Starfield devs want NPCs and companions to feel like ‘real people’

Starfield devs want NPCs and companions to feel like ‘real people’
Starfield devs want NPCs and companions to feel like ‘real people’

A new Starfield developer video has been released and it touches on the development team’s ambitions for several elements of the game, including its factions, its companions and its NPCs. 

Titled ‘Made For Wanderers’, the five-minute behind-the-scenes video features a discussion between Game Director Todd Howard, Design Director Emil Pagliarulo, Lead Quest Designer Will Shen and Lead Artist Istvan Pely, interspersing their discussion with new concept art for the game and even a very brief, actually moving clip

Throughout the video, the team touches on ideas of player immersion and freedom, with Emil Pagliarulo describing Starfield as “a giant open world for the player to do whatever they want” and Istvan Pely citing a need to “embrace the chaos”.

This starts from the higher level of the game’s overall RPG mechanics, with Todd Howard saying that “it’s nice with Starfield to go back to do some things we didn’t do. The backgrounds, the traits, defining your character, all those stats.” Howard says he believes that “people are ready for something that does a lot of the things that older hardcore RPGs, something we used to do, doing those again in a new way.”

It also extends to the NPCs and companions with whom the player will interact throughout the game. Istvan Pely touches on the team’s aim of realism, saying that while Bethesda have “always allowed the player to create really interesting, unique characters”, this time they’ve “definitely, severely leveled up. The tech is based on scanning of real world models, similar to the photogrammetry we do in our landscapes. We’re kind of applying the same thing to our people as well.”  

This realism is part of the immersion, with Pely adding, “it’s not just the appearance of your player and all that, but we want the personal interactions with all NPCs, other characters in the game, to be as impactful as possible. And for that you have to believe these are real people, you’re a real person, and you’re interacting with real people.”

Aside from how players feel about other characters, Howard says that “Something we really leaned into on this game: how those other characters felt about you.”

Pely adds, “That’s probably my favourite part, like when you’re exploring and then your companion makes some comment off the cuff about something that you’re checking out or something that just happened. That just feels so perfect for immersion. It’s just so believable, you think it’s a real person.”

It’s in the segment discussing companions that we get to see that aforementioned actual moving clip. It shows a robot called VASCO who greets players by saying “Hello, Captain. How may I be of assistance?”

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Interacting with characters will, however, involve more than them talking at the player; the video touches on a “persuasion minigame”. Taking inspiration from the old Oblivion system, this conversation system isn’t one where there’s “definitely a right thing to say”, hopefully adding to a sense of player choice and immersion. 

As well as individuals, players will interact with various factions through the game and they’ll have the option to join them. There are four factions mentioned in the video:  the idealized space republic of the United Colonies; the “space western” Freestar Collective; the corporate Ryujin Industries; and the piratical Crimson Fleet. Even within these factions, the team emphasise player choice, with Pagliarulo describing an opportunity for espionage in the Crimson Fleet.

“The cool thing about Crimson Fleet is what if you’re a good person and you want to be a good player? And you don’t want to play as a bad guy?” says Pagliarulo. “You can side with pirates, or you can report back to your superiors and be this space cop type of thing. So it lets you be a good person and still play with the bad guys.”

Starfield’s release date is still slated for November 11 2022, which is drawing ever closer. When Starfield does launch it’ll be playable on PC and Xbox Series X, with a day one release on Xbox Game Pass.

Analysis: It’s a drip feed

This marks the second episode in Bethesda’s ‘Into the Starfield’ video series and offers us further insights into what Bethesda is aiming to do with Starfield and how intends to achieve those aims. 

With eight months to go until the game’s scheduled release date, we’ve seen plenty of intriguing concept art and, with the steady drip-feed of little details, we’re slowly beginning to put together a picture of the game. 

With that small glimpse of VASCO, it feels like the next big step is going to be some more footage from the game. We expect it’ll be another few months before we get that, though. In an AMA on Reddit, Todd Howard has previously highlighted summer as a key time to show Starfield. 

We’ve recently seen reports (via VGC) that Microsoft and Xbox could be planning to hold an “E3-style” showcase in June. If that’s something that goes ahead, it feels possible Starfield could be one of the stars of the show. 

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