GDC '08: Mass Effect First Look - PC Version

We meet with BioWare and check out a work-in-progress PC version of Mass Effect.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Earlier today, in a hotel boardroom several city blocks away from the Game Developers Conference, we had an opportunity to meet with Drs. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, who are in town to show off the PC version of Mass Effect for the first time. Currently scheduled for release in May, the PC version of BioWare's popular sci-fi role-playing game will benefit from a number of improvements over the Xbox 360 original, many of which are a direct result of feedback from reviewers and fans.

Visuals aren't the only thing being improved for the PC version of Mass Effect.

The most obvious of these improvements, which was immediately evident regardless of the fact that we were checking the game out on a 720p HDTV rather than on a higher-resolution monitor, is that the visuals are now much sharper and more detailed. The character models look great, environmental features such as water and foliage are much more believable, and even the textures of the relatively featureless non-story-critical planets look very different now that you can clearly see cracks in the ground, small stones, and such. On one of the planets we were shown during the presentation, there were clouds of dusts blowing across the screen, which are in the Xbox 360 game but not nearly as effective as they are on the PC. We can report that the PC game's textures load much more quickly than those in the console game as well, and though we noticed them popping in on occasion, the problem wasn't nearly as pronounced as it was for Xbox 360 players last year. For what it's worth, the PC version of Mass Effect that we were looking at is still a work-in-progress as well, so it's conceivable that the problem won't be in the finished game at all.

Something you'll definitely notice in the finished game, though, especially if you're familiar with the Xbox 360 game, is that BioWare and Demiurge Studios have gone the extra mile to rework certain aspects of Mass Effect. For example, you'll now be able to give squad commands to characters individually rather than just as a group. Furthermore, if you're playing with a mouse and keyboard, you can map up to eight psionic commands to the number keys 1 through 8, which lets you use them much more quickly and without having to access any menus. Mass Effect's inventory system has also benefited from a major overhaul; whereas the Xbox 360 game forced you to scroll through a list of practically every item in your possession anytime you wanted something, the PC game lets you sort your items by type and automatically moves better-quality items to the top. Incidentally, at least a few of those items appear to have been redesigned for the PC as well, such as the sweet-looking helmet with glowing blue eyes we saw that, unless we're mistaken, looked totally different in the Xbox 360 version.

If you've spent any time with Mass Effect on the Xbox 360, you'll know that chests and doors, among other things, often need to be unlocked via a simple decryption minigame that requires you to tap the correct buttons on the controller as they appear on the screen. The PC game will introduce an all-new decryption minigame that, in addition to being much more mouse-friendly, makes more sense in the context of the Mass Effect universe. Your goal in the new minigame is to guide a small arrow cursor to the center of a circle that's made up of concentric rings spinning in different directions. The rings are colored blue with blocks of red, and to be successful you have to make it to the center without touching red. To move the arrow one ring inward, you simply press the mouse button. It's somewhat reminiscent of Frogger, if the titular amphibian was a white arrow, the street and the river were circular, and the vehicles and dangerous wildlife were red bricks. You get the idea.

The last of the big changes that we were shown today concerns the controls for the Mako vehicle that Sheppard and his or her crew travel in when they're on the ground. In the Xbox 360 game, the Mako was controlled in much the same way as Halo's Warthogs and other vehicles. In other words, telling the vehicle to move forward steered you in whichever direction the camera was pointing rather than the direction that the vehicle was facing. Not everybody likes this setup, apparently, so on the PC those controls will be turned on their head and you'll more easily be able to move forward in one direction while pointing the camera in another.

Mass Effect will purportedly run well on "midrange" gaming PCs when it's released, and will support both the Windows XP and Vista operating systems. The game will also boast the same achievements system found in the Xbox 360 game, though this will be hosted by BioWare's own servers rather than by Games for Windows Live and so won't count towards your existing gamerscore. We look forward to bringing you more information on the PC version of Mass Effect as soon as it becomes available.

Discussion

196 comments
shade1978x
shade1978x

I'm getting this today for the PC. The game looks awesome. I'm hoping it looks good on a large screen.

wheater
wheater

Sounds good. I had this on the 360 but I might get this for the PC at some point. I dont need to even comment about the mods that people are going to be making. So this is sure going to be awesome.

starwarsguy15
starwarsguy15

Bad news over at the mass effect forums copy-protection is going to require the game to re-send the cd key every 10-days to secu-rom servers. And can only be registered on 3 machines. Bad news if you lose your connection for a few days and what if you re-format? kinda sucks.

markimsoad
markimsoad

imagine the mods... if you can :)

WeAreGodzilla
WeAreGodzilla

I never bought this for my 360, I knew it would go to PC eventually (and we all know user mods make PC version superior). Now the question is, buy it now, or wait for Oscuro's Mass Effect Overhaul?

Warghost2k
Warghost2k

Consoles will never be able to trump "mid-range" PCs. PC owners have to wait a little longer, but we get better versions of most games, not to mention all the user-made content that's available for PC games. This content cannot be made available for consoles.

DanieltheDead
DanieltheDead

Sounds great! I can't wait to finally play it and see what all the fuss has been about. Who knows, maybe it'll be able to pry me away from Oblivion for a few moments.

Lpedraja2002
Lpedraja2002

@ damariners: "Mass Effect will purportedly run well on "midrange" "gaming PCs when it's released" ohh poor x360.. we already know how outdated the x360.. with current high end gpu that only cost u $+-250 surely no problemo to the gamer to have it." Try $180 for a HD 3870. It surely pwns every gpu any console has.

amulbocus
amulbocus

Xbox 360 owners cannot deny the fact that thay are seriously bottlenecked , when it comes to games with a lot of HD content, thats my point. All the newer games to come out will feature HD content that excells the 9 GB space that DVD can muster. Blu ray can hold 50 GB per disc which is incredible and could easily fit Mass Effect and its sequels on one BD disc. I personally think most developers are milking the 360 for all its worth before its inevetible end, fairplay it has the most games now but thats because it had no competition. The fact that a supposed 360 Ultimate is proposed which MATCHES what the PS3 CURRENTLY has says it all. Either way PC gaming rules and always will.

Lanceo9
Lanceo9

err i need a new pc!

PacoL250
PacoL250

@gameniko: Like bdever32 said, what's the HD movie format war have to do with this? Not much it seems. So I'm still tempted to pick this up for the PC even though I have this on my Xbox 360; I want to see the game in all its glory it seems that the PC will give it. However, my concerns are: will Xbox 360 owners at least get the revamped version of the inventory through an update and will PC owners get the updated content that is supposed to bridge the gap between the first and supposed second game (granted, I'd assume it would come out much later than the Xbox 360 content)?

damariners
damariners

"Mass Effect will purportedly run well on "midrange" gaming PCs when it's released" ohh poor x360.. we already know how outdated the x360.. with current high end gpu that only cost u $+-250 surely no problemo to the gamer to have it.

gameniko
gameniko

You know that now Sony's own Blue Ray won the HD format wars, Its about time that All the PS3 fans came out of their shells and took their best shot at the 360 fans...See that is the only way they can compensate for the undeniable truth, that PS3 has less than half the games that the 360 has, and they wait for most of the games to come on computer so they can play them, while their overpriced PS3, is sitting on the lounge room probably turned off most of the time! If i want a blue ray player I will go buy one, but I want a gaming console, and thats what I have!

bdever32
bdever32

@amulbocus What does the HD movie format war have to do with this game, or gaming in general?

amulbocus
amulbocus

As a PS3 owner i cant wait to get this for my PC (with 8800 GTS and XFI), which would trounce the 360 version in every department. Its great for PS3 owners at the mo, Blu ray has won so looks to be the main HD medium. 360 owners get ready to purchase you USB powered Blu Ray drives soon LOL.

taurian0205
taurian0205

lol, i returned my xbox 360 version of this game, too laggy and nihlus died...that sucks...

Richard7666
Richard7666

Lol do they let you trade in a 360 version for a PC one?

MammoMan
MammoMan

I'll be happy with some stability. My 360 version crashes and it sounds like the DVD is warped. Good game should be even betten on the king of gaming platforms "PC"

WhiteScorpian
WhiteScorpian

played it on x360 get it dude nice game if u dont lag

djynen
djynen

Very pleased to see that Bioware have deigned to finally release this game on PC. I tried playing it on a friend's 360 and it certainly impressed me. Another game to add to my Must-Have list.

dfletche
dfletche

@arkadiyk Wow! 9 months old?!?!? Your already outdated sorry buddy

arkadiyk
arkadiyk

I cant wait to play this i have a 9 month old computer i will max this baby out with an 8800 ultra

wormri
wormri

I... NEED... it.

Elaqure
Elaqure

@desolation00 wow dude...learn how computers work...I've had great increase on games after switching from a single to a dual core. Until you learn how to not say stupid stuff, you can't post anymore!!! :P

PHeMoX
PHeMoX

@nate1222: Uhhm, replay value because you can play nearly the same game again? I seriously don't follow the logic of that....

nate1222
nate1222

I like that Bioware is making it run well on 'mid-ranged' PCs. That's pretty much what I've got; 3GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, GeForce 8500(512MB) GPU. By the time ME hits the PC, I'll have upgraded to a GeForce 9600. Right now Oblivion looks damn near as good as the 360 version. I know because I own BOTH. So a GeForce 8600 should put my PC's visuals on par with the 360. 9600 or 8600? I don't play as many games on my PC as my 360. So it's only a matter of price to me. Nonetheless, I want to own BOTH versions. Just like with Oblivion. I only buy a PC game if it has a sh**load of REPLAY VALUE. This is also why I own UT3 and Unreal Anthology, but little else on PC.

TurambarGS
TurambarGS

Oh man, mappable powers would be the best thing ever. I hate having to break up the action by bringing up the power wheel, lift, wheel, singularity, wheel, throw, etc. But I guess that's not really a solvable problem on a console, given the controllers. Glad to hear they're going to improve the Mako... disappointed to hear that it hasn't been sacrificed to the Car Gods so that nothing of its ilk is ever made again... Don't think these improvements would be enough for me to get it on PC though... especially by the time I've finished out the achievements on 360 (5 playthroughs later...)

brownba3
brownba3

Glad to know - a little pissed because Bioware said they weren't going to do a PC version so I bought the xbox game and had to learn the stupid controls... Only xbox 360 game I have bought, my son's console - Make mine PC... forever!! -(I played Halo start to finish but the driving controls were horrible there as well - definitely a place where they can improve) Are there any plans to move up the 2nd and 3rd part of the storyline and issue them at the same time as the xbox versions?

vecha
vecha

"game is kmart version of kotor which they made, and IMO, rocks yo." what?

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

that's good news, that mass effect is coming to the pc, with some major improvements, i hope they fix the ground vechiles targeting...

GlydeBane
GlydeBane

As long as I can romance Garrus I'm happy.

jazilla
jazilla

i havent been all that impressed with this game on the 360. i really looked forward to it as well. i wont be getting this on the pc. game is kmart version of kotor which they made, and IMO, rocks yo.

Liquid_Snake92
Liquid_Snake92

Nice. Can't wait till May. It's gonna be a good month for games.

Diernes
Diernes

These changes should propel the game into the 9.0+ territory. Dammit! why did I buy the 360 version?

kaledaystarr
kaledaystarr

@darthcowlick The improvements mentioned are for the PC VERSION of the game. Certain features can't be supported by the 360. Sorry bud.

pidow
pidow

I may buy it.

darthcowlick
darthcowlick

looks good i hope all the new improvements come to the 360 version

AnnoyedDragon
AnnoyedDragon

@Nomad0404 Why would it? You didn't need that for any of the other games PC and 360 share, not even the graphically enhance GOW. @Timbydude Why not? 360 does it to PC all the time.

xyzz123
xyzz123

Desolation00: Not necessarily... Games that use very intensive physics, like Crysis or Star Wars: The Force Unleashed would probably see a fairly large increase in performance when on dual-core, if of course the game you're playing has support for that.

desolation00
desolation00

Well, the good news (for me at least) is games are still primarily designed for single-core systems. About the only way you're going to see much performance improvement from multi-core on gameplay is if you tend to multitask while playing. At least the improvement from a 3.2 gig processor to 2x3.2 gig processors won't nearly approach double yet. That is, unless you tend to have lots of programs running at once while playing.

peter450
peter450

It's interesting how release's like this always stir the debate on if it's worth getting this console or that console, or which console has the best exclusive games PC's tend to get a lot of ports because they don't really compete directly with consoles, allthough there is some crossover a lot of pc gamers don't own a console an vice verser, although many do have both formats Metal gear, GTA, all these big at the time exclusives either got ported later to the PC or indeed another rival console, exclusive mean's being able to play the game first, which is no bad thing really, when you see a great game you want to play it now, not 6 months, 1 year or 2 years down the line I've played mass effect on a mates xbox 360 on a big HD TV and it's a great looking game, a pretty decent spec PC is going to be needed to play it at a noticably better graphical level than the 360, and at the end of the day either version is going to be great fun to play, by the time i pick up my copy on PC, he will have finished ME and be playing something else i expect. If you want the ultimate version of a exclusive title then, that usually means watching everyone else play it, and then picking it up yourself on the last platform it's released on, Me personally i'd rather play the games now

valuum
valuum

i really hope alot of these improvements come to the 360 version in an autoupdate. the texture dropping is unbearable. awesome game though

hellrazr09
hellrazr09

any idea about planets having different gravity???since all planets in X360 ver. had same gravity??if i m wrong correct me dont curse me!!

Srinivassa
Srinivassa

Damnit! I already bought an Xbox just for this freaking game. I wish they could have taken their heads out of their asses before now and told us when it was coming to PC. I didn't know if it would be June or June 2009. Oh well. I guess the Xbox is cool. It's not like I'm gonna throw the thing in my toilet when I get home. I still like LIVE arcade and Forza 2 is surprisingly good.

Fungeek376
Fungeek376

Well, I don't have the X-box 360 version yet, but it looks good either way, so I'll try to get the one on the PC. Though, I do wonder what the specifications of the computer were.......

Nomad0404
Nomad0404

The question I always have when reading an article like this is what was the specification of the PC they had it running on? I bet it was running the latest Intel quad core with dual Ultra's or something similar.

Saerakh
Saerakh

I'll definitely get this in addition to the Xbox 360 version. Both systems have their strong points and Mass Effect is one of the few games that seems able to play to those strengths making for two great playthrough experiences. Thumbs up for Bioware for making proper work of a multi platform game.