Now that the countdown to Starfield has begun, Bethesda is laying the groundwork for what we can expect from the game. Starfield’s relationship with hard science fiction is number one on the list today.
“Starfield is more science fiction for us,” creative director Todd Howard said in a Q&A video. That is, we probably won’t see space wizards, but rather that what happens in the game exists within the realm of scientific possibility. While most science fiction is based on science and the known possibilities of our universe, it can still bend the rule of thumb of what is and is not possible in our physical universe. In hard science fiction, you’ll largely see technology that theoretically could exist, along with the limitations that come with it – like long travel times.
Ultimately, Howard points out that Starfield may never meet all the requirements of hardcore sci-fi because “in a tough sci-fi video game, you’d die in cold space.”
Hard-ish science fiction
Bethesda tried its best to put Starfield within the all-encompassing reach of hard science fiction. From spaceships to quantum physics, you’ll see many elements in the game that are a clear nod to that goal, says Howard.
Looking at the Starfield ships, Howard says they have “some visual identity back” to the history of human space travel. Creating this viable timeline where there is recognition of what has come before is essential for Starfield. Not just to create an immersive and believable experience, but also to fit within the confines of hard science fiction.
Howard also describes hours spent trying to understand quantum physics, reading articles and understanding space travel. All this to make a product that will excite hard science fiction lovers or just casual lovers of the genre.
Through this research, Howard also discovered what problems there would be in Starfield as a result of hard science fiction. The biggest one is fueling your spaceship. This quickly became “very punishing for the player,” he says. Once you ran out of fuel, that was it, you were dead in space with no chance to help yourself. So a compromise was made. Now, the “fuel and grav drive on your ship limits where you can go at once,” says Howard, “but you don’t run out of fuel.”
However, games are built to be fun. If you want reality, you should play a simulator game like Brewmaster, where the developer refused to break the laws of physics for their players, or maybe take the Powerwash simulator – it’s extremely cold weather.
Even so, many simulator games also need to balance reality with entertainment. So these changes to Starfield seem like a great indicator of what’s to come. A space adventure that is realistic and creative, with the fans’ best interests in mind.