Starfield character smiles are creepy and a game developer explains exactly why

Starfield character models have creepy, uncanny valley smiles. A game developer explains this is due to the models not using facial muscles.

Starfield character models have creepy, uncanny valley smiles. A game developer explains this is due to the models not using facial muscles. (Images: Bethesda Softworks)

The NPC smile animations are uncomfortable and eerie for Starfield players. Delaney King, a game developer, explained why this is the case.

Starfield is hailed as an overwhelming triumph by Bethesda and its enthusiastic supporters, yet it is not without its flaws. Although the amount of unfavorable reviews on Steam from critics is rising, their complaints are not baseless. Given the success of recent high-rated games like Baldur’s Gate 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Bethesda’s first new IP in 25 years is sure to be scrutinized for any flaws.

Game developer and character artist Delaney King, who has worked on Dragon Age, God of War, Stellaris, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and many other titles, explained why the non-playable characters in Starfield had such eerie smiles on social media.

King continued, “The fake smile, also known as the liar’s smile, is created when an individual smiles without the contraction of the orbicularis oculi muscle.” It’s basically just smiling for the sake of smiling, lacking the genuineness.

King goes beyond merely describing the “Duchenne smile” to elaborate on the mechanics of the facial muscles required to create a decent approximation or actual human smile using computer-generated models:

This smile probably bugs you for some reason you can’t put your finger on as will. Allow me.
This is the zygomaticus major muscle. It contracts when you smile, pulling the corners of the mouth up towards the Zygomatic process.

King also provided real-world instances of people who fake their smiles, such as Anthony Starr’s character Homelander and the well-known Hungarian electrical engineer Andr’s Arat, whose image is now associated with the “Hide the Pain Harold” online meme.

Andr s Arat is famous for his smile. It appears his orbicularis oculi doesn’t contract very far even with a genuine smile, resulting in that classic “dead inside” meme. The crow’s feet suggest the muscle is tense, but it just doesn’t seem to go as far as your average joe.

However, Starfield’s character models’ grins are not the only thing that remain. The game’s non-player characters likewise suffer from eye problems; they have an appearance appropriate for a survival horror game, but not for the intended purposes.

In and of itself, this analysis by a character artist and game developer like Delaney King is intriguing. Though it is an unbiased examination of the shortcomings of the CGI models for Bethesda’s next science fiction role-playing game series, it does bring attention to some of the criticism leveled at Starfield by certain players.

Despite the plethora of possibilities accessible, an increasing number of fans have deemed Starfield to be monotonous and lack a strong enough incentive to continue playing after a certain point. Some have mentioned the empty planets and places that are accessible. Others have drawn attention to the uninteresting NPCs and their interactions. This last complaint appears to be related to the unpolished way that the expressions and character models were created for Starfield.

There are varying degrees of success and failure in the so-called uncanny valley when it comes to CGI models that attempt to simulate human emotions in contemporary video games. The character models in Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3 and Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 are two examples from the year 2017. Additionally, players of these games might recall numerous noteworthy character exchanges that occurred throughout gameplay. For Starfield, it seems that the same cannot be stated.

It won’t improve Starfield’s dismal Metacritic and Steam ratings, for sure. Could this be just one more sign that Starfield is “undercooked” for a AAA title? Could more time have been spent in development to address these uncanny smiles that give some Starfield players a spooky feeling?

Reply to Starfield:

Starfield is the first new universe in over 25 years from Bethesda Game Studios“>Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. In this next generation role-playing game set amongst the stars, create any character you want and explore with unparalleled freedom as you embark on an epic journey to answer humanity’s greatest mystery.

Starfield, created by Bethesda Game Studios and released by Bethesda Softworks, is playable on Xbox Series X/S and Windows computers.

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