It was time to install Mass Effect 3, the latest chapter in the sweeping cinematic RPG series from Bioware. I loaded up Steam to purchase the game, as I had for the first two titles, only to find it is not available. Amazing. Your only option for digital download is to download the Origin beta game client. Ick.

Capitulating, I went over to to purchase the game. When I logged in with my email address, I was forced to pick a username for a new Origin master account. Unfortunately my usual standby “fritzhardy” was already in use (I figured by me under another email address). Thinking I could probably tidy things up later, I created a “fritxhardy” account. This was a mistake.

It turns out that EA, Origin, and the Bioware Social Network (BSN) are all linked, or being linked, together under an Origin master account you create. It was not immediately obvious what this meant, and I did not realize the full ramifications of this until I went to login to the BSN to review previously purchased ME1 and ME2 content. That account became “fritzhardy.” Now I have content spread across two accounts. Ugh.

I held off playing until I could merge the accounts under “fritzhardy.” Only a very liberal reading of the BSN account help page indicates this is possible, but I pressed that with EA support. It took five emails and two instant chats with five different support techs, but after four days, I finally had my purchase nullified on one account and re-activated on the other. You would have thought I was coordinating a shuttle launch. I finally landed on a helpful tech in an instant chat that took care of everything.

Into the game now, I had a brief issue launching the game due to the Origin account change: “Invalid Cerberus code” after the title screen. Re-install, no fix. Re-entering my purchase code in the Origin client seemed to do the trick, or possibly something tech number five did. Now to import my ME2 save after copying my saves into the Document folder. The career imported perfectly, but my Shepherd face did not. Sigh.

Bioware has acknowledged a face import bug that prevents ME3 from recognizing the “face codes” created in ME1. Swell. There is a workaround until the bug is fixed. In summary, I had to go to the ME2 Save Editor, upload my save file, click morph head, export a YAML file, import the file at Mass Effect Tools face code generator and voila: most of the information I need to reproduce my Shepherd face in the in-game customize face dialog.

Perfect, now I can fire up a game with my Shepherd intact. And the screen is filled with artifacts, the game stutters and pauses for minutes at a time, and eventually forces a computer reset. For god’s sake.

My graphics card is an ATI Radeon HD 4870, and I have written previously about a workaround for the PowerPlay problem to which cards of this vintage are susceptible. That was on Windows XP. This is a new install on that same hardware with Windows 7 64-bit, and RivaTuner cannot reach down far enough into the hardware to set the clock. Running the venerable GPU-Z confirmed my GPU clock was all over the place. I updated to the latest Catalyst driver knowing it would do nothing. There has never been an official fix. Thanks ATI.

The only real solution is to hack the graphics card BIOS and forcefully set the clock speed to the desired value. This video offers a complete walkthrough of the process using the Radeon Bios Editor and ATI Winflash to download, edit, and re-flash your card’s BIOS. I found I also had to disable OverDrive in the Catalyst Control Center before the clock was pegged at my settings.

So now I had a working game, but I was not quite done. It galls me that EA/Origin had the temerity to launch an A-list title like ME3 in beta-quality software like the Origin game client instead of Steam. It is completely featureless, and one feature I really want is one-click screenshots. Well, with a couple of clicks in Steam, I added it as a local non-Steam game in the client. Now I launch the game in Steam, which launches Origin, which launches ME3. I have both overlays available with all of their attendant keyboard shortcuts, including the all important F12 to take Steam screenshots.

On to Mass Effect 3. Finally.