In my article this week, I talk about how the decision to use Frostbite has done tons of damage to BioWare. Also, I spent a little time explaining why seemingly-easy features might be hard to implement in Frostbite.
Annoyingly, I didn’t cover all my bases and a bunch of people tried to “gotcha” me with the fact that former BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn claims it was BioWare’s decision to use Frostbite. I remember hearing about this ages ago, but I dismissed it as obvious corporate ass-covering. Still, if I’d been on the ball I would have demolished that argument before I started in on Frostbite. Maybe I’ll append something to the article, maybe I’ll handle it in an aside in my next column, but in the meantime here’s the problem with Flynn’s statement:
It is rather amazing that so many EA subsidiaries all decided to switch to Frostbite at the same time. In the linked article Flynn says:
[…] we knew that our Eclipse engine, that we shipped DA2 on, wasn’t going to cut it for the future iterations of Dragon Age. It couldn’t do open world, the renderer wasn’t strong enough, those were the two big ones. We thought about multiplayer as well, as Eclipse was single-player only.
To take these points in order:
Okay, Unreal Engine didn’t do open world. Fine. The problem is that neither did Frostbite. When given the choice between a familiar engine that doesn’t do what you need, and an unfamiliar engine that doesn’t also do what you need, why would you choose the latter? “Oh, we needed a garage, so rather than add a garage to the house we bulldozed the entire property and built a new house that also didn’t have a garage.”
The claim that the FREAKING UNREAL ENGINE isn’t “strong enough” is laughable. Maybe their forked version was getting a bit long in the tooth, but in that case the obvious solution would be to migrate to the latest version of the Unreal Engine and re-implement whatever features they’d added. You’ve got to re-implement features either way, but with Frostbite you have to add even more features, plus break the entire toolchain, force your entire staff to be re-trained on a new engine that was being developed on the fly, and allegedly throw away some portion of your art library because it didn’t work with the new engineI can’t find a source for this, but I read it somewhere. If anyone has a link, please let me know..
The Unreal Engine has supported multiplayer since 1998. It’s got all the multiplayer you could possibly need. I actually tried multiplayer Dragon Age: Inquisition at launch, and it was ridiculously broken. If we’re to believe Flynn, then BioWare ditched a multiplayer-ready engine to embrace multiplayer in a new engine, when multiplayer was a tacked-on afterthought that barely worked.
Even if the Inquisition Team wanted to move to Frostbite, why didn’t anyone in the company backpedal when the migration began causing problems and delays? They shipped three games with this engine, and it never got any easier. Frostbite was always at the top of everyone’s list of grievances when disgruntled employees slipped off and began talking to the press, and these problems have been corroborated by multiple people in multiple studios across multiple projects.
I can’t prove that Frostbite was mandated by EA, but we have to choose one of these:
- EA’s executives continued a longstanding pattern of radical shortsighted moves resulting from their lack of domain experience.
- Multiple studios making games from sports to RPGs, all decided to embrace the Frostbite engine at once, even though it was originally designed for linear cinematic shooters and was thus ill-suited to their needs. They continued to use this engine, even when it was clearly against their best interests to do so and was causing delays, bugs, and an overall drop in product quality. NOT ONE of these studios chose to go back to their previous tools, even though they were supposedly free to do so and EA supposedly didn’t care.
I realize the “EA Executives are all dumb” is an attractive narrative and I can respect someone who wants to caution us against embracing the most simplistic and self-gratifying reading of things. Sure, the world is complicated and the EA leadership aren’t actually cartoon villains who want to ruin videogames for the lulz. I’m willing to believe that game developers make lots of dumb mistakes without any help from their parent companyI make lots of mistakes all by myself; I don’t need a billion-dollar behemoth to help me do it..
While I appreciate calls for a nuanced reading of things, in this case I think the easy answer is the one that makes the most sense.
 I can’t find a source for this, but I read it somewhere. If anyone has a link, please let me know.
 I make lots of mistakes all by myself; I don’t need a billion-dollar behemoth to help me do it.
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