It sounds like it's a miracle that BioWare and EA's sci-fi MMO Anthem ever launched.
That's according to a new report from Kotaku, which goes behind that game's chaotic development. It's a long piece and well worth a read, but the long and short of it is that the title was held back by the technical limitations of EA's proprietary Frostbite engine - made by Sweden's DICE - as well as changing visions of what the game was going to be.
While the game was in the making since around 2012, work on the final version of Anthem - which launched in February of this year - only started about 18 months before its release date. Elements that are core to the final experience - such as the flying mech suits - weren't always in the game, with the team going back and forth on the mechanic. Having the means of traversal not locked down meant that level and quest design wasn't locked down for a long time, either. Features that were touted as last as 2018, such as a detailed skill tree system, never made it into the game. This is, at least partly, why Anthem didn't fare too well in its beta test or, erm, it's actual final release.
Development was not helped by a changing leadership team at BioWare, with director Casey Hudson departing in 2014, leaving a vacuum at the top. Hudson ultimately returned in the summer of 2017.
Staff also discuss the mental health impact it had on the BioWare teams across Canada's Edmonton and Montreal, as well as Austin, Texas in the US, thanks to harsh deadlines and long periods of crunch. This included one six-week period of "significant crunch" building a demo to please EA's Worldwide Studios boss Patrick Söderlund after he was not impressed by the game. Incidentally, this was when flying was finally added in, as well as an overhauled art style.
In short, Anthem's development looks like a perfect storm of a big budget project being held back by technical difficulties, a lack of a clear vision and all the while, a massive publisher breathing down its neck trying to get the studios to do the impossible.
Shortly after Kotaku published its expose, a blog post was set live on BioWare's site discussing Anthem's development and the aforementioned article. This piece is seemingly in defence of the team that worked on the project, while also opening fire on Kotaku and other press.
"We wholeheartedly stand behind every current and former member of our team that worked on the game, including leadership," the piece read.
"It takes a massive amount of effort, energy and dedication to make any game, and making Anthem would not have been possible without every single one of their efforts. We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team."
It continued: "As a studio and a team, we accept all criticisms that will come our way for the games we make, especially from our players. The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.
"Our full focus is on our players and continuing to make Anthem everything it can be for our community. Thank you to our fans for your support – we do what we do for you."