On Starfield's Laughable 'Nasa Punk' Aesthetic

In space, nobody can hear you scream "Generic as fuck."

// "'Nasapunk'? Do what?" The moment I heard the term over the wires I spat out my midmorning coffee. Aziz the coffeshop owner was not impressed. I explained the term to him while I mopped up the mess. A sudden acidic bitterness rising in his throat, he stared down at his own fresh mug and immediately tossed the contents out the nearest window in polite disgust. (I still ended up pre-ordering the game, though, so Your Space Mileage May Vary.)

Some people act like Todd Howard is gonna fuck them if they fanboy hard enough.
- Reddit
It tries to give us the universe, but it’s so weighed down by its own ambitions and a fundamental lack of inspiration that it can’t even get into orbit.
- Paste Magazine

Is 'Nasapunk' really the best we can do as a species? Given half the chance, I severely doubt it. Fist off, here's an instructional video about Bethesda's Starfield - which actually tells us jack all about 'Nasapunk'. Thing is, there's nothing to say; the term sounds utterly hollow and content free:

Nasapunk: Information Content Zero

What about the mainstream, AAAA Industry-bootlicking videogaming press Can it shed any light on the term?

Again, no; all we're really told is that Nasapunk is 'a more realistic approach to sci-fi than games might usually employ'. Big deal!

Any game with the prefix 'Star' is almost certainly to look like every single other 'Star' game. This is undoubtedly because the modern Global AAAA Videogame Industry is the most conservative, lazy-ass stifling, backward looking, neckless, reactionary, terminally boring, Vogonified, lead-by-donkeys, dead-white-men owned, risk averse, artistically bankrupt industry in the known universe. (Other than trade publishing.) Without exception, it is itself the single biggest obstacle deliberately holding back videogames from fully expressing themselves as an art form.

To consider the phrase 'Nasa Punk' as one of the more awful and hollow buzzwords to be squirted out the rear end of the modern AAAA global videogaming industry. To watch with weary disbelief as it lazily splatters across the superwide screens of millions of wide-eyed and all-too eager Professional AAAA Videogamers, feverishly chomping at the marketing bit like it was the second coming of Fallout 76. Raw classic near-future evil Hypercorporate Bullshit Bingo diarrhea.

I mean, just listen to this shit (uh-oh watch out, another pink skinned millionaire is being given the chance to Mansplain' how he's Fulfilling His Holy Vision. In the distant future, passing alien anthropologists will treat these videos as accidental satire, staring in bemusement and not wondering how or why our Idiot Space Monkey species utterly died out):

More Todd 'It Just Works' Howard Self-Mythologizing

Describing virtually nothing, the ultra-cynical role of lame shit like 'Nasa Punk' is to merely act as a convenient ideological foil for an entire sick, bitter industry, artistically and morally bankrupt to a dead moon and back, and has in fact nothing to offer anyone except promises of ESV Enhanced Shareholder Value. The phrase is meant to be correctly read as (somehow) suggesting that - at least someone, somewhere, in permanent AAAA videogame industry Summertime - had carefully considered a term to (somehow) helpfully sum up the *cough* unique approach to the overall look of.. Starfield. The next Best Game Ever Made.

Oh man, the shit pile up so fast in the videogame industry, you needed a spaceship to stay above it.
- Paraphrasing Willard, Apocalypse Now

But nobody did consider it too closely - at least nobody who actually worked (read: crunched their asses off) on the game. Those kinds of 'Aesthetic'™ marketing decisions only get to trickle down to their level. Absolutely no overworked developer given any actual choice on the matter would remotely describe whatever hyper-generic Bethesda looking sludge resulted in Starfield as 'Nasa Punk'. Rather it's merely something you're told exists from above in a memo you're all to be working toward. With total commitment, 'passion'™ and 'magic'™.

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These by-now long standard-substandard AAAA videogame industry bullshit thrown to the press like rotting slabs of dog meat are so darkly laughable. How the hell anybody can continue working in such a soul-destroying, art-hostile work environment where you're forced at financial gunpoint to take such standard boilerplate corporate quotes and throwaway lines remotely seriously is a modern bad miracle. (The rates of mental illness and burnout in the videogame industry must be through the goddam cockpit roof.)

We wanted a very realistic take. You can draw a line from current-day space technology and extrapolate from there into the future so it’s believable and relatable.
- Lead artist Istvan Pely

Believable and relatable? It's another throwaway pew-pew space game, mate. It's only 'believable' in the sense your meant to Believe The Hype and pre-order it as soon as possible, less one get left behind in the subsequent videogame rapture. As for the vague conceptual possibility of such a drab-ass looking space future actually occurring - who really cares? Either Mr. Pely must have been smoking some severely suspect space mushrooms he found growing on the desiccated corpse of a dead colony miner on one of Starfield's thousand empty planets, or he's successfully found a way to live with himself without the negative psychic consequences of feeling guilty for spewing forth such meaningless AAAA industry codswallop.

What’s really interesting is how much we all latched onto that concept. When you said NASA-Punk, the art team could instantly take those two words and make them work. It was just the perfect term for our art direction and keeping everyone in same flow and working with a consistent style. For me, it just clicked. At the start of the project, I think that term was critical for us.
- Lead animator Rick Vicens

Yeah, because apparently Mr. Vicens would have been drifting forever alone in deep space like Swiss Family Fucking Robertson without the iron strong aesthetic leadership needed to successfully steer him and all the other devs in the precise, one true direction of Dead Planet Corporate Space Generic Class 101.

The only thing over at Korporate being discussed about the 'overall look' of Starfield was that it 'grounded in Realism'™. What realism means of course is 'nothing whatsoever that would remotely make white senior members of our executive board confused, excited, shocked or horny.' Realism in videogames only ever really means 'Capitalist Realism' as philosopher Mark Fisher defined it - to paraphrase: "The widespread sense that not only is Starfield's overall look the only viable one, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine any coherent alternatives to it." In short, Starfield has always been and will forever be 'Nasapunk'. How quietly sad. In space, nobody can hear you scream "Generic as fuck."

Look at this real artist busy painting. Now that's not just some bullshit instant spray-on corporate Aesthetic, that's the human touch right there, Star Citizens. Near infinite subtlety. It's obviously not that the design and mass production of a game doesn't have to to be 'streamlined' - that is mass produced for a mass audience, reduced to it's most common visual denominators - but that still doesn't excuse Starfield's hyper-generic look.

You gotta admire how this deft touch of the concept artist at work is somehow meant to be correctly read as 'each and every spaceship bolt, space rock and empty planet we at Bethesda make is made with such care and attention'. LOL the fuck it is, Janet. What a thin, drab lie, lightly coated in abrasive moon dust.

How do they do it? It truly is remarkable that visually all their games suck the joy out of life when you just look at them from visual design perspective. Why they cant make nothing to look cool and authentic or pretty? Even 20yo Korean MMO can make some stuff looking cute or pretty in a retarded way but never nothing in a Bethesda game. In every fucking game all looks like just one big giant blob. Is it just 30yo shitty outdated engine still running on DOS or lack of talent in art/programing department? Looking at Starfield it reminds me of a bowl of porridge. All their games are monochromatic and just dreadful visually. I would bet if you give Bethesda the coolest setting and universe ever they will make a game out of it that has a 9 to 5 accountant vision [..]"
- Frozen, RPGcodex.net: Why all Bethesda games and assets are so generic and ugly and boring looking

The Nasapunk Nobody Asked For

While the emergence of the term online is obviously just another part of the Starfield product hype train, it's unsure while Bethesda sought fit to mention something so trivial as the surface look of the game to anyone listening. Probably because it Starfield / Bethesda have got so little else going for them. A quick Google Image search for 'Nasapunk' turned up these insipid and flavorless gems. They're so standard, so nothing-special looking they're borderline AI Generated (a true insult indeed if you're an actual artist.)

How the hell are any of these images remotely either 'NASA' or 'Punk'? While O.T.D. obviously technically detailed - just like the game.. they're still just bland as shit. One has to wonder, to what extent are the concept artists working on such projects always forced to give higher-up execs exactly what the Suits are expecting, ala "Warm yet punchy"; "Like, Spacey - but with a little more Punk attitude." Christ, how utterly hateful. Because the design and 'look' on display here don't seem to express many actual Concepts in them at all - other than 'piloting one's spaceship down the middle of the road'.

Starfield seems the very definition of (and victim of) Tryhard Corporate Hip. Nobody below the age of Starfied executives would ever self-refer to anything they'd made or designed as it having a 'Nasapunk'™ aesthetic. In fact, one could go so far to say it truly is the perfect ironic-cringe term for a product such a Starfield, since both the term and the game it represents are perfectly super generic, and largely meaningless. What is meant to set it apart from and elevate above other generic brands and products, in fact merely sets it firmly among their ranks on the mass videogame supermarket shelf. Soon abandoned on a dead planet. Let's examine the two terms apart, within the context of The Product.

"NASA". Nobody's thinking about NASA nowadays. In fact the last time they were thinking about them, they were busy imagining slow motion footage of Buzz Aldrin tripping over styrofoam rocks marked with the letter 'C' on on a Stanley Kubrick movie set. It's not like we don't have enough problems down here already on planet three without playing Whitey On The Procedurally Generated Moon.

"Punk." Once used many dead moons ago to describe (vague, contested, often ahistorical) counterhegemonic practices; diy nonconformity, youthful anger and an attitude of the subversive political underground, the term means next to nothing now. (Merely a way to sell the look of beige spaceships with dodgy framerates?) Besides, Punk was always arguably more a reaction (ie. reactionary) then actually rebellious. (That was post-punk.)

In this regard, Starfield is the Billy Idol of retrofuturistic design. Aggressively harmless, toothless - and while arguably talented, still generally cringe. Like Your Dad entered a local David Bowie competition and warbled his way through a karaoke Starman in front of your friends. To consider therefore, the truer, plainer, de-Hyped definition of "'Nasapunk': Hollow corporate buzzword bullshit for the vaguely retrofuristic and offensively AAAA nonoffensive."

Here's excellent Youtuber Lily Alexandre on aesthetics and their often all-too dead vibes:

Millions Of Dead Vibes: How Aesthetics Hurt Art

One can only hope the game turns out better than the mainstream Industry turd-Solid "7/10" it seems to be doing its utmost to reach up for, forever starward. What's worse than striving for the Middle? Actually making it. Heck, at least Starfield's got (I shit you not) great looking rocks.