The news surrounding Mass Effect: Andromeda continues, as a new report may have shed some light on the game's biggest shortcoming: its animation.
According to a report by gaming historian Liam Robertson, BioWare apparently had all facial and character animations outsourced to other EA studios.
Robertson, who stated he spoke to several BioWare employees anonymously, noted that the company used new Cyberscan technology, which created digital scans of a person or object that is used to create 3D models in-game. According to Robertson's sources, BioWare relied heavily on Cyberscan instead of using artists to sculpt faces internally, believing that Cyberscan would compensate for time for development.
The major problem that has arisen from this was the human character models and most alien characters were completely outsourced to other branches of EA. After initial scans were taken, they were shipped off to other studios. Robertson mentions one possible destination, EA Bucharest in Romania, although nothing is confirmed at this time.
EA often outsources work and animation to smaller studios, so such a move from EA's side is not unusual as a cost-saving measure. For example, if EA Bucharest did receive the Mass Effect: Andromeda animations, salaries and labor costs are significantly cheaper than in-house for BioWare. However, several sources told Robertson that they place the blame on the animation quality on BioWare's management team, who chose to outsource almost all the work on human characters to other teams. One source, according to Robertson, believed that BioWare "put too much faith in the scanning tech" as it would not require too much additional face modeling for the outsourced team.
It should be noted that it is unknown who made the call in the end. Robertson clarified with TechRaptor that "it was a Bioware management decision going pretty far up and beyond the control of the team on the ground floor." This could, theoretically, have been a decision at the top of BioWare's management, but it was not a decision by the dev teams working at BioWare Montreal.
It was also, according to Robertson's sources, not a cost-cutting issue. Robertson noted that the BioWare management team simply saw no need to polish the animations with the in-house team. One artist also claimed that they "actively went out of their way to offer their services to do additional work on the human character assets, and were turned away."
It was the opinions of the sources who stated that the management in charge of the whole process did not see facial animations as a high priority for the game, and instead had the in-house team focus on other assets, including vehicles and armor, for further polish. If true, this meant that most of the animations on launch were largely untouched from the Cyberscans, and that BioWare's own in-house development team was not allowed to touch them up.
An interesting tidbit that Robertson mentioned was the speculation as to why the facial animations were also kept. One source believed that the reason the Cyberscans were not modified was due to internal pressure within both BioWare and Electronic Arts, pushing for more realistic-looking human characters. Robertson stated that an artist "suggested that there are 'sensitivities' within the company about representing women in a certain way."
It is important to note that while there is a PC corporate culture involved in BioWare, it is not one that has been mandated by the staff. Robertson clarified with TechRaptor, noting that meetings between EA and BioWare have taken place regarding their games being more inclusive and diverse. "They try to be very, very careful about respecting their audience and messing that stuff up," he stated, which implies it is less of a mandate by EA or BioWare and more of a constant worry about getting it right for the whole audience.
Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a mixed reception overall since release, mostly due to the graphical issues, bugs, and facial animations that have plagued the game. On March 29th, BioWare tweeted that an announcement regarding their immediate plans for Mass Effect: Andromeda is incoming on April 4th, while asking fans for more feedback regarding the game.
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