, posted 1 day ago / 911 Views
Publisher Electronic Arts and developer BioWare have released new information on Mass Effect Legendary Edition that details the visual improvements in the remasters.
View the comparison trailer of the original and remastered versions of the games in the collection below:
Read the information below:
Phase 1: Building the Foundation
We started Phase 1 by identifying and cataloguing every asset in the trilogy. How many particle effects, 3D models, textures, levels, GUI (Graphical User Interface) elements, sounds, cinematic movies, etc. actually exist across the trilogy, and on average what are their quality levels? Do the source assets (content creation files) still exist? What percentage of those assets should we improve, and on average, how long will each asset type take to improve? Knowing the sheer numbers of assets and their quality levels shaped our strategy for improving each “type” of asset.
The original trilogy was released entirely on a console cycle that allowed up to 1080p resolutions but was often actually running at 720p or lower. Now, the remaster is releasing on hardware that allows 4K resolutions, so the answer for how many textures we wanted to improve was easy: every single one of them. For the trilogy, this is well over thirty thousand individual textures.
First, we increased the engine limits on texture sizes, so any textures that were authored larger than could be used on-disk could now use their full resolutions. We then wrote some batch processes that worked along with an AI up-res program to increase the original uncompressed textures to four times their originally authored sizes. Our batch tools made special considerations to maintain the validity of special texture types, like normal maps or masks to ensure colors didn’t contaminate each other.
At this time, we also incorporated some more modern texture compression techniques that would allow those textures to hold onto more of their quality on disk. Meanwhile, our programmers were hard at work upgrading our version of Unreal Engine 3 to a more updated and unified version. With the game playable again, and a much higher base resolution to work from, we began to improve assets by hand.
Phase 2: Modernization Efforts
Phase 2 was the beginning of what we would consider full-scale development. The art team was now fully on board, and our content creation tools (many of which naturally changed and improved throughout the trilogy) had been stood up, unified, and made to work with more modern content creation programs. Eager to dig in, we started off where we knew the biggest improvements were needed: the original Mass Effect.
Some assets—most frequently, characters and generic props—were shared between the games, and man had already been improved in a later title or DLC. For those cases, we generally used the improved asset as our base, improved it further, and then ported it across the whole trilogy. This resulted in more consistent and higher-quality assets, but we had to carefully ensure this process didn’t flatten the sense of the passage of time and the overall narrative.
For characters who appeared in all three games, like Liara, Garrus, Kaiden, Captain Anderson, and more, we maintained slight changes throughout the trilogy as they aged, matured, or…got hit by a rocket. Obviously, we couldn’t let uniforms branded with “SR2” sneak their way back onto the crew of the Normandy SR1, and we still liked how the Alliance Admiralty uniforms became more militarized and sleek as the trilogy progressed, so we improved each version of those outfits individually.
Our lighting designers followed closely behind the level artists, ensuring that all of the beautified environments and characters were always shown in their best, well, light. Mass Effect’s specific lighting style features high-contrast spotlights and a heavy use of complementary colors. That style was refined heavily throughout the trilogy, so we were able to bring many of those improvements back into the first game. We focused on maintaining that high-contrast look while adding natural bounce lighting to ensure characters are lit more consistently and beautifully.
We made systemic upgrades to shadows and added or improved post-process effects such as screen space ambient occlusion, anti-aliasing, and bokeh depth of field (increasing the cinematic quality for out-of-focus cameras). We were also able to bring down engine features that existed in Mass Effect 3, such as dynamic volumetrics, to help unify the look of the first two games.
Players will have more opportunities to see their improved characters reflected in-game, as the trilogy also includes new real-time reflections (such as on the Normandy’s fish tank shown in this awesome video from our friends at IGN).
Phase 3: Rebuilding Worlds
In Phase 3, we began looking at opportunities to make broader improvements to levels and features, rather than just updating the individual assets. By this point, we’d manually improved thousands of assets, but there was still a significant quality jump between the first two games.
To guide this effort, we compared the levels we shipped to their original concept art, design intentions, and artistic inspiration. We also took dozens of screenshots of our currently up-res’d levels and sent them over to Derek Watts (the Mass Effect trilogy’s art director), who used them as a base for new concept art paint-overs. These “broad brush” adjustments were much faster to work on in professional photo editing software.
Here are some examples:
Feros has a few very visually distinct sections, including the colony and the highway that leads to the ExoGeni Corporation building, the aqueducts, and the Thorian lair. The former of these now features stronger smoke and fire effects, more buildings to fill out the skybox, and much more damage and debris to better showcase the attack by the geth. We also leaned into the visual atmosphere of the creepy, dark interiors with directional light shafts guiding players to uncover the mysteries of the Thorian (that sounds creepier than ever, thanks to its new audio mix).
Edmontonians are no strangers to brutalist architecture or the blistering cold, so we’ve always felt quite at home in Noveria. Lighting was reworked throughout the level, the storm outside was intensified, and we accentuated the differences between the hotel area and the Synthetic Insights lab to hopefully improve your ability to navigate the mission’s early sections.
Eden Prime is the first location you land on in Mass Effect. It’s described to you as a verdant paradise planet under attack by an unknown alien ship, but the sight that greeted players didn’t always align with that image. Luckily, in the Mass Effect 3: From Ashes DLC (which is, of course, included in the Legendary Edition) we’d already revisited Eden Prime, so we could incorporate its overall atmosphere and specific buildings. We’ve moved the sun’s placement so that the player’s path forward is now illuminated by evening light while the burnt red sky looms behind, punctuated by falling ash and tracer fire. We also improved the planet’s surface with additional fire and battle damage, more foliage, and destroyed structures littering the crater Sovereign leaves behind.
Numerous quality-of-life changes and expanded features rolled out in this phase, many of which were detailed in our previous blog, so be sure to check that out! Notable improvements include an updated HUD for the first game and UI consistency improvements across the trilogy, such as tech UI elements appearing in blue and biotic UI elements appearing in purple in the first game (they were originally swapped). The custom character creator has been unified and expanded upon greatly, and some of your favourite casual outfits from Mass Effect 3 are now available in Mass Effect 2, as well.
A life-long and avid gamer, William D’Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel dedicated to gaming Let’s Plays and tutorials. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TrunksWD.