When it comes to the sprawling open world of Starfield, don’t be afraid of isolation in this vast universe. In fact, the loneliness you encounter as you leap from one desolate world to another is exactly the tone developer Bethesda is going for.
Rather than focus on the horror of solo space travel, Bethesda wants to highlight its glory in Starfield. During a recent interview with Lex Fridman (opens in new tab)Todd Howard, the game’s head director, explained how the team at Bethesda has embraced the “beautiful desolation” of Starfield’s massive open world.
From what the Official gameplay trailer (opens in new tab) showed us that there will be “over 100 systems” with “over 1000 planets” in Starfield. This means that the intergalactic explorer will be 20% larger than Fallout 4 or Skyrim. While this sounds amazing, is there such a thing as a game that’s too big? Considering Starfield is meant to be a single player game, millions of planets seems like a lonely job for just one person.
Loneliness isn’t the only problem the developers faced when creating Starfield. Such an expansive universe is not easy to develop; therefore a decision had to be made. Either “you can’t land on every planet you see,” or the universe you’re exploring is a “very controlled little space,” Howard explained during the interview.
It had been decided that the latter would probably strike “the wrong tone”, Howard said in an interview. Instead of focusing on the limitations, the development team instead chose to look for ways that “we can say yes”. The best way to avoid the complications of creating a playable and detailed sprawling 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 intricate 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 ran smoothly from there. Having a sprawling open world is one thing; Making it interesting for the players is another thing entirely.
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 stop-off of such a vast open world is that you get some planets that “can be a lonely experience” for the explorer. But Howard went on to say that there’s also “an odd beauty of being the only person on a 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 beautiful desolation, then the Fallout series comes to mind. The entire experience of walking through a ruined wasteland is incredibly spooky but also beautiful. I loved walking through Fallout 4’s abandoned cities, not knowing what I would encounter and just enjoying the dead silence that surrounded the decaying city.
So I can’t wait to explore the vast universe that Starfield will offer when it releases in early 2023. Hopefully I’ll get the same feeling again.