Asked & Answered:
The Developers of Mass Effect 3’s Expanded Galaxy Mod
The Reapers are winning. As millions die and more systems fall, you experience the “ruthless calculus” of war as your decisions affect your allies like never before. Since 2014, the Expanded Galaxy Mod has sought to allow a more immersive and interactive gaming experience, effectually putting you, the player, squarely in the middle of the battle for not just Earth, but the entire galaxy itself.
The Expanded Galaxy Mod allows even the most seasoned gamers a chance to re-live their first playthrough, and using exclusive content, revitalizes the entire performance of the game.
With comprehensive features such as a customizable Normandy, battle reports, dynamic war assets, greater interaction with NPCs, and imported elements from both Mass Effect 1 and 2, it seamlessly transforms the gameplay, making it a must-have for veterans and beginners alike. For players who are more combat-oriented, a shooting range has been added to the cargo bay, along with previously unavailable weapons and armor. And with additional N7 missions in development, it looks like it’s only going to get better.
Given its recent surge in popularity on NexusMods and in honor of Shepard’s birthday on April 11, an admin for Facebook’s Mass Effect group, Lisa Beth, initiated a modern-day round table discussion with the mod’s developers, Kinkojiro and Rusm0, to introduce this mod to the rest of the Mass Effect community. Kinkojiro, the mod’s creator, has done the vast majority of the initial design and programming for the in-game content. He released the first version of the mod in August 2014. The following April, Rusm0 became the lead writer. His additional responsibilities include beta testing, developmental support, as well as working with fellow writers and translators.
What is the Expanded Galaxy Mod, and what’s it all about?
KINKOJIRO: We’ve all played Mass Effect 3 many times, but we wanted to take a fresh approach to the game without veering off the path of the storyline and established canon. And while a portion of the mod is dedicated to completing the galaxy map, we concentrated our efforts around the time that the player spends on the Normandy. So we’ve added weapons, armor, and intel, but now we’ve moved on to building new missions, similar to N7 assignments.
RUSM0: We also felt that there were many parts of the game that were left unsaid, both in the plot and between the characters that you had met. Whether because sections of the storyline were implied, or they didn’t drive the story forward fast enough… things were just missing. That’s where the Expanded Galaxy Mod comes in.
By incorporating parts from both ME1 and ME2, the mod acts less like a DLC add-on and more like a direct extension of the base game. Your perspective changes from that of a passenger on the Normandy to being in control of it, so you get a more complete experience.
What sets the Expanded Galaxy Mod apart from other Mass Effect mods?
KINKOJIRO: Most content mods have a singular focus, whether it’s changing the ending (MEHEM), or reviving a certain character (ThaneMOD), or modifying one of BioWare’s DLCs (CEM). These are all great mods that I use, and some of the authors have actually helped with our mod. With that in mind, EGM takes a much broader approach than many of the other available mods.
RUSM0: What also differentiates our mod from others is that we incorporate multiple RPG elements into the gameplay—from crew profiles, to ship customization, to fetch quest assignments. Even people who aren’t sure whether such an aspect to the gameplay would interest them were still pleasantly surprised. We’ve worked extensively to find out what was great about each game in the trilogy, and bring any previously missing parts into this mod.
I’d also like to point out that all the mods he just referenced are compatible with EGM. That was a big source of pride for us. The ME3 community is just that—a community—and we worked really hard to make sure that the player can experience the game with the features that they want, rather than being limited just because of some incompatible code.
What prompted you to create this mod? And how has it evolved since the initial release?
KINKOJIRO: It started as me getting frustrated with certain inconsistencies and problems in the map, things like not being able to travel to certain clusters in order to get people to build the Crucible until very late in the game. I cracked open the galaxy map file to find out if I could correct these things. I quickly realized that most of the ME2 map was already in there—it was just hidden. I started to unlock those clusters, and the Galaxy Map Mod was born, later changed to the Expanded Galaxy Mod as more features were added.
It soon became apparent that from a players’ perspective, traveling around the map was fine, but it would quickly lose its appeal if there was nothing to do in those clusters. So from there, I decided to have a go at adding war assets, which led to me to improve the entire war asset system. Next, I started changing the war assets, adding reports, and adding map-based assignments. Finally, as my skills along with the editing toolkit improved and other talented individuals started to help, I began to experiment with adding gameplay extras such as armors and weapons, thus making the Normandy a more immersive and interesting environment.
RUSM0: As for the evolution of EGM as a whole, it was really about taking each feature to its next logical step. And although a great accomplishment, traveling around, searching for resources and war assets wasn’t going to be enough. We had to think bigger—so we did.
Many of our conversations consisted of, “Can you do this?” “No.” “Can you do this other thing?” “Yeah.” “Ok, so then you can do this, right?” And that constant back-and-forth gave us a better understanding of the limits of how high we could aim in relation to Kinkojiro’s skillset. And I’ve gotta say, he never ceases to amaze.
But that next logical step I mentioned was both a blessing and a curse because we were met with the difficulty of everything beginning to flow together so well that we didn’t know where to stop. And that’s when things started getting… problematic. It became very easy to get overwhelmed by the potential features and ideas, so we tried to strike a balance between things that were “oh, cool” and what just made sense to be included. And I think finding that equilibrium has been a big part of making the mod seem more grounded.
What are the three most noticeable changes that will appear in a new playthrough?
KINKOJIRO: One, the Normandy feels more like your ship. The customization and additions are designed to allow the player to decide how their Shepard would want to have things.
Two, the war is much more integral to the feeling of the game and is less of a background occurrence. The Normandy is less in a bubble, and part of a bigger conflict. War assets, reports, and pop-up notifications all generate the sense that something bigger is going on. Shepard cannot control everything no matter how big it is.
Three, there are some difficult choices in the assignments. The choices are hard, and there is no easy way out to please everyone. These assignments can have interesting consequences down the road.
RUSM0: Regarding those assignments and fetch quests, we put a lot of effort into really expressing the player being in a war-torn galaxy, and how some of our most basic changes really put things front and center on how monumentally screwed that galaxy is.
We went out of our way to expose the player to moral ambiguities, letting them discover that being paragon or renegade are just abstracts, and that wartime decisions don’t get to be color-coded. So we really tried to eliminate the cookie-cutter decisions and make the player think long-term, as well as ensuring that the player never gets that “Pure Paragon” or “Pure Renegade” outcome that you normally associate with the retail version.
To that end, with a stronger, more militaristic feel to it, you are someone detracted from going off on some adventure, but instead moving with purpose—clear objectives with not-so-clear choices. It’s less about planet-hopping and more about winning the war so you have planets worth going back to.
Secondly, we provide more meaningful communication with the characters that you encounter throughout the galaxy. We do revisit characters from the previous games, as well as make them more interactive. By that I mean, it’s not like you get a quick email and then never hear from them the rest of the game. You get more of a follow-up with them. We tried to make it more than just a nod to the character and instead give them a more noticeable part in the game.
Lastly, we delve a lot deeper into the ME Universe to tie in events from the two previous games. For example, if you do an import from your completed ME2 game–as opposed to a New Game Plus–you get what we call the “gift basket,” which has all your upgraded weapons that you acquired from Mass Effect 2. And you get that, right from the get-go.
How does EGM affect canon? Or does it?
KINKOJIRO: No. We have a rule not to contradict canon wherever possible, and by “canon,” I mean in the broader sense of the games, multiplayer, books, and other items released by BioWare. We do try to fill in the gaps existing in canon, creating lore to highlight some interesting points that BioWare didn’t fully explore. For example, from multiplayer, we know that the Alliance took on AI as soldiers, using the template of EDI/Eva Core. Where did that come from? Were they related to Cerberus’ experiments with AI in Project Overlord? We added some details to our storyline in order to provide the player with some answers regarding questions like these.
RUSM0: We actually had to scrap a couple of ideas so we wouldn’t mess with canon. Lore is a little more flexible, but we try to keep it realistic and within the confines of the Mass Effect Universe. This is not an ending mod, though—if you double-tapped Marauder Shields, you’re on your own.
That’s not to say we haven’t sidestepped canon though. Another embedded feature in the mod is the Timing File: it allows you to change when in the game certain missions activate. For example, some people don’t want to play the Omega DLC until after they’ve acquired the three mercenary groups for Aria. Or perhaps you shouldn’t be able to rescue Javik right away, or not play the Citadel DLC until just before you go to Earth. Some would say it’s logical for it to play out that way; others disagree. We got into a debate over this, so Kinko created a workaround to accommodate each player’s preference: the game stays chronologically accurate, while allowing the player to customize their gameplay to what they are most comfortable with.
Do you have any favorite parts to this mod so far?
KINKOJIRO: I have a few, actually. One of my favorite things is something so small most people probably miss it— a piece of Kasumi’s poetry from the Shadow Broker DLC that is on board the Normandy. There are plenty of other things that were much more technically challenging (and impressive) to do, but whenever I click that icon and see the message, it just makes me laugh.
Also, building the Evacuation of Thessia assignment really pushed the galaxy map to its absolute limit in terms of making it an interactive game element. It was frustrating and hard to do, but suddenly the added music made it feel more complete. It doesn’t sound like something that would be very noticeable, but it made a significant difference in the way it played out.
One that I really enjoyed from a technical perspective was when we tried adding the shooting range into the Normandy. A lot of the code was already in place—it seemed BioWare originally had planned have it put in the cargo bay. Even with finding that code, though, we were quite surprised that it actually worked. What was even more rewarding was that we were able to use the same techniques we just learned to open up other possibilities we hadn’t previously considered.
RUSM0: I do have some particular favorites, mainly the NPCs that we’ve imported onto the Normandy. It becomes more personal when you can see all the different people you’ve picked up, and it shows the culmination of your endeavors thus far. Geth in the cargo bay, Grunt in the medbay, quarians in engineering… and there are more on the way.
That being said, I think that the most rewarding parts are a) yet to come, and b) seeing your work making it into the game. It’s an awesome feeling that never really goes away. And it only gets better when someone comments saying how much they loved what you did with it.
You’ve mentioned N7 missions. Does that mean you’ll be able to go down to planets with this mod?
RUSM0: Heh, yes and no. The fundamental problem is that we cannot heavily edit the layout and infrastructure of existing maps. We can add props and items, but we can’t move the walls around. So to accommodate the inability to create new maps of our own, we have figured out how to insert the free multiplayer maps into the single player game. Four maps are currently in development, two of which will be Firebase Goddess for the Evacuation of Thessia, as well as Firebase Rio for a mission on Earth.
There are some drawbacks, of course. We wouldn’t have any verbal dialogue without the voice actors, but we want to keep the missions story driven, as opposed to wave after wave of enemies. For us, there has to be a reason behind the missions to further our narrative.
These maps are very time consuming to make though, so although it is very important to us to do, we may or may not be able to complete them. It really depends on both the amount of help we have and the time we are willing to invest into this project.
Let’s talk about the elcor in the room. You alluded to the fact that you may not complete this mod past a certain point. Can you tell us what we can still expect to see before then?
KINKOJIRO: It is unfortunately a real possibility that the mod may not be completed to the extent that we originally wanted. We have spent a lot of time on it, and with such a small staff there is a heavy burden on each person to get projects done. Our availability is also restricted by real life events, whether it be work, families, or other obligations.
But we really haven’t decided on how far to go with this. A lot of it depends on how much we have accomplished over the next few months and what is left to be done. To really push forward into our biggest challenges, we would certainly need to have more people involved.
Regarding what we will finish before then, we will complete all the existing features that are already in place, resolve any bugs that we encounter, as well as finalize any loose ends. So the mod will still be fully functional, but if we end it early for whatever reason, its level of completion may just not to the extent that we prefer. We would like to make visitors interactive in order for you to have conversations, as well as additional crew, more N7 missions, a module to allow better cabin interactions with Shepard’s love interest, and a better stereo setup with different music… but this is all dependent on how much we can accomplish and when.
Lastly, is there anything the Mass Effect community is able to assist with this project?
KINKOJIRO: As I become more focused on the more technically difficult parts of building levels, the more we need people to help with the things that take me ages to get right, such as art, sound editing, and writing. In level design, something that looks very simple can take ages. For example: every character has to be carefully positioned, meaning changing the file using ME3Explorer, saving, reloading the game to see how it looks, re-doing this time and time again. This isn’t technically difficult, just time consuming, though the result can be very rewarding when you see a character in an interesting pose or interacting with other characters. We are also looking for a sound editor who can create lines by editing vocals for other parts of the series, making very brief, ambient conversations or lines but maintaining the actor’s voice.
RUSM0: The fact is, the number of skilled people involved is directly proportional to the likelihood of this mod being completed the way we want, and we need a wide variety of help. As Kinkojiro has already mentioned, people who can help with the process of level editing are a major priority for us. Beyond that, we still need more writers and translators, beta testers, and XNA and XPS artists. We could also use military advisors as well as sound technicians and musicians. So there are plenty of jobs to go around for any fans who are interested.
And we still want fans’ ideas and input. There are technical limitations to what we can do, but the Expanded Galaxy Mod is both by the fans and for the fans, and we want to keep true to those ideals as much as we can by letting people get involved in this project. The more help we get, the more ideas and features we’ll be able to accomplish.
For more information or to help us with this project, please message our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/me3egm/ .