Aaryn Flynn, former general manager at BioWare and North American GM at Improbable, knows a lot about what sets good and bad game creation tools apart. In a recent keynote speech, Flynn delved into his long career in games and experience with various toolsets, including Electronic Arts' Frostbite engine. Though Flynn saw the potential for "amazing things" in Frostbite, he says the engine made it "harder to make the content that people wanted," echoing numerous past comments from developers on working with the engine.
GamesIndustry.Biz was in attendance at Reboot Develop Red where Flynn delivered a keynote talk on the importance of using good tools, a point underscored by Flynn's experience at BioWare while using Frostbite. Originally developed by DICE for the Battlefield series, EA made a push to get other series including BioWare's on the engine in the early 2010s.
Frostbite is "very powerful, fast, beautiful, purpose built to do some really cool stuff," according to Flynn, but is "also extremely delicate and needs a huge crew." That, says Flynn, lead to development slowdowns:
It was getting harder and harder to make the content that people wanted[...] It was harder and harder to move that content through these pipelines and do things. And even though we had more people-we had more teams, more folks-we were slowing down the rate at which we could build and craft these experiences.
While Flynn was at BioWare, the studio shipped Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda on Frostbite. Around the time of Inquisition's release, executive producer Mark Derrah said "a lot of base level role-playing game things" had to be built from scratch in Frostbite. Years later, after the buggy initial release of Andromeda, anonymous BioWare devs spoke of the difficulties of working with Frostbite in a Kotaku report. At the time, one source also made a Formula One analogy in more stark terms: "When [Frostbite] does something well, it does it extremely well. When it doesn't do something, it really doesn't do something."
BioWare's difficulties working with Frostbite came up again with the dismal launch of Anthem earlier this year, but the engine's gotten a bad rap with other EA projects, too. Though EA and DICE are still investing in developing Frostbite further, EA has also been releasing a fair number of titles that don't use the engine: unlike FIFA and Madden, NHL 20 still hasn't transitioned to using Frostbite, and neither Respawn Entertainment's Apex Legends or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are built on the engine. As for BioWare, the studio hasn't shed any light on Dragon Age 4 or the reportedly in-development Mass Effect sequel with regards to what engines they'll be built with.