Will Starfield capture the little details that give space its wonder?

Hello! Welcome to Captain’s Log

A mini-series on the things we love about space – and how video games so brilliantly engage with it. You can read all of our pieces in the series in one place as they go live, here at the Captain’s Log archive. Enjoy!

One of the things I’m most looking forward to with Starfield is the attention to detail. While the main adventure is exciting, I find myself drawn to the small aspects in big games. From the components on a rocket or a spacesuit to the subtle references to real-world inspiration, these details make a game truly immersive. When I saw the Starfield logo in a video earlier this year, I couldn’t help but get excited. Against a white background of space with dark stars and nebulae scattered over it, the logo reminded me of the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey – a nod to the beauty of space captured in negatives.

As a self-proclaimed space nerd, I love being able to explore these small elements in space games. Being born in 1978, the year nestled between the launch of the Voyagers in ’77 and the return of Skylab in ’79, it’s impossible not to have a fascination with space. Back then, space was everywhere, and it’s making a comeback with the daily updates from the James Webb telescope and the rovers on Mars.

A Hasselblad camera with Réseau plate fitted. | Image credit: Phil Parker, via: https://history.nasa.gov/alsj/alsj-reseau.html

Games like Starfield have always excelled at capturing the essence of space. Even without playing Starfield yet, I can confidently say that Outer Wilds sets a high standard when it comes to capturing the glory and urgency of space exploration. Within minutes of starting the game, you can land on a comet and truly immerse yourself in its vast bottle universe. Yet, it’s the details in these games that capture my attention. In Outer Wilds, there’s a specific detail that gives me a sense of awe every time I encounter it.

When you enter your spaceship in Outer Wilds, and put on your helmet, a series of little pluses or Xes briefly appear on the screen. These marks, reminiscent of old NASA photography from the moon, bring back a rush of excitement. As I researched further, I discovered that they may be similar to the marks from the Réseau plates of the Hasselblad cameras used on moon missions. These plates, covered in fiducial markers, created permanent shadows on the negative, allowing for distortion detection and measurements during the development process.

Some may associate these markings with lunar landing conspiracies, but for me, they symbolize the thrill of that era of science, exploration, and photography. Similar marks also appear in Quadrilateral Cowboy, another game that pays homage to past technology. Whether Starfield incorporates these details remains to be seen, but I have high hopes for its ability to capture the essence of space.