Palm of the hand: Bethesda didn’t waste much time stirring up controversy after its much-hyped Starfield game reveal. The epic space exploration sim doesn’t have real-time flight between space and landing because Bethesda says a continuous universe is “not that important” to players.
Bethesda finally revealed some games for Starfield over the weekend. A mainstay of the game that Todd Howard tried to promote was the game’s emphasis on exploring planets. There are over 1,000 fully explorable planets, which is nice, but with a caveat.
Players can’t just fly from space to their landing spot in an immersive way. From orbit, you choose a place to land and then the game jumps to that area without flying there. So planetary navigation is more like fast travel. Starfield is not a continuous universe. According to Howard, space and the surface of a planet are two separate “realities”.
“People have asked, ‘Can you fly the ship directly to the planet?’ No,” the Bethesda boss told IGN in an interview (below). “We decided early in the project that the surface is one reality, and then when you’re in space, it’s another reality.”
So when you look at the sky from a planet, what you see does not exist in your current reality. Similarly, looking at a world from orbit (assuming orbital flight is possible) is just an illusion, a visual representation of that planet that doesn’t exist until you transport yourself to this other reality.
This dual reality aspect also suggests that there is no atmospheric flight. When you are on the surface of a planet, your ship is useless until you want to return to space; it’s just a dressing. Howard did not say this explicitly; it’s just a logical guess based on his explanation.
That leaves a lot of critical questions. What is it like to travel between those “two realities”? Will there be loading screens, or is it just an uncontrollable transition animation from space to planet or planet to space? Will it get boring after landing and leaving 1,000 different planets multiple times?
According to Howard, transitioning from space to the planet side in a realistic way is “just not that important to the player” to justify the additional engineering work. Who did the developers ask about that? Internal testers? Focus groups? Or is it just an excuse to justify not putting it in the game?
As a player, I care. It is important to me. I want to get in and out of orbital and atmospheric flights as I please. It would be interesting to see how many other players share these sentiments instead of Bethesda using it as a blanket excuse to be lazy.
Is it really much more “engineering work”? Elite Dangerous added navigation from space to the planet in real time with its Horizons expansion. No Man’s Sky has had it from the start. It was one of the few things that Hello Games got right at launch.
What do you think? Is a continuous universe important, or is it just fluff that isn’t necessary for a space exploration simulator?