Remastering a series like Mass Effect — not quite a full remake of the trilogy, but more substantial than a port — is a thorny task. It requires work on all three games and dozens of downloadable content packs. There are fan expectations, from players who want to see a beloved universe preserved to those who are still salty about how it all ended. As Mac Walters, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition project director, put it: “We talk about it sort of like we were restoring a beautiful, beloved car. But then it quickly turned into sure, if that car had been buried in cement, and every time you tried to clear off some of the cement you were worried about dinging the paint, or ripping off a mirror.”
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, coming May 14th for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and backwards-compatible with current consoles, packages the Shepard trilogy into one game. That includes over 40 DLC packs released during the series’s run, as well as Mass Effect 3’s extended cut. The game’s story will stay intact, including its controversial ending. Speaking about the extended cut of Mass Effect 3, Walters referred again to developers caught in a cycle of always wanting to fix one last thing. “The extended cut was really that opportunity for us to add a little bit more love and a little bit more context around the ending,” he said.
The first Mass Effect game launched in 2007, and the final game came out in 2012. There are more than a few elements of the game that are dated. “The opportunity now to be able to go back with all of those lessons learned and with all of the advancements … [has] been a dream for me,” Walters, a longtime developer on the original series, said. That includes returning to familiar characters and worlds. “You don’t often get a chance to revisit a lot of these things.”
When it comes to making games, Walters said that developers have to learn to eventually let go. “You have to kind of say we’re done with the game and we’re moving on.” With Mass Effect being a trilogy, the team was able to take that “developer angst” and use it for the next game. “Over the course of three games, we were fortunate enough to sort of build on that and really bring the game and the franchise kind of to where we saw it in our minds’ eye at the very beginning.”
In the new remaster, all three entries can be accessed from a single menu, with players able to start from any game they choose. The tweaks range from a more convenient, comical ability to skip through elevator rides faster to overhauling the look of entire levels like Eden Prime, the very first world players are introduced to in Mass Effect 1. “Ultimately what this was about was bringing this forward onto the current gen and for future generations as well, with the kind of fidelity and taking off some of the edges that people would expect with that,” Walters said.
The changes throughout the series, especially in the first game, are hard to miss. In a presentation offering a direct comparison, characters who previously had curious features — eyelashes like spider legs or potato-shaped heads — now look sleek. Game textures, a well-known buggy feature of Mass Effect 1, in particular, have been fixed to actually resemble the materials they’re meant to be. The team has apparently squashed hundreds of bugs that stuck around throughout the original trilogy.
“It wasn’t that long ago that if you made a very expansive, large playbox kind of game, you could be excused for all sorts of bugs,” Walters told The Verge in a separate interview, reflecting on the memeable nature of bugs these days. “They expect a lot. They expect us to do our jobs, and part of our jobs is shipping a game to quality, bug-free as much as possible.”
But it’s not always so simple. Walters compares it to trying to take a family photo with every relative, plus their pets. “You can imagine that you’re gonna take about 1,000 photos near the end, and one of them’s going to work. That’s the one you ship, and it’s as close as possible.” But look closely, and you start to see that someone has their eyes closed. And in the photos before and after, someone’s passed out in the background. “There’s a lot of challenge there, but no excuse,” Walters said. “I think the expectation from fans more and more is that you ship a quality game period.
As for whether he enjoys all of those memes? “It’s funny if it’s someone else’s bug,” Walters said.