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Mass Effect's graphical remaster is more than lens flare - but does it look better?

A new trailer compares the original trilogy to its upgrade

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition has the tough job of upgrading the visual appearance of games originally built to run at 720 or 1080p on an Xbox 360. That's a mammoth task even if it was just one game and not the entire Mass Effect trilogy.

A new trailer and blog post on the remaster's official site breaks down how BioWare went about upscaling 30,000 textures, and shows exactly how the results look.

The results look... pretty good, I think?

BioWare's post on how they did it is fascinating. They split the process into three parts. In the first, they catalogued every asset in the entire game, appraised its quality, and then set about modifying the textures. They increased the engine's limits on texture size and used "an AI up-res program" to increase the original uncompressed textures to four times their original size.

Next, they turned their attention to characters and props. Higher resolution models created for later games and DLC were used as a base and polished further. The character models look like some of the best improvements in the trailer above - circular elements on outfits that were previously a textured smudge are now rendered with actual polygons, and the faces are far sharper. "They would frequently take an asset back to its original high-poly sculpt, focus on achieving a consistent texture resolution, add supporting 3D geometry where needed, and fix errors with baked normal maps or texture mapping," reads the post.

Lastly, they turned to the levels themselves, working with the original trilogy's art director to refine the series' major locations. There's been an obvious effort to not just polish the game with ambient occlusion and depth of field effects, but to maintain and better deliver the original artistic intention of those areas.

That's better than most upscaling efforts, particularly those that use AI. The scenes shown in the trailer and the comparison screenshots in the post look brighter than in the originals, making them occasionally flatter, but usually much less muddy. The picture of Captain Anderson at the top of this post is a fair example of both: the lighting is less dramatic in the Legendary Edition, but I think it's better overall.

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