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Todd Howard talks Starfield's "hard sci-fi" approach in new developer video

With Starfields hugely anticipated 2023 release growing ever-closer, Bethesda has launched a new Q&A video series, and episode one sees director Todd Howard responding to a number of community queries – including sharing some thoughts on traits, dialogue, and whether Starfield can be described as a “hard sci-fi” game.

Howard began the chat by detailing a few of Starfields inspirations – 1984 space sim SunDog: Frozen Legacy and pen-and-paper RPG Traveller, if youre wondering – before moving on to tackle the “hard sci-fi” question. This, he said, was a little tricky to answer insofar as different people will likely have different definitions of “hard sci-fi”, but for Bethesda, “It is more hard to us, where you can draw that line from, okay, heres how man explored space, and [then] look at our ships and say, alright that has some visual identity back to that”.

However, he also called the question a bit of a trap, “because its a video game. Like, a hard science-fiction video game would be, you die in space cold.”

Watch on YouTube

Constellation Questions: Talking Starfield with Todd Howard.

As an example of how hard sci-fi doesnt always translate well in gaming, Howard revealed how the team was initially “really into fuel and how the gravity drive works, and Im reading papers on like quantum physics and bending space in front of you”. But when Bethesda attempted to implement some of these more realistic systems, it “became very punitive for the player.”

“Your ship would run out of fuel and the game would just stop,” Howard explained, “you just want get back to what you were doing. So weve recently changed it where the fuel in your ship and the grav drive limits how far you can go at once. But it doesnt run out of fuel.” This could perhaps be changed by a future update or mod, he added, “but thats what were doing now.”

Elsewhere in the chat, Howard revealed a little more on Starfields customisation and traits system, calling the games current traits “super fun”. Each one, he explained, comes with “some sort of a negative”, but these can all be removed for the duration of a playthrough by completing an activity or quest in-game.

Bringing the brief Q&A to a close, Howard touched on Starfields dialogue system, reiterating that it sees the return of what he called a “classic Bethesda-style dialogue” where players are looking at a character, seeing how they emote, and can pick from a series of choices.

“The scope of the game, the amount of content that were making, is a bit more than weve done before in terms of quests and things like that,” he added. “With the dialogue, we just past 250,000 lines”. By comparison, Fallout 4 is said to have featured 111,000 lines of dialogue, while Skyrim included 60,000.

“Thats a lot of dialogue,” Howard continued, “but weve gone through it and the impact is really there. And that includes my favourite speech persuasion system. It feels like its part of the dialogue, but youre spending points to persuade them. It feels natural, not like Ive entered some other mode where Im not doing regular dialogues”.

And that was everything Howard had to say in this first Constellation Questions instalment. Expect plenty more from Bethesda in the run-up to Starfields Xbox and PC launch next year.

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