BioWare’s former general manager discusses the performance and limitations of the Frostbite engine

"We couldn't seem to find our footing with the tools in this case."

    
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zzzzap

You may or may not blame the woes of Anthem on the engine it’s built upon, and odds are that’s probably not the cause of every single issue. But former general manager of BioWare Aaryn Flynn spoke recently about his time with the studio at the Reboot Develop Red gathering and called out the Frostbite engine specifically. Flynn discussed at length how the engine allows for very high performance but also has to be very carefully managed and thus slowed down the studio’s development:

But then chapter two comes along, and we switched to an engine called Frostbite. And Frostbite is an EA internal engine; very powerful, fast, beautiful, purpose built to do some really cool stuff. But it’s also extremely delicate and needs a huge crew.

It was getting harder and harder to make the content that people wanted. It was harder and harder to move that content through these pipelines and do things. And even though we had more people — we had more teams, more folks — we were slowing down the rate at which we could build and craft these experiences.

Of course, an engine alone does not make for top-level design choices, and the confused decisions made during Anthem’s development (or for that matter, the overall buggy arc of Mass Effect: Andromeda) cannot be wholly excused simply due to the engine being used. Flynn himself departed before Anthem’s launch, although it was in development during his tenure; he also has a history of not specifically blaming Electronic Arts for development woes. Still, it serves as an insight about particular issues that this specific engine can have, and perhaps a source of understanding how much impact a game engine can have on overall performance.

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Sebastian Goryl Chonchera

Blame the engine all you want and I’ll keep blaming the lack of content….mmmmkkkkkkey

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Mewmew

“he also has a history of not specifically blaming Electronic Arts for development woes”

That’s such a weird statement. Shall we list all the people and companies he doesn’t blame? :P

No, I get it. He doesn’t blame EA when so many other people want to blame EA and think it’s EA.

It also would be really easy to blame EA, so I have to think that he probably isn’t blaming them because it’s really not their fault.

People love a scapegoat, they love to hate the big corporation. People hate that he’s not blaming EA, and because of that we get statements like he has a history of not blaming EA for development woes. Which is a really weird statement when you think about it. It means you or someone else thinks it’s EA, are pretty confident that it’s EA, but he doesn’t want to blame them.

Maybe, just maybe, it really isn’t their fault?

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Grave Knight

EA is the one that made them use Frostbite. EA is the one that sets unrealistic deadlines. EA is the one that makes them put in microtransaction and cut content up to turn them into DLCs. EA is the one that pushes them towards periods of crunch. EA is the one that sets unrealistic sell goals.

At what point does it become EA’s fault? Perhaps we should ask Bullfrog Productions, Westwood Studios, Pandemic Studios, Black Box Games, DreamWork Interactive, Mythic Games, Maxis Software, or Visceral Games. Oh, wait, sorry, forgot, those are all dead companies EA bought than killed because they “didn’t meet expectations.”

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Bruno Brito

Mythic Games, Maxis Software,

Why do you have to stab me this deep, Knight?

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NeoWolf

So “it wasn’t me”… gotcha.

There is an old saying here in the UK “It is a poor workman that blames his tools”. ;)

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

If it weren’t for Frostbite we’d have an open world Star Wars game. I’m not saying it would be good. I’m just saying we’d have one. With all the success of open world titles especially in the last few years: Horizon, BotW, RDR2, Witcher, GTAV etc.

It’s also Disney’s fault for giving EA exclusivity. Vader Immortal is a REALLY fun VR title. Shame all the console/PC stuff is relegated to EA.

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Paragon Lost

They didn’t learn the lesson from the fiasco that was Stars Wars The Old Republic and buying engines. They should have taken the lesson that Blizzard had which was to build your own engine. They threw so much money at SWTOR and screwed the hooch by purchasing that crappy beta Hero Engine. Money they could have used to build a stable, adaptable engine like how Blizzard did with Warcraft’s engine.

Kinda tells you everything you need to know about a company when they throw a of money towards a project but gimp argumentatively the most important part, the engine. (shrugs) I just know that I won’t have much ever to do with Bioware again, like Funcom they’re both on my never again list.

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Sray

They didn’t buy an external engine though: former CCO Patrick Soderlund made an edict that all EA studios had to use the Frostbite engine to minimize EA’s overall licensing costs. The issue is that Frostbite was built for first person shooters almost exclusively, so it’s negatively affected all games from their all studios other than Dice; BioWare more than others, but EA Sports has some rough patches with the engine.

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Paragon Lost

DICE is a different studio who developed the engine as you noted for FPS’s. I get that they’re owned by EA these days but they’re in a different location (country). Again my point was that Bioware didn’t develop their own engine.

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Sray

But they didn’t even have the choice to do so. Using Frostbite is the one thing about Anthem that can’t be pinned on anyone at BioWare: every studio at EA had to. With Soderlund gone and Jedi Fallen Order having done fairly well so far, that might change; but for the time being all the studios are stuck with Frostbite.

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bobfish

Patrick Soderlund is the former founder and head of DICE, he became EA COO and then imposed DICE tech on the rest of the company.

Note after he left, Vince Zampella of Respawn took that EA role and now we have Jedi Fallen Order made in Unreal Engine 4.

The EA people like to blame are a small group of executives that change every few years. Sometimes they make good decisions, sometimes bad. I hope that Zampella makes better decisions than Soderlund did (Andromeda and Anthem were under Soderlund’s reign).

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Chris LaFace

Vince Zampella didn’t take any role. When Souderland left no one has taken over. Search for Zampella shows he is still running Respawn. He isn’t even in the executives page.

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bobfish

You’re right, the role remains empty, also it was Chief Design Officer, not COO, c-roles are confusing.

But Zampella is the most senior developer in EA right now and has taken on some of his duties. Whether he actually steps into the CDO role or not remains to be seen. But Soderlund used drop in on studios once or twice a year and make mandates on them, no one else seems to be doing that since he left.

Though, I should clarify, this is hearsay from ex-DICE people who I now work with. I don’t have first experience of it myself.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Any craftsman will tell you, use the right tool. You don’t use a carpet knife when you need a saw, and you don’t use a saw when you need an Exacto blade.

Part of the poor management of this game is the decision to use the wrong tool.

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3dom

There is a Russian proverb how – pardon my French! – balls interfere with a bad dancer. It’s their own engine – they could hack it, rewrite it, add new features any time.

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Greaterdivinity

Well, I don’t think they can do ANYTHING to it since it’s using the same code-base shared with other studios (sports titles, DICE with FPS games, TPS games from Popcap etc.), but we DO know that they can and have rewritten chunks/added on tech in the past.

And they’ve re-added on that tech on multiple times, as they restarted from scratch with the engine for DA:I, ME:A, and then a third time for Anthem.

I don’t like trash talking like this, but BW’s engineers have never seemed particularly impressive. Ever. None of their games that I can think of have anything remotely noteworthy on the technical side, quite the contrary they often have quite a few technical issues. And that’s not even touching on what happened with SWTOR and the Hero Engine…

It really looks like either they need to invest in more high skilled engineers or find a way to get stronger internal support from EA’s “strike team” for Frostbite so they’re not competing for them against the likes of FIFA. No EA property is going to win out over FIFA, FIFA prints money for them like no other game and they’re going to prioritize resources for it over any other game.

latorn
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latorn

The Frostbite engine is the major problem that holds me back from fully believing in the dream of the supposed overhaul “Anthem Next”, but only time will tell.