Chris hits on an interesting angle here, talking about the various costs of populating game space with extras. In Grand Theft Auto, you’ve got lots and lots of nameless, randomly generated extras who are poofed into existence as you enter an area and vanish the moment they’re no longer relevant to the scene. You can murder them, steal from them, shove them, or terrorize them without having any lasting impact on the city. They don’t matter. On the upside, the population density feels about right and really sells the notion that you’re in a real city.
At the other extreme we have Bethesda-esque games, which are lightly populated to the point of comedy. A small town like Riverwood doesn’t even have enough people to comprise one family of pre-technology people, much less a whole town. Even a major city like Solitude has barely enough people to fill a tiny village. On the upside, everyone has a name and a job and a place in the city. If you kill someone, they stay dead and the city goes on without them.
I don’t think that one approach is objectively better than another. They each lend themselves to different sorts of games. I sort of admire the Bethesda approach more, but I admit it also leaves more room for moments of “LOL videogame logic”. Why isn’t anyone married? Hey, Skyrim only has about 10% of the required farmland to supply this tiny population! This “war” between two dozen people looks ridiculous. Why aren’t there more graveyards? What keeps these smithies in business when there are already more swords than people?
The GTA world makes even less sense (nobody does anything, nobody has a job, nobody has kids, etc) but we notice it less because we understand the people don’t matter. But by adding detail to the world Bethesda sort of draws our attention to the extras, and then they crumble under the scrutiny. Which creates this strange situation where it might feel like there’s no point in trying. But I’d point to Fallout: New Vegas as an example of a game that does it right. Or perhaps not right, but less wrong. We don’t need perfection, but having fewer flagrant imperfections would help a lot.
I won’t get into the embassy quest just yet. We’re going to spend all of the next episode on it, so we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it then.