The Mass Effect trilogy remains one of the most incredible stories in gaming. The journey as Commander Shepard began with the first game, and from there, gamers were enthralled (but not indoctrinated) by the tale of uniting a galaxy at any cost. Ahead of the release of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, we sat down with character and environment director Kevin Meek from BioWare to talk a little more about the pioneering first game and how working on this remaster brought back the best kind of nostalgia.
The first Mass Effect game had very different pacing than 2 or 3, and a large part of that was due to it being a new IP. As such, world-building took priority, and BioWare was still getting a feel for what this experience would ultimately become. Despite being the oldest game in the trilogy, there is no denying that Mass Effect 1 was revolutionary in many ways, and without the care and love that went into it, we never would have seen the following two entries.
When talking to Meek about his role in bringing the Legendary Edition to life, he talked about his own attitude when approaching projects like this and how that period of reflection reminded him what a gem the first game truly was.
When talking about his approach to games and how sometimes it’s hard to go back to an adventure already completed due to the nature of his job, Meek opened up about how being an inherently creative person has its downsides. “I usually don’t want to see a game again once I’ve finished it,” he told us, “because as a creative person I tend to only see the flaws, right? When I pick a game up, I can only see the things like the bugs we didn’t fix as opposed to all of the great things. This is my job.”
While the job requires a more critical eye than many are used to, that didn’t stop him from relishing how truly magical the first game was in terms of innovation. “This is my job, to go through and play with the remaster and really see it for what it is, and there are so many times that it’s like…I just can’t believe we had people floating in the air and you could shoot them in Mass Effect. Like, who else was doing that?!”
The first Mass Effect launched back in 2007, and Meek reflected on how “archaic” the technology used for this game was when looking back compared to now. “When I think back to how frankly archaic our tools were to be able to bring some of those really meaningful and remarkable scenes together in Mass Effect 1, I just can’t believe we were able to do it with what we had.”
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It’s one thing to go back and see some of the smaller changes in the remaster, like brightening up an area or providing just a little more detail, but it was something entirely different to see the new opportunities that have arisen thanks to more modernized technology. When talking about those seemingly small changes, such as lighting, Meek continued, saying “I look at how much better it looks now that we’ve lit [these areas], it’s like we finally reached what we had envisioned it to be originally. So having those opportunities has been really fulfilling because, a lot of the time, you don’t get a chance to go back and fix those bugs and work on those things.”
Following the release of the first game, it was clear that the future of Mass Effect had a lot of potential. With that potential came a wider scope for the story, which of course required more people to help bring that vision to life. “The interesting thing about this remaster is that we started as a very maintained, tight-knit group on this,” Meek said. “As games have gotten bigger and more complex, they have more demanding team sizes and get bigger and bigger. This felt, for the first time in over five years, like what it felt like working on the original trilogy. I knew everybody who’s on the team, we’re all working together to solve the same problems. A lot of us are probably wearing multiple hats, a lot of us have all of these different things that we get to contribute to and, to me, it also kind of just harkened back to that sort of same feeling that we had back in the day of everyone just being a problem-solver. We’re just trying to make something great, you know, kind of scrappy.”
While the team that worked on the remaster is roughly about the same size as the original team that worked on the first game, there was that same bonding that happened when making something special. COVID-19 also had an impact on the closeness this team felt, a closeness that Meek mentioned he couldn’t imagine weathering a global pandemic without.
We’ll be able to recapture that magic felt when playing the first game when the Mass Effect Legendary Edition arrives on May 14. You can check out our other exclusive coverage, including interviews and video, right here with our hub.