The “rebuttal” thread is worth reading, ironically enough, because whilst the rebuttal is the usual “changing engines won’t fix everything!” (a step up from the equally common “changing engines won’t fix anything”), the discussion is quite illuminating about how Gamebyro/Creation Engine fails badly at doing the one thing it theoretically does better than other engines.
That being having NPCs/actors who have lives independent of the player, or complex behaviour sets. You can actually see this in the game too - a lot of what is supposed to using these sort of packages actually has to be crudely hacked in, in a way any game could do, rather than using them.
Gamebyro was an MMO engine when Bethesda started using it, and it seems like they picked it specifically because they were essentially creating a single-player MMO, in that NPCs could be set to follow cycles, have behaviour and so on, even whilst the player wasn’t there. This is not unheard-of in other engines, but it is somewhat unusual, and it’s fair to say that, at the time, Gamebryo was probably better at it than other engines, and enabled Bethesda to, then fairly easily do things that other game engines simply couldn’t.
Now, in 2018, it’s clear Creation Engine isn’t actually very good at that, that Bethesda have essentially pushed it too far. It’s extremely clumsy and buggy at it, and gets moreso every time a new version is created for a game. You can see this very clearly in the discussion the modders are having.
Yet that functionality is the sole real reason to use Creation Engine. I mean, outdoor areas and transitions and so on can be probably be done better by any number of engines now (and indeed in 2015). There are engines where anything short of long-distance teleportation doesn’t provoke a loading screen, yet FO4 is absolutely rife with them. We can debate which exact engine could do it, but I’d bet money idTech 2 can do it perfectly well, and far better than the current graphics/terrain system for Creation Engine (again, this underlying graphics/terrain system allegedly already changed with FO76, but no-one has really seen any difference).
The big issue would be re-building the scripting and interaction system which powers all the NPCs, objects, and so on.
But that would also be an opportunity. If they started over, with skilled developers, they could easily and fundamentally improve on what they have right now. And it seems, from what Todd Howard has said, and FO76, that they are simply not doing this. They’ve got a rickety old system, which to be fair, isn’t really Gamebyro anymore, but is clearly derivative of it, and which they’ve hacked together over the last two decades, and which by all accounts, has become more rickety every time. FO4 modding involving NPCs is harder than Skyrim because it’s much more likely to go wrong, more time-consuming to set up, and more likely to go horribly wrong. As a result, whilst FO4 has a whole lot of mods, a vastly larger proportion of them are simplistic stuff which essentially fits under the banner of “cosmetic” than the mods for Skyrim.
My feeling though is that they don’t employ, and maybe won’t employ, highly skilled developers. I’m not saying that out of mean-spiritedness, but we are seriously seeing stuff like the same basic problems re-appearing in every game. However they’re managing Creation Engine, it’s pretty bad, and I’m not talking about the graphics. The graphics can be fixed - there’s no question about that (and only a small question over the animation - that can probably be fixed). Sure, they usually have various horrible bugs and problems with the graphics, but they can be fixed. They’re in a way, the least of the concerns. The real concerns are the tech underlying the rest of the world, which again, seems to be getting more complex, but less stable, and really screams of needing a ground-up redesign.
Given the massive gap between FO4 and Starfield, I dunno about anyone else, but I had some significant hope that this is precisely what they were doing. Moving to a engine would give them them impetus to do this, and allow them to do it very cleanly. However, from Todd Howard’s own statement, it looks like they consider FO76 to have all the major changes they’re concerned with, and they seem to be purely cosmetic stuff. It is possible they’ve moved from a 2.75D* open world to a 3D one, but that’s unclear and I haven’t played FO76. It would be easy to tell - does it have a significant number of caves and holes punching into the ground which have no loading screen? But we’ve seen incredible bugs, like the FPS-physics bug. Again, this has literally popped up in every Gamebryo/Creation Engine game Bethesda have made since they added physics - and maybe it’s not even Gamebryo’s fault (though the last time I read about it, blame was placed on Gamebryo/Creation Engine, rather than Havok), and it’s just very hard to understand, how, if they’re making a serious effort to iterate and improve the engine, stuff like that keeps coming back. That’s suggestive of starting over repeatedly, rather than iterating.
- = In FO4 and earlier games, the terrain map is Doom-style 2.5D, which was common in MMOs for a long time too and standard for Gamebyro. They can then stick 3D objects on top of that, which creates a 3D-appearing world, but it’s also why all the caves, cellars, and so on have a loading screen (houses don’t have to, but they usually do). Technically you can do 3D caves in the engine (I think there’s one in FO4 though I could be wrong), but you have to basically do an elaborate trick, where the entire cave and hillside (or whatever) it’s in is an elaborate object on top of the terrain. Because you can have full-3D objects on top, just never below, I’d call it 2.75D.
Interestingly much older games which had 2.5D terrain got around this using portals which give the illusion of caves, tunnels, etc., which theoretically, I think they should be able to do with Creation Engine. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen one (it’d be like a portal in er, Portal i.e. you can see through them, I can explain further if people are interested) in a Gamebyro or Creation Engine game, not even ones not by Bethesda. So that may be a fundamental engine limitation (or not!)