The Art of the Mass Effect Universe
shows art from all stages of development, from rough sketches all the way to the
final in-game CGI, and it has lots of developer commentary. Overall it’s an
average video game art book. This review will cover the quality of the physical
book itself, the content of the book, the aesthetics, and the nostalgia evoke by
the book. I’ll also talk about how it provides
insight into the development of the games. Let’s start with the quality of
the physical book. The pages are 9 inches by 12 inches. It has around 180 pages with art on them. The quality of the covers, pages, and images are about average. So
overall the quality of the physical book is about average.
Alright, what about the content of the book? Let’s start with how much variety
there is in the images. There’s early development sketches, some parts that
show how sketches were created ,finalized concept art, and what appear to be
in-game images. Each game has art for characters,
locations, and some other art assets like ships and guns. I think the organization
makes sense and the bottom of each page labels where you’re at, which is nice. Is
there any writing or insight from the artists and developers themselves? Yeah.
It’s unclear which developer is writing which caption, but apparently they’re all
written by the art director and executive producer. A lot of the captions
add insight into the art design. For example, here’s a bunch of sketches for
the Shadow Broker. They write that they wanted it to be something inhuman
and alien that would be a new and frightening challenge for Shepard. You
can look through the sketches and, because of the developer commentary, you
can better understand why they picked the image that they did. A lot of the
commentaries like this and it’s like having a tour guide with you as you look
through the book. Since they’re describing the design decisions they
made I found it pretty engaging. Does this book have what you want it to
have? Well, I wanted to see how they came up with so many distinct alien species,
and this book addresses that, which is great! There’s also a fair amount of
focus on individual character designs. In general, I think this is good since the
characters are a major part of the gameplay experience.
I really like there’s a lot of commentary from the developers about all
sorts of stuff, including little bits of trivia. For example, Shepherd’s Armor was
originally going to be red and white, but they thought s/he looked too much like a
medic. Another little piece of trivia is that
an unused version of the Citadel was re-purposed, and it was used for the final
design for the mass relays. As far as what I would want to have in
this book: while it’s nice to have all three games in the same book, there just
isn’t enough content overall for such a huge series. On average there’s only
about 60 pages per game, and the games are humongous.
Well, even though the book lacks in quantity,
I think the quality of what’s in the book is pretty good.
On to the aesthetics. They’re pretty good. There’s nothing visually offensive. It is
yet another video game art book that would have benefited from a wide format
as many images are wide set. It does have a lot of full-page artwork. one thing
that isn’t ideal is that the cover feels a bit plastick-y, and thus a little bit less fancy than the average art book. (Annoying squeking sound) How about the nostalgia factor? Well, in general, seeing
the images bring back some nostalgia, but the glimpses are so brief that there
isn’t enough room for a nostalgia to really settle in. I mean, there might be
just one page for a whole planet. I will say that seeing all the alien
species getting developed give me a nostalgic feeling, as well as seeing the
main characters. Overall I wouldn’t say the book really
reminded me that much of the experience of playing the games, nor did it cause
me and want to replay them. It just focuses on some specific things. It was
more interesting than nostalgic. The book offers a lot of insight into
the game and art design. Here are some examples: they write about the challenge
of designing things like a suit – that’s recognizable as a formal suit – but
doesn’t conform to any particular era of Earth.
The intro mentions that the series has over 10,000 concept sketches including
over 200 just for Shepard’s helmet. I guess they were really trying to get it
just right at the start. I think that also shows they could have made a bigger
book, by the way. I personally find it amazing that they
could invent new species, and then give them easily recognizable facial
expressions. I mean, there’s some really talented and creative people in the
gaming industry. I found it interesting how gameplay
designers can impact the art direction. For example, here they talked about how
they planned for the Elusive Man to transform into a monstrosity for a
battle, but they scrapped this idea when they decided they wanted the player to
have the satisfaction of fighting something they’ve been familiar with
rather than just some random monster. More than once the developers mentioned
that technological and animation restraints impacted how they design
things, including species like the Krogan. Apparently certain things just couldn’t
be animated properly, and I’m assuming that’s why so many characters are
wearing armor that’s rigid. Well, overall I think this book doesn’t
quite do the Mass Effect series justice, but there is still a lot here to like. Different people want different things
in video game art books, but I hope this review has been helpful in showing you
what you can expect from this book. As always if you have any complaints about
this video please feel free to contact my customer support center. (Persona 4 “Victory” music until end of video.)