“I typically measure the severity of a task based on the number of aneurysms it gives me,” says Mgamerz, head of the ME3Tweaks modding group. “This project has definitely given me the most out of all my projects I’ve done before.”
This project is to restore Pinnacle Station, an addition to the original Mass Effect omitted by the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. The source code had been corrupted, and as game director Mac Walters explained, restoring it would have delayed the Legendary Edition significantly. “It would basically take us another six months just to do this with most of the team we have,” Walters told Game Informer. “I wish we could do it. Honestly, just because it’s meant to be everything the team has ever created is reunited – all the single – player content. And so it was heartbreaking to leave it all in the rock room . “
ME3Tweaks modding team, Mgamerz, SirCxyrtyx, Kinkojiro and HenBagle, sat down to rectify that omission. It was possible thanks to Legendary Explorer, a mod-making tool they maintain that lets modders extract and repackage assets from the Mass Effect Legendary Edition and edit everything from in-game text to pathfinding. It’s a sequel to ME3Explorer, a similar toolkit that started as a ‘creation kit’ for modders who wanted to change the end of Mass Effect 3. “Although this specific project is a few months old,” says SirCxyrtyx, the longest-serving member of the modding toolkit development team, “it is in some ways the culmination of nearly a decade of work to make the Mass Effect trilogy moddable.”
The Legendary Explorer gave them an advantage over BioWare. “I’m pretty sure their tools are not able to work on the compiled files that ours needs,” Mgamerz says, “since their tools are designed to be used with the source assets. I imagine the loss of the source sound was what ultimately judged any chance that this DLC was recreated. Well, that and that is typically at the bottom of the players’ list of favorite DLCs. “
It’s true that Pinnacle Station is not the most beloved Mass Effect addition. It added a training facility where Shepard could compete in simulated matches, a short mission to find out if someone else was manipulating the simulator, and an opportunity to be your home away from home. Where the best of later expansions like Lair of the Shadow Broker and Citadel surpassed the games they grew from, Pinnacle Station was just an extension of what Mass Effect already offered.
Of course, that does not mean that no one liked it. “I’m actually a pretty big fan of DLC,” says HenBagle, whose first Mass Effect mod was a Pinnacle Station tweak, and recently worked on the ME1 Community Patch. “The station and the apartment are super cool areas, and the game modes are smart, too.”
The mod has a few improvements over the original Pinnacle Station. “It definitely feels better than the original version when I have had to compare the two to test,” Mgamerz says. “Although this is a ‘port’, we have made a significant effort to improve the quality of life in the fight. For example, adding music to the level has had a pretty profound effect on making it feel more engaging. The original sound experience felt awful, you shot essentially silent meatballs while Ahern yells at you. “
Some of the modes and maps have had their problems reset in response to feedback from testers, as the battle is quite different in Legendary Edition – and often easier. As Mgamerz says, “it’s Mass Effect 1 AI we’re fighting against. It’s about as smart as a can of beans. Things only in Legendary Edition, like being able to run much more often, have a significant effect on difficulty.”
In addition to updating Pinnacle Station, the mods updated the tools they used to work with. HenBagle says, “we rewrote a section of our Asset Database tool to make it easier for us to find replacement materials and textures. We love making improvements like these because they can boost productivity for anyone who opposes Mass Effect, not only the ME3Tweaks team. “
“I built a ‘donor’ system,” says Mgamerz, “from an object path in the original game, this system searches for the same named object in the legendary version of the game, which, if present, is used in the converted file instead. That means we just pull LE versions of assets like meshes, sounds, etc. because porting everything would probably be impossible. The DLC is probably about 95% assets from the main game. “
“Most of the assets are reused from elsewhere in LE1,” adds SirCxyrtyx, “but all the objects that define the level (the lights, the location of all the masks, etc.) and the gameplay (UE3’s Kismet visual scripting) should be converted. ” The original and remastered versions of Mass Effect run on different versions of Unreal Engine 3, which meant that all of these objects were saved in different formats. For compatibility with all games in the series, Legendary Explorer can edit files from seven different versions of UE3, which automatically resolves format differences. “It’s the result of many years of reverse engineering efforts, and it allowed us to focus our efforts on the relatively small number of object types that were significantly different between the games.”
So even though a lot of Pinnacle Station was built with existing Mass Effect assets, it did not make it an easy task. “The single item that stands out to me is Terrains,” says Kinkojiro, creator of Expanded Galaxy Mod. “These are the assets that give ME1 its undulating mountains that the Mako is struggling with. In Pinnacle Station, they are much smaller, for example the ground at the volcano level, but we had no alternative to replace them. Terrain is not used properly in the later games, nor later versions of Unreal Engine and no ME modder had looked at them before.They are very large and complicated assets.We had to completely reverse manipulate how they worked and then find out how BioWare had changed them to LE. They caused most of the biggest headaches, not just because of the psychedelic effects they create when they do not work. “
“We found a lot of issues with the original DLC,” says Mgamerz, “so we’ve fixed the ones that users are most likely to encounter.” They include an area with invisible walls you can get caught in, eye light hovering over their heads, turians in the combat simulator without holographic faceplates, an incorrect texture for an NPC’s armor, and texture pop-in that has been minimized by streaming them prematurely. . “While this is a port, I also consider it a mod,” says Mgamerz, “so I want to ensure that users get more than just ‘Pinnacle Station ported to LE’. We have made a significant extra effort to ensure that this DLC is built more as an official release. “
The finished mod is ready for release on November 7, also known as N7 Day, the Mass Effect community celebration day. You should be able to download it from NexusMods right now.