This weekend I had some downtime, and started a replay of Oblivion (one of the few games I have ever completed, to the extent that completing Oblivion is possible at all). The production quality of this game is astounding. From the music to Patrick Stewart's voice acting, it's clearly in the top tier of well-polished RPGs. But when I walk around any of the cities — even the capital city, which should be the most crowded and busy — I can't shake a feeling of emptiness. I think this arises from a combination of two factors: Low population. On even the most central of streets, you'll see maybe 3 or 4 people milling around, plus a town guard or two. There should be hundreds. Shallow characters. If you talk to any of those 3 or 4 people milling around, they have very little to say. Sure, they'll give you an overview of the town (each of them providing exactly the same overview), and talk about rumors, but in most cases that's it. A few of them have about one sentence more of color ("I'm so-and-so's sister"), and an even smaller few hand out quests, but none of them are believable as people. This is in an enormous world filled with highly detailed sets — there are probably thousands of individually modeled buildings and rooms, most of which you will never go into, but if you do you'll find dishes on the table, books by the bedside, and other such homey and appropriate details. It feels like enormous resources were poured into the world, but hardly any into the people who inhabit it. So. There's the design challenge: how would you go about making a world (and its people) not feel so empty? How do you make a city, in particular, feel like a real, thriving city?