It may be time for EA to consider that the Frostbite engine is, in fact, not suited to every game their developers make.
It’s become a bit of a running theme with EA’s projects. Their mandate to switch to the Frostbite engine company-wide seems to have caused more trouble than it’s worth- and the latest causality of it all? Anthem, BioWare’s looter shooter that launched to dismal critical reception.
What happened that caused Anthem to turn out the way it did? The answer is nuanced, and multi-faceted. In an excellent investigative piece, Jason Schreier of Kotaku explores the various reasons that led to Anthem being what it became. But one thing that stands out in particular is the Frostbite engine, and how it, yet again, created a glut of problems for BioWare and its developers to have to navigate.
Anthem was originally envisaged as having a lot more mechanics and systems in place—but it turned out that the Frostbite engine flat out couldn’t support them, and the vision had to be cut back down, according to this report.
“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,” said a BioWare developer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Then you’d realize, ‘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.”
The issue was that even simple things like bug fixes were taking way too long—which in turn led to a psychological reluctance to try anything too ambitious, because even simple things were hard to achieve with Frostbite being the way it was.
“If it takes you a week to make a little bug fix, it discourages people from fixing bugs,” said one person who worked on Anthem. “If you can hack around it, you hack around it, as opposed to fixing it properly.” Said a second: “I would say the biggest problem I had with Frostbite was how many steps you needed to do something basic. With another engine I could do something myself, maybe with a designer. Here it’s a complicated thing.”
Adding insult to injury was the fact that many of BioWare’s best developers weren’t working on Anthem. In a show of great absurdity, it seems EA had pulled them to assist FIFA, which during this time was also transitioning to the Frostbite engine.
“A lot of the really talented engineers were actually working on FIFA when they should’ve been working on Anthem,” a person who worked on Anthem is quoted as saying.
“It’s hard enough to make a game,” said a fourth BioWare developer. “It’s really hard to make a game where you have to fight your own tool set all the time.”
BioWare responded to Schreier’s report; however, their response seems to answer allegations of crunch, and the like, and doesn’t really address the Frostbite point at all. Assuming there is any grain of truth to it, then EA has to see that the Frostbite adoption policy is causing more harm than it is good, and that it may now be time to allow studios to pick whatever engines are best suited to the kinds of games they want to make.