'About 10%' of Starfield's 1000+ planets have life on them as the game tries to capture 'the magnificent desolation' of space, says Todd Howard

Sci-fi planet
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Starfield game director Todd Howard continues to make the rounds in advance of Starfield's September release, giving us a little more insight into just what the sci-fi epic is going to be when it finally comes out. Turns out that it's going to be pretty lonely, apparently: Howard says that "about 10 percent" of the game's 1000+ planets will have life on them as Bethesda tries to capture "the magnificent desolation" of the universe.

Howard was chatting Starfield in today's episode of the Kinda Funny Xcast when the question of the game's many, many procgen planets came up. Asked about how much handcrafted content there would be on those planets, and whether there would really be much for players to do, Howard answered, "there's no way we're going to go and handcraft an entire planet". 

Instead, Bethesda handcrafts "individual locations and some of those are placed specifically," meaning stuff like cities and locations associated with quests, "and then we have a suite of them that are generated or placed when you land depending on that planet". 

To me, it almost sounds like the planets from the first Mass Effect, which were mostly barren save for a few placed mercenary and bandit bases. Fingers crossed that Starfield's "suite" of stuff is a bit more varied than ME1's was, though.

Howard points out that having 10% of Starfield's planets harbour life actually makes it pretty busy from a scientific point of view. "We're pushing [science]," said Howard, "About 10 percent of those planets have life on them. We're pushing it to the edge of what do people think, what planets are in that Goldilocks Zone versus planets that have resources".

But mostly, it sounds like Starfield is trying to capture the beauty and the loneliness of our actual, real-life universe. "We will generate certain things for you to find on [barren planets]," said Howard, "but if you look at a planet … there is—I love the Buzz Aldrin quote—'the magnificent desolation'. 

"I think there's a certain beauty to landing on those and feeling 'I'm one of the only people or the only person to ever visit this planet,'" said Howard. "We hope everybody enjoys it for what it is, but it is an exploration different than we've had".

As an inveterate fan of space trucking in Elite: Dangerous, this all sounds quite familiar, and I have to say it sounds pretty intriguing. I'm all for wandering the vast and lonely wastes of the galaxy, but I'm curious if fans coming to this straight from Skyrim or Fallout 4 might find themselves put out of sorts. Still, Howard says Bethesda has tried hard to balance the "gamey" elements around the exploratory vibe, and that the studio has "dialled that in pretty well". I suppose we'll find out come September.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.