You might think that the smarter the video game’s AI, the better, but according to Bethesda’s Todd Howard, the enemy ships in Starfield used to be just a little too smart.
Getting AI right in games is a difficult balancing act: if you make an NPC too smart it can feel unfair, but if you make them too stupid it can be frustrating or too easy. Starfield director Todd Howard shared some details on the steps Bethesda took to get the balancing act right for the game’s enemy ships in particular (thanks, GameSpot) on The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook podcast. “We just played tournaments the whole time,” Howard shared.
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“It turns out that you really have to make the AI stupid. You have to let them fly, they have to turn around and basically say, ‘Hey, player one, you can just shoot at me for a while.’ And then you give the AI tools that allow the player to see, ‘Oh, he’s accelerating, I can do that.'”
According to Howard, one of the most important parts of space combat was getting the enemy AI right, pointing out that this is notoriously difficult to do in a video game. Howard also shared that games like FTL and MechWarrior served as inspiration for Starfield, but he wanted to present similar mechanics “in a way that people can understand, so we don’t have to pause the game in space.”
Space combat was obviously one of Starfield’s big draws, especially considering you can build your own ship (which has led to players building some pretty neat designs). However, space exploration is a little more limited as its planets turn out to be technically an illusion, as proven by a streamer who attempted to fly all the way to the surface of Pluto.