part 6: What’s Wrong With Your FACE?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 20, 2018

Filed under: Mass Effect 118 comments

The player character has been made the Pathfinder. They’ve also maybe been given superpowers, although in terms of gameplay you’re exactly as powerful as beforeSAM does give you the ability to class-switch in the field. It doesn’t re-allocate your skill points or anything so it’s not going to be useful until late in the game, but it’s something.. At this point in the game we cut to see some sort of bad guyWe can tell he’s the bad guy because he’s ugly and has ominous musical cues. What? Were you expecting subtlety? exploring the tower that Alec Ryder activated.

Cue Ominous Music

I don't care how much you crank up that blue color filter, nothing can hide how ridiculous this guy looks.
I don't care how much you crank up that blue color filter, nothing can hide how ridiculous this guy looks.

This is our big introduction to the antagonist. He’s a big topic and he’ll get an entry of his own later in this series. For now I’ll just say that his presence here is not building our confidence in the story.

Even ignoring the story problems, everything about this scene is horrendous. The MAXIMUM BLUE filter is ridiculous overkill. The foreground is a group of Kett and the background is a an ancient Remnant construction, so they should be in sharp contrast for both thematic and artistic reasons. Instead everything is blue, robbing us of contrast and making the image muddled. This is made worse by the atrociously busy and over-designed armor.

The big bad is supposed to be an imposing space-lord of doom but he’s shorter than his mooks. His armor makes him look dumpy around the middle. That pull tab on his head looks comical. His face shape is exactly the opposite of what this character concept calls for. He should have a huge jaw, cunning eyes, and a large mouth, because that’s how you make your villain look imposing. Instead he looks like a pouty child, but also a bit like a sheep. Since this scene is cartoon action schlock, there’s no excuse for not using the tools of action schlock to sell your villain.

It’s amazing how hard the storyteller worked to do the wrongest thing possible. This scene is two and a half minutes with no dialog. If you’re going to sell your villain entirely on the visuals, then you really can’t afford to have an inept visual presentation.

So that’s the introduction done. The player is now the Pathfinder, they’re empowered by the AI buddy in their noggin, they know there’s a bad guy out there somewhere, and they need to find someplace for human beings to live.

The Nexus

Good news: They've gotten rid of those annoying loading-screen elevators from the earlier games. Bad news: Loading screen shuttle rides.
Good news: They've gotten rid of those annoying loading-screen elevators from the earlier games. Bad news: Loading screen shuttle rides.

After the disaster on Habitat 7, the Human ark joins up with the Nexus. Like I said earlier in the series, the Nexus is the flagship / port / capital city of the Andromeda Initiative. Supposedly all the arks should meet here.

I really like this scene during the shuttle ride. Your squad has just been through the wringer. Your planned homeworld is a dead rock with a poisonous atmosphere, your Pathfinder died, another member of the pathfinder team was KIA, and another one is stuck in cryo storage. Everyone is looking forward to reconnecting with the Nexus under the assumption that the Human ark just had a run of bad luck and everyone else is doing fine. “Real food and a shower are just ahead,” Cora says hopefully.

But then you arrive to discover the Nexus is in much worse condition, to the point where they turn around and ask you for help.

The Nexus ran into the scourge, got damaged, and most of the main leadership was killed. The remaining people woke up lost and confused. They tried to settle one of the planned worlds, but the colony was a bust due to Kett attacks. Some people on the station wanted to wake up their families, but that wasn’t possible because there weren’t enough resources to go around. Eventually there were riots. The Krogan were convinced to subdue the rioters. But the animosity kept brewing, and so a bunch of people left the Nexus. Others were kicked out. They stole a bunch of equipment and left to seek their own fortunes.

Now the Nexus is cold, dark, and empty. They’re low on food, low on power, and none of the remaining leaders have a plan. Instead they mooch power from you and demand to know where you’ve been and what you’ve managed to accomplish.

What’s Wrong With Your FAAACE?

It's hard to show off awkward animations in a screenshot, but trust me. It's awkward, and it was worse at launch.
It's hard to show off awkward animations in a screenshot, but trust me. It's awkward, and it was worse at launch.

This conversation is one of the moments in the game that became a source of jokes and memes. This is where Ryder meets with the Nexus leadership. It’s a crucial conversation that takes place very early in the game, so you’d probably assume this is where you’d see the most polished content. But at launch this scene was so janky it turned this dramatic moment into a comedic farce.

There were odd pauses in the conversation. The faces and bodies weren’t properly animated. Instead, everyone stood still and moved their lips while the rest of their face remained motionless. Ryder delivered the news that her father was dead and then the camera lingered on her motionless smiling face, making her seem like a lunatic. The irises of Addison’s eyes were too small, which made it look like she had this wild-eyed Charles Manson look on her face. Director Tann – the Salarian guy – had some strange animations that were probably intended to make it look like he was searching the room, but instead made it look like he was an actor who forgot his lines and was waiting for his cue. It was a spectacular showcase for all the various ways a game designer could find themselves in the uncanny valley. (And on top of it all, the dialog is really bad. We’ll talk about the dialog in the next entry.) It was embarrassing, frustrating, hilarious, and sad. So much time and money was spent making this scene and these characters, and yet all of that hard work looked terrible because this introduction was so strange and off-putting.

The game has since been patched, and a lot of this is fixed. (For the record, I played this game long after release so all of my screenshots are from the “fixed” version.) The camera cuts make more sense, the awkward pauses are much shorter, Addison’s eyes are less psychotic, and Ryder adopts an appropriate facial expression when delivering the news about her father. It’s still not a great scene. It still feels sort of stiff and awkward and oddly paced, but at least it’s no longer a joke.

So how did this happen?


Link (YouTube)

The best explanation I’ve found comes from New Frame PlusHosted by Dan of Extra Credits, but without the chipmunk voice or the drawings., which explains how cutscenes like this are made and what could go wrong to make it look so bad. It’s really educational and I highly recommend watching the whole thing, but if you’re not in a position to do that, then here is the short version:

A game like Uncharted or Last of Us can afford to motion-cap all their cutscenes because they have short, linear stories. But an RPG like Andromeda has dozens of hours of branching dialog that would make this infeasible. So studios have to find some way to automate the process.

These games have multiple libraries of animations that can be layered together. For one line of dialog Shepard might stand in pose idle_8 while his head performs angry_nod_12 and his eyes are locked on npc_joe_colonist. Then the next line of dialog has him perform neutral_stance_3 with head_scratch_7 and his eyes looking downward. And so on. While all of this is going on, the game is moving the mouth around to make the lip sync work.

They have tools that can automatically set up this sort of thing. You can feed it some dialog and audio files and it will set up some basic camera cuts, body poses, and lip sync. None of it will be GOOD, but it will have the basic elements of a conversation. From here, a cutscene animator can go through and tweak the scene by hand to make it look less robotic.

The main theory offered by the Extra Frames video is that the game shipped with these default auto-generated scenes, rather than having an artist work on it. There’s no way to prove this, of course, but it would explain why the game looked the way it did.

The other contributing factor was probably the switch from Unreal Engine to the Frostbite engine. This would have forced BioWare to throw away their established library of animation stances, facial expressions, character models, lip movements, and cutscene tools. On top of learning to work with an all-new toolset, the team would have needed to re-create all of that content from scratch. Perhaps that put too much pressure on the art pipeline, and so they couldn’t finish hand-crafting the cutscenes in time.

Then again, I’m not sure I buy the notion that they had to throw everything away. There are a few animations that look like they were recycled from earlier gamesWhen Sara wakes up after the protagonist transplant, I swear she does the some animation as Shepard waking up after Cerberus brought him back to life. and so I’m not sure what to think. In any case, it’s really strange how some of the most unpolished scenes appeared in the most critical parts of the story.

Tonal Disjoint

Why is Director Tann (center) holding an invisible box?
Why is Director Tann (center) holding an invisible box?

None of this is helped by the lack of coherent direction. Often the vocal performance doesn’t match up with how the dialog was written. When you see one of these moments it’s easy to blame the actors or writers because you can tell something is wrong with the story and they’re usually our first suspects, but the blame for this should fall squarely on the shoulders of the director.

An example of bad direction is a moment where Character A has a line questioning the Pathfinder’s abilities. It’s delivered in a reasonable tone of voice. But then Character B says something like, “That’s no way to talk to the Pathfinder!” It’s clear the first line was supposed to be confrontational, but the actor wasn’t given proper guidance about how their line should be delivered.

Elsewhere you’ll have someone deliver their lines in an aggressive and combative style, and yet your responses are all friendly and businesslike. The result is that it feels like your character doesn’t notice. The two performances don’t match up, but from the standpoint of the audience it’s hard to put your finger on the problem. Is this other character crazy? Is my character crazy? What’s wrong with this scene?

The problems go deeper than just the animation system. Yes, the facial animation and general pacing of the of the conversation is bad. But even if these were more polished you’d still have the problem where the facial expression doesn’t match the line delivery. And even if you fixed that, the line deliveries don’t match each other. And even if you fixed that, a lot of the dialog is just sophomoric and full of cringe. At some point this looks less like a budget problem and more like a leadership problem.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Quit.

Everything is fine.
Everything is fine.

The sad thing is that EA has since closed this studio. They paid the brutal up-front cost of switching engines and spinning up a new team, but once the cost was incurred they decided to close the place. If this team got to make another Mass Effect game, it likely would have been of much higher quality and gotten done a lot faster.

Then again, I doubt the writing and design work would have improved, so it’s not really a great tragedy. I suppose EA saved me from playing another frustrating and disappointing Mass Effect title.

 

Footnotes:

[1] SAM does give you the ability to class-switch in the field. It doesn’t re-allocate your skill points or anything so it’s not going to be useful until late in the game, but it’s something.

[2] We can tell he’s the bad guy because he’s ugly and has ominous musical cues. What? Were you expecting subtlety?

[3] Hosted by Dan of Extra Credits, but without the chipmunk voice or the drawings.

[4] When Sara wakes up after the protagonist transplant, I swear she does the some animation as Shepard waking up after Cerberus brought him back to life.



From The Archives:
 

118 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 6: What’s Wrong With Your FACE?

  1. Dreadjaws says:

    I suppose EA saved me from playing another frustrating and disappointing Mass Effect title.

    Oh, don’t worry. One of these days they’ll announce a new Mass Effect that you can play “anywhere”.

    1. Geebs says:

      We already had that. It was called “Infiltrator” and was a much better game than Andromeda

  2. Karma The Alligator says:

    Instead his looks like a pouty child, but also a bit like a sheep.

    Bwahaha, he does look like a sheep. How did they mess that up so badly? Vader was in all black in contrast to the soulless white of the stormtroopers, and that worked fine.

    Incidentally, shouldn’t it be “he looks”, not “his looks”?

    1. Nimrandir says:

      In that vein, in the second paragraph under the New Frame Plus video:

      . . . motion-cap all their cutscenes because they have short, liner stories.

      I’m guessing that should read ‘linear stories,’ though I initially read it as ‘leaner.’

    2. lurkey says:

      He reminds me more of a langur monkey than a sheep, but it changes little. Your (straight, non-subversive) villain should not elicit the “D’awwww, he is so cute! :3” reaction.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      …this scene is two and a half minutes with no dialog.

      I almost did a spit-take at this. What?
      That really is going out of their way to make it as bad as possible.

      Please tell me that at the end of the game Ryder picks this goon up by his his head-ringpull, spins him around a few times and then throws him into some lava, Mario-style.
      Sounds like the tone they were going for.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        That probably would have been a more dramatic choice than unplugging him from the computer, which obviously would kill anyone. Another good option would be to hang him up on the wall by it, all Rabadash style.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          Followed by twenty hours of terrible pun-insults, a very loud stereo setup blasting the finest Grunge-trash you can find, and a cyanide pill you hold [i]just[/i] within reach but pull back whenever he get’s close. While blowing raspberry’s.

          And video-tape the whole thing. Then broadcast it live across all channels at every known Kett-outpost within reach.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            I was thinking it kinda looked like a giant bottle opener. Do the Kett have giant bottles that need opening? Is the Archon just sporting a regrettable frat-house bodymod?

      2. tremor3258 says:

        Yeah but when Mario does that it makes him look strong since Bowser’s so much bigger than him. This would just be cruelty to sheep.

        Also if the scene is that long it would need to be spectacular, and basically set every mystery the game will answer. That’s an eternity without player action or dialog.

    4. Tom says:

      If they’d shifted the writing a few notches further toward “Hard Sci-Fi” territory (and maybe a few notches further East; Russian and former Soviet-bloc sci-fi authors are VERY good at this), they could at least have very cheaply salvaged that by lampshading it in dialogue and made a feature of it. They’re aliens. Not funny-looking-humans, not mammals, not terrestrial life, not even from our own galaxy. They did not co-evolve with us, so there is literally no reason whatsoever for anything we would rely on as a visual cue in Terran lifeforms to remotely be correct. Maybe they smile when they’re sad, Maybe a sheep would just so happen to look like the most terrifying thing ever to them. Maybe that’s not even his face. Maybe he doesn’t HAVE a face. They made at least some effort to throw a bone to the hard-sci-fi fans in at least the first two Mass Effects with dialogue musing about that sort of thing. Even the infamous bachelor party discussion regarding Asari in ME2 – and that’s not even DLC, it’s in the stock game!

      Admittedly this was still kind of an issue in original Mass Effect. They eventually gave an excuse for life on most planets in our own galaxy following oddly familiar evolutionary paths, even made it an element of the main plot, though I forget exactly when in the trilogy they explicitly addressed it – it may not have actually been planned right from the start.

  3. ShivanHunter says:

    What ruined the Archon for me was how he saw the recording of Ryder doing the whole “light show” thing (how? Did the facility record it? I thought the whole point was that the Kett couldn’t interface with the Remnant like SAM can), and copied Ryder’s pose – like, dude, did you really think that would work? Please tell me you just thought it looked cool and were posing for a selfie. Then he storms off all frustrated like, as you said, a pouty child. I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped taking a villain seriously so quickly before.

    1. Pax says:

      Yeah, this scene just screams cargocult to me. Having the main villain show up, ignorantly try to replicate the operation of technology with a mere pose, and then storm off when it doesn’t work just tells me these guys should be no threat. He might’ve well have tried a rain dance after the pose off failed.

      Of course, if they’d run with this, it might’ve been a lot more entertaining. A fallen technological race, still crudely operating their powerful technology with rituals they have no understanding of. Is it the incense and pleas to their gods that are making the engines work? Or is it the 47 special buttons they hit in a row between each chant? They don’t know, but they dare not try it elseways.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        You could do all kinds of fun things to thwart them too, like sneak into their base and replace their ammunition with painted blocks of wood. And then for the next fight they just don’t shoot back at you, because how does guns work?

        1. ShivanHunter says:

          Yeah, a cargo cult would be a great worldbuilding direction, it would fit well with the “religious orthodoxy” vibe they have going, and would open up tons of open-ended gameplay options to fight them. Have separatist factions who want to join Nexus society or work with the exiles – deal with them, or help them, than have followup quests relating to them integrating into society.

          Or, as Matthew Collins says below, make him a Joffrey-style boy king with underlings who support the orthodoxy itself but are chafing under his rule – you have to sew discord and identify potential allies to overthrow him from within.

          Or tie it into the Kett’s assimilation process/gene therapy/whatever – it can make Kett better fighters, better warriors, but eventually leads to “overdose”, and Archon has been abusing it, leading to mental degradation. Now it’s a dark transhumanism story and you could even draw unsettling parallels with Ryder/SAM’s relationship.

          Basically anything would have been a more interesting direction for Archon than the one they went, which was no direction at all.

      2. Crimson Dragoon says:

        No exaggeration, you’ve perfectly described the Imperium from Warhammer 40k.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Well, technically only the Adeptus Mechanicus.
          Not that the rest of the Imperium are better with machines & tech – it’s just that the AdMech won’t let anyone else near their stuff.

    2. Matthew Collins says:

      If they had actually made him a pouty child, it might have worked. Some impetuous boy-king who has to be obeyed by others due to his genetic heritage, even if he’s not fit for the task. That has potential.

      I will also say that the Kett are horribly designed, which is a real shame since every previous Mass Effect race has been well-conceived (except *maybe* the yahg, who are a bit too over-the-top, with all the eyes and spines and frills, and even they have their charm in a bull-dragon sort of way). I consider every other species to be a classic, but Kett are very hard to appreciate.

      1. Adeon says:

        The way it looks to me is that the original Mass effect 1 races were designed as races with a fleshed out culture that influenced their looks giving a strong aesthetic that meshed with who they are. The Kett, on the other hand, look like bog standard Star Trek style Rubber Forehead Aliens where rather than designing a culture and basing the look on that they just stick random head lumps on a human until they get something vaguely alien looking.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I just get the impression that more thought was put into the other races of Mass Effect.
        A lot of the way Asari, Krogan, Salarians and other races act and form societies is defined/informed by their physiology, lifespans, homeworlds and other details.
        Someone sat down and thought about things like how would aliens that only live 40 years and have only one sex/gender think or what would a race that evolved on a high-gravity planet look and act like?

        Meanwhile the Kett seem designed with little more than ‘ugly cannon fodder’ in mind. And the one Yahg we meet in the series appears to have been designed with ‘big boss fight alien’ first and foremost.

        Edit: Ninja’d! Bah, humbug.

        1. Coming Second says:

          Two, technically! You see one running off in its birthday suit on Sur’Kesh. Shepard jokes about it being the next Shadow Broker, which Liara doesn’t appreciate.

  4. Karma The Alligator says:

    Also is it just me or is the Salarian in those pics way too tall? Playing ME1, 2 or 3 I never got the impression that they could be that tall.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      There’s less gravity in Andromeda, because it’s further away from the Earth. So they grow taller! Duh.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        Hmm… this has potential.
        If we stick a Salarian in a box of fertilizer, does he become big and muscled?
        If we put one on a torture rack, can we stretch them to make them taller?
        Are Salarians actually just a race of malnourished sentient plant fibers?

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          If only we could keep them out of the lab and doing stuff outdoors, maybe take their shoes off, each Salarian would grow into Yggdrasil.

    2. Matthew Collins says:

      They seem to have reimagined the salarians as really tall and lanky in this game; ironically, they were originally on average *shorter* than humans. Not that I have a problem with introducing taller ones — different worlds have different gravity and other conditions, obviously, so populations are going to be varied, especially for a race as long-established in the galaxy as salarians — but retconning the entire race doesn’t sit well with me.

      Even if the salarians otherwise look very good in the game. Better than the poor asari, who for some reason are all clones now.

      1. PratalMox says:

        I think they adjusted the size of the Turians and Krogan too. It’s a change for the better in my eyes, but it’s a little weird.

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    The Archon genuinely made me laugh out loud when I saw this scene! He seemed like such a sad puppy, when he couldn’t replicate Sam’s magic feat I could hear him whine “Mooom!!! Why doesn’t this work for meee? It’s unfaiiiir!”
    So yeah, needless to say I was properly intimidated by the main villain.

  6. TLN says:

    If I recall correctly, many of the developers of Andromeda were new to the industry who applied to the new Bioware studio specifically to work on the new Mass Effect, a series that they loved (presumably this also included a lot of new people in animation).

    I’m guessing there were a lot of reasons why this ended up the way it did, but I’d bet putting together a team of largely “rookie” developers and telling them that for their first game they’re making a huge sci-fi game with hours and hours of dialogue and branching paths etc., is probably at least ONE of the big reasons. They didn’t have the experience or the know-how for this project, and ended up taking a bunch of shortcuts that would be pretty noticeable even for a smaller game from some new unknown studio, and which were disastrous for the follow up to the Mass Effect trilogy.

    1. TLN says:

      I guess that’s also why the writing kinda seemed like shoddy fanfiction because, well, that’s basically what it was. They didn’t introduce much in the way of new races because that wouldn’t be the Mass Effect they knew and loved

      1. Liessa says:

        That makes a lot of sense to me, and just highlights Shamus’ point that writers are not interchangeable – especially when several of those writers are new, inexperienced, and probably quite young. This isn’t to say that young people can’t write good dialogue – I’ve known some brilliant writers in their teens – but a lot of Andromda’s dialogue gives me the sense that these guys didn’t really know how to write professional adults doing a dangerous job. Liam’s companion mission is a perfect example of this.

    2. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      If I recall, the team did have some minor Mass Effect experience with being the team in charge of the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and the Omega DLC.

      But there certainly wasn’t enough experience there to carry an entire Mass Effect game, and certainly none of the people who made the original trilogy great.

      Some people have argued that Mass Effect was sacrificed on the altar of Anthem because the remnants (ha!) of the Mass Effect team were pulled from the Mass Effect franchise so that they could go make the most un-Bioware game that EA could think of and Andromeda was left in the hands of an inexperienced team. As most things, I doubt the narrative this that tidy and clear-cut and that this game’s shortcomings can’t be blamed on one single thing, but I get why some people put stock in this argument.

      1. coleusrattus says:

        Ah, Anthem. Another dissapointment in the making.

        1. SPCTRE says:

          that is going to depend largely on what you want out that game (although I’ll grant you that most commenters here are going to be disappointed for sure because they’re not in the market for a Destiny-like made by BioWare of all studios)

      2. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Ideally in such a situation, you’d have some key leadership left behind from the old group to make sure the new upstart team has a fair chance of making a good followup. The teams behind Halo 4 and Gears 4 both had this advantage. Unfortunately, it seems as if enough people quit from Bioware in between ME 3 and Andromeda that they didn’t have enough experienced people left to really direct Andromeda in a strong direction. They also wasted a lot of time chasing a really bad approach (randomly generated galaxy map) that made the actual game a rushed mess, despite the large amount of time in between 3 and Andromeda.

        1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

          Yeah – ideally, the person in charge of production should be someone who helped shape the previous games and that person’s sensibilities could then trickle downward into the team and the whole team adopts those sensibilities. Theoretically, that’s how a company like Bioware can grow while still holding onto its core values. But none of that seemed to happen here.

          Though to be fair, they did bring in Mac Walters to “right the ship,” but whatever he could possibly do to fix the quality of the game’s story, it seems like they were too far along for him to pull the brakes and make a proper Mass Effect game. Frankly, if the Kotaku story about the game’s troubled production is even remotely true, he’s the only reason the game got finished and released by the target date – for better or worse.

      3. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        So they pulled an Old Republic on Andromeda as well?

  7. Liessa says:

    Then again, I doubt the writing and design work would have improved, so it’s not really a great tragedy. I suppose EA saved me from playing another frustrating and disappointing Mass Effect title.

    QFT – the bugs and janky animations got all the attention, but the real problems with the game go a lot deeper. For comparison, Kingdom Come: Deliverance also had plenty of bugs and jankiness on release, but got a far more positive reception from players (even setting aside the fact that it was made by a smaller studio on a much lower budget).

    1. Coming Second says:

      The Ur example of this is surely New Vegas, which was a horrifically buggy mess on release but went on to be one of the most beloved games of a generation.

  8. The Wind King says:

    A game like Uncharted or Last of Us can afford to motion-cap all their cutscenes because they have short, liner stories.

    Linear, you mean linear here, I believe

  9. Mephane says:

    Good news: They’ve gotten rid of those annoying loading-screen elevators from the earlier games. Bad news: Loading screen shuttle rides.

    WHY ARE THEY STANDING? WHY WOULD THEY NOT SIT ON THE COUCHES?

    P.S.: Those backrests are ridiculous. Both their angle is much too low to be of any use. But still better to sit without a backrest than stand around there awkwardly (and without anything to grab onto if the rides gets even a little bit rough).

    1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

      Woah woah woah, you mean programming in animations for sitting/standing that NPCs are supposed to use without prompting from the player? We’re already having problems getting the characters to make eye contact!

      On a more serious note, I’m pretty sure the first time you use the shuttles is the only time Ryder is acompanied by other characters. The Nexus functions like the Citadel in ME3, where the players companions can spawn in various places on the station but don’t follow the player from place to place.

  10. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    Having a silly-looking antagonist isn’t necessarily bad if your goal is to upset expectations and subvert the character’s visual design by giving the character real menace. One of my favorite video game villains of all time is Kefka Palazzo. He looks ridiculous, but he manages to be evil in a way where every time he shows up on the screen, you know that something dark and awful is about to happen. But the Archon does none of that in Andromeda. He does occasionally seem to have a sort of preternatural ability that may give players the impression that he’s read the script, but that doesn’t really translate into “This is an evil and dangerous bad guy.” He just comes across as some baby-faced mook who got promoted because his halo-crown made him stand out.

    The stuff with the Nexus uprising and the riots being put down by the Krogan almost flirts with being interesting story, but then it fails with me on two fronts: One – it seems mostly created to justify the fact that a significant portion of the bad guys that I kill out in the Heleus Cluster are Milky Way colonists instead of interesting new aliens or creatures. In the bigger scheme of things, not very many of us came to Andromeda, so it’s weird that Sara is now the one putting a significant dent in that already dwindling population. And two – it seems like another hollow echo from the original trilogy of using the Krogan to win the Rachni Wars, with that victory then turning into the Krogan Rebellions.

    On the one hand, I like the subverted expectations of getting to the Nexus only to find it dark and empty and incomplete in its construction. At least with our characters: Us as players definitely saw that twist coming from a mile away. But on the other hand, it’s narratively unsatisfying to have everything fail so spectacularly. I’ve said it before – while the game never explicitly says that the Andromeda Initiative was a Cerberus-funded project, the fact that the whole thing fails immediately and thoroughly and that there’s nobody able to fix it just leaves the stench of “Cerberus” all over the entire project.

    1. Trevor says:

      I just finished a playthrough of this game for this series. The game lets you track your stats, so by the end of an Insanity run I had killed 1,034 outlaws.

      I was only being semi-completist about things so, e.g., when I’d see a camp of goons I’d jump out and kill them all in case they had a quest piece on them, but I also used Fast Travel a lot. I wasn’t trying to rack up a huge body count. I definitely missed a bunch of guys (although they do respawn). Also, I’m pretty sure Roekaar kills are counted under the Outlaws, as the other categories are animals, kett, and remnant. But Roekaar are only one of the villains on Havarl, whereas Milky Way colonists are the primary antagonists on Kadara and Elaadan, so I’m pretty sure that number is mostly former Initiative Members.

      But all that said, my Sara personally murdered approximately 1% of the entire Andromeda Initiative. Since all the rebels came from the Nexus and not from the Arks, I killed 1 out of every 20 people who got on the Nexus at the start of the Initiative. That’s halfway to decimation.

      1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

        I’ll have to open up my 100% complete playthrough and look at my stats, but my suspicion is that my Sara Ryder got her Initiative kill count up near an actual decimation.

      2. tremor3258 says:

        Those fratricide numbers are LOW for a Cerberus project though, so points to them there.

        1. Michael says:

          Now I’ve got the weird mental image of Timmy responding to, “we killed off 10% of the human population,” with, “those are rookie numbers!”

          1. BlueHorus says:

            ‘These casualty numbers seem low. Have you tried siccing a Thresher Maw on them? We’ve had promising results in the past!’

    2. Matthew Collins says:

      “And two – it seems like another hollow echo from the original trilogy of using the Krogan to win the Rachni Wars, with that victory then turning into the Krogan Rebellions.”

      In general, the game just recreates the Milky Way in Andromeda; the same dynamic, with Citadel, Council races, krogan and the Terminus all in the same place doing the same things. Shutting the door on so many opportunities to shake up the setting a bit.

      And the timeline/numbers don’t seem to add up comfortably either. I’m sure Ryder must have shot every single existing Exile twice during the game. And basically halved the viable gene pool.

  11. Mattias42 says:

    They’ve also maybe been given superpowers, although in terms of gameplay you’re exactly as powerful as before.

    I detest from the bottom of my heart when games do this. There’s just no excuse for such lazy story-telling in any game, let alone an RPG with all the stats & skills that implies.

    If you’re meant to be ‘The Special’ make the main character special, for fuck’s sake. Doubly so if the dude or dudette is only ‘The Special’ thanks to some McGuffin or science doodad any schmuck could nab & use—if not outright mass produce.

    Having what’s said to be a walking, talking legend, only to act mechanically like any lowly mook is just so anticlimactically and honestly downright stupid when the story keeps shouting how you’re this unique snowflake that makes the worlds tremble with each step.

    And what’s worse? It doesn’t have to be some grand and world-breaking thing. Just make sure you establish what the average ‘mortal’ of the setting can do, and make sure the character is above average compared with that. As little as hitting for 10 damage in the prologue, only to suddenly do 20 in post power infusion can do it… but apparently even that is often just too exhaustively creative for a lot of studios.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      The most egregious example of this to me is in the Thieves Guild questline from Skyrim in which we have to pledge our eternal soul to Nocturnal in order to get the power to be able to kill Mercer Frey, but we get no discernible power upgrade to the character aside from a new outfit and a secondary power that I’ve never used in my hundreds of hours of playing the game.

      Karliah may call me cocky, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve taken Mercer Frey even without the caped ninja outfit with the steep price tag attached.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Well you probably are cocky, when compared to a woman who had 10 years to respond to a betrayal and came up with the brilliant plan of: ‘I’ll make exactly 1 super-magical poisoned arrow, set a trap, and then shoot the wrong person with it.’

      2. Water Rabbit says:

        Even better, you could have taken Frey without the help of Karliah and Brynjolf. They were way more of a hindrance than any help and were taken out of the fight at the end anyway.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Ah, Skyrim’s companion AI. The only thing it lacked was a mod that changed all their attack barks to ‘LEEEEROOOY JEEENKIIIINS’ for the full experience.
          I remember I played as an archer, and every companion I hired had the frankly supernatural ability to dive in front of my arrows at the last second from offscreen. Every. Single. Time.
          It was like a freakin’ re-enactment of The Bodyguard whenever I loosed an arrow.

          But with Brynjolf & Karliah, it did fit. When you realized that these two were the leaders of Skyrim’s vaunted Thieves’ Guild, it completely explained how it had ended up as successful as it was.

          1. Coming Second says:

            It’s great how the whole thing ultimately makes you sympathetic with Nick V… Mercer Frey. Why shouldn’t he rob this worthless bunch of clown criminals and not sell his soul to a particularly smug and unhelpful god?

            1. PratalMox says:

              I mean he already sold his soul so he’s kind of already doomed

      3. PratalMox says:

        I mean I think I sold my soul to 6 Gods in my last Skyrim playthrough, and I know for a fact that I didn’t sell it to all of them.

        I don’t what’s going to happen to the Dragonborn’s soul when they die, but it sure as hell won’t be pretty.

      4. Chagdoo says:

        To be fair nocturnals while thing is imperceptible luck isn’t it? Basically he had actual in universe plot armor. I still see why it’s annoying to you though, but how do you show the player has equal luck to Mercer in a perceptible way? It’s also why kariah hits the wrong fool with the arrow. He’s just that lucky.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      The Pathfinder is the most powerful player character in Mass Effect history. Because every Shepard can only go down one tree of power setups. The Pathfinder can create several different options and switch between them in battle. You just don’t get all that power at level 1 because that would be stupid and mechanically unsatisfying in an RPG.

      1. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

        Eh, to be honest it never really felt like a powerful advantadge though, you could only have 3 active abilities at a time and since switching profiles meant that all your abilities would have to refresh themselves I just built one profile I liked and then went for the passive skills that only gave me marginal increases in power whilst levelling my profiles by buying up dozens of skills I never intended to use. Switching profiles always seemed too awkward to be useful to me, so I never really bothered.

        On paper I guess SAM is an impressive advantadge Ryder has over Shepard and I feel part of Alec being such a badarse on Habitat Seven is to sell the idea that SAM puts him a stop beyond other mortals but I ended my playthrough of Andromeda around level 80 feeling no more powerful than I had in the original trilogy despite being a substantially higher level than any other ME game had let me be.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          There’s at least some interesting story potential in SAM basically being a one person at a time, Matrix style skill downloader crossed with a personal assistant.

          Does the user matter in the slightest, or could Sam help push any idiot to beyond Specter level skill with enough time? And if so, isn’t the Ryder family committing one of the greatest cases of murder by negligence by keeping that tech from the universe during TWO times of such great turmoil?

          I mean, aside from the AI ban (who Earth explicitly have broken at least two times) I don’t see a reason why SAM couldn’t have been mass-produced, and saved A LOT of lives. Heck, add a ‘if killed, or captured by Reapers, fry both of you’ function and you’d starved The Reapers of one of their greatest assets—the monster parade they use to do near all their dirty business safely with.

          Because Mass Effect was rather explicit all the way from game one that The Reapers are only near invulnerable in space. On any planet they have to use so much of their mass-effect stuff just to walk around that you can cream them with (for the setting) semi-conventional weapons like the Cain launcher, or even ship cannons.

          So forcing them to actually land on any planet they wish to… well, reap, and get personally involved, because their normal source of cannon-fodder’s been cut off? That would have been a HUGE difference for the war effort.

          1. Tom says:

            I don’t recall that being mentioned in ME1 or 2… was it DLC?

            1. Mattias42 says:

              The Reaper mass-effect field thing? It’s buried in the Codex of all three games.

              Don’t remember the exact wording, but it’s basically the hand-wave why capital-ship weapons barely scratch them, but infantry a la Shepard actually has at least a tiny chance of doing them in.

              It’s also why that one Reaper who’s name eludes me in one went down to relatively easy: he needed to plug into one specific spot on The Citadel, but was also distracted both fighting the Council forces, and Shepard via the meat-puppet.

      2. Gully Foyle says:

        Except that Shep could stop time to line up a shot, psychically command her allies, and could have seven active abilities at once, which cooled down much faster than Rider’s.

        The game wanted to sell the player’s power, but the engine changes cost a lot of the old abilities, making things feel like a sidegrade at best, with narrative presentation reducing things further still.

  12. Agammamon says:

    Why is Director Tann (center) holding an invisible box?

    That’ not his invisible *box*.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      There are two of them? Oh, well then!

  13. Geebs says:

    Looking at those animations again, I think we can Mass Effect 3 the entire plot of this game. The fact that Sara Ryder has anisocoria in the scene where she’s reporting to the Nexus leaders isn’t just a shoddy bit of animation; it’s actually key to the entire plot! Having pupils of different sizes can indicate swelling of the brain, likely due to having been repeatedly hit on the head, poisoned, and explosively decompressed (twice!). The rest of the plot is just stuff she’s imagining while slipping into a coma.

    It was…. ALL A DREAM!

    Please like and subscribe

    1. Trevor says:

      She was Indoctrinated the whole time.

      It’s really obvious. Watch my 50 minute YouTube video where I explain.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        You never let us down!

  14. Echo Tango says:

    Why would switching engines necessitate re-creating their animations? Animations are just information that moves around polygon vertices, skeletons/bones, or textures / bump-maps / etc. Even if it’s in an incompatible format…isn’t that an exercise for undergrad programmers – convert this file from one format to another?

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      One way would be if they used different/upgraded models with different skeletons, so that the old animations wouldn’t be compatible (although the skeletons would need to be *very* different for it to be the case).

    2. Shamus says:

      How it might happen:

      Let’s say the old animations aren’t in a nice open format. Maybe it’s standard practice to keep them in some proprietary Unreal Engine format. They had a converter from Epic to save in that format. Now they want to port to the Frostbite engine but it can’t read Unreal animation files. There’s no documentation, so someone would need to reverse-engineer the file. A project like that is a huge time sink. The programming staff is already overloaded with extending the Frostbite engine, making the game, and building this procedural world stuff that would eventually be scrapped. Meanwhile, the animators would be stuck for weeks, unable to begin work until the converter was done. Meanwhile, art hours are way cheaper than programmer hours, so screw the converter and dump the problem on the artists and have them remake everything.

      I know in the old days, animation / skeleton files would be VASTLY different. One stores the origin and orientation of a BONE, while another stores a full matrix for each JOINT. The latter would make it possible to have animations that re-scale the skeleton, while the former wouldn’t. You couldn’t cleanly convert between these two formats. Not only are they storing information in different formats using different coordinate systems, but they’re storing fundamentally different KINDS of information. Maybe one engine limits each vertex to being attached to just 3 unique joints at once, while the other allows up to seven. You can convert the files, but complex facial animations might not survive the process and everyone’s face would move like it was made of stiff plastic. You’d get “cracks” around complex joints like the corners of the mouth and the shoulders.

      Having said that, I think they DO reuse some animations, so I don’t think the problem is that they had to start their library over from scratch. I honestly don’t know. Certainly changing engines is expensive, messy, and inherently lossy, but I’m not sure how those problems would manifest.

      1. Shamus says:

        At any rate, the animations in the new game are awful. The Extra Frames video shows a conversation with Ashley from the original Mass Effect 1, and that small side-conversation looks better (in terms of natural animations) than literally every cutscene in Andromeda. I got used to Andromeda’s weirdness after a few hours, just like you can eventually get used to Skyrim’s potato-faced characters. But then I’d see footage of 12-year-old ME1 and it’s like, “Oh wow! That looks fantastic!”

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Further proof that more games should just stick with non-photorealistic graphics, and use stylized aesthetics instead. ME1 looks good, but I think this game universe would be even better with visuals reminiscent of old comic books or TV shows, to fit the sci-fi world. :)

          1. Geebs says:

            Andromeda is already going for a slightly stylised, Sims-y look for the human characters, though. If anything the original Mass Effects have a more photorealistic style.

            Arguably, further evidence that the engine change was a big problem for Bioware’s animators is provided by the equally ghastly conversations in Dragon Age Inquisition. It has almost exactly the same issues with major plot points being accompanied by canned, stilted-looking animations (see the stuff around the timey-wimey section). DA:I was supposedly made by Bioware’s “A” team but the only real difference is in the fact that the characters generally remember not to hold their weapons by the pointy end.

            What the Extra Frames video really showed me was that Naughty Dog have absolutely kick-ass animators.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Sorry, I just can’t see how this game looks “stylised” in any way, for its graphical fidelity. It looks extremely like a live-action TV show with rubber mask aliens, and not at all like a cartoon, comic-book, painting, knitting-yarn, scrapbook-stickers or any other visual style that has been in video games in the last two decades. The game looks like it’s got photorealistic (for the budget) graphics, not like it was an artistic choice.

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        When I was learning data management, the first rule was always “save the original data and never save over it.” All data I pull from Census come in .txt and are saved in .txt. The dictionary file is in .txt and is saved as such, et cetera. I then pull that data into a proprietary system and save in the native format for that new system for manipulation and management. I was taught to do this for exactly this reason -so that I could always rebuild the data if I needed to change systems or screwed up horribly.

        My first thought was “don’t you have the original data still?” Which they may have. But raw data can be a mess to work with, especially old data. The original captures may have been less good than current technique, for example. Your existing library may be highly edited and customized, and none of that can transfer. They may have pulled a few raw data points-the getting out of bed data -and run it through Frostbite, then decided the work was more trouble than it was worth. If the animators are going to have to redo all the editing and customizing anyway, better to redo the data from scratch in the newer techniques which might save time on the back end.

      3. Olivier FAURE says:

        Nowadays engines would use either glTF, or a format convertible to glTF. Back during Andromeda’s development, the standard “rosetta stone” 3D format would have been Collada, which was less popular; but whatever format Mass Effet 1-3 used would probably have been convertible to Collada, and Collada would have been convertible to whatever Andromeda used.

        Although there’s some information that can’t always be stored in either formats (stuff like “this is the part of the body that moves when a character looks at something”); but even then, it extremely unlikely that Andromeda couldn’t reuse any Mass Effect assets. If nothing else, they probably had baseline skinned models and textures. For stuff like chairs and lamps, that’s all you need.

    3. If the new engine permits more degrees of freedom than the original one did, no, it’s not possible. For instance, facial animations keep advancing. If the old engine worked by moving polygons directly and the new engine simulates the motion of facial muscles, for instance, there’s basically no practical conversion possible. Or even just if the old engine simulated with 10 facial muscles and the new one uses 35. Even if you write a conversion for that, the result is going to be very, very bad and may not be any better than just starting over from scratch. And that’s just two examples of the possible differences that could emerge.

      On the surface, yes, it’s that easy. But when you dig into the details it isn’t.

      It is possible to convert what you can and then have a human clean up the remainder, which may be where the reuse Shamus sees is coming from. Of course, they may also just have kept the original animation plans and reimplemented them in the new engine, saving at least the planning work.

      Also, stepping out of the mere possibility, having that sort of conversion creates a blocker in the content pipeline. Nobody can work on the animations to fix them up until the converter is done, because every time the programmer improves the converter, all the converted animations get re-converted again with the new system. It can be that even if the program is practical to write, it still isn’t practical to put in the schedule because of this blocking behavior. If you just make animations from scratch, you can create them in the rough order they’re needed as the game is being developed, with each new animation then allowing a bit more progress on the scenes currently in progress, so you don’t end up with One Big Blocker on pretty much every scene in the game.

      1. Shamus says:

        Shit. Simulating muscles? Are they really doing that these days?

        I remember thinking about that way back in 2004-ish. It bugged me that you’d make a big muscle man but his muscles wouldn’t expand as he moved around. Which means you couldn’t “flex”. I wondered what sort of far-future supercomputer it would take to simulate the muscles. I can totally believe we have the power for that now, but I hadn’t heard about it. (I’m not sure if you’re talking about a real thing or just offering an example for illustration.)

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          I don’t know about games, but the CG guys have been doing muscle simulations for decades.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            The basic idea is pretty straightforward. You have a bone for each muscle, driven by the joint, and then a displacement for the surface which is driven by the bone. You could even do some real-time soft-body stuff (where the muscle contraction changes the simulation stiffness), though I’m sure muscles would be the second place it was applied.

            Looking at the facial animations, they are either doing shape-keyed phonemes, or some level of facial muscle-rigging. Looks like no soft-body or muscle rigging on the bodies though.

        2. I don’t know what they really call the control points, so I used that term, just to discuss why you may not be able to translate, even if you were a clever programmer. There isn’t a way to convert 10-dimensional data into 25-dimensional data “for real”. (You can embed the 10d data into 25d, but it’ll still be unable to do some things the 25d data can do.)

          I looked around a bit and couldn’t find anything that literally discussed real-time animation with muscles directly. Just a lot of discussions of facial anatomy in the context of animation.

        3. Karma The Alligator says:

          Re: simulating muscles, there’s an example during the intro in Metal Gear Solid 5, when the character is shirtless and crawling on the ground: you can actually see the shadows on the back change (it’s not a full simulation, it just switches between 2-3 different muscle “layouts”, but it’s still damn impressive to see).

  15. Hal says:

    But then you arrive to discover the Nexus is in much worse condition, to the point where they turn around and ask you for help.

    How long has the Nexus been in the Andromeda galaxy compared to the Human Ark? My base assumption would have been that the ships would all be programmed to arrive at the same time in the same place, but I can accept that Something Went Wrong (TM).

    That description of the travails of the Nexus sounds like weeks, at least, or even months. For a 600 year journey, I could accept that they arrived separately, although again I’d say that seems like an unintended outcome. Is there any explanation?

  16. Gurgl says:

    While Andromeda does have corny moments, it is still a gigantic improvement over the original trilogy which was choke-full of ridiculous outbursts, awkward pauses and awful transitions. Interesting how everyone collectively forgot about that.

    The Youtube videos usually show some legit dumb moments, but the rest are outright bugs and as someone playing in late 2018 and 70 hours in (I’m slow), I have yet to encounter enough glitches to warrant more than a side-comment in a Twitter review.

    But I guess the game’s legit weaknesses don’t make for comical thumbnails and millions of views, “slow, uneventful and repetitive” just isn’t as catchy, and now that everyone agreed that the animations are terrible, no one wants to get outed as the one who found no fault in them.

    1. Trevor says:

      The Saren-Benezia scene that is analogous to the Archon scene discussed above is a similar kind of trainwreck. Shepard’s not present and so it’s the only extended scene in the game where it’s unclear from whose POV we’re watching the scene, which is jarring.

      The lighting is super dark, the camera opens on Benezia’s cleavage and then eventually pans up to get her face. This character design and camera work does not contribute to making a compelling villain either. Marina Sirtis, who is a human capable of delivering real human speech sounds beyond wooden. When Saren gets angry, the lighting flashes red for some reason and then throws a hissy fit and starts throwing furniture like he’s Kylo Ren. It doesn’t really work. The stories Anderson and Wrex tell you about Saren in normal dialogue make him out to be considerably more intimidating than this cutscene which is as cringe-worthy as the Archon scene.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Oh man, I forgot that scene existed. Yeah, that was terrible.
        Actually, pretty much every scene with Benezia in it was cringeworthy to me. Who decided to cast Marina Sirtis as a badguy(badgirl?) in the first place?

        And the dialogue. ‘Goodbye, little wing’…
        HUUUUAAARRGGGLLRRRB

        1. MelTorefas says:

          There is a reason why none of my three attempts to complete ME1 ever survived the Benezia section. >.>

      2. Liessa says:

        Ugh, yeah, that scene was awful. I guess it was lucky it happens late enough in the game for most players to have already been won over by earlier, better scenes.

        That said, while Bioware games in general have never had great animation, I do think Andromeda at release was quite a bit worse than most. I saw one video where a major character bugged out and went into a weird T-pose in a cutscene, and several other cutscenes where people’s bodies were getting twisted around in weird ways. It’s really not acceptable for an AAA release from a major studio.

  17. Jabberwok says:

    The video mentions what seems like one of the biggest problems to me, which is that rising graphical fidelity makes imperfections that much more noticeable. I think the vast majority of the strange expressions and conversational twitches would not have been an issue in the older Mass Effect games. Photorealism is increasingly going to work against time-saving methods like these. You can’t have a character look like a real person but move like a robot without freaking people out.

    Another reason they shouldn’t have switched to the Frostbite engine. Should’ve saved that for simulating Kevin Spacey’s face.

  18. Abnaxis says:

    Am I the only one that thinks just the model for female Ryder looks like a clown? Like, her eyes and lips are WAY too big for her face, even if she was just striking a T-pose…

    1. Jabberwok says:

      It does seem a bit exaggerated. Like they were moving toward the hyper-expressive Disney/Pixar school of character design.

    2. Agammamon says:

      Her face is all derped up except from a tiny number of angles. Draw a line from the bottom of her nose to the back of the top of her head – everything below that line is pudgy like she’s fat, everything above it is thin. Her jaw sets in her mouth like she’s got an underbite. And the eyes. Man, the eyes. Droopy – but not evenly droopy.

      I get that they weren’t trying to make her super-barbie hot or anything like that.

      But man, one of the main character models and she, really, looks a bit ‘special needs’. And it really stands out when you look at the other character models in a scene. It really is as if they tossed that face together quickly and left it for last for touching up and ran out of time.

    3. chiefnewo says:

      They have done an absolutely fantastic job at making her look completely gormless.

  19. Redrock says:

    None of that comes close to explaining how the phrase “my face is tired” made it into the game. I mean, you can’t give that phrase to the character with the worst facial animation in the early game. You just can’t.

  20. RFS-81 says:

    The foreground is a group of Kett and the background is a an ancient Remnant construction, so they should be in sharp contrast for both thematic and artistic reasons. Instead everything is blue, robbing us of contrast and making the image muddled.

    Case in point: Before reading this description, I thought they were standing in a hall with some triangular insignia on the wall. Though to be fair, someone who played the game probably would recognize the building, I guess.

  21. GoStu says:

    I’m okay with the idea that the Kett leader is smaller than his goons. I think the real problem is that he’s not quite small enough to sell the idea that he’s got some other kind of power; I had assumed that he was some kind of powerful biotic or had other weird powers. Maybe he controls the Scourge, whatever the hell it is.

    The Etherials in XCom come to mind as an example of this done well – they’re withered and physically frail compared to their hulking brute minions, but they’re still one of the most dangerous things on the field due to immense psionic powers.

    This clown just looks like the short kid in the class. I really do want to throw another jab at the leader’s appearance (and the bad guys in general) though. They’re allegedly genetically engineering themselves/each other to be the “perfect warrior” or something. But why would you try and grow a ton of bone on someone’s head instead of just… giving them a helmet? The Geth in ME1 did this a lot better: the infiltrator/sniper/wallcrawler things had physical capabilities that made them a HUGE pain in the ass. In a different vein the giant Colossi looked pretty well-engineered for their role as all-terrain heavy weapons platforms.

    These guys just have ugly foreheads and typical small-arms. They seem to have no advantages over everyone else despite their campaign of genetic enhancements. The modified Krogan you see later are tough… but Krogan are already supposed to be nigh-indestructible walking tanks. So for all the Kett have been pursuing their campaign of genetic enhancement and exalting, they’re not good at it.

    1. ClaimedInfinity says:

      I just recently played through ME1 and many of Andromeda animations compared to the ones from ME clearly lack polish – there’s a lot of clipping, some leftover mocap shaking etc. It’s not caused by any technical issues (I have some experience in the area as I’ve been making 3d character animation for years) – it happens when you don’t have enough time to polish the animations because there’s a lot of them or/and because you have inexperienced animators.

      As for the villain, yeah he’s has bad design but he’s not that bad if you remember Benezia, Harbringer-controlled bug , Starchild or SPACE NINJA. Still bad though.

      With that said I’m still prone to defending the game, because while being as unpolished and strange as it is, Andromeda still has some genuine feeling of sci-fi exploration long since being forgotten after Mass Effect 1.

    2. Nessus says:

      It kinda strikes me as yet another missed opportunity on the part of the writers (man, this game is like a Mandelbrot of those, isn’t it?).

      I mean, to me this sounds like a great opportunity to have Ryder give the Ket leaded a Picard speech at some point. Ryder could give him the beans about how he was always going to fail because in the context of technologically advanced races, focusing on biological combat strength is redundant at best, a dead end at worst. Everyone comes from worlds where there are bigger, stronger, scarier animals than them. Even the Krogan. Raw bodily prowess has a ceiling of diminishing returns once sapience is in play. A ceiling who’s height is inversely proportional to a society’s advancement. If this wasn’t true, we’d all still be squatting in the mud being ruled over by tigers and thresher maws instead of building cities and spreading to the stars.

      Maybe even point to the Yahg as an example. “We come from a galaxy where there exists a sapient species more fearsome than you are in your wettest dreams, and they’re going exactly fuck-all nowhere because all the “weaker” races can keep them on permanent house arrest without lifting a finger, with technology and strategy.”

      You could turn this into a whole thing. A contest of ideologies rather than just an excuse for the “bad guys” to be shooting at you so you can shoot them. An animosity between the pathfinder and the Kett leader based on something deeper than just “you shot at me, so…”. Possibly even a personal one, if you do the dialog right. Free thematic layers, there for the taking.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        “You know why we’re going to win? Because in my galaxy we have mastered the pinnacle of combat strategy: sending in a small team to crouch behind chest-high walls, then pop out to fire a few shots. This has proven unbeatable against every kind of foe.”

      2. GoStu says:

        Maybe even point to the Yahg as an example. “We come from a galaxy where there exists a sapient species more fearsome than you are in your wettest dreams, and they’re going exactly fuck-all nowhere because all the “weaker” races can keep them on permanent house arrest without lifting a finger, with technology and strategy.”

        See, that just leads me to another more interesting gameplay option. What if the Kett were few in number but were individually terrifying? I’m talking miniboss-level obnoxiousness where the team is hunted by some powerful creature(s) over the course of a mission, hammering in terror of the unknown. Maybe one Kett is adapted well to a jungle planet. Another is adapted to the desert world you find it on.

        You’re the foreigners, but they live here and they know it well.

        You’ve got the exiles or whatever for more conventional manshoots, use the strange aliens for something completely different.

  22. The Rocketeer says:

    You know, I’ve been surprised by how many of the complaints about this game’s presentation missteps have lined up exactly with my experience with Horizon: Zero Dawn, which I played very recently.

    Now, Horizon is a very fun game; it’s on the short list for Best Game Ever Made About a Cavewan Fighting Robot Dinosaurs. But the game’s writing is just awful, and its presentation is worse. Fantastic visuals, if sorely overreliant on that old orange/blue contrast, but almost all the game’s dialog, even along the main story path, is delivered in shot/reverse shot. There’s so much shot/reverse shot in Horizon I think even the makers of the first Mass Effect would be embarrassed. The lack of any dynamism in the camera focuses the player on the faces and voicework, which is a mistake. The faces look great in static shots, but the limited inventory of very general canned expressions not only fails to carry the feeling of the dialog, but actively undercut it. Shot after shot after shot of Aloy knitting her eyebrows together in mild concern brings Marlow effing Briggs’ neutral mask to mind. There are few standout voice performances, such as the always-professional Paul Eiding and the journeyman [look up Garrus’ voice actor before posting]. But overall the voice direction seems nonexistent; actors are unaware or indifferent of the emotional thrust of their lines, and I strongly suspect the few good performances among them are in spite of a lack of direction. Combined with the dearth of expression or body language, there’s nothing to command the audience’s attention but the dialog itself, which is the worst mistake yet. Rutskarn would tear his hair out over Horizon’s torturously uneconomical dialog! Every conversation could be dramatically condensed while delivering the same information. Or re-iterating, as it were; I think the director was terrified that a player might only do one or two side missions at most, and thus miss out on the super-important setting details, so nearly every question NPC relates the exact same world information again and again. Doubly unfortunate, since this is a bland, predictable YA fantasy setting that the player will understand without needing to be told at all and doesn’t have enough depth or scope to spread over more than three or four NPC’s to begin with.

    All of these problems are downstream of two larger, more fundamental direction errors. First, a Mass Effect-style dialog wheel was an awful choice for the story and protagonist. Your options to characterize Aloy are infrequent and outside of the regular dialog wheel; the wheel is used only for exposition. The actual cutscenes in game are a huge departure, presentation-wise; you have action occurring simultaneously with dialog, so characters are actually framed reacting properly in real-time with their face and body language in a shot composed for visuals and conveying information instead of brutalist efficiency, with dialog limited to the minimum necessary to convey the emotion and frame the action actually carrying the scene. In other words, it’s as if someone on the team actually understood visual storytelling media and that games are one. Which is kinda infuriating, since it would mean they were capable of competence and just didn’t bother for the vast majority of story beats. I know the obvious defense is that moving a camera and composing shots takes time and money, but I don’t buy that this long-term and much-hyped platform exclusive couldn’t have pulled the budget for this if they’d prioritized it, especially considering how seriously the team seems to take their dumb story. It also reverses storytelling needs; they don’t need budget visual storytelling equal to their vastly over-budgeted dialog; focusing on composing a scene first would have the amazing benefit of forcing them to limit dialog to what works for the scene and isn’t a soul-sucking slog to sit through.

    Which would also ease the second foundational error: dialog is their first resort for exposition and storytelling when it should only be used as a last resort for these things. (Lately I’ve been rereading Adventures in the Screen Trade to grieve the recently deceased William Goldman, and the book talks this and a gold mine of other things. It’s a fantastic and eminently readable book about screenwriting and storytelling that anyone interesting in writing, structure, plot, and visual storytelling would love, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HOST A BLOG OR PODCAST THAT FREQUENTLY DISCUSSES THESE THINGS, if you happen to know anyone like that.) In keeping with the budgetary line above, you know what’s not cheap? Voice actors’ time. And they’re taking a lot of that and burning it in service of nothing or less. Drawing the voice content way down and reallocating that money to direction a d cinematography would greatly multiply their return on investment. Telling a story badly but cheaply is not the reasonable alternative to telling it well, and I don’t buy that they’re even saving much, if at all. People occasionally use the open world format to excuse weak or absent direction, which is as wrong as it is condescending; when you laboriously craft a massive, varied, and beautiful gamescape in which you can place anyone you imagine anywhere you want to say anything you please, the canard that this immense surfeit of freedom and opportunity limits rather than liberates the creator’s hand to compose shots and tell the story visually is just terribly sad, especially as it absolves the creators of what should otherwise be their foremost priority. But again, I don’t think the creators were communicating the story and world primarily with dialog because they felt constrained to do so, but because they mistakenly believed the worst path open to them was their ideal tool.

    Which would be perfectly typical of their general storytelling competence. All these problems could evaporate and it wouldn’t affect the dull, empty protagonist’s rote hero’s journey of story beats and “mysteries” so played out that the most credulous player will intuit their resolutions before they’re finished being introduced, borne upon an inulting and trite thematic garbage barge. But nailing the presentation would help slide the far end of the writer’s Foley catheter swiftly and painlessly down the audience’s throat, which is in itself a goal of considerable worth.

    Not helping to cast Horizon in a forgivable light is the game I played immediately afterwards: The Last Guardian, which, in true Fumito Ueda form, nigh-effortlessly relates an intensely emotional story almost entirely without dialog, relying excellently on its natural visual and interactive storytelling. But Horizon is a very fun game about a cavewoman fighting robot dinosaurs with a bow. And for that, much- but not all- is forgiven.

    1. Syal says:

      Horizon also has noticeable snapback in character animation during dialogue; I think it’s the first game to really hit the uncanny valley for me.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        That’s actually one thing I forgot, on top of everything else; between lines, or as segments of scenes begin and end, they have a quick camera cut, either because that’s just how the camera angles were lined up for that scene or segment, or to try and mask these jarring transitions from one animation to the next.

        That’s the correct thing to do. They just do it terribly! Every single time, the angle they cut to is almost the same as the previous shot, intensifying rather than redirecting the player’s attention without redirecting their perception. The closest thing to this in film is special effect shots where they try to cut to or from a prop or something, which usually comes with an insert shot of something else or a significant change of angle. But the closest equivalent to what Horizon does constantly is the shot in Alien where they cut from the prop severed Bishop head to the actor’s head poking through a table. They just cut from the prop to the actor at the exact same angle and it’s stupidly obvious and looks like garbage. I’d link to a clip if I wasn’t on my phone, because it’s really amazing to see, both because it’s incredible someone left it in a feature film and because it nearly parallels what Horizon constantly leaves in their game.

        It’s bizarre that they couldn’t fix the canned animation transitions when the player will be attentively fixated upon them, when the animations during gameplay- all the running, sliding, stumbling, climbing, etc.- all looks superb even though the player’s attention is likely fixed elsewhere as they occur, such as on their surroundings or on enemies. And this quick-cut business just exacerbates this shortcoming with the visual storytelling equivalent of touching an exposed wire. It’s bonkers how misallocated their priorities were, and I don’t know whether to attribute this particular foible to their inability to address it or their inability to recognize it.

        I should point out that I’ve only played a bit of the Frozen Wilds expansion, which clearly tries to inject some dynamism into conversation- with mixed results, from what little I saw. On one hand, you have the guy at the dam, who has a conversation with you in which the camera and characters move during dialog! They use their hands and body language and everything! It’s like visuals are a component of presentation somehow.

        On the other hand, you have the conversation with Aratak, with had canned animation starting and stopping like clockwork as he tinkers with his spear during his lines. It’s clearly an attempt to give him some business in the scene, but the mechanical repetition is jarring, like Joshua Graham in Fallout New Vegas’ Honest Hearts cleaning an infinite pile of M1911 pistols.

        1. Dan Efran says:

          the closest equivalent to what Horizon does constantly is the shot in Alien where they cut from the prop severed Bishop head to the actor’s head poking through a table.

          The robot is Ash, not Bishop (from the sequel). But yeah, that’s the same scene I thought of when you were describing the problem. It looks truly terrible and a standard cutaway would have fixed it. The two shots look fine if you don’t show them back to back like that. Here’s the clip:
          https://youtu.be/VA8jv1M6Y2g?t=25

          And here’s the end of the scene, where they do it correctly with a cutaway:
          https://youtu.be/2RsOPTsjgxQ?t=124

          The prop’s expression doesn’t even quite match the actor’s that time, but it still looks way better with the proper editing. The Ash scene is like a textbook WRONG/RIGHT comparison.

          Oh, and this is called a “jump cut”. Occasionally used on purpose for dramatic effect, but, in my opinion, always distracting.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            D’oh! I can’t believe I mixed up my androids. Yaphet Kotto even yells, “Ash was a God damn android!” in that scene.

  23. Dragmire says:

    Waitwaitwait!

    They have food troubles so they decided to wake up the KROGAN!?

    Man, were going through wood fast. It’s a serious issue.

    I know, LET’S BURN THE FOREST DOWN!

    GREAT IDEA!!

    1. ClaimedInfinity says:

      AFAIR It was specifically stated in some dialog on Elaaden that krogan don’t require much in terms of food and water. Kinda makes sense – you’d have to evolve to literally get nourishment from rocks and to stock up some supplies in hunchbacks of theirs (just like camels) to survive on the krogan homeworld.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Seems like the only way the humps would be of use is if they had gone into cryosleep “full”. A camel’s hump would help it last between food sources, but I don’t think it would mean taking in less nutrients overall. It just means the camel would eat a lot more when food was available, but then be able to last longer between meals. So if the Krogan woke up hungry, they would eat all of the remaining food, and then still be alive long after everyone else starved to death.

        But if they can really eat rocks, that’s definitely a game changer.

        1. ClaimedInfinity says:

          Either rocks (not literally rocks, more kind of locally available food) or they were woken up as a counter-rebellion force (maybe not – I don’t remember) or both. Maybe the Nexus had enough food at THAT time (plausible but weak as that is not stated in the game). Either way the comment saying that the reason of waking them up is not a good idea because they’ll eat everything seems kinda nitpicking.

  24. krellen says:

    The Mass Effect elevator loading screens were absolutely brilliant and some of the best character building moments in the game and the internet needs to stop ragging on them so hard because they’re a bunch of impatient dudebros that hate talking and want to get back to the shooting. More games should use tricks like that.

    1. Geebs says:

      The group elevator scenes were fine….to a point. I think people got sick of them because of the sudden shift in gears when you hit the Citadel and the game suddenly gets a whole lot slower; it should really have kept up the pace of the introduction for another half an hour to allow the player to appreciate the down-time. The Keeper-scanning quest also meant that people spent much more of the initial Citadel visit in elevators than was strictly humane.

      The solo elevator in the Normandy, on the other hand, was awful. There really wasn’t much character building to be gleaned from Shepard, in a lift, alone, staring at the wall for about a minute. You might not appreciate exactly how awful if you didn’t play the original Xbox 360 version, though.

    2. ClaimedInfinity says:

      I second that. I’d rather look at the characters standing in an elevator and listen to their banter than stare at the loading screen like the one they did in Mass Effect 2.

  25. Joshua says:

    “What’s wrong with your face?”

    I can’t believe no one has commented of of the following on this yet:

    1. I see what you did there.
    2. I understood that reference!

  26. Guy says:

    SAM does give you the ability to class-switch in the field. It doesn’t re-allocate your skill points or anything so it’s not going to be useful until late in the game, but it’s something.

    This is important to me because it is a metaphor for my gender identity.

    Ask how Saturday.

  27. PPX14 says:

    I can’t remember if I came across this here, but this seems a good candidate for why the “face is tired” line exists:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/masseffect/comments/64f0r7/where_my_face_is_tired_came_from_mea_spoilers/

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