Todd Howard: Skyrim, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout, and Starfield | Lex Fridman Podcast #342 | Summary and Q&A

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November 29, 2022
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Lex Fridman Podcast
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Todd Howard: Skyrim, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout, and Starfield | Lex Fridman Podcast #342

TL;DR

Starfield is an upcoming open-world RPG game set in space, offering players the opportunity to explore a hundred star systems and a thousand planets.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is the main premise of Starfield?

Starfield is an open-world RPG game set in space, where players can explore countless star systems and planets in a quest-driven gameplay experience.

Q: What sets Starfield apart from other space exploration games?

Starfield offers an immersive RPG experience with a focus on player agency, allowing them to interact with NPCs, build outposts, and engage in quests and missions within a vast and dynamic universe.

Q: How many star systems and planets are there in Starfield?

Starfield features approximately a hundred star systems and a thousand planets for players to explore, each with its own unique landscapes, environments, and resources.

Q: Can players interact with NPCs in Starfield?

Yes, players will have the opportunity to interact with NPCs in the game, forming relationships and engaging in dialogue-driven interactions that contribute to the overall storytelling and player experience.

Q: What are some key features of Starfield gameplay?

Starfield focuses on player exploration and choices, with a blend of handcrafted content and open procedural worlds. It aims to deliver a sense of awe and immersion through realistic graphics, dynamic environments, and engaging gameplay mechanics.

Q: Will players be able to engage in combat in Starfield?

Starfield will offer combat mechanics, allowing players to engage in battles and conflicts as they explore the vastness of space. Combat will be an integral part of the gameplay experience, alongside exploration and quest-driven activities.

Q: Can you explain the role of companions in Starfield?

Companions in Starfield can be robots or various other characters that join the player on their space exploration journey. They can provide assistance in combat, offer unique abilities, and contribute to the overall narrative and player experience.

Q: What is the main premise of Starfield?

Starfield is an open-world RPG game set in space, where players can explore countless star systems and planets in a quest-driven gameplay experience.

Summary

This is a conversation with Todd Howard, one of the greatest video game designers of all time. He shares insights on game design, character development, creating immersive worlds, and the challenges of programming open world games.

Questions & Answers

Q: Is it possible that we are currently living inside a video game that the future you designed?

Actually, we do consider things like that when designing games. We want the game to be as open as possible and we test all possibilities for player interaction. We try to create games where players can say "yes" to as many actions as possible. This can lead to some chaos, but it allows players to find unintended paths and discover new things in the game world.

Q: How do you create compelling NPC dialogue in games like Skyrim?

The main goal is to make NPCs reactive to the player. We want players to feel like their actions and choices have an impact on the game world. For example, in Skyrim, the guards have reactive dialogue that makes them more interesting and realistic. We try to anticipate what players might do in the game and provide unique responses for those actions.

Q: What is the role of randomness in dialogue trees?

We write dialogue trees in a structured way, but we also include randomness to make interactions more dynamic and unexpected. We look at what players are doing in the game and find ways for NPCs to respond to those actions. This adds depth and realism to the characters and makes the world feel more alive.

Q: How do you design AI and state machines for characters in open world games?

Our approach is to think of the AI as one big state machine. We consider the actions and behaviors of all characters in the game world and simulate their movements and intentions. We prioritize what the player can see and update that more frequently, while low-priority characters have a lower tick rate. This allows us to create a dynamic and realistic world where characters have their own lives and behaviors.

Q: How do you create the feeling of being in a realistic outdoor environment in games like Skyrim?

Graphics and mood play a significant role in creating the feeling of being outdoors. We spend a lot of time on the sky, weather effects, and overall ambiance. We want players to feel a sense of awe and immersion when they step outside in the game. It's about creating a believable and captivating experience that reflects the beauty and wonder of real-world nature.

Q: How do you balance realism and story in video games?

Our approach is to prioritize player agency and allow them to have as much freedom as possible. We are willing to sacrifice some graphic fidelity for a more immersive player experience. However, we also put a lot of effort into creating high-quality graphics that enhance the storytelling and world-building aspects of our games. It's about finding the right balance between realism, player interaction, and an engaging narrative.

Q: How do you create the tone and atmosphere of a game world?

Tone is a combination of many factors, including the technology level of the world, the prevalence of magic or other fantastical elements, the way characters live their lives, and the overall mood and ambiance. It's about creating a world that feels grounded in some semblance of reality and capturing the essence of different genres. The goal is to make players believe in the world and feel a sense of immersion and connection to the story and characters.

Q: What are the challenges of programming open world games?

Programming open world games involves creating robust systems that can handle the complexity and scale of the game world. The challenge is to develop systems that interact with each other without causing conflicts or performance issues. It's about finding the right balance between handcrafted content and systemic generation to make the game world feel alive and dynamic. There can be various bugs and challenges along the way, but these are often overcome through rigorous testing and iteration.

Q: What are some interesting bugs or challenges you have encountered in game development?

One memorable bug was in Redguard, where the lead programmer made all the buildings move up and down after the player played for a certain amount of time. This was done as a prank and to mess with the designer. It highlights the creativity and camaraderie involved in game development, as well as the unexpected challenges that arise during the process. Bugs and challenges are a natural part of game development, and they often lead to interesting stories and unexpected solutions.

Q: How do you overcome self-doubt as a game developer?

Self-doubt is a common feeling in any creative field. The key is to have a passion for what you do and to find joy in the process of creating games. Todd Howard emphasizes the importance of pursuing what you love and swinging for the fences. It's about continually learning and improving, even in the face of challenges and setbacks. Love for the craft and the desire to create meaningful experiences can help overcome self-doubt and keep pushing forward.

Takeaways

Creating immersive and captivating open world games involves thoughtful design, robust programming systems, and a balance between realistic graphics and engaging storytelling. Todd Howard's insights highlight the importance of player agency, reactive NPCs, and creating immersive environments. Challenges in game development, such as bugs and self-doubt, are common but can be overcome through passion, perseverance, and a commitment to creating meaningful experiences for players.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Starfield is a new game being developed by Bethesda Softworks, known for their popular Elder Scrolls and Fallout series.

  • The game takes place in space and allows players to explore a vast universe, with a hundred star systems and a thousand planets.

  • Players will have the opportunity to interact with NPCs, build outposts, and engage in quests and missions in a dynamic and immersive gaming experience.

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