Starfield was extensively playtested by Bethesda devs often working from home, and Todd Howard says this approach worked so well that the studio's going to apply the method to its future games, with the studio's next confirmed, albeit far-off project obviously being The Elder Scrolls 6.
Speaking with Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price in a recent interview, Howard reveals that a version of Starfield that was "basically done" was shared with the team in late 2022, with the general message being, "this should be the game you're playing over the holiday." This kicked off a wave of team-wide playtesting, and Howard reckons that, on top of the obvious benefits of having a huge chunk of time dedicated to polish, the work-from-home environment added a special little something.
Price asks if this style of take-home QA is normal for Bethesda, and Howard says that it isn't, but "that will be now."
"I think it was sort of a pandemic thing too, where people were at home, so how do we get builds at home?" Howard says. "But even if you're working at home you're usually on your PC. We knew given the scale of the game that's where we wanted to be, so we made it a goal for this project to have that much time to be playing it and polishing it.
"The 'go home' part I think is very interesting," he continues. "The things you notice. Even if you're working from home, you're on a PC, you're on a dev kit. When you say 'I'm gonna put it on your retail Xbox,' you're in your usual environment, you're on your sofa, your speaker setup is a certain way, you just came off playing Ratchet & Clank or Spider-Man or whatever. You're instantly comparing to the last thing you were playing, and the way you see even your own game changes.
"There's some delta there in how you look at it that we found, everybody in the team found, really impactful. Both positive, and then figuring out, 'Hey I think our 5.1 sound setup is a little off.' It could be anything. Or font sizes. Now you're sitting 10 feet away and you're used to sitting two feet away."
A Large Menu Fonts mode is one of the (few) features highlighted by Steve Saylor in our Starfield accessibility verdict, so it's interesting to hear that it was at least partly influenced by the at-home experience of Bethesda staff.
Elsewhere in the interview, Howard says that their own internal feedback was "brutal," even if it often led to ultimately beneficial decisions like nerfing "the hell" out of planetary hazards to make exploration more fun. Here again, Howard preaches the value of widespread playtesting.
"Our main rule for game development is: great games are played and not made. We play the game a lot. The internal feedback is brutal, in terms of us looking at our own game and then sifting through that to say, what's most important? First you have to identify what's the most important problem, and then we say, what's the straightest line fix? Sometimes the straightest line fix is to delete something. We're not gonna do this anymore.
"That's the most painful one, but I think anyone who's made a game can look back and realize that was the right decision, probably should've made that decision sooner. I think one of the benefits we have, again because a lot of people here have been together for a while, they know that. It's hard to think of a thing that you cut, near the end of a project, and wish we hadn't cut that. That's pretty rare. You think about the ones you've cut, and if you'd cut them sooner or stopped, you could've taken that time and put it into other things."
Here are the best Starfield mods to take your experience to the next level.