It's all in the eyes.
Image credit: Bethesda
When talking about fake smiles in one of his body language books, Allan Pease says that creases around the eyes are what makes you look genuinely happy. This is the case with game characters, too, and their faces might look quite strained if there are some muscles not moving the way they're supposed to.
Starfield's NPCs can't be called the most realistic people out there, and some players point out that their smiles don't seem real, it's as if they're suffering inside. This is what Delaney King, a character artist who has worked on Dragon Age, God of War, and Stellaris, noticed as well (thanks, IGN). She went to Twitter/X to explain why we get a feeling that something is wrong.
King writes that the game's characters' orbicularis oculi muscles don't contract, so basically, their smiles don't reach their eyes, and we perceive them as fake. "The cheek apples should also rise, otherwise you look like you are actively resisting the smile, giving a constipated look." Moreover, the NPCs' zygomaticus major muscles have some issues as well and don't contract enough to pull their mouths up.
King also brings up the "Hide the Pain Harold" meme with András Arató, who looks miserable even when he's smiling. "The crows feet suggest the muscle is tense, but it just doesn't seem to go as far as your average joe."
The artist discusses another strange facial behavior in Starfield (and not only there) when models' eyelids don't move to cover the upper whites of their eyes. As a result, we have a horror show with possessed-looking people.
"The upper whites of the eyes are only exposed on humans when we have a fight or flight response. We open our eyes wide to allow more light in. This means we are either terrified or about to attack."
King suggests a solution though: keep eyelids just above pupils so they move together.
What do you think about the artist's notes? We'd all benefit from a nice happy smile, be it in a game or in real life, so read the full thread here and join our 80 Level Talent platform and our Telegram channel, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, where we share breakdowns, the latest news, awesome artworks, and more.
You may find these articles interesting
Starfield Players Test Its Physics on Milk, Potatoes & Toilet Paper
You Can Leave Your Ship and Explore Space in Starfield
Bethesda's Starfield Surpassed Skyrim's Peak Player Count on Steam
NVIDIA's New Game Ready Driver Will Boost Starfield's Performance
Bethesda Considered Creating Fallout's Earth in Starfield