Todd Howard has shared a surprising insight about Starfield.
Todd shared a more recent post mortem of the game when he was interviewed for the AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook Podcast.
This relates to the space combat side of the game. Usually, space combat can be esoteric, especially the more simlike the space combat game can get. There are arcadey 6DOF games, but for the most part, those games also have quite the learning curve to master.
While that can be OK if you’re talking about a game sold to the niche of PC gamers in the 1990s, expectations are greater to provide a more broadly enjoyable experience in the 2020s. And so, Bethesda’s challenge was to provide an experience that could satisfy those older PC players used to ornate systems, while also making it easier to play for newer fans.
In the interview, Todd brought up some other space combat games, and the systems they used in their game design. Faster Than Light had a combat mechanic where the player had to allocate their ship’s engine power towards different systems.
Todd also revealed he, like Phil Spencer, is an old Mechwarrior fans. While Mechwarrior seemed more arcadey than other mech games at the times because of its focus on consoles, Todd admired its slower pace.
Todd explained that the teams was able to combine these elements and more to make a satisfying combat system. In his words:
“That part all worked out quite well, but then you have to mix it in with the AI.”
While higher difficulty is supposed to provide players with more challenge, in this situation, it just made the fighting much longer, and as a result, more tedious. And this is why Bethesda made the call to make the combat enemy AI to be quite obtuse.
Again, quoting Todd verbatim here:
“It’s very easy to make the enemies really, really smart or end up in the situation where you’re forever just jousting. It turns out you have to make the AI really stupid… they should fly, and then they need to turn, basically like, ‘Hey player, why don’t you just shoot me for a while.”
Starfield’s combat systems have been the subject of criticism, but much like Bethesda’s other games, focusing on one or a few of these weak spots is confusing the forest for the trees. If Bethesda lets one aspect of the game falter, it ends up doing so in the service of the game’s greater design. And that’s the way it is here, so that the space combat doesn’t get in the way of the immersion, storytelling, or other elements of Bethesda’s latest AAA release.