Former Skyrim lead designer Bruce Nesmith left Bethesda, and his updated role as senior systems designer, partway through Starfield's development, so he was as surprised as the rest of us when the massive space RPG was released in remarkably good condition.
Nesmith has discussed his career at Bethesda in a recent interview with MinnMax, and was asked how Starfield surprised him given that he missed a portion of its development. "The Bethesda guys may not like me for saying this," he begins, "but: the stability and polish of it.
"Bethesda had a history, deservedly earned, of releasing buggy games. We always talked about the fact we bit off more than we could chew, and our audience actually celebrated the fact that our games were a little bit quirky. But we gave them so much in exchange. We gave them entire worlds to explore in exchange for a little bit of jankiness that we were totally forgiven in every case.
"When I started playing Starfield and it was smooth as glass to begin with, that was like, 'wow, guys. They're gonna have to take back some of those comments.' Which of course they did not. They've continued to lay them out there because gaming audiences forgive nothing and remember everything."
Pre-launch, Microsoft executives had boldly promised Starfield would have Bethesda's least-buggy launch. "If it shipped today, this would have the fewest bugs any Bethesda game ever shipped with," Microsoft Game Studios head Matt Booty said back in the summer. To the surprise of everyone who played Fallout 4 or Skyrim, that did end up being basically true. Starfield had some minor performance issues and technical hiccups, and a few of the usual "quirky" NPC and physics interactions Nesmith alludes to, but no widespread game-breaking issues.
Much like Nesmith, departing Bethesda publishing head Pete Hines previously shrugged off Starfield bugs as a small price to pay for the scope of games like Starfield. "We could make a safer, less buggy, less risky game if we wanted to," he said last month. "But what we try to lean into is player freedom. Yes, there's going to be some little things here and there where your companion might stand a little too close to you sometimes, yet the freedom you get, and the things that happen because of that, we absolutely love and embrace. Of course there are bugs. But does it take away from your experience? Or do you have a consistent, fun game that you just can't stop playing and experimenting with?"
In another response, Nesmith asserts that a perfect game wouldn't be received perfectly anyhow, so you may as well take your lumps and make the absurdly ambitious game you want. "You could produce a game that had zero defects, which doesn't exist, and they would still find something to complain about," he says. "That's just the way the industry is. But they also got credit for having a relatively bug-free launch. A lot of the critics gave Bethesda a lot of credit for that."
Starfield's most essential mod, the Community Patch, is finally here and already has dozens of fixes.