I am currently working on a video game project and I need some help with character development techniques. It is a character driven ensemble cast jRPG/cRPG. Therefore I want the characters to be important to the player.
Storytelling elements in a video game, even one that is partially story driven, need to be brief. Partly because the players want to get on with playing the game, and partly because they become monotonous drags that ruin replay value (which can ruin even an initial playthrough when a player gets 'stuck' and has to watch the same cutscene over and over again).
One solution to this has been to add the skippable dialogue or cutscene feature. Of course the majority of people use it from the start. I don't really want to painstakingly develop my characters just so people can never get around to getting to know them. The more serious consequence to this is that most people skip through important plot/quest information too. This can make completing the game more difficult, even if you add a log system to track important details. This does help with replayability.
Characters make choices:
Another method that I see used is the 'choice'. Where the character makes choices throughout the game that begin to define them. I do intend to use this but to a limited degree. I don't want my characters to be defined simply by a series of choices. I also don't want the game to be linear and plot driven, which limits how often I can use this. If I want to give the player the power to make decisions that effect the story then I can't have the characters making all the decisions.
The Player makes the Character:
Lastly, there is the blank canvas technique. Where the playing character is whatever the player makes of them. Their decisions, thoughts, actions all are driven solely by how the player wants to play them. This is a great technique for many successful games. It is not the technique I want to use. I don't have the time or skill to write the countless stories and to make that blank character that people project themselves onto. What I do have are characters that I want people to meet. I am going to write them. I just don't know how to best do that.
Given these limitations inherent in videogame mechanics, how do I still manage to write strong characters?