While I like open-world games, one of the problems is that they are generally very boring. Every interesting aspect of an open-world game is carefully scripted in.
Scripted events bother me for a variety of reasons. The most important is that they are very fragile: if a player does something the scriptor didn't think of (or even something they did, but in a weird order), the script breaks. This leads to the designers brutally crippling the player's capabilities.
Examples of this are easy to find everywhere, but a recent one for me was the Vampire computer game I played. If you've never played in the system it's based on, let me explain: vampires don't suck. If you meet a vampire with level five auspex, it doesn't mean that he gets a +3 to his perception. It means he can astrally project, not to mention the telepathy and object reading he's already picked up at levels three and four.
Personally, I think the system is shitty even at it's finest. I much prefer Mage, which is really White Wolf's only fun system. But that's besides the point: in order to keep the game "balanced", they crippled everything down to a simple stat increase.
This isn't even mentioning the artificial limits they impose: no attacking plot characters, no turning down quests, no blowing up buildings, no lying or omitting things except when the writers deem it to be so... in short, no deviating from the rails.
This is not acceptable to me, because I want to play amberites and nobilis.
So, let's imagine that we want an open world game with a bunch of interesting content that's not specifically scripted in. How do you do it?
How about we make every interesting thing an active agent seeking to affect the player?
Sure, I'm talking about events. "Helicopter chase!" "The lights go out..." "The Sabbat attacks the Prince." Whatever you like.
But I'm also talking about things. People, places. "The Empire Hotel". "The Prince". "The Antediluvian". "The video tape".
I'm also talking about concepts. "Ghouling". "Gehenna". "The Beast Inside You". "Blood-spattered". "Disease". "Sunlight burns". Eighty different kinds of madness. Punk rock. Sexy.
Anything that you can think of that is of interest is an active agent trying to affect the player.
Please note, I didn't say they are actively trying to happen, or be near the player. Just talking about something grants it some level of power, some more sway over the game, and therefore many agents will try to inject themselves into conversations, news, graffiti... whatever they can do that the player will notice.
Obviously, happening to or around the player is good for an event, and people like making things happen to the player or, to a lesser extent, being affected by the player...
The agents are poised pre-game with a bunch of directives and probably some noise to keep things unique per play through. Then they are unleashed on the world to do their best to lure the player in, bludgeon him, help him, change his experience somehow.
They team up with other agents and static elements (the map, for example, could be pretty static) to create these events. They might even form alliances and rivalries with other agents: the "helicopter" agents might band together and ally with "the Prince" agent, meaning that the Prince would use a lot of helicopters. Both agents would prosper: the Prince has a definite method to affect the player (helicopters can ferry him around, helicopters can attack him, etc), and the helicopters, obviously, have a willing patsy to spread helicopteriness around.
Because agents are out to affect the player's experience, not the game world, there is very little that happens "behind the scenes". The only time something happens behind the player's back is when the agent in question doesn't have the pull to directly affect the player and is instead going for an indirect effect via news bulletins or street conversations.
Now, the fun aspect here is that the player is certainly welcome to have powerful abilities and/or do weird things. These are excuses for agents to piggyback on to the scene. If the player kills someone important, virtually every heavy hitter in the books will have an opening to come in after him. And character agents are free to cozy up to the player directly, and the player can make any human a ghoul, at least in theory. Remember, though: they're trying to affect the player. Simply hanging out with him is not enough.
The difficult part in this is, as usual, the goddamn dialog.