Someone may have figured out why Starfield's NPCs all look like they're dead inside, and it's got everything to do with their "fake smiles."
Character and tech artist Delaney King on Twitter dived deep into the discussion of why the game's characters look so frightening at times, explaining that she noticed that a certain facial muscle is giving them unnatural facial expressions (via IGN).
"One thing I noticed about Starfield is the character smiles have an issue with the orbicularis oculi muscle not contracting to give a 'Duchenne smile'," King said, going on to say that when you smile and the muscle doesn't contract, "you get a 'fake smile' or a 'liars smile'."
One thing I noticed about Starfield is the character smiles have an issue with the orbicularis oculi muscle not contracting to give a "Duchenne smile". pic.twitter.com/2JdR95L3UoSeptember 10, 2023
The lengthy thread goes into much more detail on how this can make characters look so abnormal, saying that when someone smiles, the cheek apples are also supposed to rise while the orbicularis oculi muscle contract, otherwise they'll end up looking like they're resisting the urge to smile, "giving a constipated look."
King also referenced András Arató, best known as the person in the Hide the Pain Harold meme, explaining that his orbicularis oculi doesn't contract far even with a genuine smile, which gave birth to the "dead inside" meme, and showed how it's similar to the game's companions.
There's also the issue of some Starfield NPCs having strange eye tracking, with some appearing to be staring into your soul. King said that the upper whites of a human's eyes are exposed "when we have a fight or flight response. We open our eyes wide to allow more light in. This means we are either terrified or about to attack." No wonder NPCs look so creepy.
"A bunch of people across several departments have to coordinate and have the money and time to do it right,” King added. "And the odds of them all knowing both human facial anatomy, expressions, and visual communication queues isn't high."
Starfield is out now available on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and Xbox Game Pass. It officially hit an all-time peak of 330,723 concurrent players over the weekend, beating Skyrim's record.