Bethesda Game Studios has carved a legendary reputation with iconic titles like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. However, for years, fans of the studio had been longing for something beyond the worlds of fantasy and post-apocalyptic wastelands. That wish was granted when Bethesda officially announced Starfield at E3 2018, setting the stage for our journey into the cosmos.
This is a look into the making of the first new franchise from Bethesda in 25 years - This is The History of Starfield.
The Space Game
Starfield's beginnings reach back much further than that E3 announcement. Todd Howard, videogame legend and director of Bethesda Game Studios, revealed that the concept for Starfield had been in his mind for over a decade. With a previous attempt at a space game - The 10th Planet not even leaving pre-production, getting Starfield up and running would require the backing of the former chairperson of Bethesda at the time - Robert Altman.
In a leaked memo to his employees, Todd Howard said he went directly to Robert to pitch their space game - Starfield.
I knocked on Robert Altman’s door. “Got a few minutes?”
It was early 2013, we were developing Fallout 4, and Skyrim was still enjoying enormous success. I was there to pitch him on our next game. It would not be a sequel to our current games, (he looked concerned), but a grand space RPG and our first new IP in over 25 years (looks curious). It would delve into creation and the search for our place in the universe (slight twinkle). You would explore the galaxy in ways only video games can do. And it would be called - Starfield. (Smile)
Robert would be the very first to believe in us, no matter the situation. Our path to creating Starfield would be a long and winding one where we made other games along the way (Fallout 4, Skyrim SE, Fallout Shelter, Skyrim VR, Fallout 76, Skyrim again…). The core development from 2020 to 2023 saw enormous changes in our lives. A global pandemic, Robert’s passing, and becoming part of Xbox.
The decision to venture into the space-themed RPG genre significantly departed from their previous games' fantasy and post-apocalyptic settings. Bethesda, or specifically, Todd Howard, had wanted to make a space game for some time, trademarking the name Starfield back in 2013 - a decade before the game would release.
Citing inspiration from the classic Traveller role-playing game and decades of experience on open-world titles, Todd and his team were determined to get the ball rolling. Now that the approval to begin development on Starfield had been given, the team began the mammoth undertaking of crafting a universe.
Starfield development began in 2015 after the release of Fallout 4, and the team had decided that their aging Creation Engine would not suffice. They would need an engine capable of rendering vast and detailed planets and the depths of space itself. So, in 2021, Bethesda revealed they were working on the Creation Engine 2.0, an engine capable of real-time global illumination and advanced volumetric lighting.
The Creation Engine 2.0 will also be used in The Elder Scrolls VI and future Bethesda Games Studio titles. However, development on Starfield would be wrapped up elsewhere, as a corporate giant with deep pockets hovered over ZeniMax and Bethesda, ready to make their move.
The Xbox Merger
In 2021, Xbox would welcome Bethesda into their family after a $7.5 billion buyout of parent company ZeniMax Media. This would bring all Bethesda titles under the Xbox umbrella, including the still-in-development Starfield.
This was seen by many as a panicked move from Xbox after rumors of Sony hoping to tie down the game as a timed exclusive for PlayStation. Phil Spencer even went as far as to admit that they hadn't been as good with partner relationships in the past, and Sony locking down Starfield looked like a real possibility.
So what would this mean for Bethesda Games Studios in the future?
Todd Howard made a statement on the transition due to the acquisition ahead of Starfield releasing on early access-
"And of course, there is Phil Spencer. His support of every game and every player has been unwavering and fierce. Joining Xbox brought us closer to so many we had worked with for over 20 years. I cannot imagine a better place to create games, where the diversity of studios, creators, and games are allowed to flourish. This support came from the entire Xbox leadership team and all areas of publishing and dev support."
Shortly after the buyout, Microsoft would announce that Starfield would indeed be a console exclusive for Xbox. Online, fan outrage still floods social media and message boards with anger towards the decision. Xbox had made a power play that would pay off for them now and in the future; not only was Starfield Xbox exclusive but planned games like The Elder Scrolls 6 and Fallout 5 were now also Xbox first-party titles.
The Starfield teaser trailer from June 2021 announced the game would be released on November 11 2022; however, in May 2022, Bethesda announced that the game would not be released until the first half of 2023.
“We’ve made the decision to delay the launches of Redfall and Starfield to the first half of 2023. The teams at Arkane Austin (Redfall) and Bethesda Game Studios (Starfield) have incredible ambitions for their games, and we want to ensure that you receive the best, most polished versions of them.”
Unfortunately, this would not be the only delay Starfield would receive.
After joining Xbox, the team was granted an additional window for bug fixing and polishing, something not often afforded when there is money on the table. The second delay was then announced, and Starfield would be once again held back, this time till September 2023, in order to release the most polished Bethesda game of all time.
Sadly, as a result of this delay, young app developer and Bethesda fan Alex Hay tragically passed away after a battle with cancer; Alex was honored in the game by Bethesda with a note left on a bench in The Eye space station from Alex himself.
The announcement of Starfield at E3 2018 generated waves of hype amongst the gaming community. Bethesda carefully maintained the hype surrounding the game with teaser trailers, interviews, and promotional materials right up until the game launched in September 2023.
Starfield had a dedicated showcase in the summer before its launch; the 45-minute presentation gave fans a deep dive into the making of Starfield while showing off new features and gameplay. Also on the road to release, Bethesda dropped three animated shorts named The Settled Systems, each episode showcasing different ways of life within the galaxy.
Being a part of the Xbox family, the push for showing Starfield off as a Game Pass title was strong. Cross-promoting with food and drinks brands globally and launching Starfield-branded Xbox controllers were only the tip of the iceberg for the Microsoft marketing push - suffice to say Starfield was everywhere.
Release and the Future
After eight long years of development, a global pandemic, and the studio being acquired by Xbox, Bethesda released Starfield in September 2023 exclusively on Xbox consoles. While also available on PC via Steam or the Xbox Store, PlayStation owners were left unable to play the new game, thanks to the studio now being owned by Microsoft.
Starfield met mixed reception at launch, some praising its translation of typical Bethesda game into a new genre, while others lamented its dated graphics and the emptiness of space. Metacritic lists the game at an 83 on Xbox and 86 on PC, while Opencritic has Starfield sitting at an 85.
Critical reception aside, Microsoft praised the game, stating that Starfield was a massive success for the company. Reaching a million player count on the first day of launch, and it didn't stop there; six, then ten million players were soon enjoying the space epic, making Starfield Bethesda's biggest launch of all time.
Alongside the reveal of the various editions of Starfield available, Bethesda revealed their Shattered Space DLC - the first story expansion for Starfield.
Dividing gamers while being nominated for several awards and winning Xbox Game of the Year, Starfield is a game that will be remembered one way or another. The space RPG set the world on fire and continues to be a main topic of conversation across social media.
Our story doesn't end there, though, far from it. Not long after Starfield was released, a few notable names announced their departures from Bethesda. The first of these is none other than Pete Hines, who previously served as senior vice president of global marketing & communications, as well as the head of publishing at Bethesda.
Pete Hines announced his retirement on X.com; Pete posted the following -
After 24 years, I have decided my time at Bethesda Softworks has come to an end. I am retiring and will begin an exciting new chapter of my life exploring interests and passions, donating my time where I can, and taking more time to enjoy life. This was not a decision I came to easily or quickly, but after an amazing career, culminating in the incredible launch of Starfield, it feels like the time is right.
This is certainly not goodbye by any means. My love of Bethesda and its people has never wavered, and I will never stop being part of this incredible community we have grown. Thank you to the hundreds and thousands of fans I've gotten to meet and talk to over the last 24 years. Your energy, creativity, and support has been such a big part of my journey. I look forward to experiencing the next part of the adventure alongside you.
Working with the amazing people, teams, and studios at Bethesda has been the greatest experience of my life. I'm incredibly proud of everything we have done together, and I'm genuinely excited to see the amazing things they will create next.
Love you guys,
Shortly after Pete Hines announced he was leaving the company, Will Shen, Starfield's lead quest designer, revealed he, too, would be departing BGS. Will is well known by the fans for his work on the beloved Fallout 4 DLC - Far Harbor and his fleshing out of the popular Nick Valentine character from the franchise.
Will posted on X.com -
"Excited to announce that I've joined Something Wicked Games! I'll be working alongside an incredible group of roleplaying game developers, and it's amazing to think we have veterans from Bethesda, Obsidian, and Bioware all on one team."
Will is heading off to join Ex-Bethesda developer and producer Jeff Gardiner at his new company, Something Wicked Games, to work on their upcoming RPG Wyrdsong. To say the least, the new IP should shine with Will now on board as Wyrdsong's lead content designer.
Neither of these departures seems to be due to failing to hit sales numbers or other targets; in fact, Microsoft announced that Starfield is the most-played next-gen Xbox title of all time, racking up over a million players on its first day. Both Will and Pete played pivotal roles in the development of Starfield, and their contributions will be recognized by players forever.
The making of Starfield was a monumental endeavor that brought together the best of Bethesda's game development expertise with the limitless wonder of space exploration. A game was born with endless possibilities, designed purposefully to be played for decades, like previous titles, Skyrim and Fallout 3.
As we wrap up our brief look at the history of Starfield, we also look forward to the future with updates and add-ons on their way, not to mention the upcoming release of the Creation Kit, which will finally place the official tools in the hands of the community for them to create mods that will shape the future of the space-epic for years to come.
Starfield's story is just beginning.
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