Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Dear Bioware

Posted by nfinit on February 10, 2010

Hey there, it’s me, Mark.

So I’ve played your games lately.  A lot of them.  Between Mass Effect 1, Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, I’ve probably invested upwards of 300 hours into Bioware games over the past year, and if you guys were to re-release Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire for the 360 with Achievements, I’d probably burn through those again, too.   So when reading this, I want you to understand that it’s coming from the perspective of someone who loves your games and has spent an inordinate amount of time on them.

I know you guys are trying to create legitimate action games.  And that’s great!  Mass Effect 2 is the best Gears of War game I’ve ever played, even if it’s not exactly the best Mass Effect game I’ve ever played, but I’m confident you guys can put the pieces and deliver a Mass Effect 3 that delivers the improvements from ME2 inside something that more closely resembles a functional RPG.

But you guys have two problems.

One, you like to kill people.  A lot. It goes all the way back to that damned homicidal mage you encounter at the start of Baldur’s Gate.  I’m not exactly sure if you’re aware, but fights in your games tend to go one of two ways:  Either a: all the die rolls are perfect and the rest of the fight turns out rather  inconsequential or b: all the die rolls go the wrong way and you die, suddenly, violently, horrifically, and oft without any indication of what caused the horrible fate that befell you and your crew.  Death in your games is swift and brutal on either side– and that’s okay.  If we wanted chessmatches, we’d all be playing.. well, chess.  Or Valkria Chronicles.  Whichever.  But the main thing here is, fights in your games are usually decided very quickly, even on the rare occasions that the fight itself takes a while to play out.  Now this is an issue because of your second problem:

Your load times.  They’re horrendous.  Look, I know you guys employ QA teams and playtesters.  You can’t operate a modern development studio without people to test the scenarios you put forth– hell, we even have reality TV shows dedicated entirely to the QA process.  Well one TV show and it’s on PSN, but you get my point.  Anyway, you have these QA people, presumably you’re paying them money, and presumably they’re telling you that the load times on a typical level for a Bioware game for the 360 takes.




And this is a huge problem when most of the encounters you’ve set up take mere moments to decide.  And if it takes you four, five, six, twenty-seven times to suss out an encounter, the time you spend staring at a load time is substantial.

Wait, substantial isn’t the right word.  Substantial is used to describe something ponderous but ultimately enjoyable.  The A Song of Ice and Fire series is substantial.  A steak dinner at Outback is substantial.  Fallout 3 is substantial.  Staring at a loading screen for thirty seconds a dozen times over while the fight itself only last an average of seven seconds?  That’s not substantial, it’s fucking  frustrating, and you should know better.

(And this is something I”ve never been able to figure out about how you game developers operate; because you’re not alone in this– if I load a room and die five seconds later and re-load that exact same room– that data should still be in resident memory, right?  Why must the entire engine need be reloaded?  I know this isn’t a huge technical hurdle, I play lots of racing games and if you screw up in a racer, you can restart more or less instantly, and a racetrack and a full grid of eight cars uses up a lot more geometry than a 50×50 room with 5 enemies inside, of which there are only two distinct polygonal models.  But I digress.)

And yes, I full well understand that you can dial down the difficulty at any time, but I shouldn’t have to resort to that for a handful of obviously broken encounters.  If anything, dropping down the difficulty level is a crutch for you guys– maybe what’s happened is that your playtesters have come to you guys complaining of this very issue, and your answer has been to simply allow the player to cripple the game until such time as the player gets bored again.  This shouldn’t be the solution.  Fixing the encounter should be the solution.

Look, this will be a huge issue moving forward if you wish to keep up the whole action game hybrid tract with your future games.  The casual folks you’re going to rely on to make The Old Republic viable?  They’re not going to settle for this.  World of Warcraft is difficult at times, but if you die at least you have a good idea of why, and at any rate even high level raid guilds don’t expect full wipes fifteen times in a row.  If you’re going to ape Epic and Infinity Ward in terms of game mechanics, then you need to also see how they craft each individual encounter.

And yeah, Mass Effect 2 is a pretty game and all those textures and particles and gee-gaws take a lot of memory.  I understand that, I even appreciate it.  Mass Effect 2 is a stunningly beautiful game at times.  But if the choice is between an outstanding looking Heavy Mech and not spending an hour of my night staring at a load screen, well– Let’s just say I’d rather not have enough time to have typed this up.

Anyway, keep up the good work and for the love of god re-release Planescape on XBLA.

Love and kisses



3 Responses to “Dear Bioware”

  1. Patrick said

    Planescape was Black Isle, not Bioware. And until recently the rights were owned by Sierra.

  2. nfinit said

    Huh. I could have sworn the Baldur’s Gate era DND games were Bioware?

  3. Patrick said

    Well, almost all of them ran on the Infinity Engine, which was Bioware tech. But by itself, Bioware was only responsible for the BG series and NWN. Black Isle developed Planescape and the Icewind Dales.

    Between the two of them, though, that whole era of D&D games was well accounted for.

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