Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What happened to Mass Effect Andromeda?

One of the most controversial and infamous game releases in recent months has been Mass Effect Andromeda, the fourth part in the popular Mass Effect series. Much hype surrounded the game, yet the end result was incredibly horrendous, and very much unlike Bioware's previous games (both in the Mass Effect series as well as their other games, such as the Dragon Age series.)

The game was plagued with completely horrendous body animations, and especially facial animations, that were completely uncharacteristic of Bioware's previous games, as well as games of this caliber in general (or even games made for much cheaper, for that matter.) In addition, facial animations also seldom matched the tone of the situation, or what was being said (such as the main protagonist sporting a permanent grin completely regardless of the situation, even in situations that would clearly have required a serious expression; but this was not the only such example.)

Another prominent thing with the game that people immediately noticed was that the majority of the female characters (and only the female characters) had been hit by the "ugly stick", as the expression was coined. All these female characters looked much homelier than the real-life people they were modeled after. A famous picture comparing the (selectable) male main protagonist, and its real-life model, and the female main protagonist, and its real-life model, is quite telling. The male protagonist looks almost identical, while the female protagonist has been clearly been "uglified" compared to the gorgeous model.

Also, rather incredibly a year or two ago somebody leaked some cutscenes from an alpha build of the game. The same cutscene is in the final release, but looks quite different in quality (both graphical quality and animation).

One would be easily forgiven for mistaking the pictures on the left hand side as the ones from the alpha build, and the ones on the right hand side as from the final game. But no. As incredible as it might sound, the pictures on the right are from the alpha build from a year or two ago, while the images on the left are from the final version of the game. The difference is even more drastic in the actual video footage (because also the facial animations are much worse in the final version.) Both the graphical quality as well as the animation (especially facial animations and expressions) are much, much worse in the published game. (And no, for example that second picture on the left hand side is not taken from a moment where the character has that particular expression. He really has that almost expressionless face during the entire clip.)

So what happened? Bioware has released multiple games in the recent past with completely fine high-quality animations and graphics. What happened here? Here is a hypothesis. Note that his is only guessing, but I'm not the only one who believes this.

Bioware, as a company, has made it amply clear over the past years that they have fully embraced the modern social justice ideology. Key members of their staff have, for example, engaged in public debates and discussions on social justice, and how to change games to conform to that ideology. The "male gaze" subject has been particularly discussed by them (with direct references to Anita Sarkeesian's videos on that subject). Also key members of the development team of ME Andromeda in particular are infamously bigoted social justice warriors (such as the lead game designer, who is notorious for posting obnoxiously racist comments against white people, without any consequences from any higher-up at Bioware.) They have also inserted subtle social justice ideology in some of their more recent past games (such as Dragon Age Inquisition).

I think that it's not in any way far-fetched to guess that the "ugly stick treatment" of female characters in ME Andromeda is a direct consequence of this. They already did something like this with their previous game (ie. Dragon Age Inquisition), and it seems that they have gone full-on "anti-male-gaze" here, by deliberately making all female characters much uglier than the real-life models that they were modeled after. (One has to marvel at the hypocrisy of keeping the male character models close to their real-life counterparts, while very drastically changing the female characters to be significantly uglier.)

But what happened to those facial animations, and other animations? Why are they suddenly so much worse in this game than in their previous games, or even past alpha builds of this game? Why were the facial animations ok in early versions, but then they changed them to much worse ones?

This is a complete guess from my part, with no evidence to back it up, but this is my hypothesis: This is a result of diversity hires, ie. self-imposed hiring quotas.

Bioware has amply demonstrated how deeply they have embraced the social justice ideology. I don't think it would surprise anybody if they internally engaged in self-imposed hiring quotas of women and "minorities", where they hire employees based primarily on those characteristics, and only secondarily based on qualifications and expertise.

So what I think happened is that Bioware hired people for important key roles in the project, such as animation development, with very little regard to whether they were actually qualified for that job, caring primarily about whether they were "minorities". The old animations (that already existed in the earlier alpha builds of the game) were replaced by the new ones created by these people. Then, because of their ideology, the higher-ups at Bioware just didn't dare to criticize their work and throw it away, and decided to publish the game with those animations, no matter how horrible, because otherwise it would have been "discrimination" in their minds.

If this is indeed the case (and, once again, I don't know if it is, but it's my hypothesis), I'm certain that the people at Bioware would never, ever admit it, and will take this secret to their graves. They could not possibly admit to it, because it would put hiring quotas in a negative light, and that would be unbearable.

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