Starfield is less than 200 days away from being released. Until the upcoming Summer Games Fest in June, there will be no gameplay showcases, which is rather astounding for a game so long in the making. But this does not seem to have affected the hype for the game, and Starfield fans continue to speculate on various possibilities.
Small leaks and scoops of information from third-party sources are creating new avenues of speculation altogether. These leaks are occasionally corroborated by official concept artwork.
One of the things the artwork has featured very prominently thus far is different spaceships. It is all but confirmed that there would be different classes of spaceships in a space game of this scale.
In the same vein, one more spaceship-centric speculation that surfaced earlier is predicated on a less obvious detail. It is the soiled and grimy state of the Constellation spaceship, as seen in the Starfield announcement trailer.
Are the 'wear and tear' details on Starfield spaceships just cosmetic?
The cutting-edge version of Bethesda's in-house engine, Creation Engine 2.0, appears to be a major upgrade capable of much more detail. The visual side of this is a big enough upgrade that the announcement trailer was created in-game.
The dirt visible on the spaceship's outer metal surface surely adds an impressive amount of visual flair. Notwithstanding, an additional decal layer on textures is no revolutionary feat.
A 2014 off-roading simulation game called Spintires executed the same idea with just PS4-era tech in mind-boggling detail. As you drive through the swamps, your vehicle gets mud-caked in real-time. Admittedly, a simulation game should have the budget to allocate towards something that will happen ad infinitum in actual gameplay.
But this concept has since snuck into AAA material design. We can see examples of this in Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Last of Us II, recreated in a painstakingly similar level of detail.
Last week, 3D Artist Heath Cerlan, an ex-Bethesda Game Studios employee who worked on Starfield, posted on their ArtStation handle:
"I created many of the materials and textures for the interior and exterior of the ship in these shots. My biggest contribution while I was at Bethesda was the layered material system for Creation Engine that I spearheaded the design and testing process for - which is being used on Starfield and likely future BGS titles."
Starfield is a game that prides itself on pushing the boundaries of the genre and overcoming technical hurdles faced by the studio. These finer 'wear and tear' decals will dynamically change the look of spaceships as players traverse its massive world.
Some might point to the fact that dynamic models like this were even present in Grand Theft Auto III, over twenty years ago. However, one important point to note is that BGS games have never featured a drivable vehicle up until this point, let alone dynamic details like this.
The most compelling question to ask is the scope of its presence. It would have made sense for Bethesda to add a fresh coat of polish for the camera when they recorded footage for the big reveal. Heath Cerlan continued in her post:
"I should mention that other artists added additional 'wear and tear' decals to the ship for the trailer..."
A mechanical inclusion of these wear-and-tear mechanics, however, would tie very naturally into Starfield's most-coveted gameplay additions.
BGS products have always managed to add a greater layer of immersive elements with newer installments. Examples range from ant queues on tree stumps in Skyrim to a whooping new settlement building mini-game in Fallout 4.
Starfield will almost certainly take the same base-building system and run with it. Firstly, its reception across the Fallout community has become more and more favorable years after its release. Secondly, much of the work could be ported over with little to no extra hassle on the same engine with the same asset-packaging framework. If base-building makes its way into the game, can base maintenance be far behind?