Feature Article

Mass Effect Andromeda Dev on Studio Tensions, Female Leads, and the Scars From 3's Ending

We speak to BioWare about the extent of its ambition, and the sacrifices it is making to deliver on a massive promise.

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It’s not uncommon that major game projects, fueled by unwavering ambition and assembled by hundreds of talented and impassioned individuals, can fall onto challenging times. Often the pressure comes hand-in-hand with the weight of expectation; huge undertakings such as Half-Life 2, DOOM, and The Last Guardian have all been developed somewhere in the middle-distance between purgatory and hell. It’s worth noting that these projects, surprisingly often, eventually emerge as acclaimed showpieces.

Now, if insider accounts heard by GameSpot are to be believed, Mass Effect Andromeda appears to be the latest project feeling the stress. That’s not to say the game is a disaster by any stretch, nor that it will miss another milestone, but accounts of life at the studio aren’t particularly flattering: We have heard stories of dev departures, and of a plan to strip away some game features in order to meet EA’s final deadline.

To discuss these rumours, as well as talk broadly about the ambitions of the project, GameSpot met with BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn.

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GameSpot: I was surprised to see the latest Mass Effect Andromeda trailer didn't show any extended gameplay. Do you wish you could have showed more?

FLYNN: Well, every time we do one of these things we make a bunch of choices about how we're going to fit all of this in, so we definitely made a choice to show more of the characters. A lot of what we did here was meant to complement the previous trailers as well.

EA has this amazing line of game releases coming up. We come later, so we have more time to show great gameplay. But the good news is that everything we showed in that trailer is right from the game, so none of that is made by CG or anything like that. Y'know this is a Mass Effect game, so that kind of squad combat that you love, that third-person cover combat that you love, that moment-to-moment gameplay is all in there.

"There are tense moments, for sure. Any time you're trying to do something big and ambitious, you're going to have tensions."

Aaryn Flynn, BioWare general manager

How big of a challenge has this project been?

Oh it's been a really big challenge. When the Mass Effect trilogy story ended, we had a lot of choices to make about how we would do another [game]. Even before that, we thought about whether we should do one at all.

Luckily, we had a lot of support from fans, and we had a lot of developers who were interested in doing another one.

A lot of the folks who worked on the original trilogy, they've gone on to start a new IP at BioWare that they are still working on. So we had to train up a new group of leads to build this project; that was a task in itself.

But now we have a new generation of developers who are trying to bring their vision of Mass Effect to life.

So this may not surprise you, but I've heard stories of a lot of tensions at the studio. I've heard about people leaving. Do you feel that's an accurate portrayal of the studio right now?

Er, passion yeah, tensions yes. There are tense moments, for sure. Any time you're trying to do something big and ambitious, you're going to have tensions and second thoughts. I think trailers like this show that, for whatever doubts our developers might have in their minds about getting this done, it's going to get done and it's going to be amazing.

I also heard that some gameplay features are now being stripped out to meet the release date.

Oh I haven't heard about any of that. We've had a couple of modest changes, but nothing radical. All of the emphasis to move towards the free-form exploration, all that's still in there and very grounded in the mechanics.

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This is clearly a hugely ambitious game, attempting many new things at the same time. How confident are you that you will be able to hit that "early 2017" deadline?

I'm pretty confident. We're lucky to have an amazing publisher in EA, who want us to make the best Mass Effect game we possibly can. We talk to them constantly, they're always asking questions and giving advice.

Now that we're using Frostbite, there's a lot of developers such as DICE and Visceral, who have a lot of experience with the engine. So as a community of developers, I think, EA has never been stronger.

I recognise that there's a lot of ambition with this game, and people are nervous about it for sure. The toughest thing for us to hear is that the fans are nervous, which is rather sobering, so we're eager to calm those concerns. A lot of fans hold the studio to a really high standard, and the game will mark the final say on that.

I can understand those fan concerns. I feel that, this close to release, it's a bit worrying there's no deep dive on how the game plays.

Oh okay, we could absolutely go into all that detail now. I have no concerns with that stuff.

BioWare's latest trailer suggests the lead character in Andromeda's marketing will be female
BioWare's latest trailer suggests the lead character in Andromeda's marketing will be female

So moving on, so the Pathfinder character that was revealed at the end of the trailer appears to be a female by default this time?

Well there's a trick there, I can't get into it, but yes, that's your female protagonist.

I was just wondering if we were about to need the phrase "MenShep".

[Laughs] Yeah, it's funny actually because we have both main characters ready to view, and we we're talking about this, and we thought "actually with the first trilogy we had male as default, we should balance that out as best we can."

There's also a tricky balancing act here, you have to make Andromeda relatable to the original trilogy, whilst also giving it a clean slate. How do you tread that line?

I spend a lot of my time trying to think about that, with other members of the team, and it's invigorating working with younger developers who weren't around at the beginning of the trilogy. Sometimes they see something you don't.

Is Andromeda the start of a trilogy?

Well the first Mass Effect we specifically announced as part of a trilogy, which we didn't do this time. That was largely because we wanted more freedom to tell this story however we wanted. However, I think a lot of people right now are really enjoying what we're doing, and so that affords us a great opportunity to do more stuff.

I was there when the Mass Effect 3 ending happened, so I have a lot of therapy bills.

Aaryn Flynn, BioWare general manager

Now that we have some years of distance from it, how did you feel about the Mass Effect 3 ending? The backlash, the alternate ending, bowing to fan pressure; how do you feel about all of it?

Well, I was there when the Mass Effect 3 ending happened, so I have a lot of therapy bills.

Seriously?

Oh yeah, I mean [releasing the alternate ending] was an incredibly cathartic moment for the studio. There we were, desperate to pay off a decade of work, and to have that negativity come back we thought, god, what are we doing here?

Heads were hanging like this [puts heads in hands between his knees]. It was a deeply introspective and challenging time for all of us. We carry a lot of scars from that time, and took a lot of lessons.

We all grew though it. I think everyone who went through that is a better developer because of it, and I think a lot of those people are determined to make a better Mass Effect game in a different setting. A lot of the motivation for me personally comes from that Mass Effect 3 ending.

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Now Playing: Mass Effect Andromeda Trailer Live at E3 2016

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crossleyrob

Rob Crossley

Rob Crossley was GameSpot's UK Editor between 2014 and 2016.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

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archav3n

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anyone actually seen the screenshot of femshep and peebee? oh my.. it hurts my eyes so much.. i think SJW feminists are salivating all over phat frog peebee..

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NaRoon

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I hope to all things holy that EA keeps their F'N nose out of this and lets them FINISH. I know Bioware was forced to push ME 3 out by EA before they had finished the ending of the game. I also know that Bioware was running WAY behind "EA's timeline" for the release of those games which painted them into a corner which could have gotten them into illegal problems with EA... so I can see both side of the issues. I just hope, not holding my breath, that EA and Bioware learned something from the FURB that was ME 3 and release an awesome game that most of us will love.

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Makaro

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@inkmage8o:Alot of talk in your comment there about them choosing a female over male for us to play as. If you knew anything about BioWare you'd know that you will be able to chose your character to be either male OR female. BioWare are just using the female version of the character for marketing at this time. For example, to ME Commander Sheppard is a female as that is the way I chose to play that trilogy.

You also say she looks generic... did you also know you can highly customize the look of BioWare characters? And that the character you see there is just the starting look? The player's sexuality is also the choice of the player and NOT BioWare.

You've made a pretty long comment filled with useless statements that are not at all relevant to this game or any BioWare game.

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saiyan26

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Edited By saiyan26

@makaro: Seems like you've made a comment filled with useless responses to statements that weren't made... If you actually read his comment you'd see he said he doesn't care about the character's gender, he just doesn't want the game to be filled with overly PC crap that doesn't fit the setting like DA3.

You might have been able to customize a Shepard, but you could never make a Shepard more detailed than the marketed default MaleShep (Sheploo). Why? Because Bioware scanned the face of an actual model, instead of a hodgepodge of generated assets. Based on previous Mass Effects, the marketed face was the most detailed one, so this is a little disappointing.

The player's sexuality may be the choice of the player, but not the supporting cast/squad mates (which what his comment was referring to).

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facf

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Not a big trailer (didn't show much) but i'm happy that the game is gonna use Frostbite engine. I'm waiting for a character like Miranda to "fall in love" eheheh :p

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koko-goal

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EA should add fat characters to appease the white knights.

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inkmage8o

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Edited By inkmage8o

Definitely without a doubt excited for this, as I loved the Mass Effect trilogy.. Main character looks quite generic, in fact I actually think of Lara from the current Tomb Raider games. Though Shepard also looked somewhat generic, you became attached to him, he was cool, and at the end you did not only feel for him, but can also definitely see him as a legend.. Hopefully (and if) Andromeda has 2 games, we feel that way about Rider/Ryder. I have no problem with the main being a female (played many games, read many comics, watched many movies with female leads.. Not new, or a big deal), in fact I like the little thing they did, with Shepard being named after the first American in space (Alan Shepard), and this new protagonist, being named in the vein of the first woman in space (Sally Ride).

However.. I hope this game doesn't delve into the social justice warrior rubbish.. I hate that crap, and it kinda ruined Dragon Age 3 for me (don't really care, nor remember the characters).. I do not want to hear from this character "You thought I was a man?" or "just because I'm a woman".. None of that cheesy feminism crap.. Its lame, its annoying, stupid- and would be so out of place so far in the future, in which this game is supposed to be set in. We don't need to focus on the character's gender, but their character, their story- that is how you make memorable characters, its why I love every single character in the Mass Effect trilogy. From the way this new protagonist looks, and sounded, as well as what they described of the characters.. She can be somewhat unsure, of herself in the beginning, but as she grows (like the other characters will), and stuff happens, she becomes more like a Ripley type (Aliens), just a bad ass all the way.

Another thing we don't need to focus on, is a character's sexuality... Nope, I do not have a problem with homosexual characters, hell the main character in a comic/game (brawler type) I am working on with some people, is in love with another male. I didn't create him so, to appease or to appeal to anyone.. That is just how I saw the character, especially somewhat basing him on someone I know, who had quite a rough, interesting, and dangerous past- and happens to be in love with a guy.

Mass Effect 3 handled it well with Steve. I actually felt bad for him, when I found out he lost someone he loved. I didn't care that it was another man, and that he was gay, you felt bad because he lost someone he loved, everyone was (3 was kinda depressing like that, but I don't mean depressing in a way that makes the game bad or anything.. Just quite emotional, which is a good thing). I just saw Steve as a guy who loved aviation tech a lot, and his character didn't constantly remind us of what his sexuality was, and being stereotypical, like characters such as Dorian on DA3..

Finally yes.. That Asrai if even it truly is an Asari (this could be a different kind), as we're supposed to be so distant from a lot of the races we knew in the trilogy.. Was pretty busted looking, then again Bioware does often make ugly characters lol

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eridian00

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At the end there when he talks about how everyone was sad with the fan backlash on the ending of ME3, i mean did they really expect different? I mean really? You have people spend three games building a character, forming bonds, going on epic adventures with them, and then have it all end the basically same way no matter what "choice" you make, and they were surprised by the backlash? Literally cutting out the god child crap and keeping the whole "we can never understand the reapers" stuff would have had so many more happy fans. Literally anything different from the ending they gave " yes, ending, as in singular, since the options they gave were so similar that there was no real reason to even make them separate". At this point, as long as they don't just make any and all choices made during the game null and void at the ending, and just keep up the story work they had been, then things should be fine with the new game. They tell a good story, but they suck balls at sticking that landing at the end.

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EriamJH

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Lost all credibility for me with this one: "Luckily, we had a lot of support from fans."

But, back on topic... Realistically, I can't say I'll never pick up Andromeda, but when ME4 development was announced and it was confirmed that Shepard was truly gone, I swore to never buy from the franchise again. Yes, I know it was obvious that he (yes, "he") was gone, but I was one of the few that hoped that the uproar would produce a "resurrection" of sorts.

After spending something like 100 hours with these characters, I had gotten rather--well--attached to them. Heck, even the Normandy seemed to have a soul! And, very few games have left me with tears streaming down my face at the end. The emotions conjured especially in ME3 are a testament to the massive amount of talent behind its production ... the writing, the animation and the voice acting. To this day, the Mass Effect trilogy is the ONLY game I have replayed and the cases remain dust-free from frequent use. I'm sure Andromeda will be a great game and a lot of people will have a lot of fun with it, but I'm still mourning the loss of some great "friends" and slapping "Mass Effect" on the cover is just salt in the wounds.

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donmoster

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I agree that ME3's INITIAL ending was bad, but the fixed version is amazing. I don't have anything to say against Mass Effect's plot, it's superb from start to finish.

People can hate all they want, I'll still replay and love the story for a long long time.

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magnetite2

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@donmoster:

Wasn't that bad. A lot of these fans could use some therapy though if they're still having issues with the ending though.

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Edited By ZellyPoof

@donmoster: I think the biggest crime that EA did was not adding in the Leviathan DLC as part of the core game, it was a mega douche move and was integral to the entire storyline, the ending with the star child just becomes forced and quick without having some explanation as to what to expect before you get to the end sequence. And having an actual true *Reaper* explaining their reasoning was important.

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magnetite2

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Edited By magnetite2

@ZellyPoof: Your reasoning is like saying Shadow Broker should have been in ME2 from the start, because there is some references to it in the game.

Leviathan wasn't complete when ME3 shipped. It was fresh content created after the game shipped.Part of their years worth of planned DLC.

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BAKGRIND

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@ZellyPoof: I am not so sure that Leviathan was even thought of until after the backlash that was the ending. If I recall correctly they wanted to release Omega as the first dlc but that was placed on hold so they could create the Extended Cut that was released June 26, 2012 . Leviathan release date was August 28, 2012 and Omega was November 28, 2012.

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dnsfw_jamus

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@BAKGRIND: no, it was thought of, though not much more than that. They had a plan for names and basic concepts for everything aside from the preorder dlc (which was about 1/3 finished) when they started sending the game out for certification

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texasgoldrush

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@ZellyPoof: The only thing that may have been vital in the Leviathan DLC is the fact coming out in why The Catalyst built the mass relays and that its ideal solution has not been achieved, which would set up the synthesis ending.

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dnsfw_jamus

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@ZellyPoof: I'm sorry, not really, but leviathan was far from being integral. it expanded upon what was already there. not to mention the fact that unlike some parts of the from ashes dlc (ie: most of the character companion and the mission to get him, and all of his dialogue, as well as the weapon you get for completing it) Leviathan wasn't even in development yet

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ZellyPoof

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@dnsfw_jamus: If it wasn't for you, it was for me, our opinions are different on it, but when the leviathan claims that tribute does not flow from a dead race, that explains to me their mindset in creating the AI. And then talking to the AI reinforces that what it was doing wasn't malicious, just logical. Leviathan may not have been in development, but it doesn't change at least for me, that it should have been part of the main game.

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texasgoldrush

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@ZellyPoof: The Leviathan DLC actually breaks the pacing of the main game. Its hard to fit it in ME3's sequence of events.

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ZellyPoof

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@texasgoldrush: That's like saying Citadel DLC is better at the end of your game or the beginning of your game, its in the perception of the player.

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dnsfw_jamus

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I just want the ending to be a little closer to that of ME2, to where every choice literally decides who among your party lives or dies

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J_P-

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@dnsfw_jamus: I loved ME2, I felt it was the best game of the series.

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magnetite2

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@dnsfw_jamus:

ME3 is sort of like this, except it doesn't all happen in the final cutscene. That would be extremely unrealistic.

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@magnetite2: thats not how it happened in me2 either. they could have just as easily formulated a series of tasks for which specific people were most capable, and had the ramifications of those choices display as you go through.

That being said, I wasn't nearly as disappointed by even the original ending as a lot of people were.

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eridian00

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@magnetite2: Not really, your choice does not even decide if you live or die, let alone your crew. Hell, even the ending where you "might" be alive has you basically undo all the work you did to make peace with the geth and destroys jokers girlfriend all at once.

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magnetite2

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@eridian00:

Yes it does. If your EMS is high and you choose to destroy the Reapers, Shepard will survive. If your EMS is below 4000 (or 3100 w/EC) then Shepard will die.

As for your squadmates, the Normandy, as well as Earth, here's a chart:

http://ca.ign.com/wikis/mass-effect-3/End_Game_Chart_-_With_Spoilers

EDI and the Geth didn't really die, because a) you didn't see them get killed by the explosion, only the Reapers. b) It was said that Shepard would be killed because he is partly synthetic (which was a lie, because if your EMS is high enough, you survive).

Bottom line, the Reaper kid lies to you. He doesn't flat out tell you this, but you just need to read between the lines and think a little.

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dnsfw_jamus

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@eridian00: um... did you play the game? Of the 3 primary choices at the end, 2 cause your death. Included within your choices across the rest of the game (including preparedness level) you can determine whether everyone else on the planet lives. and if you're prepared enough you can definitively protect everyone and cement all of your work to unite the galaxy.

so tell me again how your choices don't even decide whether or not you die?

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siarhei

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@dnsfw_jamus: Exactly!

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ProfChrisK

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Heres my concern w/ ME: Andromeda: EA. Simply put, the publisher itself has a bad track record of sticking its nose in where it isnt wanted or needed. Gender of lead character aside, i'm more concerned with the publisher stripping out features to make a gold date.

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magnetite2

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Edited By magnetite2

@profchrisk: How do you know this? Have you worked at EA? Or is this just some internet rumor used to fuel your hate for them?

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eridian00

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@magnetite2: Are you literally blind, or just dumb? EA has been doing exactly what they just said for years now. It's not a rumor or anything of the sort, it's been a well known fact for a long time. There is a reason EA keeps winning worst gaming company.

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magnetite2

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@eridian00: And yet you hate them, but keep buying their stuff.

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dnsfw_jamus

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Edited By dnsfw_jamus

@eridian00: lol unless you have a source on that claim, that's all it is, a rumor.

as far as EA consistently winning worst gaming company, that's not the case, they consistently win worst *company*. period. simply because the people who vote for such things and actually know what theyre talking about are outweighed by the people who think gaming is paramount. That's why in that competition, against companies which LITERALLY CAUSED THE ECONOMIC DOWNFALL, you have EA winning that contest.

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eridian00

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@dnsfw_jamus: Yes, because people vote EA as one of the worst companies it has nothing to do with them actually being bad, it MUST be that all of the people deciding that just have a vendetta against EA. Do you actually listen to yourself? I mean for fucks sakes do you live with your head in the sand or something?

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dnsfw_jamus

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Edited By dnsfw_jamus

@eridian00: lol yes, please ignore the part where they were competing against companies which literally ended and ruined lives, and yet still won.... please tell me more about how I'm the oblivious one here.

speaking of your obvious obliviousness, I never claimed that EA wasn't bad. What I actually questioned was your claims that EA was as bad as you say, which it unquestionably isn't, and whether or not their victory in that contest in any way serves as proof, given the lack of any kind of credibility that it has.

but please, keep your head firmly rooted up your ass, it is apparently the only way you can continue to breathe.

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J_P-

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Edited By J_P-

@eridian00: Yes there is a reason, fans blinded by their self entitlement and believing bullshit conspiracy theories and propaganda which other people have said about the particular company just because one game didn't end up the way they were hoping for.

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@J_P-: One game......Try nearly ever game company they have ever bought out. Have you really not payed any attention to them? Almost every time they buy a company out the next game they release is not nearly as good as the previous ones, not to mention the stories people that work there give about the horrible conditions and deadlines EA sets for them. Seriously, go research a little about EA and you'll see page after page after page about the shit they do.

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J_P-

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Edited By J_P-

@eridian00: I have done enough research and know that the majority but not the minority of this information is all bullshit conspiracy theories and lies which are exaggerated to make a company seem even worse than they actually are so people will avoid said company.

A lot of other companies including well known ones also get away with bullshit that it's not even funny, Bethesda for one examble has continually dumbed down their games and stripping them of features aiming for the lowest common denominator and only their longtime fans even start to notice this.

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ZellyPoof

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@profchrisk: I'll agree with you there, hopefully EA will keep their hands in their pockets, but i think that EA's gone through a few internal changes since then as far as who's on the bridge so to speak. Plus i think with them securing anything Star Wars takes their hands off of their devs throats a little bit.

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archav3n

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with that ugly asari and the average looking female protagonist.. i'm getting a bad feeling this is all about PC feminism all over again. that suxs to the max.

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Gigas_Yuu

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Edited By Gigas_Yuu

@archav3n: A very real issue that is creeping into Hollywood and television. I don't think this is about the asari being "ugly" though. Nothing should be made to "appease" male attractions.

The asari outright looks boyish. If that's intended, it does seem awfully agenda driven with what we know about Asari biology (taken from the Mass Effect Wiki: A mono-gender race, the asari are distinctly feminine in appearance and possess maternal instincts ). I don't care as long as it's not force fed to me. Unfortunately, opinions like this end up attacked and with attempted silence, citing some sort of misogyny or whatever parroted adjective. I'm glad there are tensions. Everyone should not be afraid to voice their stances, despite what is PC and not.

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ZellyPoof

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@Gigas_Yuu: The asari is obviously a kid, if you're looking for a hot kid, i don't even know what to say at that point except, get neutered. If seriously everyone's issue is with the asari kid, this is the stupidest point to argue that i've ever heard of.

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Gigas_Yuu

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@ZellyPoof:

...Who said anything about "hot kids"? You jumped in with your meager 30-something posts, looking for something to easily misinterpret and try to get one over? You must be new.

Is it obviously a kid, Zelly? it looks like a genderbent asari; something incredibly eye rollingly and excrutiatingly forced if that ended up being the case. Regardless - it was more of a social forcefeed issue than one based on attraction. I couldn't care less what you find stupid either, based on your posts and shaded insults of other people. You are just a pup on this site. Good luck.

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ZellyPoof

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@Gigas_Yuu: Since asari can meld with any sex or species, i guess genderbent is okay then. My post count inflamed you? That's awesome, glad you're counting, if i throw shade, it's because i think you're stupid. Good luck to you too Han Trollo.

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Gigas_Yuu

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@ZellyPoof:

Error: "Inflamed" not found, Melding=/= bigender offspring. Asari = forever female by millions of years of biology, Partner irrelevant.

Zelly= Bad at shade throwing.

Solution: System Wars forums, three years.

Outcome: Shade apprentice, ability to sound intelligent while talking down to user archav3n or others instead of pencil necked passive aggressive attempts.

Back to making my high horsed-dork eliminator run in less than 12 parsecs.

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ZellyPoof

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@Gigas_Yuu: Pulled you into the light Gollum, watch out or you're just going to sound like the rest of the millenials.

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ZellyPoof

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@archav3n: Lot of insecure boys posting about feminism, must be an easy scapegoat.

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dnsfw_jamus

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@archav3n: lol whatever dude. overread into it however much you like, game's gonna be fun

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