Mass Effect Andromeda has been heavily criticised by both consumers and the media for its questionable facial animations, but one of the series' former animators has offered more insight into why the final product looks the way it does.
Jonathan Cooper served as lead animator on the original Mass Effect and cinematic animator on its sequel. He has also worked on Assassin's Creed III and served as an animator on last year's Uncharted 4. Taking to Twitter to explore the reasons for Andromeda's disappointing animations, he stressed that these cannot be compared to the likes of Naughty Dog's title, Polygon reports. BioWare RPGs are built around significant story choices - and with them comes a lot more animation work.
"Every encounter in Uncharted is unique and highly controlled because we create highly-authored 'wide' linear stories with bespoke animations," Cooper wrote. "Conversely, RPGs offer a magniture more volume of content and importantly, player/story choice. It's simply a quantity vs quality trade-off."
Cooper went on to explain that in order to make the workload more manageable, RPG developers like BioWare often turn to algorthimically-generated facial animations rather than hand-crafted ones with the aim of polishing them later.
He continued: "As such, designers (not animators) sequence pre-created animations together - like DJs with samples and tracks. The lowest quality scenes may not even be touched by hand."
While the intention is always to have animators polish the sequences crafted by designers, time constraints on a massive project like Mass Effect can make it difficult to fix everything. And "in the era of share buttons and YouTube", Cooper says it's easy for the worst examples to find their way to the widest audience. This also occurred with glitches in Assassin's Creed Unity two years ago.
"Andromeda seems to have lowered the quality of its base algorithm, resulting in the 'My face is tired' meme featuring nothing but lip-syns," Cooper wrote. "This, presumably, was because they planned to hit every line by hand. But a five-year dev cycle shows they underestimated this task.
"The one positive to come out of all of this is that AAA story-heavy games can't skimp on the animation quality with a systemic approach alone. The audience has grown more discerning, which makes our job more difficult but further animation quality (and animators) as a requirement."
The negative that has come out of this has been the abuse directed at Allie Rose-Marie Leost, an EA employee that certain corners of the internet blamed for the quality of the facial animations. BioWare has already spoken out about this treatment of Leost, and Cooper agreed that it is "despicable" to attack a single person over a team project.
You can check out the rest of his thoughts on the animation difficulties faced by the Mass Effect team on his Twitter thread. Animation, it turns out, has been only one of the game's shortcomings that seem to have soured opinions against it. You can read more in our latest Critical Consensus.