Lies, damned lies and Mass Effect 3 DLC

Has BioWare's ire-raising "From Ashes" DLC been in development far longer than they claim?

Approximately two weeks back there was a lot of hubbub and furore when the “From Ashes” DLC for Mass Effect 3 – free for Collector’s Edition buyers or 800 Microsoft moon-coins otherwise – became prematurely available for download on Xbox Live. It disappeared shortly afterwards but too late to avoid notice and kick off a controversy. Fans saw it as confirmation of the much-despised Day 1 DLC phenomena, angrily accusing BioWare of segregating content from the main game behind a paywall to make a few extra shekels. BioWare responded with the claim that work on Mass Effect 3 was completed in January, and that the “From Ashes” DLC was finished in the ensuing three-month period. The exact quotes from Executive Producer Casey Hudson, made via twitter, were as follows.

[We] completed the game in January & moved onto the ‘From Ashes’ DLC…It takes about 3 months from ‘content complete’ to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC.

BioWare’s Michael Gamble also commented on the official BioWare forums to say roughly the same thing: that “From Ashes” was developed separately and not finished until after work had been completed on Mass Effect 3. Call my cynical but I found this story a tad hard to swallow. Despite my best attempts to avoid any and all spoilers about ME3 I was aware that some important content in “From Ashes,” specifically the unique Prothean team mate it gives you, had been leaked as far back as July last year. The DLC may not have been finished until after work on ME3 had finished but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t already in development before then. Finishing development of a piece DLC for a triple-A title in only 3 months, particularly one that ties in firmly with the rest of the game, seemed far-fetched.

Gaming blog Crystal Prison Zone claims to have unearthed evidence suggesting the black-hearted cynical devil on my shoulder was right all along. With the release of the final game in North America and other countries that get games before PAL regions do, fans have been poking around in the game’s files as fans of a nerdy bent are wont to do. What they’ve discovered suggests the Prothean team mate in “From Ashes” has been present in the game for far longer than BioWare claim he has, which many had already suspected yet couldn’t prove.

“For instance, the build which leaked in November, the official demo, and now the standard retail release of Mass Effect 3 all contain voice files for the Prothean squad member. There’s also a full set of model and animation files for the Prothean, but file encryption makes it impossible to open these for further inspection. These files are just as big as they are for other, non-DLC characters, suggesting that the art, animation, and voice assets for the DLC character were developed at the same time, not after the completion of the project.”

So not only has the Prothean squad member potentially been in the game since at least November, about two months before BioWare officially “finished” work on Mass Effect 3, he’s already on the disc. If that is the case then what, exactly, are consumers who buy and download “From Ashes” separately actually paying for? As Crystal Prison put it, “If these assets were developed after end of development, they would have to be downloaded – not unlocked directly from the disc.”

Now the pre-existing Prothean files could feasibly be placeholder files padded out with “junk data” that are replaced when you download the DLC. If that’s the case however then why allocate him precious space on the disc at all? Surely the whole point of downloadable content is you need to chuffing well download it. What if the 560mb DLC file is itself mostly junk data surrounding a tiny, crunchy content-unlocking core? Are we being made to pay extra to access content that is already on the disc we purchase in stores or online? Whatever the case it seems to run very fucking contrary indeed to BioWare’s claims that “From Ashes” and its unique squaddie was only developed after work on the main game had finished.

If these are the actual Prothean squad member assets used in the game, kept encrypted until we pay for a magic downloadable space key, this Day 1 DLC is even more cynical than I imagined. It’s bad enough having what could potentially be an important part of the Mass Effect lore partitioned off and sold for extra money (whether you get the Collector’s Edition or buy the DLC on its own you’re still paying extra for it). Finding out he was planned to be part of the main game very early on, to the point where all the assets for him are still on the fucking disc, is just taking the bloody piss.

So what’s the story BioWare? Was “From Ashes” and its unique Prothean squad mate genuinely developed after work on ME3 had finished, as you claim? Or have you in fact been fibbing to us this whole time? Did EA put you up to this? Come on, you can tell us. All we want is a bit of transparency because we’re kind of getting mixed signals here.

Source: Crystal Prison Zone


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Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.