Mass Effect: Andromeda players are getting their first taste of the next installment of BioWare's alien date simulator, and gamers are finding the animation quality somewhat...out of this world?
It's not just limited to walking and talking, there are other indications of some serious problems in the animation department. Check out this scene, where an NPC walks behind a Krogan and into...nowhere:
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a AAA title, EA and BioWare are big-name industry veterans, so how do we end up with this?
The whole debacle just seems baffling for a big budget game released in 2017. It's not only generating negative comparisons to The Witcher III, but also to the animations in Mass Effect 1, the first of the franchise, released back in 2007:
So, has BioWare somehow gotten worse at this after 10 years? Can it really be chalked up to 'facial performance bugs'?
Ryder's default facial pose, especially the female version, looks stretched and smirking even when ostensibly sad:
The insights of professional 3D animators, combined with the economic reality of high quality animation, reveal some of the reasons why Mass Effect: Andromeda got stranded in the uncanny valley.
So How Did We Get Here?
Well, for one thing, the so-called 'huge development team' behind Andromeda is BioWare Montréal, a newly created studio. The Witcher III team was a huge, well-funded effort ($81 million, 240 in-house devs, 1500 total devs), and definitely not 'a couple of independent slavs').
BioWare Montréal aren't the same team that made the previous Mass Effect games. In fact, they'd only worked on some DLC previously, making Andromeda their first full-sized game.
According to some pro 3D animators for video games, for things to have gotten this bad when the main BioWare studio had very few issues on character tech with Dragon Age: Inquisition, hints at big structural troubles within the studio.
BioWare Montréal are a new studio building a game from scratch and it looks as if either no one or less than a handful of people were brought in from the more experienced BioWare teams to help them lay down the character art, tech pipeline and animation systems.
If BioWare brought in an all-new studio and then didn’t have the more experienced teams share their existing knowledge with them, it speaks to an extreme self-confidence bordering on hubris.
So one factor might be that there wasn't enough support from experienced talent, but if you want stellar animations, there's also another factor to keep in mind. It costs. Like, a whole lot.
Did BioWare's Ambition Exceed Their Resources?
We might not be able to make fair comparisons between Andromeda and other games until we know how the resources were allocated. We know The Witcher III cost a ton of money and manpower, and labor is cheaper in Poland. The Uncharted team spends literally millions of dollars on motion capture and the amount of work that goes into making Nathan Drake lifelike is seriously intensive, according to another animator:
LA Noire, which garnered a huge amount of praise for its lifelike facial animations, had a development budget in excess of $50 Million, making it one of the most expensive video games ever made. This kind of financial investment shows, and games like LA Noire, The Witcher III, and Uncharted 4 set the bar for AAA releases.
But BioWare has a small animation team compared to most AAA devs and, as mentioned above, BioWare Montréal may be even more limited. The problems we're seeing with Andromeda aren't the result of lazy devs or animators.
Somewhere along the line, human or financial resources were lacking when it came to ensuring the quality of the animation was up to snuff. Either the more experienced devs were not present, or there wasn't the money or time to give the issue the attention it deserved.
No, The Faces Are Not Intentionally Ugly
There's been something of a fuss among certain reactionary segments of the gaming community that have accused BioWare of 'going full SJW' and blaming the odd-looking faces on a feminist agenda.
The EA access footage shows that the animation issues go far beyond the female faces, which are only symptomatic of a deeper problem with the animation generally. BioWare clearly want their characters to be attractive (not that they should necessarily have to be, but that's what they're going for), but are failing to hit the mark because of rushed or sloppy animation.
So, Where Does This Leave Us Gamers?
Well, we could go the route of the above Tweeter and just revel in the sheer ridiculousness of it all. There's definitely a lot of fun to be had mocking the weirdness.
But the joy of mockery will only be short-lived for those of us who were really looking forward to a well-written, immersive space opera.
BioWare can't exactly be deaf to all the criticism being thrown at them right now, and to give the dev team a fair shake a lot of the sillier footage we're seeing is certainly down to bugs and glitches—issues that can be fixed with patches.
There's a lot to like about Mass Effect: Andromeda. The combat looks great, the new class system is interesting and the Andromedan vistas can be breathtaking. But ultimately, it's the characters that people love about BioWare games.
Just as they fixed the endings in Mass Effect 3, BioWare should listen to their fans and take action. For those of us who still believe Andromeda can be a great game, it's not too late for them to give their character animations the extra attention they deserve.
Will you be playing Mass Effect: Andromeda? Or are the animations just too off-putting?