Ex-Bethesda Developer Reveals Internal Debate About Starfield’s Scope

Bethesda’s former design director has revealed an internal debate around the number of planets in Starfield early on in the game’s development.

Bruce Nesmith, who was lead designer on The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and senior designer on Starfield before leaving Bethesda in 2021, told MinnMax he initially proposed that the space role-playing game only have around two dozen systems instead of the 120 it ended up with.

“The point was made, quite legitimately, that, once you’ve done one solar system, doing 100 is really not adding to your work all that much,” he said.

“You have to know how to build a planet so people can walk around on it. You have to have various objects: life forms that they interact with, rocks, all that. You have to do the ice worlds, the crater worlds. Just doing our own solar system, all our variety that you have to have just to do that, you’ve done 90% of the work for the rest of it.”

Starfield drew a lot of attention when Bethesda director and executive producer Todd Howard revealed it would have more than 1,000 planets players could explore (and one eventually did).

“Todd pretty much pulled the number 100 for the number of star systems out of thin air, but the more we went on, the more it was like okay, core activity takes place in these two dozen in the settled systems region, and the rest of it is open space,” Nesmith said.

“But people love our big games. They love that open area to explore. So let’s go ahead and let them have it. And then it was down to okay, how do we make exploration meaningful. And once again, you have to succeed on one planet. Once you’ve got that formula, you have the formula for all the planets.”

The exploration aspect was a point of controversy when Howard revealed only 10% of Starfield’s planets would have life on them. But Starfield still got off to a hot start, technically topping sales charts even before it officially launched. When its release date finally came around on September 6, however, Xbox boss Phil Spencer revealed more than one million people were playing Starfield concurrently, and it hit 10 million players within three weeks.

Plenty of wild and wacky stories emerged too, such as Bethesda killing off all the poor labradors in Starfield’s universe and players desperately trying to recreate the game on PlayStation.

In our 7/10 review, IGN said: “Starfield has a lot of forces working against it, but eventually the allure of its expansive roleplaying quests and respectable combat make its gravitational pull difficult to resist.” Also, take a look at the Starfield tees now available at IGN Store.

Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelance reporter. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.