There's no escaping Mass Effect Andromeda (opens in new tab)'s animation issues. While Twitter, GIFs and memes have amplified the problem out of all proportion, there's defintely something that hasn't gone to plan.
Former Bioware animator Jonathan Cooper (opens in new tab) now works at Naughty Dog but previously worked on Mass Effect 1 and 2, so he knows the process of animating a major triple A game. In a series of tweets he's spoken on what's happened. I've edited down the core thread (which you can see in full (opens in new tab) here) but these are the key points:
"Animating an RPG is a really, really big undertaking - completely different from a game like Uncharted so comparisons are unfair," explains Cooper. "Every encounter in Uncharted is unique & highly controlled because we create highly-authored 'wide' linear stories with bespoke animations."
Something like Mass Effect Andromeda however involves far more work. "Conversely, RPGs offer a magnitude more volume of content and importantly, player/story choice. It's simply a quantity vs quality tradeoff," says Cooper. "Because time denotes not every scene is equally possible, dialogues are separated into tiered quality levels based on importance/likelihood. The lowest quality scenes may not even be touched by hand. To cover this, an algorithm is used to generate a baseline quality sequence. Mass Effect 1-3 populated default body 'talking' movement, lip-sync and head movement based on the dialogue text."
Basically, much of Andromeda's animation was initially automated to populate the wealth of content: "as such, designers (not animators) sequence pre-created animations together - like DJs with samples and tracks. Andromeda seems to have lowered the quality of it's base algorithm, resulting in the 'My face is tired' meme featuring nothing but lip-sync. This, presumably, was because they planned to hit every line by hand. But a 5-year dev cycle shows they underestimated this task."
It doesn't really change anything at this point but it's really interesting to see how production decisions can impact a game. Cooper's also very clear one of the less savoury aspects of the controversy that resulted in a completely unrelated developer being blamed for everything. "Going after individual team members is not only despicable, but the culprits and choice of target revealed their true nature," he says. "Just as we credit a team, not an individual, for a game's success, we should never single out one person for a team's failures."
Animations aside, if you are playing right now then we've got some crucial Mass Effect Andromeda tips (opens in new tab) to get you started, as well as a Mass Effect Andromeda romance guide (opens in new tab) if you need to unwind after a hard day saving the universe.