Starfield Trailer Reveals Fascinating New Technology and Old Concerns

It’s fair to say that Starfield is one of the most anticipated games and it’s not hard to see why: Bethesda, for all its flaws, has built its empire on large-scale open-world RPGs. There’s a reason games like Skyrim remain popular to this day: the meticulously crafted worlds and sense of freedom capture the imagination. On paper, Starfield looks like the logical conclusion, a game that stretches beyond a single planet through the far reaches of space. I thought it would be fun to dig into Bethesda’s presentation and see what we can glean about the game, from the basics like image quality and performance to the overall approach to technology and design. .

Let’s start with the rendering resolution: the trailer is rendered in native 4K, but the shots vary in clarity. Interestingly, gameplay footage seems to lack any kind of anti-aliasing, so you get crisp edges with visible aliases everywhere. On the contrary, the most cinematic plans use TAA similarly to Fallout 4, which should be more in line with what we’ll see in the final product.

Beyond just solving, we can get a sense of the development team’s design goals by looking at how Starfield handles open planet areas, interior spaces, character rendering, and finally outer space. atmospheric. For example, in an exterior scene, the game can be seen to have long-distance shadows, which is crucial in keeping details far away. This is one of the key issues we’ve identified with Halo Infinite and it’s great to see Starfield have a solution.

What can we deduce from the Starfield reveal? A lot, as John Linneman discovers.

Starfield also seems to have a system that shows a localized volume of fog in the valley faults, which looks great. Overall, the atmospheric render looks reasonably robust from what we can see in this demo. What I’m still not clear on is the sky system – it looks very promising, but due to the low bitrate of the trailer footage we had to watch, it’s hard to say if we consider a suitable volumetric sky system or a plain sky dome. Either way, it produces attractive results – we just need to see how dynamic it is in the end game.

So it’s all tied together by the terrain system: planet surfaces and structures are likely to be built using a mix of procedural generation and hand-placed assets, which is a common approach these days. The rendering of the terrain itself resembles previous Bethesda games, but popups are kept to a minimum and details are apparent from a distance. While attractive, the rendering features don’t push the envelope, which is understandable given the scale of the game and the long development time.

Inside, things are different: large-scale shadows, which were low-res and grainy outdoors, are sharply defined indoors. This section evokes a Doom 3-like vibe, with direct lights piercing the darkness while specular highlights play across the surfaces. Compared to Fallout 4, the jump in fidelity is significant, as the game features rudimentary interior lighting and a noticeable lack of texture and object detail.

This brings up an interesting omission: the lack of highlights. In the original trailer, we noticed almost RT-like reflections, but in every gameplay footage, there is no evidence of screen-space reflections, let alone RT reflections. At best, we see basic cubic maps. For a flush setup with metal surfaces, this seems a little odd to me, and the screen space reflections would go a long way to improving the overall cohesion of the image.

There are also a lot of positive elements here. The weapons, for example, are fantastic. I’ve never been a fan of Fallout 4’s designs (the model work and animation left me cold), but Starfield has weapons that look sleek and powerful. Enemy animation is usually much better too. As an RPG, it still feels like you’re depleting one more health bar than dealing damage directly, but the reactions are much better. The only thing missing is per-object motion blur on weapons and enemies.

The Fallout 4 characters on the create screen look surprisingly similar to those in Starfield.

Character representation has also improved noticeably since Fallout 4, especially when looking past the character creation screens and focusing on how the game actually looks. scenes, could make things even better, by accurately describing how light interacts with the surface of the skin. It’s present on the ears in the images we’ve seen, but it’s not applicable to the rest of the skin, which accentuates the normal maps too much. Additionally, the tear duct geometry is a little too bright, catching the lights to the point where it almost seems to glow. Beyond those minor points, there’s a huge improvement in animation quality. Conversations in Fallout 4 featured stiff and even ugly animations, while Starfield looked much sleeker in comparison.

Starfield’s latest major setting is outer space and although we only get a brief glimpse of it, effects that work like lasers and explosions are promising, definitely a step up from smoke low resolution when landing on a planet. The big question I have about space travel is less about the visuals and more about the possibilities: I’d like to see ship management integrated into travel. Imagine getting up from the captain’s chair to explore the ship, while managing resources and systems. I think it could make traveling between planets more engaging and challenging. However, it is unclear if this is an option or if the player simply “become” the ship in flight.

There are also a few other technical criticisms worth mentioning, namely the game’s indirect lighting. photons bouncing off a surface and indirectly illuminating another area. The current issue is that areas not directly lit in Starfield show a uniform grayish color that doesn’t match the lighting results you expect. Ray-traced global illumination would work well here, but it comes at a high performance cost. A baked offline solution using probes could also work but, with so many planets, the GI data would probably be too large. This is a difficult problem to solve when building a game on this scale.

The game’s interiors offer a marked improvement over previous Bethesda games, but could still benefit from an improvement in GI and reflections.

Then there is performance. The trailer frames we have were encoded in a 30 fps container, which limits the amount of analysis we can do. However, there still seem to be some issues worth pointing out, namely the fact that all gameplay footage shows significant performance issues and regularly drops below 30fps. That’s not unusual for a game at this stage of development, but Bethesda’s wildly variable launch performance history on console gives me pause. This is the presentation’s most noticeable flaw and I expect performance to improve for launch, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The other thing I’m interested in is cities: in previous versions of Bethesda, large cities were usually divided by loading screens, while smaller cities were integrated. So can you land on a planet and get to a big city without a loading screen? I hope we will find out soon.

Still, though I have picky eaters, Starfield is still shaping up to be Bethesda’s most beautiful game yet: Most of the ugliest bits that plagued Fallouts 4 and 76 have been removed and we’re left with some beautiful environments to explore. in their place. . Starfield also features structures and scale unlike anything they’ve built in the past. The whole “1000 planets” feature seemed ridiculous at first, but you can imagine that the key planets have been carefully constructed and designed, while they can rely more on procedural generation to handle the rest. If the game structure supports it properly, it could be fascinating. Even as someone who’s largely exhausted from open-world games, I’m very intrigued by Starfield.

All of this means that Starfield will be a tough game to analyze when it releases next year, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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