When it comes to Starfield’s expansive open world, you shouldn’t be afraid of isolation in this vast universe. In fact, the loneliness you might encounter as you jump from one desolate world to another is exactly what developer Bethesda is aiming for.
Instead of focusing on the horror of lonely space travel, Bethesda wants to emphasize its greatness in Starfield. During a recent interview with Lex Fridman (opens in a new tab)Todd Howard, the game’s lead director, explained how the Bethesda team embraced the “beautiful wasteland” of Starfield’s massive open world.
Of which official game trailer (opens in a new tab) showed us that there would be “over 100 systems” with “over 1,000 planets” in Starfield. This means that the intergalactic explorer is supposed to be 20% bigger than Fallout 4 or Skyrim. While it sounds amazing, is there such a thing as a game that is too big? Given that Starfield is intended to be a single-player game, millions of planets feel like a lonely job for one person.
The final frontier
Loneliness is not the only problem the creators faced while creating Starfield. Such a vast universe is not easy to create; so a decision had to be made. Either “you can’t land on all the planets you see” or the universe you’re exploring is “a very controlled little space of the world,” Howard explained during an interview.
It was decided that the latter would probably set the “wrong tone,” Howard said in an interview. Instead of focusing on constraints, the development team decided to look for ways that “we can say yes.” The best way to get around the complications of creating a playable and detailed expansive open world was to focus on building it tile by tile. By rendering these small landscape tiles offline, the development team was able to create a patchwork of complex ecosystems that could be woven into the Starfield universe.
These tiles solved the first problem of creating a universe that felt and looked like reality in Starfield, but that doesn’t mean it went smoothly from then on. Having an expansive open world is one thing; making it attractive to players is a whole other issue.
According to Howard, Bethesda had to make sure that landing on each planet would be a fun experience, even if said planet was empty and only had the prospect of some resources. At the end of the day, the change from having such a huge open world is that you’ll get a few planets that “can be a lonely experience” for the explorer. But Howard noted that there’s also “an odd beauty of being the only person on the planet,” and that’s what you should focus on.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tone in a Bethesda game. If you’re looking for a beautiful wasteland, then the Fallout series comes to mind. The whole experience of walking through the ruined wasteland is incredibly eerie, but also beautiful. I loved walking through the abandoned cities of Fallout 4, not knowing what was about to happen to me, and just soaking up the dead silence surrounding the decaying city.
So I can’t wait to explore the vast universe that Starfield will offer when it releases in early 2023. I hope to feel the same again.