Criticism Of Starfield’s Start Screen Draws Ire From Bethesda’s Head Of Publishing

Criticism Of Starfield’s Start Screen Draws Ire From Bethesda’s Head Of Publishing

Over the weekend, there was a bit of a dust-up on X (Twitter’s cordyceps-riddled corpse) about Starfield and its minimalist start screen.

The tweet, from former Blizzard dev Mark Kern, asserted that the game’s minimalist start screen “shows hasty shipping deadlines by a passionate team overworked, or a team that didn’t care.”

Kern’s thread goes on to detail the many ways he feels that a game’s start screen can reflect developmental pressures or the pride a team took in making the game.

The one thing he does not appear to have taken into consideration before writing the thread is that the Starfield start screen uses the same template Bethesda has deployed in all its RPGs for over 20 years. Bethesda likes a big logo treatment and a short list of options arranged along the bottom or side of the screen. Fallout 4 is the sole exception, dropping the logo after the welcome screen, but still keeping the same classically styled options list.

When a Twitter user pointed this out, Kern doubled down.

Anyway, just to refresh your memory, let’s take a look at some examples:

starfield start screen
The Oblivion main menu. Image: Xbox
starfield start screen
The Skyrim start screen. Image: Xbox
starfield start screen
The Fallout 3 start screen. Image: Xbox
The Fallout 4 start screen. Image: Xbox

The thread did not escape the notice of Pete Hines, Bethesda’s head of publishing, who fired back after being tagged by a fan.

“Or they designed what they wanted and that’s been our menu for years and was one of the first things we settled on,” Hines wrote. “Having an opinion is one thing. Questioning out a developer’s ‘care’ because you would have done it different is highly unprofessional coming from another ‘dev’.”

At the time of writing, Kern has not responded to Hines’ tweet.

It all feels like a bit of a storm in a teacup, really. Kern, I’m sure, felt like he was imparting some wisdom about the industry, and I’m certain he’s gained plenty of it at Blizzard across his work on World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo 2. It would be one thing if his thread was a simple misreading of the menu design that’s part of the Bethesda style guide. It’s the speculation that it’s minimalist because the team didn’t give enough of a shit that’s gotten him in trouble.

Regardless, it sparked some very interesting conversations from UI artists in the industry and what they do and don’t like about the Bethesda style guide (and others). It also led to fans posting images of start screens from other non-Bethesda games, like Halo 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Cyberpunk 2077, and Sonic Frontiers that used the exact same layout.

My personal favourite take came from Elliot Gray, a staff UI designer at Bungie working on Marathon, who simply said, “I hope the earth explodes this weekend.”


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