New Mass Effect patch: what a difference an eye makes

The first of several planned updates designed to address various criticisms of Mass Effect: Andromeda [official site] landed yesterday, and though it comprises 20 main fixes, one stands out above all else. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the glassy sexbot stares of MEA’s launch version certainly contributed to unfavourable impressions. The new v1.05 update’s toned down the inhumanity of the game’s human eyes, and, superficial as it might sound, it has me warming to the game a little more.

I’ve seen the change referred to as an ‘eye shader’, but truth be told I don’t know either if that’s the correct term or how much of a rejigger it entails. All I can speak to is the results, which are surprisingly profound in some characters.

Where once eyes were weirdly white and static seeming, as though someone had painted them onto their eyelids so they could fall asleep in church, now they’re significantly more naturalistic, seeming to possess depth and a little soul thanks to various light and shadowing wizardry. It’s humans and asari – the most humanoid of MEA’s ally races – who benefit from this change, as the more overtly alien peepers of yer Salarians, Krogan and Turians didn’t suffer from the initial issue.

Like I say, on paper it’s a small thing, but in practice it’s making a big difference. My key issue with MEA is that I’ve struggled to connect with its characters, and while dialogue and performance are clearly the main elements there, it seems that weirdly unrealistic eyes set in a game that otherwise strived for photorealism played a significant part in feeling that these were not credible people.

Not mentioned in the patch notes but strikingly obvious when returning to previously-jarring characters is that the ‘applied with a hose from five metres away’ makeup effect has been toned down too, and again this makes more of a difference than one might think. For instance, even notorious NPC Foster Addison, she of the ‘my face is tired’ meme, now comes across more like a short-tempered robot than a clown who was hauled out of their dressing room mid-way through facepainting and made to recite technobabble at gunpoint.

Honestly, these tweaks makes all the difference. Not enough difference to redeem clanging lines or the odd duff performance, but because I’m now starting from a point of ‘hey this seems sort of like a real person’ that stuff is a mite less jarring. I mean, clearly there’s a ceiling on how much can be done to make dialogue zing without physically re-recording it, but I can totally see how a string of patches that improve the still-marionettish facial animations and poses, rethinks the oddly plasticky hair and is less blatant about how it spirits background NPCs off the stage will amount to a more convincing game.

Facial animation fixes are mentioned in the 1.05 patch notes, but I’d say that there’s a way to go on that stuff yet – conversations and cutscenes remain slightly surreal in that regard. More broadly, for every moment when I’m thinking ‘hey, this is so much better’, I run into major NPCs acting like Autons all over again:

In other words, I’m still wincing often, but the difference between this and the previous version of MEA is that I can see a path to a meaningfully better game starting to materialise. A new option to skip some of the pointless planetary cutscenes has also begun to make MEA feel more fluid.

The net result of this is that I’ve now decided to bench my game for a few weeks and start afresh a couple more patches down the line. I’m certain I’ll have a better experience that way than I will if I keep wading on through my disappointment, waiting for some hail Mary moment that is unlikely to come.

Here’s the list of fixes in v1.05, which Origin should automatically update your game to if you fire it up now.

  • Improved tutorial placement
  • Increased inventory limits
  • Single-Player balance changes: Ammo crates, armor, weapons, nomad, profiles, attacks, and progression
  • Multiplayer balance changes: Weapons, cover, and enemies (check back for detailed notes on balance changes)
  • Improved matchmaking and latency in multiplayer
  • Added option to skip autopilot sequences in the galaxy map
  • Decreased the cost of remnant decryption keys and made them more accessible at merchants
  • Improved logic, timing, and continuity for relationships and story arcs
  • Improved lip-sync and facial acting during some conversations, including localized VO
  • Fixed an issue with Ryder’s movements when running in a zig zag pattern
  • Improved the appearance of eyes for human and asari characters
  • Fixed various collision issues
  • Fixed bugs where music or VO wouldn’t play or wasn’t correct
  • Fixed issue where global squad mate banter sometimes wasn’t firing on UNCs
  • Fixed issue where player was unable to access the Remnant Console Interface after failing decryption multiple times
  • Fixed issue where fast travel is sometimes disabled after recruiting Drack until the player reloads a save
  • Fixed issue where Ryder can become stuck in the start of Biotic Charge Pose
  • Fixes issues related to some saves
  • Fixed issue where objective sometimes becomes un-interactable for players in multiplayer
  • Streaming and stability improvements

More to come further down the line apparently, including improvements to dialogue.

46 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I can see that there is *a* difference between those two faces, but I couldn’t tell you which was better. They both just look like computer faces to me.
    Maybe I should pick ME:A up, clearly plastic faces don’t bother me.

    • Rich says:

      I’d give it a year or two. They’ll have ironed out as many of the kinks as they’re going to and it’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      I feel the same way whenever I see a before/after of someone doing a bunch of photoshop stuff to “make it look so much better”. Like, I have to PrntScrn and take out the color picker tool to find any differences.

    • Anti-Skub says:

      I know you wouldn’t realise it from reading the comments on the internet, but the animation really isn’t that big a deal, it’s really no worse than your average RPG. Fallout, Skyrim, Deus Ex, Dragon Age, none of these games have great face animations.

      It’s just the same old crap with people who haven’t played the game jumping on the bandwagon of shitting on it and just latching onto the most visible flaw.

      The animation isn’t good but it’s not a deal breaker. What is a deal breaker is the terrible writing, game breaking bugs, boring character, poor voice acting and tedious quest structure.

    • Furiant says:

      Your iris and pupil do not sit at the surface of the eyeball, but are recessed and concave like so. When light hits the front of the eye, it’s usually at a vertical angle, commonly from above. This produces a shadow at the top of the iris, which reveals the depth. The upper eyelid also contributes shadow. The opposite side of the iris will pick up the incident light, making it brighter.

      The difference you see is primarily more correct lighting and shadow on the iris. It looks like they also cleaned up the highlights (the sharp, usually white reflections on the eye’s surface, which are called “catch lights”) which indicate that the eye is wet.

      It’s a subtle change but means a world of difference in how believable the eye looks. Without proper shadows and highlights it looks flat, painted, and dead.

      • Hydrogene says:

        Thanks for the explanation! Now I can *see* why the eyes looked so wrong before.

    • epeternally says:

      I wasn’t too impressed by the screenshot comparison, but having played both before and after it looks dramatically better in game. Still not terribly realistic but undoubtedly improved.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    With some goodwill you can chalk that “My face is tired” line up to someone being too tired to maintain proper grammar.

  3. Seafoam says:

    Panicked damage control, but the damage has already been done.

    • Ghostwise says:

      It’s not uncommon these days to have games that were released too early for financial/corporate reasons to be patched into pretty good shape. And then there’s mods.

      There even are examples of studios re-recording large amounts of voiced dialogues, or redoing a flubbed and rushed sequence (like the very first version of the ME3 endings), for quality reasons. Voice talent isn’t that expensive, leaving aside the matter of the residuals.

      • Paxeh says:

        This gets me really riled up whenever I read this argument. Why would this be a good thing? It’s obtuse and extremely bad practice.

        Why should we, as consumers, accept the “oh but it will be patched soon, also there are mods” angle for a 60 euro game?

        No – I want a working game. Not something that will be patched “later on”. I won’t pay full price for something that’s not what it says it should be and neither should you. And before someone accuses me of entitlement: I work hard for those 60 euros, and in my line of work the product has to be good when I ship it and not mediocre “because financial/corporate reasons” – or else my clients will go to my competitor.

        • Ghostwise says:

          A statement that numerous precedents exist doesn’t signify or imply that these precedents are a good thing. It means that they exist.

          Also, it’s well established by now that buying games at full price and too shortly after release isn’t quite an optimal use of one’s heard-earned money. One can resent that, but resentment doesn’t change the facts.

        • Rich says:

          As a consumer, your response should be simple: never, ever pre-order. Indeed, never buy anything within the first year of release. If everyone did this then the publishers/devs. would have to change their behaviour… of course they might just stop producing patches.

          • Person of Interest says:

            On the contrary: if no one buys anything until a year after release, there will be no incentive to launch with a polished, bug-free game. It only punishes the studios/publishers that make sure their v1.0 is as good as it can be.

            A better policy: wait for reviews and don’t buy unfinished games.

        • Premium User Badge

          Masked Dave says:

          I don’t believe they are suggesting your should buy it now on the promise of fixes and mods to come, but rather wait and see if they do first. After all, if people buy the game anyway then there is no incentive to actually fix it.

          I believe that Ghostwise is simply expressing that it is not beyond doubt that it may be fixed.

  4. ElementalAlchemist says:

    I’ve seen the change referred to as an ‘eye shader’, but truth be told I don’t know either if that’s the correct term or how much of a rejigger it entails.

    Yes, shader is the correct term. Look at this example from Unreal Engine 4 – link to i.imgur.com The compiled (i.e. in-game) version of the material on the right is a series of shader instructions sent to the GPU. While they may have tweaked some of the input textures, the shader is where the real magic happens for eyes.

    The real question is why they didn’t have this sorted out from the start. They should have had all of DAI’s setups to use as a base. It’s odd they went backwards.

    • Premium User Badge

      Masked Dave says:

      It’s also odd that at no point did one of the senior creative people at Bioware think, “lets give the core script for this a bit of a read, see if it’s any good.”

  5. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    I played Fallout 4 with “The eyes of beauty” mod which makes a big difference. The characters look so much better with that mod.

    • Ghostwise says:

      There are similar mods for FO3, and Skyrim, and perhaps older Beth games.

      The notion that this could form a pattern is of course absurd.

      • Rosveen says:

        It doesn’t really say anything. Bethesda could make a game with the highest quality character models and textures on the market and there’d still be people releasing body mods (half of them M-rated). Just the reality of Bethesda modding scene. In case of The Eyes Of Beauty, a large part of this mod are new eye colors, particularly heterochromia. There’s nothing wrong with the default eyes though, unlike in Andromeda.

  6. causticnl says:

    its all about the eyecandy

  7. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    The eyes be patched already?!
    *glares at screenshots*
    Mmmm, aye, and a world o’ difference it makes, too.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Benratha says:

    “I’ve seen the change referred to as an ‘eye shader’….”. But you missed the opportunity for “eye patch”?

    • Ghostwise says:

      Right-hand column of RPS, under “News and Things”.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        Man alive, there must be half a dozen extra subtitle/pun fields in whatever WordPress plug-ins RPS is using! I don’t get to see that one on my mobile unless I switch it to desktop mode, unless it’s the same pun field which normally appears next to RPS Feature headers, which this article doesn’t have.

  9. DThor says:

    The eyes are the window of the soul – so true, and such a thunderingly obvious fact to anyone making digital characters it’s basically a given. Why this essentially easy upgrade didn’t happen way back before gameplay videos started to be released boggles the mind.
    I still see all this as polishing a turd. This isn’t a great story stained by technical are design glitches, it’s a derivative, badly written exercise in tedium stained by glitches.
    I know it’s a different sort of game but I was playing a bit of the last Uncharted last night (I rarely play console) and was blown away by the facial expressions and general mocap work. It made me think of ME and how pathetic it looked in comparison.

    • Premium User Badge

      Frog says:

      I’m agree with the polishing a turd thought; I don’t see what Bioware can do with this thing. The core of the game; writing, character development, story, is just bad. They should have maybe just scrapped it a year or two ago. I actually liked the ME universe to preorder this thing. Sigh. After MEA and Inquisition, I’m done with Bioware. I don’t know who they are or who they are catering to anymore, it isn’t me though.

  10. golem09 says:

    I’m glad Persona 5 will keep me busy for quite some time. Then I can play this once they fixed it up properly.

  11. PiiSmith says:

    I am baffled, that no-one in the comments up to now, has in called this the eye patch.

  12. anevilyak says:

    The line “‘applied with a hose from five metres away’ makeup effect” made me laugh far harder than I care to admit.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Frog says:

    Ok, so this is where I am at. I put in about 40 hours into the game so far and then I stopped. I realized that the game was really not much fun.
    I don’t care about all the weird looking, tattooed, weak, characters running around the world. Pathfinder included. I don’t care about the gay and transsexual characters or whether their portrayal is “authentic” or whether Bioware apologizes for portraying them in some wrong way.
    The story is lame to me, a bag of cliches. The concept of the pathfinder is silly. The quests are mostly bad; deploy 6 sensors in random locations and such.
    Admittedly, the gunplay is ok, the graphics are mostly nice. But in the end, the game seem like a stupid use of my time. I’m running a guy I don’t care for, doing repetitive things for people I don’t like or care about. I don’t think I’ll fire up the game again and don’t think Bioware can fix it for me. I liked the previous ME games a lot, warts and all. I got attached to the characters and their struggles and enjoyed the story line. Not so here. Maybe it’s just me, I suppose I’m older than I was at ME1. I dunno.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Masked Dave says:

    I’m fascinated to see how far they can correct people’s lack of emotional engagement with characters without changing any of the dialogue or voice acting. Not saying that they shouldn’t fix those things, but it’ll make a really interesting case study in a few years time!

    • Hoot says:

      If they replaced the cockney (Liam, whose voice actor should never be considered for another voice acting job) with someone who didn’t sound so disconnected from the script and boring all the time (I’m thinking Idris Elba, if they can get Natalie Dormer in then they can get him in) and they replaced the Scot (the science girl who also can’t voice act) with a proper Scot like Kate Dickie or Rose Leslie or someone then that would be a significant improvement.

      It won’t fix the trite and juvenile script, but at least it will be delivered with some talent despite how bad it is.

      EDIT :- I just want to say how much I hated the character of Liam from the first minute he opened his mouth. Absolute goon.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Well, they would also have to replace all the Angaran Australian accents too. That is just so weird. I don’t know why game companies don’t realize that it’s better to just pick one accent and stick with it for continuity. If everyone in the game spoke with that accent it wouldn’t be so jarring.

        • matthewfupp says:

          I’m pretty sure there’s some dialogue somewhere that says that Angarans have developed different dialects because they live on a bunch of different planets. Guess one of those translates to Australian with whatever translator technology the humans have going.

      • Von Uber says:

        Suvi’s voice actress comes from Glasgow.

        • Hoot says:

          I never said she wasn’t a Scot. I merely said she needs to replaced with a Scot who can voice act.

  15. TheGrumpieGnome says:

    Anyone want to bring up the fact that probably 70% of the voices are either English, Irish, or Scottish?

  16. HZCH says:

    I was a fan of the Mass Effect Trilogy, so I’ve watched a bunch of before/ after videos : you’re right Mr. Meer, those acting entities now more look like aspiring androids than some faces you’d meet in a strange nightmare in which clowns are passing a casting for ME:A…

    Then, I realised something : their “acting” actually remind me of Dragon Age: Origins, that I loved too. Except it’s 2017.