There’s a multitudinous selection of planets to explore in the sea of lights that is Bethesda Game Studios’ Starfield.
From the subterranean industrial colonies of Mars to the nocturnal water world of Volii Alpha, the new sci-fi action RPG from the studio behind The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and the Fallout franchise is rife with brave new worlds to survey and conquer. Regardless of what background you choose, one of the first worlds you’ll set foot on is Jemison: an Earth-like planet located in the Alpha Centauri system that is home to New Atlantis, the capital city of the United Colonies republic.
New Atlantis epitomizes the starry-eyed optimism of Starfield, a glittering metropolis of midcentury modernist architecture, exotic acacia flat-top trees, and colorful flowing banners. More specifically, the design of the game’s first major hub world immediately reminded me of something in real life: the quasi-utopian model community of Walt Disney’s Epcot.
Conceived in the 1960s, Epcot (originally short for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”) was Walt Disney’s final unfinished passion project prior to his death in 1966 — a radially planned, environment-friendly city housed within a 50-acre climate-controlled domed structure, emphasizing a fusion of urban planning and suburban people-centric convenience.
“It will be a planned, controlled community,” Disney said in 1966 while describing his original vision for Epcot. “A showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won’t let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.” However, Disney’s dreams of “utopian” urban planning would die with him.
Due to the intrinsic impracticality of maintaining, governing, and operating such a city, the plans for Epcot were eventually scaled down to a theme park whose concept resembles a perennial world’s fair, dedicated to preserving the egalitarian future-focused optimism of the original project. Undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Epcot is Spaceship Earth, an indoor amusement park ride housed within a large geodesic sphere structure co-designed by sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline for the attraction.
In Starfield, the dream of Epcot lives on in the layout of New Atlantis, complete with brilliant glass structures, bright neon billboards, a ubiquitous monorail transit system, and public art installations that double as children’s playgrounds and open communal spaces. It’s a vision of the future born out of the past of humanity’s now-dead homeworld, a dream older than the collective memory of the citizens who now inhabit it.
It’s a fascinating and uncanny space that feels at once familiar yet alien: a better, albeit not perfect, world that nonetheless belies a complicated and fraught history in the form of The Well, the undercity of New Atlantis built out of the remnants of the colony ships that first landed on Jemison centuries ago. Imagining the aesthetic of the far future from the vantage of the present is always a fraught challenge, but for Starfield’s New Atlantis, the building blocks of that future are as close as our own past.