An Intergalactic Disaster: Facial Animations and the Hegelian Idea of Art

mass effect andromeda

Introduction

SOURCES

Mass Effect: Andromeda is the fourth addition to the Mass Effect franchise, a game developed by Bioware and published by EA. As a franchise, Mass Effect is notable for its reputation for incredible story telling, riveting character development, and strategic combat style, as can be seen by Mass Effect 2’s astoundingly high metacritic score.

As a fan of the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the nerdy narratives of countless science fiction landscapes, I’m a sucker for space. As a work of ludic art, Mass Effect takes all of the elements that makes science fiction great, and it compounds them; instead of being the spectator of an unfolding narrative of unimaginable technology in an unimaginable world, you are the actor, the decider, and either the diplomat or the conqueror.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

ando

Mass Effect: Andromeda ought to take these themes to new heights, with a better system of combat, a new setting, and a fresh narrative with a new protagonist. However, laughter and ridicule, rather than intrigue or excitement, has plagued the game’s release. The gaming community has not been easy with Mass Effect: Andromeda, compared to its predecessors, as can be seen by the shockingly bad audience score and the noticeable dip in media reviews on Metacritic. 

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Anyone who pays attention to gaming media websites will have undoubtedly seen the horrific examples of running and facial animations that have been exposed prior to this games release. In the GIF above, the female protagonist Sara Ryder sprints with with a crooked, crab-like movement, looking like me a few hours after wolfing down one to many Taco Bell bean burritos and a Mexican pizza.

bad face.gif

The GIF above appears in the story right at the beginning, after a random cloud of interstellar “dark energy” knocks the course of your huge transportation ship, known as an Ark, sending the cryo-seal travel pods in your direction, slamming you against the wall of the ship. Instead of groaning in excruciating pain, Sara dons a big toothy grin with her eyes closed and then quickly switches to a completely clear expression, no evidence of pain.

Game as Art

While this may seem like it has little nor nothing to do with the consumption of the game as art, it destroys a concept which is necessary for the proper telling of an elaborate narrative: immersion. Immersion is a concept where the gamer feels so invested in their game of choice—emotionally, physically, and psychologically—that they no longer consider it to be “a game,” but, rather, a potentially real world in which the player has a real reason to advance through the narrative.

Hence, these poorly constructed facial animations are a hindrance on this immersion, something which was markedly important for the previous Mass Effect franchises.

This relates to Hegel’s idea of the highest possible art, wherein:

Only in the highest art are Idea and presentation truly in conformity with one another, in the sense that the shape given to the Idea is in itself the absolutely true shape, because he content of the Idea which that shape expresses is itself the true and genuine character. (83)

The only way in which a game truly functions as art is when it works in tandem with the platform of the game as a game, when it represents the narrative of the game within the platform of game fluidly without any visible threads of error or mistake. What abhors players so much about these facial animations is the way in which the immersion of the game, the seamless way in which narrative is integrated with the game’s platform, is obscured by these notable failures in the use of the platform. A Nvidia conference about facial animations reveals more about this failure, examining how missteps in representing real people can result in funny, but disturbing, consequences:

Game as Game

So while the failure of this attempt at realism obscures the developer’s attempts as representing the game as art, the game succeeds as a game that does not try to reach beyond the clutches of its programming limitations.

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For one, the combat in this game is absolutely phenomenal. Things play incredibly fluidly when you move from place to place, slaying enemy as your travel across the Andromeda galaxy, finding a new planet to start various human colonies.

Also, the narrative of the story is not necessarily unenjoyable, and I find myself laughing, intrigued, and engaged as I play through the story, despite its flaws. Within modern gaming, we, as consumers, have becomes so quick to judge a game if it doesn’t properly appeal to our lofty standards of consumption. We expect a game to look, feel, and perform within the liberation of the game-world: we want to feel like superman, or Bruce Willis in Die Hard. But when the game tries to represent itself art, it must be judged as art. If there’s one thing this whole facial animation accomplished, it was to get gamers like myself and many others to talk about the game, so maybe, after all, it was nothing but a clever marketing campaign.

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Citations:

Preziosi, Donald. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Internet resource.

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15 thoughts on “An Intergalactic Disaster: Facial Animations and the Hegelian Idea of Art

  1. “In the GIF above, the female protagonist Sara Ryder sprints with with a crooked, crab-like movement, looking like me a few hours after wolfing down one to many Taco Bell bean burritos and a Mexican pizza”
    T.M.I Dude.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “it destroys a concept which is necessary for the proper telling of an elaborate narrative: immersion”

    “Within modern gaming, we, as consumers, have becomes so quick to judge a game if it doesn’t properly appeal to our lofty standards of consumption”

    So here, by your argument, we see both the consumer being correct to which the game lacks a key feature, calling immersion a key feature to a game is really an understatement but I digress, but then is portrayed as a reactionary when pointing out, and becoming frustrated over such a key aspect of the game. Next you will be telling me No Man’s Sky is a pinnacle of artistry. Who cares if it bugs out, is missing features and what not? Don’t be such a pedantic consumer. This argument seems to fall somewhat flat considering the, extreme, lack of artistry and care that went into a very large part of the game, the facial features. You spend hours of the game looking at faces, talking at faces, kissing faces, killing faces, convincing faces, etc… Faces are clearly an extremely important part of the game. To which I think the response by the gaming community of the games current state upon release is more than acceptable. This is a triple A title published by EA. People paid a lot of money for this game. Why should they not expect the facial features to be totally busted? The past three games didn’t have that. I think it has less to do with preferences and more to do with consumers trusting to get their moneys worth out of a game they paid for. While this is not so easy to view, I can say for certain that no one who purchased this game felt good about seeing such terrible facial features and walking animations and thought “Yep, this is what a 60 dollar game looks like.”

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    • I’d say part of it comes with the expectations we’ve garnered as passionate, impatient consumers of art through games. I’m not excusing the facial features, rather, I think they make the game obsolete as art. Stories have come out claiming they exported facial animation to a third party developer to rush towards the games release. This rushed product is a symptom of heightened customer expectations, where they’d rather have a game early than a game finished. I’m not trying to understate the importance of immersion, but I’m trying to trace the locality of these tastes and standards for Game consumption

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      • I think that’s fair. However, seeing the modern game industry as nearly an oligopoly, game designers, I’m sure we at least agree, should stop rushing a release date and actually craft a solid game. I have seen many reviews by such impatient consumers garnering great disdain for the new mass effect facial features. I am fairly sure they would be willing to wait a little while longer for this bug to be fixed. Given such market power by groups like EA, the typical sort of consumer asking for a product then getting it as soon as they wish idea does not really hold. EA pushes out games at their will in order to maximize their profit. Do people want a new mass effect game? Yes, but they are not exactly sitting in their gaming chairs slamming their fists at the table, emailing EA to put one out already. The consumers, in this case of EA, are not in as much of control as I think you are stating they are.

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      • I think you’re underestimating the insane passion ME fans have for the game. It’s been 5 years, and they scrapped a previous build. People were clamoring for a release, so they got what they asked for.

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  3. I yield that I am underestimating the passion of fans for the game. The fans did not get what they asked for, they got a mildly broken underdeveloped game. Yeah I would say EA is not a good company.

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    • Well, I agree that they weren’t asking for a game that had some glaring issues with facial animation, but the game certainly wasn’t a cash grab either. They’ve committed themselves to fixing a lot of errors within the game. I’m not excusing them for the issues with the game, most notably the dialogue with the transwoman character, but I can imagine what it’s like to have the EA publishing revolver to your head. When you have triple A funding, you have to work along triple A deadlines, and the massive scope of the game forces Bioware to collaborate with a publishing powerhouse like EA. I’m trying to get across that, while there are issues, there are a web of problems that have contributed to the problem, so I’m not necessarily discarding the game as a trash product.

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  4. I think your critique on the consumer here is actually quite fascinating, although I am hesitant to agree with it fully. I think you are right in that people ask for certain games in certain time frames. But since EA owns Mass Effect, they have extreme market power in the way they can publish the game. Mass Effect fans would still buy the game if it came out 1 year later. People still bought it even seeing such poorly done facial animations. Tell me this, did you truly feel your fandom of the game waning each year EA did not publish a new Mass Effect game? Did you HATE the franchise because of EA not pumping out more content? Probably not, but I may be wrong.

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    • “did you truly feel your fandom of the game waning each year EA did not publish a new Mass Effect game?” not at all, but I don’t speak for everyone within the community. I agree that many people would have been much happier if the game came out later and better, but EA, with all their games, is incredibly dedicated to their set release dates. I think it has something to do with advertising campaigns or something.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It looks like you really put a lot of time into this, I’m impressed. Any specific reasons why you chose this game specifically?

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