|This article has been updated for ME3Explorer v3.0.|
This article is designed to be a brief primer for players new to the toolset and Mass Effect modding, in general. Topics include the main file types found in the trilogy, desirable mod formats, and basic guidance on mod install order.
While there is some overlap, mods for Mass Effect — especially Mass Effect 3 — generally fit into one of the following categories:
These mods alter a specific game file (Coalesced.bin) and tend to focus on things like editing powers, weapons, squad loadouts, UI scale and other aspects of the game that are GUI or gameplay related. Coalesced modding is popular as it's relatively simple and several GUI-friendly tools exist to alter the game in this manner. Coalesced mods are ideally distributed as DLC mods, since this will allow all other coalesced edits to co-exist alongside it. AVPen's Improved Fitness and Encumbrance mod is a coalesced mod.
|Unlike the latter installments to the trilogy Mass Effect lacks a Coalesced.bin, and houses comparable settings inside individual INI files.|
Texture and/or Mesh Mods
These mods alter the appearancees of game texture and mesh assets. Clothing, armor, faces, hair, environments, etc. Similar to coalesced mods, texture mods don't require the toolset for creation or use. Textures can be both extracted and applied via Texmod or the toolset.
Textures for installation with the toolset should always be distributed as TPF, METPF, or raw DDS files. Meshes should always be distributed as MOD (or DLC mod) files — never as UPK or PSK files. More on these file types and mod formats below. Ottemis's EDI Default Outfit is a mesh and texture mod.
Content mods alter the game's story content. In ME2/3, this data is primarily contained in PCC, CND, and TLK files; in ME1, primarily SFM, U, and UPK files. The toolset is required to create these mods, and often to install them. Typically, content mods are distributed as DLC mods, though sometimes as MOD files or just raw PCCs. Sometimes the mod's creator will bundle the content into an automated installer to ease installation. MEHEM, BackOff, and the Expanded Galaxy Mod are all examples of content mods.
Most file types listed below are used in both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect's file structure is significantly different from the later installments of the trilogy and is discussed in the Other Files and Formats section.
Audio File Caches contain audio files. Each dialogue file in the base game has its own AFC, so it's common to see several replaced in mods that alter dialogue. DLCs only contain two AFC files, one for dialogue (localized) and one for music and sound effects. Due to this, it's not desirable to have a single mod replace an entire DLC AFC.
There are a few different BIN files, but the one relevant to modding is the Coalesced.bin. A plethora of game content (both combat and story-related) is controlled by this single file, so many players like to tweak their own. For this reason, it's not ideal for any mod to replace the base game coalesced, unless it's specifically a coalesced mod. Story mods can add/remove content from the game by implementing a new coalesced via the DLC mod method, as each DLC contains its own version of this file.
Another BIN file of note for ME3 is the PCConsoleTOC.bin located inside ..\BIOGame\. Each DLC has a similar file in a similar location inside the SFAR (until extracted). The PCConsoleTOC.bin contains an "inventory" of all ME3 files and their sizes. Whenever a new file is added to the game or an existing file changes size, this file must be updated or the game will crash at launch. For information on how to run a TOC update, see TOC Tools.
Unique to ME3, this is the "Conditionals" file. Similar to both the Coalesced.bin and the PCConsoleTOC.bin, there is one for the base game and one for each DLC. It contains all conditional IDs used by the game to control plot and conversations. When you "gibb" in plot bools, these are the same plot bools used in conditionals.
BioWare CNDs shouldn't be altered by any mod, since changes by multiple mods will result in incompatibilities. Instead, mods that add or change conditionals should do so via the DLC mod method.
This is the predominant file type for Mass Effect 2 & 3. PCCs are file "packages" that have a compressed structure, somewhat similar to a ZIP file. Each one contains hundreds, if not thousands, of individual assets that help create the game world.
Edits to PCCs create the largest opportunity for mod conflicts, since all mods but the most basic coalesced mod will alter at least one PCC. Distributing a mod via the MOD format can avoid this, but most content mods end up so large that this becomes impractical and/or impossible. DLC mod distribution avoids issues with overwriting vanilla files, but in the case of two mods editing the same PCC, one will always take precedence and override the others (this is determined by the DLC's "mount priority"). In these cases, compatibility between the conflicting mod can only be remedied by the mod authors working together to implement a patch.
When using MODs, PCCs, and TPFs side-by-side, PCCs (and therefore DLC mods) should always be installed first. This is because MODs and TPFs can do specific replacements inside modded PCCs to keep previous changes intact. As long as they don't edit the same data inside the PCC (a dialogue, a texture reference, etc), they will be compatible.
BioWare packages each ME3 DLC into a Default.sfar. SFARs are highly compressed (and with some DRM to boot), but retain an inner folder structure identical to the base game ..\BIOGame\ directory. PCCs contained in SFARs will override those with identical names in the base game.
Mods should never, ever come packaged in SFAR format. In addition, starting with revision 738, the toolset will strongly encourage you to fully unpack all DLC SFARs upon first use.
Texture File Caches are the AFC equivalent for textures. Mass Effect 3's base game has four different TFCs that store all non-GUI textures in the game (GUI textures are contained in PCCs). Most textures affected by mods are stored in Textures.tfc. Each DLC has their own TFC, and DLC mods often come bundled with their own, as well.
.TLKThe TLK contains all in-game text, and thus, is localized per your install. The International Version of Mass Effect 3 comes with seven versions of this file for a variety of languages, however, only one is used at a time. Any two mods that edit the same TLK will be incompatible, therefore all TLK edits should be implemented via DLC mods. The only other way to create compatibility is to edit the TLK yourself, combining edits for different mods together.
There are relatively few mod formats you'll encounter while browsing the web for Mass Effect mods. Most will be distributed as loose files of the various types above, or bundled into one of the mod formats below. These are the only file/mod types usable with ME3Explorer.
As discussed in the ME3Explorer Setup Guide, most mods installed with ME3Explorer cannot be "uninstalled." The exception to this rule are DLC mods and any mods made with the toolset that are bundled into an automated installer. The latter usually also comes with an uninstaller; the former can be "uninstalled" by simply deleting the mod's DLC folder. Always follow any instructions that come with the mod.
MOD files package game resources for install with ModMaker. Textures, meshes, and story content for ME3 can all be contained in this mod format. As of v2.0, MOD files are not yet implemented for ME1 or ME2.
MOD files are useful because they allow for multiple mods that edit the same PCC to be compatible. Their biggest drawback is that they are somewhat revision-dependent. This is due to the install scripts inside the MOD, which can deprecate due to changes in the underlying code of the toolset. As a result, MOD files for texture mods are no longer considered "best practice"; TPFs are the favored format. MOD files, however, are the recommended method of installing mesh mods, and are similarly useful for small content mods. For more information about MOD files and installing them, see ModMaker.
Texmod Package Files package textures for use with games run through Texmod. ME3Explorer's TPF Tools is also capable of using this format to permanently install new textures into files for all three games. As stated above, TPFs are recommended over MODs, as they are not revision-sensitive. See Textures in Mass Effect and TPF Tools for more information about the toolset, TPFs, and Texmod.
Not a mod format, per se, but Mass Effect uses this file type for its textures. The Direct Draw Surface file is a raw texture that can be edited in most image editors (Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, Paint.NET, etc). DDS files may be packaged into TPFs for distribution, but are perfectly usable with Texplorer or TPF Tools. See Textures in Mass Effect for more information about DDS files.
DLC Mods are a mod format unlike all those above. Rather than consisting of a single file, they contain a full folder structure identical to an uncompressed ME3 DLC SFAR, and are placed in the same directory as all other ME2/3 DLC. Inside the DLC mod's folder are multiple modded files that may include any of the file types discussed above. These files override — not overwrite — all base game and BioWare DLC files, according to the "mount priority" specified by the mod author.
DLC mod packages are the ideal format for large content mods too unwieldy for MOD files, or that contain edits MOD files are not currently capable of handling. DLC mod files can be scanned by Texplorer, built into a me#tree.bin, and modded with textures. MOD files may be installed over them, as long as they are specifically made for the DLC mod. The only drawback of DLC mods are potential conflicts with other mods that change the same game assets. When this occurs, it's up to the mod authors to decide if they want to create a compatibility patch. If they choose not to, the user must decide which mod they prefer to use.
|To disable a DLC mod, place any prefix in front of its DLC folder name (e.g., "DLC_CON_THANEMOD" becomes "off_DLC_CON_THANEMOD"). This will force the game ignore the mod.|
Like Skyrim and DA:O, install order can matter for Mass Effect. This depends on which mods you use and the format they are in.
Optimum installation of mod types is as follows:
- DLC content mods (e.g., Enhanced Galaxy Mod)
- Non-DLC mod, full-file replacement content mods (e.g., Better Cabin Music)
- MOD files without textures (e.g. EDI Default Outfit MOD file)*
- MOD files that contain PCC-stored textures (e.g. Ashley Legacy Project MOD file)
- TPFs/DDS texture files (e.g. EDI Default Outfit TPF file)
This install order will allow you to apply MOD file changes to all content mods, and texture changes to both vanilla and content-mod files. The step with the asterisk is where you'd do a Texplorer scan. Remember, MOD files for textures are deprecated; stick to TPFs instead.
One more note on full file replacement mods. In the case of file conflicts due to multiple full-file replacement (inside the base game or BioWare DLC), gameplay will reflect the one installed last. This is because the final mod will overwrite all changes by the former mods. Generally, mod creators don't provide itemized lists of what files their mods affect, so it can be difficult to know what will conflict. When in doubt, just download the mod and look at the files, or ask the author.
Other Files and FormatsEdit
- PSK — These are raw skeletal meshes. They are not user-friendly and you should not attempt use them unless you know what you are doing... or want to spend many, many hours learning. For more information on this file type, see the PSK article in the Developer Resources area.
- PSA — Similar to the above but containing animation data. Again, stay away or visit the PSA article for more information.
- SFM — Mass Effect's counterpart to level-specific PCC files with localization counterparts.
- U — UnrealScript code files. Not to be messed with by non-programmers.
- UPK — UPK files are actual Unreal Engine 3 package files (all 3 games in the trilogy are built on this game engine). The original Mass Effect contains raw UPKs. For ME2 and M3, BioWare decided to add some of their own modifications and packaged them further into PCC format. Like PSKs, these files are not for most users. Stay away unless you know what you're doing.
|This article draws content from Ottemis' forum post, "The Art of Bug Reporting."|