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How to develop and optimize the illusion of meaningful character development between the player and NPCs?

It's very hard for a game developer to create unlimited dialogue options for just one NPC for the player to interact with, and develop some type of meaningful relationship with. Instead most developers create the illusion of choice in order to minimize the amount of dialogue an NPC has, yet maximize the player's illusion of meaningful development with that NPC.

I am pondering the idea of creating a Skyrim Mod that implements a clever way of reusing pre-spoken dialogue of all NPCs and to create the opportunity for the player to interact with the NPCs and create an illusion that the player makes meaningful dialogue choices to develop some type of relationship with NPCs later imposing consequences on the either player, the NPC, or both later in the game.

I am not asking of a way to create new dialogue, but rather how to cleverly reuse dialogue to achieve the same effect for different and new events. This is not just specific to Skyrim. The same ideas can still be useful for games under current development.

The illusion of choice is a very difficult concept to think about. A web series titled Extra Credits provides an excellent definition for this. For convenience I have copied very important terminology from Extra Credit that will help fortify answers to this game development question.

  1. What is agency?

    • to have some control of an outcome
  2. What is choice?

    • any moment during play that the player could perform 2 or more distinct actions but has to pick some number of actions less than the total number available to execute
  3. What is consequence?

    • making you realize the impact of something you did
  4. What is the difference between choice and consequence?

    • choice makes you think about what actions you will take, yet consequence makes you think about actions you have already taken
  5. What is meaningful choice?

    • when the decision making process isn't arbitrary, when the player understands the choice their making and has some system to weigh their options, this does not by any means mean they have to fully understand what the consequences of each option will be only that they believe they have what the need to weigh the choices presented to them
    • meaningful choice is not a logical calculation with a definitive answer
  6. What is illusion of choice?

    • any moment in a game where you as a player feel as though you're making a choice when in reality theres either no alternative option actually being presented or the consequences of that choice are negligible
    • players hate it when they notice the illusion of choice
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closed as too broad by DMGregory, Seth Battin, congusbongus, MichaelHouse Jul 7 '15 at 15:05

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