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How big is Starfield? ‘Irresponsibly large,’ says Bethesda exec

Developing it for PlayStation would assuredly mean a delay, or lots of bugs

A space ship with six engines flies toward a star and brushes next to a big blue planet Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Starfield, coming this fall and already twice delayed, is an “irresponsibly large game,” according to Pete Hines, the longtime Bethesda Softworks executive who is now its head of publishing.

Hines made the comment in testimony during Thursday’s hearing, in federal court, where the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is seeking to stop Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The point Hines was making is that developing Starfield for platforms other than Microsoft’s Windows PC or Xbox Series would assuredly mean another delay for the newest role-playing franchise from Bethesda Softworks, which Microsoft now owns.

Under questioning by an FTC lawyer, Hines agreed that he personally supported the decision to make Starfield an Xbox console exclusive. “As someone who has been playing it a lot and sees all this stuff to do,” Hines said, “there’s no question in my mind that being able to focus on fewer platforms to support, hardware to support, has been a big benefit to that team.”

Starfield is, by all accounts, actually a big game. “We have poured ourselves into this game, and even I’m surprised how much we can pour,” Todd Howard, the game director and creative director of Bethesda Game Studios, said in March. Starfield got its own 45-minute showcase after Xbox’s gala presentation on June 11, too.

That big-ness is Bethesda’s reason for locking the frame-rate on consoles to 30 frames per second, Howard said after the show two weeks ago. On Thursday, in a podcast with Kinda Funny Games, Howard reiterated that Bethesda Game Studios “never looked at taking features away” in order to deliver a performance-mode option at a higher frame rate.

“Ultimately, look, we boil it down to, we wanted the consistency,” Howard told Kinda Funny Games. “The game is running great, but we don’t want players ever to think about it. […] We lean toward consistency overall and we talk to our fans and hear that from everybody.”

Hines also touched this point in his testimony on Thursday. “When you’re trying to figure out how to make a game look as good as it can, play as smoothly as possible, your programmers really need to know, ‘What am I really trying to get this to run smoothly on,’” he said. “Is the memory configuration — like, there are just so many technical things that, in fairness, are way beyond my expertise.”

He added: “The fewer platforms you have [quality assurance testers] focused on, the more rounds of testing they can do; if you have 100 people testing two platforms, you can put 50 on each. If you have three, the math tells you [that] you have fewer people on those games. You’re finding fewer problems, you’re not going as fast. It’s going to take longer, it’s going to cost more.”

This folds in, somewhat, to Xbox Game Studios boss Matt Booty’s comments on June 13 about Starfield having “the fewest bugs of any game from Bethesda has ever shipped with.” A bold claim considering the expansive nature of Bethesda’s RPGs — and a glitchy launch history that fans have grudgingly borne. But hey, one less platform to develop for, one less QA headache, most folks can get that.

Starfield launches Sept. 6 for Windows PC and Xbox Series X, and it will be a day-one launch on Xbox Game Pass.

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