Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Mass Effect 2

Collectors' edition.

People didn't really respond all that well to the unveiling of the new Mass Effect character Subject Zero. A troubled lady with attitude and tats, she looked like the kind of person you'd rather have blasted out into space through an air lock than get stuck in a lift with - a particularly poignant worry given the original Mass Effect's excessive elevator-based predilections.

Well, that's one fear you can put aside anyway: the lifts are long gone this time around, replaced with deeply stylish glowing wire-frame models of the building you're currently rocketing through and speedier loading times. But that still leaves Subject Zero, knocking about the interior of the Normandy, banging on endlessly about life's hardships, and probably sticking up Katy Perry tour posters in her sleeping quarters and doing that funny metaller hand gesture, which makes you look like you've just had your middle fingers bitten off by a horse.

What does BioWare's Dr Ray Muzyka make of all this fuss over his game's latest recruit? Unsurprisingly - as you might expect, the "Dr" part of Dr Ray Muzyka suggests the man is pretty smart - the company's co-founder and general manager has an interesting take on the whole thing, and rather than reach across the table and perform an unnecessary tracheotomy on me just for asking, he smiles, and answers at length: "I think it's interesting that she - and actually some of the other characters - provoke a really strong emotional response," he says.

Subject Zero was keeping a low profile during the presentation. She was probably off giving some men a shoeing somewhere. Bloody men, eh?

"I think it's really good that some people really dislike her, actually. Some people really like her, too, but the important thing is that there's not a lot in-between. Characters like this, you can choose whether to have them in your party or not, but we want you to have an opinion about these people and, hopefully, throughout the course of the game, come to understand why they are the way they are."

Dr Ray's in town to suffer from jetlag and drink endless plastic tumblers of Coke, while telling us a bit more about the game he's happy to suggest is "perhaps the best title BioWare has ever made". Here's what he has to tell us in particular: The first Mass Effect was just the beginning, an introduction to BioWare's massive universe, which barely had time to introduce the main players and set out the battle lines for what was to come before you were fighting your way through that last boss encounter and sleeping with charming blue ladies.

Mass Effect 2 is where things get a little more serious, and a lot more moody. Humans are disappearing in droves throughout the galaxy, and it's up to Shepard to find out why, by pulling together a team of suicidal glory-hunters and heading off on his most dangerous mission yet. So far, so E3, but Muzyka has new information (can I call it intel? That would make me feel a bit more like a space captain) to unveil, namely that the disappearances are, at least in part, due to an alien race called the Collectors.

BioWare claims it's removed practically all texture pop-in on this outing.

If the name is anything to go by, the Collectors have presumably been taking humans back to their smelly bedrooms where they keep them in a homemade trophy cabinet in their original packaging. Actually, they haven't: they've been sending in swarms of nasty little bugs to subdue any human colonists before spiriting them away to some creepy glowing hive-like structures where they perform truly horrible experiments on them.

The results, stitched together muddles of body parts and sewage, which appear to spend a lot of time hobbling towards any would-be rescuers before exploding in fleshy chunks, are enough to make you ponder exactly what kind of medicine Dr Ray specialised in - and, actually, doctor, that rash seems to have cleared up by itself so I think I'll just be off now if that's okay cheers - and they provide a queasy jolt of grisly horror to Mass Effect's fairly calm and grown-up universe.

Typically, for a series which has already proved itself to be pretty strong when it comes to alien design, from the controversial I'll-wear-my-skull-on-the-outside-thanks look of the Turians, to good old Wrex the Krogan, who resembled a cross between a large frog and one of those chicken Tandoori skewers you often get given at upmarket barbecues (at least he did until I shot him for an Achievement), the Collectors are another memorable piece of deep-space evolution. They're ugly, angular insectoid types, their spindly little bodies capped by sharp, flinty wedges of head set with rather too many glowing eyes. They look, in short, like they plan on doing you harm.