Head over to NexusMods and you'll find mods for each game in the Mass Effect trilogy. Over a thousand of them, with some of the most popular the graphical overhauls A Lot of Textures and A Lot of Videos. BioWare is aware of these mods, and while working on Mass Effect Legendary Edition, used them as a benchmark.
"We actually early on looked at some of those," project director Mac Walters told me, "and said, 'OK, well, this is our minimum bar and from here we have to then go bigger, right?' Obviously they have limited access as a modder to the assets that are in there. We have full access to them."
Environment director Kevin Meek concurred, mentioning while he was initially sceptical of AI upscaling mods, when he looked closer he was impressed. "They're getting these great results with the A Lot of Texture mods and those other up-res ones," he said, "so that actually started us down that kind of the path with some confidence. We knew we could go in and hit base-level AI up-res on all the textures and receive the same amount of visual upgrade or even more than the mods because we have a lot of advantages they don't have. We get to work on the uncompressed source, full-resolution textures. Whereas what they have, it's been crunched down, it's been compressed, it's put onto a disc, and then they up-res off that."
BioWare looked at mods that aren't about improving graphics as well. "There's a lot of really popular mods about adding different types of hairs to Shephard," Meek said, "people who are really popular into wanting some new casual outfits as you're walking around. Things like that, they kind of helped give us again a bit more confidence. Yeah, it is worth it to spend a little bit of time to create some new hair options and some new clothing options."
Other popular mods reinstate cut content and work with unused dialogue to, for instance, add same-sex romances to Mass Effect 2. While the Legendary Edition isn't going that far, will modders still have access to unused assets to recreate those mods? "I don't think any content has explicitly been removed from the depot that we have," Walters said, though he wasn't able to 100% confirm mods like these will be possible. "Hopefully they'll still be able to have access to do all that," he said. "That'd be the hope."
BioWare wants to see the Legendary Edition altered just as eagerly as the original games, and has spoken privately to some modders about what's important to them and how they can work together. "Mods have an advantage," Meek said, "where they don't have to be constrained about certification requirements, and size-on-disc issues, and any ripple effects that come from pushing some effects too far or not far enough, or whatever."
You'll be able to read our full interview with Walters and Meek this week. Mass Effect Legendary Edition is due out on May 14.