Starfield interview: ex Bethesda dev on scale, building a new universe

Our PCGamesN Starfield interview with ex-Bethesda developer Nate Purkeypile asks all about the upcoming RPG, the project's scale, and making new game worlds

: character interaction in Bethesda's Starfield

We’ve had the opportunity to do a Starfield interview, which could very well be the magnum opus of Bethesda’s RPG games, as the studio steps out from behind the likes of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls to develop a new universe that redefines its open-world games to be more open-universe, with thousands of planets to explore. This anticipation drove us to chat with an ex-Bethesda developer, who struck out on his own after leaving Bethesda last year and working on Starfield for quite some time.

This person is Nate Purkeypile, founder of Just Purkey Games and a developer for 17 years, 14 of which were spent at Bethesda from Fallout 3 all the way to Starfield, as an artist on many projects. Naturally, Purkeypile wasn’t able to go too in depth about Starfield, due to contracts and the fact it isn’t out until next year, but he gave us some interesting tidbits about the space project.

When it comes to the size of Starfield, Purkeypile says it isn’t just the biggest game Bethesda has ever made, but also the one that has required the biggest team as well.

“The scope of that project is the main thing that’s different, because, you know, Fallout 3, Skyrim, Fallout 4, that was all one team. Fallout 76, that was two mostly, we had a little bit of help from Montreal, but it was mostly the Austin and Maryland [Bethesda] studios working together.

“But yeah, Starfield is a much bigger project, it’s like 500 people or something on the team, whereas I think [Fallout] 76 was maybe 200, tops,” added Purkeypile, saying that the colossal size of the development team was one of the reasons why he left and decided to make games on his own.

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Purkeypile also said that the biggest challenge faced during Starfield’s development while he was there – keep in mind a lot about the game could have changed since he left – was the effort and detail needed to be put in to make an entirely new fictional universe.

“There’s not always solved problems for how things should look,” explains Purkeypile, “Which can be so many particular things, like what shape are the metal panels? How do they bolt things together? What colours do you use? What materials do they have? How do you make a difference between all these different areas? So that’s much harder versus if you asked me like, hey, make another follow up game.

“You have to figure out everything, and there’s all this extrapolative fiction to figure out too. You’d be shocked at how many metal panels they did in concept,” Purkeypile jokingly added.

Starfield is going to be big, so big in fact that it’ll have 1,000 planets to explore that can be landed on anywhere. We had some questions for Purkeypile about how this was achieved, as while it’s been previously mentioned by director Tod Howard that procedural generation is involved with the over 100 solar systems, we don’t know exactly how.

“I can’t really go into the tech details of it,” says Purkypile, “the map of [Fallout] 76 is like, almost two times the size of Skyrim or so, and that was a lot of work for people to do, but yeah, it doesn’t scale. Even if you wanted to hire outsourcing, you’d have to hire, like, a country. Realistically, it’s a fraction of that team actually [working] on planets.”

Purkeypile didn’t go into how Bethesda has made these planets specifically, but it’s interesting to hear that the studio has come up with some sort of creative solution that lets so many be developed for Starfield while still feeling somewhat unique.

Starfield New Atlantis: A tall, glass spire rises out of the cityscape, with the letters 'UC' at its pinnacle

We also got talking about Starfield’s reveal and the, let’s be blunt, lacklustre The Elder Scrolls 6 reveal. Purkeypile noted that while nothing was shown of the fantasy game, Starfield has been shown and is coming out in part to set expectations for how long it’ll be until The Elder Scrolls 6 actually releases.

“So they have to be like, ‘look, we’re gonna set expectations’. At this point [it’s been] more than 10 years, that’s pretty unheard of to go that long without a sequel.” He continues, “Sure there’s Elder Scrolls Online but frankly, I view that as kind of like the separate market for the MMO group. I think letting people know that it’s going to be a while before that is definitely part of it,” says Purkeypile.

So, while we all wait for Starfield, hopefully Purkeypile’s time on the game can tide us over, even if he wasn’t able to say too much about the ins and outs of the next Bethesda game. We’ve also got a lot more on the way from our interview with Purkeypile about the Fallout series and Skyrim, and even some details about his upcoming solo-developed mystical hunting game, The Axis Unseen, which you can find on Steam. Purkeypile’s Twitter is also filled with interesting looks behind the scenes of game development, so be sure to give him a follow to learn about how games get made.

If you want to know even more about the game outside this Starfield interview, we’ve got a primer on Starfield ship builds, details about the Starfield Game Pass release, and all you need to know about the Starfield release date and latest news as well.