Mass Effect Tweak Guide
[Page 4] Patches, Activation & Mods
A recent 1.02 Patch has been released for Mass Effect. The patch primarily fixes a range of bugs, including audio-related issues, and also changes the activation procedure slightly - see further below for details. The patch also appears to affect dynamic shadows - see dynamic shadows on the next page for more details. Note that installing the patch may reset all your settings back to the game defaults.
Remember that the installation of any updates for Mass Effect may require that the game be re-activated over the Internet - see below for full details of Activation. Note that I will update this section accordingly with details of any new patches so check back often or keep an eye on the front page of this site.
Since Mass Effect is a single-player game with no multiplayer component, and thus is generally more susceptible to piracy, BioWare/EA have decided that the best way to protect it is to incorporate an online verification system into the game. This type of online 'Activation' is similar in theory to that used in both Windows XP and Vista, as well as games like BioShock (details here) and even Valve's Steam content delivery/Digital Rights Management (DRM) platform. The specific protection method used for Mass Effect is based on SecuROM technology, and details of how it works are provided in this Mass Effect Activation FAQ.
Because many people are concerned about Mass Effect's Activation process, below is a step-by-step rundown of how it works:
1. The user installs the game as normal, entering their serial number. At this point no checks are made, so uninstalling and reinstalling the game can be done as many times as desired. Note that installing the game installs SecuROM, however SecuROM is not spyware and does not run in the background when the game is not active.
2. Upon double-clicking on the game's desktop icon, a Launcher initiates, providing a range of options.
3. The very first time the option to Play is chosen from the launcher, or the main MassEffect.exe executable found under the \Program Files\Mass Effect\Binaries directory is run, the game begins the Activation process.
4. The user must be connected to the Internet for the Activation process to succeed. The first time the game is launched it will connect to EA's SecuROM server and verify that the serial number entered during installation is legitimate. No personal information is taken from your computer. There are no prompts or progress indicators - if the process is successful you will eventually arrive at the intro movies and finally the main game menu; note that this may take a minute or two while it appears the game has hung.
5. If the process fails, you may receive an error message, or you may simply see a frozen black screen or get a crash. Typically you must ensure the following:
You have an active Internet connection. Your Firewall is not blocking the game's connection attempts. You do not have more than 3 separate installations of the game at the same time. You are not running the Process Explorer utility from Sysinternals in the background. You are not running any emulation software or software designed to bypass SecuROM. If running under Vista with UAC enabled, try launching the game by right-clicking on the main executable and selecting 'Run as Administrator'.
One major benefit of this process is that due to online verification, BioWare/EA have removed any disk checks for Mass Effect; you do not need to keep your DVD in the drive while playing.
It is important to note that although initially BioWare/EA had planned for regular 10-day Activation checks, this was dropped before release. Instead now Activation only occurs the first time the game is run, and again whenever new content such as a patch is downloaded and added to the game. So the only time you need to have an active Internet connection is the first run of the game and when updating it. At all other times, you can play the game while online or offline and not worry about any checks.
Note however that there is a 3 Activation limit, which essentially limits you to only having 3 concurrent installations of the game. This is not the same as only being able to install the game three times. If you have any problems with Activations, see the FAQ link above, as well as the Troubleshooting Tips section of this guide for more details and links to EA Support resources. For example if you require more than 3 Activations for a legitimate reason, BioWare has said that EA Support will provide you with this.
In terms of concerns over whether EA/BioWare will maintain this protection in the future, and what will happen if they take down their SecuROM servers, it has been hinted quite strongly that they will remove the protection in the future, probably via a patch, if they feel they can no longer support the game. So concerns that you won't be able to play your legitimately purchased game later on appear to be unfounded.
Update: As of the 1.02 Patch the following changes have been made to activation of Mass Effect:
To manually use the SecuROM activation revoke ability, make sure the 1.02 Patch has been installed, then go to the \Program Files\Mass Effect\Binaries directory. You will need to run the command MassEffect.exe -ead_gl_remove to manually revoke an activation. One way to do this is to right-click on MassEffect.exe select Send To>Desktop, then on the Desktop right-click the new MassEffect.exe icon, select Properties, and in the Target box leave one blank space after the last character and add -ead_gl_remove and click Apply, then OK, then launch the icon to revoke the activation. Delete the icon when finished.
Note: There is a known issue where some users will encounter an incorrect error during uninstallation stating "There is a problem with verifying ownership of your game". BioWare recommends that in the majority of cases this error can be ignored as uninstallation will have completed successfully.
Ultimately while this form of DRM might be an annoyance to some users, for the most part it is fairly straightforward and does not require any user input or action to work. The benefits include the removal of the DVD check common to most other games, and the fact that there appears to be no performance impact on the game itself. At least within the first week of release, this protection method was successful in making it difficult for people to play pirated versions without various problems. Hopefully more people have considered actually paying for the games they play as a result, as Mass Effect is definitely worth the purchase price.
There is no editing software for Mass Effect, so Mods will be difficult to create and hence download. If any prominent modifications are released I will list them here. For the moment if you wish to modify the gameplay parameters of Mass Effect, look to the Advanced Tweaking chapter of this guide for details of how you can do so.
However Mass Effect owners can download official Downloadable Content (DLC) for the game here. The first DLC is called Bring Down The Sky and is available for free, however note that it requires registration to the BioWare Community Forums and subsequent verification of your CD Key before you then receive a new CD key specifically to be used for installing the DLC. To access and begin the DLC, once in Mass Effect go to the 'Downloadable Content' option in the main menu for instructions.
A second DLC called Pinnacle Station has been released for Mass Effect, however it is not free. It can be found on the Electronic Arts Store site. You will need to install the 1.02 Patch before using the DLC.
The next section begins our detailed look at Mass Effect's in-game settings.