The Starfield no-planets run: Honey, I broke the Universe

Oh god, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m trying to fix it. Oh, hello everybody! Welcome to the fourth chapter of the great Starfield no-planets run, in which my character, rancid astro-buccaneer Mary Read, tries to play the entirety of Bethesda’s so-big-it’s-small RPG in space. When last we caught up with this galloping galactic nuisance, Mary was beginning to lose momentum. She had grown weary of happy-slapping freighter after freighter, though there’s one particular wandering geologist she’d like to settle the score with. She had even lost her enthusiasm for boarding actions – the spice in every pirate’s cup of grog – having mastered the art of standing at the bottom of a ladder.

I’ve spent the past few days trying to cook up a proper endgame objective for Mary – some mad caper befitting a legendary space pirate and her rowdy crew of turncoats and tearaways, who absolutely aren’t a bunch of corpses Mary has arranged into sitting postures and decorated with buckets. And in my desperation, I have turned to the forbidden magic of Starfield console commands – a hundred or more deceptively homely lines of text which, when typed into Starfield’s in-game console (hit the tilde or @ key), can be used to perform impossible feats, like unlocking all the game’s powers or becoming immortal. My initial hope was to solidify the game’s weirdly intangible asteroids somehow, and build outposts on them. It’s been a couple hours since then, and well, everything has gone awonk. I’m not even playing Starfield anymore. Instead, I am playing a very special, inadvertent Starfield mod of my own devising. Working title: “Totally Fucked”.

Let’s wind back the clock to where I last left you. My key inspiration for dabbling with console commands was the discovery that you can use them to jet about outside your ship – all you have to do is switch off gravity “(setgravityscale 0”) and teleport your character a few dozen metres sideways (“player.setpos x 20”). Having committed these magic formulae to memory, I immediately fly my current vessel, a UC Venture – decent trunk space, sort of looks like a sharpened pickle – to the nearest planet with an asteroid field, and send Mary on her very first EVA. I think it’s the happiest I’ve seen her in weeks. Zero gravity is already Mary’s natural element, thanks to my inept inventory management: she currently has a mass greater than that of her own ship, so the ole Wheel O’ Stamina tends to evaporate pretty quickly when she’s on foot.

A spaceship in an asteroid field in Starfield.
A Starfield player performing a spacewalk in Starfield using console commands
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

I faff around for a bit in the quiet and serenity of the endless heavens, jetting through asteroids to inspect them from the inside (it’s like peering through wreaths of campfire smoke, almost poetic) and experimenting with another Starfield console command, “placeatme”, which lets you summon an object or NPC. People have been using this command to flood their ships with potatoes and fly through clouds of milk cartons, because it’s a “Milky Way”, arf arf. Me, I’m all about the onions. Blame Carol Ann Duffy. I make a small rug of them and try to fly through it, giggling, but for reasons unclear the onions refuse to budge. They won’t even move when I shoot lasers at them. Space onions are a different breed, it seems.

In a flash of inspiration, I try to supersize one of the onions with “setscale”. Screw asteroid bases – I’m going to found my interstellar Tortuga on a massive, indestructible vegetable. But the command won’t take. You can only re-scale certain things in Starfield with console commands, it seems, and to head off your next question – no, I’m afraid that player characters aren’t among them. A planet-sized Mary? Now there’s an Act 4 escalation I’d have liked to implement.

Stumped, I switch off collision detection (“tcl”), which lets you walk in any direction without interruption, and re-engaged gravity so that I can stand, or appear to stand, on my curious vegetable platform. Perhaps I can lay down multiple layers of onions and expand this frail foothold into a super-stinky space fortress? I pull back the view for effect, take some melancholy photos, and cast about myself for ideas.

A Starfield player standing in void on a carpet of onions using console commands
A Starfield player standing in void on a carpet of onions using console commands
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

And it’s at this point that the trouble starts. A whimper of radio chatter alerts me to the presence of a UC patrol ship, dangling by itself in a distant corner of the sky. I have to say, the “guard pilot” AI in Starfield lacks for a certain… gravitas. I expect to see UC and Freestar ships patrolling in formation, like valkyries swooping over the battlefield, but half the ones I meet act like brown recluse spiders, getting as far away from the player spawnpoint as they can and playing dead. It’s possible that this is a learned behaviour – Mary does, after all, have a slight tendency to murder everybody she comes across, especially when they try to be friends with her. Anyway, the presence of the UC ship nearby brought some dastardly possibilities bubbling to the surface of Mary’s morbid brain.

I’ve been operating on the assumption that a pirate is only is good as her ship, but now that I am a Console Commander, do I really need a ship at all? After all, I have mastered the power of flight, and thanks to the magic of no-clip, I can phase through surfaces, including enemy hulls. So what am I bothering with airlocks for? Picture it: the unsuspecting Star Parcel crew grouped around the canteen table, quietly playing Solar Frontiers as they trundle between ports, when all of a sudden, a hideous moaning and the appearance of a helmeted head, a torso, a double-barreled shotgun, rising through the deck underfoot! Say goodbye to Mary Read the Space Pirate! Say hello to Mary Read the Pirate Ghost!

A Starfield spacecraft approaching another
A Starfield player floating in space towards another ship
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

I decide to put this misguided notion to test on the idling UC ship. Sneaking up close in my Venture (“fly casual”, as Harrison Ford said in one of the less good Star Warses), I shuck off my cocoon of nuclear-powered aluminium and dart through the void towards the other vessel. Or maybe “coasted” is more like it. One of the smaller annoyances when performing an EVA in Starfield is that your jetsuit boosters don’t have much oomph. It takes minutes to cross distances that take a second in your ship. But wait a minute, I have a console command for that – “player.setav speedmult”. All I have to do is stick a large number on the end, then hit the boosters and AAAAAAAAAA

A Starfield player in deep space, having been launched far away from their ship after entering a console command that multiplies their speed.
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

Starfield doesn’t simulate inertia and this is just as well, because otherwise Mary would be a spacesuit-shaped Cuppa Soup by now. In a handful of seconds, my ship and the entire asteroid field recede to a scatter of metal flakes, jumping and sliding crazily across the backdrop as whatever terrible forces I’ve unleashed sweep Mary further and further into deep space.

Starfield, to its credit, attempts to rescue me. It turns out you can only travel a certain distance from your ship during an EVA – too far, and the game gets confused and thinks you’re on a planet, dropping an invisible wall. “Open planet map?” the game bleats, as I curse and fire my thrusters, to no avail. Sorry, but Mary isn’t going to break her no-planets oath over some triviality like shattering the laws of physics. “Fast-travel to ship?” A fine suggestion, Starfield! But unfortunately Mary still has the approximate mass of an aircraft carrier, so fast-travelling is off-limits. I guess I could dump my inventory, but nuts to that, a pirate never discards her booty! Don’t worry: I got myself into this situation, so it stands to reason that I can get myself out.

It’s at this point that I make my second great error. I try to reset my speed using the above command, and accidentally enter a different one (I swear I’m not faking this for dramatic effect – I’ve been navigating the Starfield console command list using CTRL-F). There’s an instant of absolute, existential vertigo, the universe palpably shifting gears, and the planet I’m orbiting suddenly lurches sideways, roaring through the chasms of infinity with an unspeakable hunger. Oh hell, I’ve put the whole solar system into fast-forward. And here’s the thing, the one command I can’t see on the list is the one that resets everything to normal. I experiment with reenabling collision detection and this only punts Mary into a furious standing-sprint, saturating her blood with CO2 in an instant and dying the screen red with health loss as the horribly hyperactive planet circles her head like a vulture smelling its lunch.

A Starfield player experiencing stamina loss while free-floating in deep space.
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

I switch off collision detection again, gobble down a few healthpacks and tried to take stock. In the course of combining all these commands – no-clip, zero gravity, warp speed and accelerated planetary movement – I appear to have unlocked a new kind of spacetime, and now I and Mary must learn to live within it. The invisible no-planetary barrier I’m lodged up against keeps me in place but, I sense, hasn’t actually altered my speed. Demented physics aside, I am straddling a disconnect between the simulation and the interfacial layer. I am neither inside nor outside the game. The only outward evidence of this is the frantic behaviour of Mary’s trusty Coachman shotgun: its parts jiggle and try to crawl over each other in her hands. It appears to be in pain. I am helpless to ease its distress.

I have to get back to my ship, but the movement controls have gone mad. I can’t seem to apply counter-thrust and send myself in the other direction. But after a bit more fumbling, I discover that I can move forward by boosting while turning. Angling the camera away from the distant asteroid field sends me zipping counter-intuitively through and beyond it, hitting another invisible barrier on the other side in a handful of seconds. I do this several times, at one point briefly glimpsing the green dart of the Venture, still hovering near the UC patrolship, but can do nothing to arrest my momentum. Until I remember that in Starfield, weapon recoil affects your body when shooting in zero-G.

I draw my wriggling, agonised shotgun, fire a couple of rounds into the outer darkness and – yes! There it is, an almost imperceptible deceleration, a passing breath of something like normie physics. I fire several more times and yes, this is working, I can’t explain how or why, I may have overlooked some variable in my jumbled execution of console commands, but Mary’s shotgun has become her saviour. Blessed Coachman, you’re always here for me.

A Starfield player travelling through space by firing their shotgun to generate recoil
A Starfield player hanging in space near a UC patrol ship.
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

The shotgun recoil is still wildly overclocked, mind you. It launches me like a cannon ball, propelling me towards the centre of the asteroid field in a moment, but it’s practically sane next to what happens when I try to fire my boost pack. It’s just as well I have ammo to spare. By dint of much careful blind-firing while spinning periodically to get my bearings, I finally manage to back myself into the vicinity of my craft.

I’m desperate to settle Mary behind the Venture’s controls. I’m hoping the game’s spaceflight systems have escaped the catastrophic effects of my Console Commanding. But there’s still the matter of that UC patrolship – loitering in the void like some good-for-nothing teenager, untroubled by the frenzied motion of the planet it’s orbiting, exuding what now strikes me as an air of smugness. The fucker is gloating! Well, after what I’ve put Mary through, I can’t send her home empty-handed. So I risk a slight detour, wielding my shotgun with growing finesse so as to phase through the cockpit and finally fulfil my dreams of being an interstellar Flying Dutchman. And it’s here that I make my most terrible discovery so far. By the beard of Neptune!

A Starfield player no-clipping through a ship's hull
The inside of a Starfield ship when you board using no-clip rather than the airlock.
The inside of a Starfield ship when you board using no-clip rather than the airlock.
The inside of a Starfield ship when you board using no-clip rather than the airlock.
Image credit: RockPaperShotgun/Bethesda

It’s a ghost ship!