As IGN revealed exclusively during Summer of Gaming, the long-awaited space epic Starfield runs at 30 frames per second on Xbox Series X and S. The news sparked a loud debate about the performance of Bethesda Game Studios’ next big title, and defied expectations from some first-party games. Big ones should run at 60fps on Xbox Series X no matter what.
But why does Starfield run at 30fps? In an interview with IGN, BGS president Todd Howard said that the development team decided to lock Starfield to 30 frames per second on the console to ensure “consistent” performance.
“I think it wouldn’t be a surprise, given our previous matches, what we’re going for,” said Howard. “Always these huge, open worlds, full dynamics, hyper detail where anything can happen. And we really want to do that. It’s 4K on the X. It’s 1440 on the S. We lock it at 30, because we want that fidelity, we want all that stuff. We don’t want to sacrifice any of them.
“Luckily on this one, we’ve got it running great. It often runs on top of that. Sometimes it’s 60. But on consoles, we turn it off because we like consistency, where you don’t even think about it.”
“And we never want to sacrifice that experience that makes our games feel really special. So it feels great. We’re really happy with how it feels even in the heat of battle. And we need that height because in our games, anything really can happen.”
Could anything happen? How about stocking a basket full of sandwiches in your spaceship? Well, that’s exactly what we saw possible in the extended video preview of Starfield, continuing the rich tradition of BGS games letting players collect all sorts of shit, stack it up in their house, and then count down the seconds before collapsing.
Now, as the dust begins to settle on the Starfield 30fps controversy, these sandwiches have become an unlikely focal point, with some experts claiming that this type of gameplay is exactly what means 30fps is the right choice.
John Linnemann, video game analyst Digital Foundryto Twitter to explain exactly what’s going on.
“Although it’s used as a hider in video, this hack-sandwich concept highlights one of the reasons why 60fps is so difficult to achieve,” Linnemann explained.
Like previous BGS titles, Starfield seems to keep track of the location and location of arbitrary elements in the world. Given the scope, these things start to add up. The player has so much freedom in this regard that it becomes, in all likelihood, impossible to keep the frame budget below 16ms. Lowering the resolution level will not make this possible.”
… these things start to add up. The player has so much freedom in this regard that it becomes, in all likelihood, impossible to keep the frame budget below 16ms. Lowering the resolution will not make this possible.
– John Lineman (@dark1x) June 12, 2023
Some have called for BGS to add a performance mode to Starfield, one that would allow players to lower the resolution or resolution of the visuals in favor of higher frames per second. But according to Linnemann, doing so wouldn’t make much difference.
Starfield, like previous BGS games, is unique in many ways, including how it tracks objects. “You can take a random item out of your inventory and put it on a table,” said Linnemann. “You can adjust dozens of items and more. Item position will be preserved for the rest of the game. I can’t think of many other games that attempt this.”
Meanwhile, Dannie Carlone, environment artist on God of War developer Sony Santa Monica team, shared the defense of BGS’ decision to go with 30fps for Starfield.
“This is not a sign of an unfinished game,” he said in a tweet. “It’s a choice. 60fps on this scale would be a huge blow to visual fidelity. I suspect they want to go for a smooth, less “show” look. And of course your right to hate the choice.”
Dave game here, big fan btw. I want to be clear that it is not a sign of an unfinished game. It’s a choice. 60fps on this scale would be a huge blow to visual fidelity. I suspect they want to go for a smooth, less “show” look. And of course your right to hate the choice
– Danny Carlon (Corgiboltz) June 12, 2023
Then: “It doesn’t have to be 4K (which is expensive), it could be 1080p at 60 or some other variable resolution at 60. They want to keep it locked at 30 4K and push the visuals up a notch on that scale.”
It seems likely that the 30fps debate will follow Starfield all the way to release. Either way, assuming Starfield is released on console with locked 30fps performance, it will be the smoothest and most consistent game Bethesda Game Studios has released at launch.
In case you missed it, here’s our Xbox show roundup, and here’s everything on display during Starfield Direct.