Kotaku has published an amazing article about the development of Bioware’s latest title, Anthem. According to former Bioware developers, Anthem wasn’t meant to be a looter shooter in its early days, Frostbite has introduced a lot of problems during the game’s development and a lot of the stuff found in the E3 2017 demo was faked.
Bioware has always planned to make Anthem – which was initially titled Beyond – an online multiplayer game however it was meant to be more of an action/survival online game than a looter shooter.
As Jason Schreier described, players would embark from a city and go out on expeditions with their friends, staying out in the world as long as they could survive. Players would use a robotic exosuit and they’d fight monsters with melee and shooting attacks, but the focus was less on looting and more on seeing how long they could survive.
“We’re going out as a team, going to try to accomplish something as a team, then come back and talk about it.” said a former developer while another one added “It was really interesting. It really struck a chord with a lot of the people who were working on it originally.”
The game would also have dynamic events happening randomly, something that could even enhance the survival aspect of the game.
“The idea was going to be that there were all these levers that could be pulled internally so there’d be different events happening at all times. You’d be out somewhere, and an electrical storm would happen at random, and you had to survive it. We had an early demonstration of this where the environment was dynamic and by pulling levers we could change it from summer to winter to fall. You’d see the snow hitting the ground, hitting the trees… There were states of the build where that was being demonstrated, and that we could see this was something you could actually accomplish.”
However, most of the aforementioned features were canned due to the engine that was powering the game, Frostbite. According to the former developers that spoke with Jason, Frostbite was awfully documented and presented major obstacles at every given time. In other words, the Anthem team encountered the exact same problems that the Mass Effect Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition teams found while developing their games.
A former Bioware developer said:
“Frostbite is like an in-house engine with all the problems that entails—it’s poorly documented, hacked together, and so on—with all the problems of an externally sourced engine. Nobody you actually work with designed it, so you don’t know why this thing works the way it does, why this is named the way it is.”
Another developer added:
“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.”
“If you can hack around it, you hack around it, as opposed to fixing it properly.” said a third developer who worked on Anthem and continued: “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.”
A fourth developer concluded:
“It’s hard enough to make a game. It’s really hard to make a game where you have to fight your own tool set all the time.”
Last but not least, a former developer confirmed that a lot of the stuff we saw in the E3 2017 demo was faked. And even though Bioware was fully aware of it, it still claimed that the game would not be downgraded (and by now we all know that it was indeed downgraded).
“After E3, that’s when it really felt like, ‘Okay, this is the game we’re making,’. But it still felt like it took a while to get the entire team up to speed. It was also kind of tricky because there were still a lot of question marks. The demo was not actually built properly—a lot of it was fake, like most E3 demos. There was a lot of stuff that was like, ‘Oh are we actually doing this? Do we have the tech for that, do we have the tools for that? To what end can you fly? How big should the world be?’”
We strongly suggest reading the entire Kotaku article as it provides a lot of additional details about the game’s development!