Façade is an interactive drama, download-able for Windows and Mac, that puts you in the role of a dinner guest catching up with your old college friends, a married couple named Grace and Trip. Using the mouse and keyboard, you're able to move around their apartment and manipulate objects inside. But Facade is no escape-the-room adventure game, most of the interaction involves, get this, talking to Grace and Trip.
Using a keyboard that allows expressions of about twenty-five characters—it also enforces a brief delay between expressions—you can say anything you like to the couple; and, if it's on-topic, their AI will make some sense of what you're saying and react, as if everyone was an improvisational actor. Initially everything is calm and good, catching-up, ice-skating on pleasantries, we've all been there. It doesn't take long before the facade slips and the ugly truth of Grace and Trip rears its ugly head. Unlike any game to ever come before, Facade forces you to think about social issues with no clear solution and deal with them as you feel appropriate, it challenges you with a dramatic, and most importantly human dilemma.
All this fancy drama has got me using a lot of italics.
Facade isn't without its faults. The use of a language-based interface was a bold way to go, and the game's creators, Micheal Mateas and Andrew Stern, succeed admirably at a problem that has haunted AI researchers for decades. When I say "admirably" I mean, if you type in-character, instead of dropping non sequiturs like "so Trip, I was abducted by aliens last night," then you'll get a dramatically appropriate response about 80% of the time, and the other 20% the time the system will fail gracefully. For instance, if you say something ludicrous, the couple is likely to look at you like you're a bit deranged, awkwardly shrugging it off with an "uh... yeah," and then jumping back into the previous topic. There are times when you feel like you aren't being heard, and this can be frustrating, but you can always chalk it up to Grace and Trip being self-absorbed yuppies you never really liked anyway, and then just keep playing in-character. The joys of typing in something clever and having a moment of repartee with a virtual actor, while rarely pure, do spring up from play to play, and those moments satisfy unlike any other play experience you've ever had.
I was present at a June 2005 conference where the final release version was demonstrated, it was a major moment, seeing someone type casually and get a response, but since then Mateas and Stern have kept busy tweaking the language processing. Playing Facade recently on a Mac, I can confirm the experience has been smoothed out immensely. Currently the two are seeking financing for "The Party", a spiritual successor to Facade that will offer ten fully-realized characters in a party situation. Just downloading the game, but even more so, donating a buck or two through PayPal, will help demonstrate to their potential investors that there's a strong market for this sort of play. In the meantime, download Facade.
Download the free full version
Mac OS X:
Download the free full version