Starfield's Design Director Shares Insights
When you think about it, the idea that Starfield almost had a voiced protagonist is a bit mind-boggling. It’s not exactly a response to how fans received Fallout 4’s dialogue system, but it does show that, given the opportunity, Bethesda still prefers to stick to its guns. In fact, the decision reflects on the ongoing modern RPG trend, and it also shows that big-budget studios are starting to listen more to player feedback.
In a new interview, Starfield’s design director digs into the Bethesda RPG game’s development, and reveals that the decision not to have a voiced protagonist was made to let you be the person you want to be.
“In pre-production, the plan was to have a voiced protagonist,” design director Steve Wilkinson says. “But as we dove into it, it became clear that an unvoiced protagonist would allow us to have a bigger world, and not have to adjust our scope based on the size of the voice over budget.”
The decision to ditch a voiced protagonist for Starfield was made to let players be the person they want to be. Wilkinson says that, in the past, the use of text instead of a voiced protagonist was seen as freeing for the developers.
“We understood that, for the players, it was all about the dialogue options,” Wilkinson says. “Knowing exactly what the character will say in a conversation is preferred, and we can do a lot with that.”
The article also mentions examples of RPGs with voiced protagonists that work well within their specific stories. Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls Online both come to mind, as they both do a good job at tailoring specific voice actors to specific stories.
The modern RPG trend of fully voice-worked protagonists seems to be fading away, which makes sense from a design perspective. The more that a protagonist is voiced, the more limited the game becomes. Limiting the freedom and roleplaying potential of a game is the opposite of what an RPG should do, which is why the decision to use a specific voice actor for Starfield’s Alina is so interesting.
The best voiced protagonists work when they have a baseline personality. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect works well because that universe requires a certain level of voice consistency, while Fallout 4’s Sole Survivor is pretty great because of the specific story that game tells.
On the flip side, the use of specific voice actors in Bethesda’s RPGs has always felt like a bad fit. Limiting potential roleplaying fantasies by using a specific voice actor is a non-starter in a game like Skyrim – or even Fallout – where you can be literally anything you can think of.
The fact that Starfield has no voiced protagonist also means that, as the article mentions, we don’t have to worry about a future where we have to press a button to be sarcastic. The ability to be sarcastic through text options is also something players prefer, which is why the relief of avoiding a future where we have to press a button to be sarcastic is mentioned.
If you want to know why Bethesda prefers not having a voiced protagonist, Starfield’s decision to go that route is part of a bigger trend in the industry. Knowing that players prefer text over voice actors means more freedom for developers, and that’s exactly what Starfield needed to become what it is today.
Check out the full Starfield interview here.