Saturday Morning Gaming: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This…
Man, I used to love Bioware. Here’s a comment from back in 2009 (!) where I’m expressing excitement about the new Dragon Age game coming out (the FIRST one). Remember back in 2011 when we were debating whether video games could possibly be art? My argument was that of movies or books that told stories could be art, then video games that told stories could be art. And, on top of that, the stories allowed the player to interact with the story in the way that tactile art expects the viewer to interact. And Bioware was my example of a game company that made the best examples of games-as-art. Here’s a comment thread where I am gushing about how awesome Bioware is in one of the posts in our video game symposium.
Somewhere around Dragon Age 2, things changed. Prior to Dragon Age 2, I could describe pretty much any Bioware game and give you a basic rundown of the plot and main/supporting characters and THE BIG TWIST. I could do that TODAY, even though it’s been more than a decade since I played some of them. They were that good. The company that made them was THAT good.
Dragon Age 2 felt rushed. I’m not saying it was BAD… but it felt “experimental”. Like, I’m not sure that I could explain the plot. (I could explain the THEME… maybe one or two of the plot devices as well. Not the plot, though.) Well, it’s because EA bought them, we told ourselves. The stuff that went wrong wasn’t Bioware’s fault, it was EA. There was some brilliant stuff in the game, after all. It was rushed. They had to reuse maps. Because EA made them.
Then we had Mass Effect 3.
I was so very much looking forward to it and then… well, they had a thing where you could make your own face in Mass Effect 1. I Gary Stu’ed the heck out of that. Bald and bearded went Shephard into battle and it was awesome. Mass Effect 2 had this thing where you could import your face from Mass Effect 1. Don’t bother trying to get the forehead ridge just right, just import your saved game! Within seconds, you were playing Mass Effect 2 with YOUR character. With YOUR face. (A friend came over and I was playing while we were sitting, eating, and talking and he said that he couldn’t handle watching me play because it was too disorienting hearing “his” character’s voice coming out of my character’s mouth.)
I bought Mass Effect 3 the day it came out. I took a long lunch and ran to the mall to get it. Then, that night, when I got it home? I couldn’t import my face. The game SAID that you’d be able to import your face… I couldn’t import my face. I couldn’t import my character. Quite honestly, this made the game unplayable for me. (Wanna read a thread from two weeks after finding out that I couldn’t play with my character? Here you go.)
It was then that I knew that the problems with Dragon Age 2 were, like, not the problems that would be solved by saying “oh, this isn’t Bioware’s fault. It’s EA’s.”
Well, I had a handful of complaints about Mass Effect 3 (we all did) and Bioware’s response to the criticism was poor. Which created a feedback loop where the customers didn’t feel heard and so responded by getting louder and so Bioware doubled down and this continued for a while and, eventually, Bioware nuked their forums.
Now, the team devoted to Dragon Age: Inquisition (the third one) seemed to watch all of this happening and they seemed to take it to heart. Dragon Age: Inquisition was a return to form. Was it Downright Amazing (in the way that Bioware’s games from Neverwinter Nights (2002) through Mass Effect 2 (2010) were all downright amazing)? No… but it didn’t get you to say “holy cow, something went very wrong somewhere.” It, instead, got you to say “okay… maybe they’ve righted their ship…”
But then we had one heck of a one-two punch with Mass Effect: Andromeda (which had hosts and hosts of problems) and now Anthem (which is having hosts and hosts of problems).
Here’s the paragraph that gets me (emphasis added):
The story behind this reboot isn’t just a story of a game going through multiple iterations, as many games do. The Dragon Age 4 overhaul was a sign of BioWare’s troubles, and how the company has struggled in recent years to work on multiple projects at the same time. It was indicative of the tension between EA’s financial goals and what BioWare fans love about the studio’s games. It led to the departure of several key staff including veteran Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw, and it led to today’s Dragon Age 4, whose developers hope to carefully straddle the line between storytelling and the “live service” that EA has pushed so hard over the past few years. (EA did not return a request for comment.)
It’s a game as a service.
Back after Mass Effect 3, I said that I wasn’t going to give Bioware any more of my money (“Not. One. Red. Cent.” was the quote, I believe) and I intend to keep that up.
But I would have loved for them to have made games that made me eat crow and come back and say “okay, I’ll buy this one.”
It doesn’t look like the new one will be that game. More’s the pity.
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is “Wasted Ice Cream Cone” by Steve Snodgrass. Used under a creative commons license.)