Where did we take the wrong turn? How Anthem became BioWare's failure (Topic)

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Where did we take the wrong turn? How Anthem became BioWare's failure


In the aftermath of the Mass Effect: Andromeda disaster, Anthem was at the fore for BioWare. We know the score was 55 on Metacritic, which was the lowest score a studio game has ever received. But this is not the biggest problem: many veterans have quit, depression reigns in the office, and the future of the studio is unknown. Anthem was supposed to be a lifeline for a drowning man, but turned into a stone tied to his leg. Kotaku journalist Jason Schreyer conducted anonymous interviews with Anthem developers, and concluded that this situation was due to indecisive leadership and rivalry between the two departments of the studio.

As it turns out, Anthem was originally a stone, not a circle, which took 7 years of talking and 18 months of labor to create. Schreyer spoke about this in detail in his material. We have selected highlights from it.

When dreams don't match reality

One of Schreyer's interlocutors said that the problems began after the release of the last Dragon Age: Inquisition. The game was both the best and the worst that ever happened to the studio. She shot and liked the gamers, but, at the same time, employees were exhausted by the indecision of their leadership and the technical problems that had to be solved. Everyone understood that it was impossible to make games like that. However, it was exactly the same way that subsequent projects were created. Everyone believed that the "magic of BioWare" would work at the last moment and save the day as it was with Inquisition. To do this, you just had to gather all the studio veterans, and they will definitely come up with something.


In 2014, BioWare started doing what was then called Dylan. It referred to the Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, because the main developer Casey Hudson was sure that they were creating a great project that they would talk about like a work of art and remember for years. The team was of the same opinion. There was no specific project, only the concept of the survival of people in costumes like Iron Man on an alien planet.

Then they compared their project with Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, where a person is the lower link of the food chain and he will need to resist monsters. The main task is to hold out as long as possible in this hostile environment, which will also be filled with random events. For example, during a sortie, an electric storm could begin, which needed to be waited out. You would have to adjust for different seasons.

After E3 2014, where we were shown a teaser of this project, by that time renamed Beyond, the concept was as follows: players unite in a group for a joint campaign behind the wall into a hostile environment in order to study it. For example, a team goes to explore the mouth of a volcano and discovers special monsters there, and on the way back rescues several space travelers.

However, the question arose, will the Frostbite engine handle random events and climate in an open world where many players are walking? Chief developer Casey Hudson, instead of answering, reported on the creation of a new branch in Edmonton [Canada], waved a pen and left the studio, leaving John Warren in his place. Hudson's departure made things worse.

Still, part of the team was inspired by the creation of a new project, while the department responsible for fixing bugs in Andromeda worked tirelessly and envied them. But there was nothing to envy. The flight mechanics were either removed or returned, since they could not make it adequate in any way. She looked more like planning downward than flying. As a result, the developers decided to adjust the relief so that the flight would not look poor.


Accidental collisions did not work either, and in addition there were problems with the plot. Screenwriter David Gaider wanted to write another Dragon Age, only in a sci-fi setting with large, complex villains and ancient alien artifacts. This infuriated many employees: “Why are we telling the same story? Let's do something different, ”one of the developers told Schreier. In turn, Gaider said that he was pushed to this by the chief designer of the game Preston Vatamanyuk.

In 2016, Gaider left the studio, because he was tired of eternal hints, and also because he no longer felt the desire to make a game. This led to chaos and story overload. “As you can imagine, at BioWare, script is central to all games,” said one developer. “When we got a letter from a screenwriter who wasn't sure what he was doing, it did a lot of damage to various departments.” So control over development completely passed into the hands of Warren and Watamanyuk, and instability became the norm when working on Anthem.


What are we doing?

Sometimes situations in the studio reached the point of absurdity. Developers from the Edmonton office could schedule a meeting, but instead of solving problems, they postponed this issue to later, and so on ad infinitum. In addition, no one thought to implement the original mechanics anymore due to problems with the engine. Frostbite is good for building nice levels, but not for survival.

In addition, EA's management ordered to throw all their strength into fixing Mass Effect: Andromeda, and in 2016 they decided to transfer the new FIFA to Frostbite, taking some of the people who know it well. Normal funding was received by the departments whose games made the most money. So the guys who created Anthem were left without a sensible guide, storyline, part of finance, employees and with a not malleable engine in addition, which was "full of razor blades" - recalls one developer.


Point of no return

By the end of 2016, the game was under active development, when the creators know what the project will be like, and shoveling it is the worst idea. However, many developers felt that something was wrong with Anthem, this is not the project they want to see. For example, flights were removed from the game again. Compounding all the gameplay discussions are Destiny and The Devision. However, mentioning them was taboo in the studio, and the project was focused on Diablo 3. But everyone understood that it was the concept of loot, like the taboo games of competitors, that would save the day.


On Christmas 2016, employees out of habit took the material home to think over all decisions in a relaxed atmosphere. Even then, it was clear that the game was similar to Destiny and The Devision, where you just had to shoot on level ground. Also in 2017, Andromeda came out. Some employees were transferred to Anthem, and EA CEO Patrick Soderlund became interested in the game.

He was disappointed by the graphics, which were not breakthrough, as well as the technical component. He gave six weeks to be presented with a normal prototype that would show the game's peculiarity. I had to change everything again, first of all - to return the flight to distinguish the project from others and impress Patrick.


In the end, what Soderlnood was shown [how the exoskeleton hovers in the air for 30 seconds] became the basis of the game and the video shown to us at E3 2017. “He turns around and says,“ It was damn cool. It was amazing and exactly what I wanted, show me again, ”said one person who was there.

Alas, what was shown to people in the exhibition was just an illusion, and now the developers had to somehow do everything so that the game somehow met expectations. When the developers had only one mission at hand, but lacked the foundation, they were assigned a release date for the game next fall.

Manufacturing hell

Note that all of the above was happening in Edmonton, where the studio veterans gathered. Throughout BioWare, it was believed that if these guys failed, then they were finished. And they failed.

In 2014, the OneBioWare program was created when employees from the same department helped each other with projects. This is how the Edmonton developers helped with the creation of Dragon Age and Andromeda. In 2017, employees from other departments began helping them with Anthem. However, they were fully loaded, and they were engaged not only in the design of the screensavers, but also in the elaboration of the plot. People from other subsidiaries did not understand at all what the project should look like and they always needed clarification from Edmontan.


It was planned that the guys from Canada come up with a concept, prescribe everything, and the branch from Texas deals only with technical implementation, because they know how to do online projects. As a result, there was a large-scale misunderstanding between the departments, and any advice from the Texans, Canadians simply ignored and did everything in their own way. This led to the fact that some employees simply began to quit, and many ideas had to be removed from the game.

In 2018, Anthem chief designer Corey Gaspur died. This was one of the reasons why EA gave developers a postponement and postponed the release to spring 2019. A new producer of the game, Mark Darrah, tried to fix the situation and make the unfinished construction finally come out.


“The good thing about Mark is that he'll just make everyone angry and make a decision,” said one former BioWare developer. “This was not enough for the team - no one took new steps. Everything was decided by the group. We've almost made a decision, and then someone will say, "How about this?" We stood still, did not move anywhere. " Mark asked to finish what has already been, and not to invent something new. Alas, this approach did not work for the plot and the map. And then the last 12 months of development began.

EA put pressure on employees because of the release of Destiny 2 and The Devision 2, due to tight deadlines, developers had to quit working to ensure that the loading screens were not long. Considering the past experience with Andromeda, a lot of money was spent on developing facial animation using performance capture technology. So there was not enough money to polish other moments, for example, some dialogues were unfinished and had white spots.

But the worst thing is that because of the overload from the studio, a lot of people quit, some employees had to take leave on the advice of psychotherapists [in an interview with Schreier, they said that sometimes employees locked themselves in the toilet to cry].

Analysts predicted 70 points for Anthem on Metacritic, and the management planned to make a service game and finish everything over time. And then on February 15th, it came out and Anthem was smashed for its boring and monotonous design, repetitive quests, and much more. Although the flights were praised. In other words, BioWare's magic didn't work.


Using Anthem as an example, we see how the reluctance to change strategy when creating a game leads to its collapse. Jason brings us to the next point: “Perhaps Anthem will one day turn into a great game. Several people who worked on it expressed optimism for the future [...] When the Anthem team started development in 2012, they hoped to make Bob Dylan from the world of video games, a game that would be referenced and remembered for generations. They could achieve this. Just not quite as hoped. ”


The Topic of Article: Where did we take the wrong turn? How Anthem became BioWare's failure.
Author: Jake Pinkman