Making video games is like performing magic: there are always tricks that explain how it’s possible to achieve that. Almost never is what you see on the screen exactly what is happening at the code level, at the programming level, and that’s logical. Consoles and computers have limitations, and thinking that the tricks that make games more visually appealing are something new or bad is absurd. Unfortunately, it’s something that many players struggle to come to terms with.
Many players have discovered today that in Starfield, the rain doesn’t fall uniformly on the planets: there’s a particular cloud that follows players wherever they go. That’s it. This, of course, has angered many fans, who have rushed to declare that this proves Bethesda is lazy, incompetent, or both. However, as many developers have pointed out, most of them taking it with a good dose of humor, the reality is that this is not unique to Starfield. In fact, it’s a very elegant and extremely common solution in the world of video games.
Tom Francis, a special effects artist currently working on Darkest Dungeon 2, has given an explanation of why they do this on his Twitter. According to him, the reason for linking rain to the camera is that it consumes fewer resources than simulating particles everywhere. Something that, when you think about it, is just common sense, as it doesn’t make sense to consume valuable resources to render particles that won’t be seen when a few particles in front of the camera create the same effect.
In a conversation with Polygon, both he and other developers have elaborated more on these aspects. They’ve added that it’s also common to do this with snow, wind, falling leaves, or dust. Or as Karl Schecht, a 3D environment artist, puts it, video games have some clever tricks that have become a standard.
That’s why video games, like magic, are largely about showing the audience what the creator wants us to see. So, instead of getting upset that the rain only falls on our heads, let’s applaud the ingenuity of these developers.