Devs recall moments of instability, indecision, and crunch on Anthem
“Anthem is the game you get from a studio that is at war with itself.”
-One Anthem developer discusses their time working on the game with Kotaku.
Kotaku has published a story that collects the experiences of 19 developers that were involved in the development of BioWare’s latest release Anthem in some way, working through what many of those devs describe as a rocky development plagued by issues from the start.
Dissecting a major release like this is rarely as cut and dry as “what went wrong,” but still some of the anecdotes shared by the anonymous developers interviewed for this story offer a look at how issues encountered in different parts of development can wear on a team and affect the work they set out to do.
Some of the early issues BioWare developers say hit the game may sound familiar to fellow game developers, and simply came from investing significant time and work into ideas that, once implemented, weren’t actually that fun. Flying and traversal were changed several times because of this, changes that required more changes to the level design each time, and procedural encounters were eventually scrapped because “the game was super reliant on this procedural system that just wasn’t fun.”
In some cases, devs say the internal issues with EA’s Frostbite engine snuffed out features or made them more difficult to implement since the in-house engine hadn’t been designed with those in mind. According to one developer interviewed: “Part of the trouble was you could do enough in the engine to hack it to show what was possible, but then to get the investment behind it to get it actually done took a lot longer, and in some cases you’d run into a brick wall. Then you’d realize, ‘Oh my god, we can do this only if we reinvent the wheel, which is going to take too long.’ It was sometimes difficult to know when to cut and run.”
In other cases, developers said there were several times where they'd participate in long meetings on how to approach and overcome certain issues, but would wrap up without any deciding on any course of action.
"That would just happen over and over. Stuff would take a year or two to figure out because no one really wanted to make a call on it,” said an anonymous Anthem developer.
The full story on Kotaku is a lengthy read filled with many similar experiences, but one that documents many unfortunate parts of game development and the storms that developers at BioWare had to weather and overcome to get Anthem out the door.
BioWare and EA both declined to comment while Kotaku’s story was being researched, but the former released a statement after the fact noting that it had decided not to comment because it “didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring [specific team members and leaders] down as individuals.”
In that statement, which can be read in full on the BioWare blog, BioWare says that crunch has not been a “major topic of feedback in our internal postmortems” and that leadership does “everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we know there is always room to improve.” In that response, BioWare says that it doesn’t see the merit in articles that publicly document issues faced by staff through a long development and doesn’t think “articles that [tear down one another, or one another’s work] are making our industry and craft better.”