Ex-Mass Effect Animator Explains Andromeda's Issues
"Animating an RPG is a really, really big undertaking."
Mass Effect: Andromeda's animation issues have been well-documented, and its dialogue scenes criticized by much of the game's community. Now, an ex-BioWare developer has provided some insight into why Andromeda's facial animations might not be as high quality as some other games'.
Jonathan Cooper, who is now an animator on the Uncharted series at Naughty Dog, explained on Twitter that "animating an RPG is a really, really big undertaking--completely different from a game like Uncharted so comparisons are unfair." He said that in a more linear series like Uncharted, every encounter with another character is "highly controlled," where the the developer can create "bespoke animations."
"Conversely, RPGs offer a magnitude more volume of content and importantly, player/story choice. It's simply a quantity vs quality tradeoff," he pointed out.
Cooper, who was the lead animator on the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, goes on to explain that in an RPG like Mass Effect: Andromeda, "designers (not animators) sequence pre-created animations together--like DJs with samples and tracks." Because of the amount of dialogue options, conversations, and order these can come in in an RPG, "dialogues are separated into tiered quality levels based on importance/likelihood," where "The lowest quality scenes may not even be touched by hand" and an algorithm covers the rest.
"Andromeda seems to have lowered the quality of its base algorithm," Cooper posits. He thinks BioWare may have "underestimated [the] task" of "hitting every line by hand."
The attention Andromeda has received "is exacerbated by us living in an era of Share buttons and YouTube," says Cooper, "Getting the lowest quality out to the widest audience." You can see the animator's full explanation at the bottom of this article.
Since the game went live for EA and Origin Access Members on March 15, reaction has been mixed when it comes to the game's animations and facial models in particular. The game's Subreddit, for example, has multiple posts from fans disappointed by those aspects of Andromeda.
Though no animation improvements were included in its day one patch, Andromeda's lead designer, Ian Frazier, has said there will be "more patches later on, but what goes into them is still in discussion." Another recent update addressed a number of other single-player and multiplayer issues--see the full patch notes here.
In other Andromeda news, the sci-fi title recently got even bigger with the addition of its first free Apex mission. You can track your progress in those quests with the game's new companion app.
In our review, critic Scott Butterworth said Andromeda "feels like a vision half-fulfilled."
"It contains a dizzying amount of content," he explained, "but the quality fluctuates wildly." Read more in our full Mass Effect: Andromeda review, or read what other critics thought in this review roundup.
For more on the huge space adventure, you should definitely check out our two-part documentary series, The Story of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
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