When Bethesda revealed that Starfield would have over 1,000 planets, it sounded both impressive and like a potential nightmare. What if instead of a dozen bespoke locations, the open world sci-fi RPG was scattered across hundreds of lifeless rocks filled with the same old stuff. Director Todd Howard suggests it’s somewhere in the middle.
Addressing the topic in a new interview with Kinda Funny Xcast, the Bethesda veteran said Starfield planets would serve lots of different roles. Many will have resources but be pretty barren, while about 10 percent might fit in the “Goldilocks” sweet spot that’s capable of sustaining lots of varied life. Instead of every planet feeling the same, the differences are meant to encourage players to keep exploring.
“We wanted to do the planets because we like to give you that choice—where do you wanna go, cause we feel like you want that choice in a game like this,” Howard said, noting that the team struggled with the challenge of including 1,000 planets. “Now obviously it’s procedural, there’s no way we’re gonna go and handcraft an entire planet.”
Howard said that there’s a “suite” of individual locations made by the team, and those will be “generated or placed” when players land on a given planet depending on what type it is. When players first approach a specific solar system, they’ll be making choices about where to go based on what they’re looking to find. And some planets will be lifeless, but that’s kind of the point.
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“I think it is a moment when you land on some of these barren planets, and again we will generate certain things for you to find on them, but if you look at a planet you see the resources, it has things you want there is—I love the Buzz Aldrin quote, “the magnificent desolation”—I think there’s a certain beauty to landing on those and feeling I’m one of the only people or the only person to ever visit this planet,” Howard said.
The director said he thinks most players will land at a particular spot, explore around their ship, and then leave to go somewhere else, rather than spending hours canvassing every corner of one random planet. There won’t be any land vehicle or mounts, but booster packs with dedicated skill tree upgrades will help players move around faster. And sometimes players might just visit a location to scan it and take the survey data back to sell somewhere else in the galaxy.
“It’s a difficult design thing,” Howard said regarding getting the balance of stuff to nothingness in a space exploration game. “If you add too many things, if it’s generating too many abandoned bases or towers or things to find it starts feeling too game-y in some of those locations so I think we’ve dialed that in pretty well depending on the planet that you’re on.”
Starfield is out on Xbox Series X/S and PC on September 6, with early access for deluxe edition owners beginning on September 1.