June 7, 2005
Towards An Interactive Story?
You, the player, using your own name and gender, play the character of a longtime friend of Grace and Trip, an attractive and materially successful couple in their early thirties. During an evening get-together at their apartment that quickly turns ugly, you become entangled in the high-conflict dissolution of Grace and Trip’s marriage. No one is safe as the accusations fly, sides are taken and irreversible decisions are forced to be made. By the end of this intense one-act play you will have changed the course of Grace and Trip’s lives – motivating you to re-play the drama to find out how your interaction could make things turn out differently the next time.
Façade is the first attempt I’ve heard of to make a graphical, interactive, real-time short story. You can call it a game, you can call it (as the makers do) a one-act play. But it’s about to be released, and it’s been in the works for several years (don’t let the low-key graphics fool you).
The drama between Grace and Trip goes on with or without your interaction, but the words you type and the gestures and movements you make affect the narrative. The AI of each of the characters has been programmed to respond to a robust range of natural language.
The makers acknowledge the limitations of the project in their overview:
By the time Façade is done, we will have spent two man-years on authoring alone, but even this results in only a 20 minute one-act play replayable 6 or 7 times before it is exhausted. Furthermore, Façade of course does not achieve general purpose natural language understanding; instead it listens for a large variety of word patterns and phrases focused on the context of its dramatic situation, which feed into a discourse management system.
But even within those limits, if they’ve succeeded in “design[ing] an experience that provides the player with 20 minutes of emotionally intense, unified, dramatic action,” I think they’ll have accomplished something wholly new in video game design. I’m very curious to see if they’ve done it.