Mass Effect turns 15 on November 20 and has an unofficial Twitter account Mass Effect News (opens in new tab) celebrated this by collecting some of his prototypes of art, video and documents. While none of this is new (the scan of the Pitch paper from 2003 (opens in new tab) has been floating around the internet for over a decade), it’s still interesting to look back at how much has changed.
For starters, when Casey Hudson submitted that pitch on September 15, 2003, it was for a game that wouldn’t be called Mass Effect, but “SFX.” Other proposed titles came later, several of which made it logos designed (opens in new tab)such as The Epsilon Effect, Biowar, Element Zero, Element, The Oculon, The Optigon, Unearthed, Nebula: Guardians of the Citadel, Star Citadel and plain old The Citadel.
One of the key features of SFX was multiplayer trading, with a full online economy powered by Xbox Live in which “you can meet online friends at special locations in the game to chat and trade valuable items in a virtual environment .” This would allow players to “create powerful items unavailable without online trading” and earn money through a “dynamic in-game economy”. It sounds a bit like EVE Online, or maybe a contemporary live service game, especially when it comes to additions made possible through regular updates like “new locations, special items, new quests, and online news updates on the top players.”
Much of what the pitch describes is the same as what we ended up with, from the basics of the setting to the idea of gameplay that builds on what BioWare did before with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, only “made more accessible to the mainstream audience.” Specifics such as having a “small party of 2 or 3, selected from a larger group” and exploring the galaxy through “Jump Gates” that allow for long distance travel, while local travel is possible with the FTL drive on aboard your ship, were well there from the start – with minor differences, some of which would eventually be realized in Mass Effect 2. Your spaceship can be upgraded for one, as well as the ability to switch to other party members in combat.
The early plot outline, dated January 8, 2004, also includes many of the basics of the setting. That said, it describes Earth as the game’s starting location, after which your home base would be a space station called “Star City” rather than the Citadel, and from which you could “set up new jump stations and cross the galactic frontier”. The twist you’d discover while searching the galaxy for artifacts of a vanished creator species that technology left behind would be that “humans were designed millennia ago as the slave class of the creator race.”
The thread also bundles into the first prototype images of SFX (opens in new tab), showing that shooting people behind crates in warehouses was part of Mass Effect from the start. It also includes a video compiling gameplay trailers from much later in development that include things that were eventually cut from the first game, such as destructible environments (opens in new tab)direct control of squad members in combat, and a mission on a mining world called Caleston (opens in new tab) that would fold into Liara’s rescue mission on Therum – complete with a scene where Shepard uses a renegade interrupt on Garrus (opens in new tab) in the middle of the dialogue.
It’s fun to look back at how it started as we wait to hear more about where Mass Effect is headed next. The latest news on that front came on N7 Day, when BioWare released a video with a hidden message (opens in new tab) coded in it. Last year, BioWare celebrated the occasion with a teaser image that says “Mass Effect will continue” (opens in new tab). At the bottom of that photo was a spaceship that will presumably be ours to fly in the next Mass Effect. And the name stenciled on the side of that ship? “SFX”, in honor of the name Mass Effect almost had.