Starfield’s Massive Script Equals Massive Amounts Of Work, Say Devs

Starfield’s Massive Script Equals Massive Amounts Of Work, Say Devs
Illustration: Bethesda

At the Tokyo Game Show yesterday, Bethesda’s creative director Todd Howard told an audience that upcoming space-faring RPG Starfield will have more than 150,000 lines of dialogue. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. In response to the announcement, some developers at other AAA studios expressed shock at the sheer volume of dialogue.

Howard has previously described Starfield as “like Skyrim in space.” For context, though, Skyrim “only” had 60,000 lines, less than half of Starfield’s projected line count.

Wyn Rush, a senior narrative designer at Gears of War developer The Coalition, spoke to Kotaku about why she and her narrative peers were so concerned about the news. Implementing such a large script, she says, involves long hours from more than just the game’s writers.

“A huge game script isn’t just a ton of work for the writing team…It’s work for the audio department, engineers, animators, possibly even the level designers…A behemoth script means a lot of time doing VO recording, recording processing, and [script] line management.”

It’s not just the sheer bulk of work that surprised Rush. As she sees it, there are potential pitfalls for quality. She cited editing, maintaining a consistent creative direction, and accurate localisation as pain points in a large script.

“In a sea of VO lines that large, I can only fathom how much got lost, mixed up, or [improperly] quality-controlled. Even the best processes and most vigilant teams are gonna lose a few in the cracks.”

It’s not only the Starfield project itself that could be affected, but potentially the developers’ lives. According to game writer and narrative designer Anna Webster, the sheer size of the undertaking could have an effect on development labour. “Dialogue is a labour of love, and the cost of that labour increases proportionally with how much of it there is! And if you aren’t careful on the production side, this can lead to crunch.”

Crunch refers to the drawn-out overtime that is endemic to game development, which can have negative effects on employees’ health. Todd Howard acknowledged in 2019 that Bethesda had had crunch problems in the past, but said that “we’re at the point where we can really manage [crunch] …I think that’s why people stay here.”

There’s still no denying that Starfield’s script will be an immense undertaking in terms of developer labour. Robert Brookes, a narrative designer at Bungie, noted on Twitter that the amount of work in a 150,000-word script could amount to a whopping 500 voice recording sessions. Assuming that the actors were experienced, “…that’s just under a full year of non stop recording if you’re not using multiple recording studios and audio directors.”

Brookes also acknowledged to Kotaku that it was entirely possible that Bethesda could succeed. “It may also not take as long as I estimated,” he said. “Someone pointed out that Disco Elysium I think recorded some 300,000 lines of voice in 8 months.”

Starfield represents the first new Bethesda IP in 25 years. The game is currently scheduled for release on November 11, 2022 for Xbox and PC.

Comments

  • Gods! Now we’re complaining about crunch when there is absolutely no suggestion that anything untoward is happening. The number of times the author uses ‘could’, ‘possibly’ and ‘may’ to make a point that isn’t there.

    This is like one of the old IMDB reviews “worst movie ever” 18 months before the movie comes out.

    Maybe we could take the same information and write something positive, rather than trying to push an agenda, like:

    ‘Starfield is really big. It is a huge, ambitious undertaking. It’s going to provide a lot of jobs for a lot of people. Hopefully they’ll keep the quality up, despite the volume. If they do, it’ll be epic!’

    • It’s industry folks making the points dude, Sisi is just reacting to and expanding on those statements while avoiding the opinions as fact and ensuring multiple viewpoints are provided.

      Your suggestion is certainly positive but given the context, would be a strangely odd reaction.

    • They are talking about legitimate challenges in trying to pull that off. Meanwhile, you: “write something positive, rather than trying to push an agenda”

      If they are trying to write and phrase something only in a positive way… that’s an agenda. You’re literally and unambiguously asking them to push an agenda.

      I’m sure Starfield and Bethesda will survive some mildly negative connotations in an article by a moderately popular gaming site.

  • I’ll just leave this paragraph here from PC Gamers article on this news from two days ago:
    “Word and line counts are sometimes held up as a quantifier of depth and complexity in “serious” RPGs. The same year that Bethesda boasted about Skyrim’s 60,000 lines, for instance, BioWare trumpeted Mass Effect 3 as having 40,000 lines of dialog, double the amount of the first game. A year later, Beamdog co-founder Trent Oster said Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition has “close to a million words of dialog,” which is different than lines but still an awful lot of talk. Somewhat more recently, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had a script of 450,000 words, Obsidian’s Tyranny claimed more than 600,000, and Disco Elysium’s narrator alone had to talk his way through 350,000 words.”

    Sure its more than what skyrim and fallout 4 had but its still a very low number compared to other RPGs that have come out since. What would be news is finding out that hopefully they have hired more than 5 voice actors this time so where not hear the same VA have 3 way conversation with themselves every 30 seconds and maybe you know give the seperate lines to read instead everyone reading the same 20 lines

    • [quote]more than 5 voice actors[/quote]

      lol this was the second thought that came to mind.
      But apparently they have lots this time.

      First thought was; I hope the writing is better than FO4. The game was fun, but the writing was not.

        • hehe yep, we will see.
          I’m not very confident in Bethesda games, or what they say honestly.

          Their worlds are beautiful and I enjoy exploring for a while, but the game balance, quests, story, have let me down in the last couple games.

  • I’ll be impressed if those lines of dialogue have been written by writers and not a bunch of cynical graduate script kiddies in their late 20s who have read a lot of urban fantasy and consider every one of their utterances profound.

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