Daniel Lemire's blog

, 4 min read

The technology of Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda is the long-awaited sequel to the popular Mass Effect video game series. It is available to a game console near you. It was given a rough time by the critics and many users.

The game is set in the far future of humanity. Human beings are starting to colonize a new galaxy. I don’t mean a new star system… no… literally a new galaxy. The action is set in 2819, but it took 634 years to get to the new galaxy, so the technology is something like 200 years in our future. But the story relies on the fact that we found artifacts on Mars that propelled us hundreds of years ahead technologically. There is also intense trade with advanced races. All in all, we should expect these people to be many centuries ahead of where we might be if we just develop technologically in isolation without convenient artifacts on Mars.

Hundreds of years of technology is a lot. A hundred years ago, there were horses in New York City.

So what can we learn?

  • They have not yet invented the smartphone: you need to physically walk to a console to check your emails. Thankfully, consoles that look more or less like a modern-day PC are everywhere.
  • The main character has an implant that allows her or him to have augmented reality functions. She or he can see conduits behind walls, or point at an object and get an identification. Oddly, it seems that very few people have such implants. Technicians do not appear to be so equipped. So maybe it is very expensive?
  • Many people use fancy gauntlets as a user interface to access computers. It looks like a holographic keyboard on your arm. If you can project holographic interfaces, why would you project them on your arm specifically? Note that everyone, not just you, can see the holographic display, so it is not augmented reality.
  • The game is incredibly techno-optimistic regarding space travel. Human beings that are, as far as we can tell, nearly indistinguishable from us, make it safe and sound to another galaxy.- Our characters are constantly exposed to near-lethal levels of radiations, but they do not seem to worry about things like… cancer? So we can realistic think that radiation-related cancer has been cured somehow? Maybe there has been some genetic engineering of some kind?
  • For historical reasons, artificial intelligence (AI) is generally regarded with suspicion. There are automated AI-like user interfaces in the form of holograms, but they appear to have the intelligence of Commodore 64. One program has a level of sentience but it must be large or requiring a lot of energy because it is stuck in a ship, occupying a very large room. That seems unrealistic. We have no reason to believe that the powerful computers of the future will be especially large.

I find it very odd that people who develop video games can’t imagine the future of computing as more or less what we have today.- There are no robots. Or rather, the robots are part of exotic technologies. Or they live independently.

Yeah. Right. We have, today, colonized Mars with robots. There is no way that the future will have fewer robots. There is a back story in Mass Effect to explain why they do not have sentient robots, but they don’t even have robots to clean the floors like we do in 2017!

  • Programmers centuries from now still debug code using line numbers. Scary thought.- Though we meet many people who survived major battles, nobody seems to be equipped with artificial organs or limbs. You’d think we would see people with artificial legs or arms? Or maybe they are just very good at regrowing limbs and organs?
  • Starships rely on human pilots.
  • One medical doctor complains about arthritis and being unable to work on the battlefield due to his age. He hints that he recently reached 40 years of age and does not appear particularly frail. Other characters have noticeably old skin. Are they in short supply of anti-wrinkle cream? Yet we never meet people who are frail due to aging. So it is conceivable that if our 40-something doctor complains of arthritis and not being much good on the battlefield, it might be that he is simply too scared. That is, I could imagine that long after we will have cured arthritis, people of a certain age will use it as an excuse to get out of some tasks. Also, characters could let their skin go to hell to show their character? Looking older could be advantageous in some leadership positions. The game features people with advanced “biotic” powers that allow them, for example, to jump at an enemy from a distance. Clearly, these people benefited from some form of genetic engineering or the equivalent.

What did I think of the game? I like it. The game itself is nothing special. It is a run-of-the-mill RPG, with a good shooter. Basically, it is yet another Mass Effect game. But it is really pretty! You get to drive a 6-wheel monster… shoot at things… it is great fun if you are patient enough.