Facade is a groundbreaking piece of Game Art that defined the gaming genre of interactive drama. It implemented classic gaming mechanisms alongside a complex Artificial Intelligence engine to bring its characters a sense of life beyond what was originally anticipated in an AI.
An easily downloadable application from the internet, Façade quickly became popular in the gaming world due to the multiplicity of ways in which the narrative could unfold. The narrative begins with a black screen and the voice of Trip can be heard in the background. Your character is being invited over to a dinner party hosted by Trip and his wife Grace. Trip and Grace have recently been experiencing some marital issues, and it quickly becomes apparent that your role at the dinner is to mediate. The drama unfolds and as the player you are completely free to respond however you please.. As you type in sentences to communicate with the two AIs you see their emotions and lines of dialogue change almost instantaneously with the flow of the conversation. You bare witness to and may actively participate in the snide remarks, passive aggression, and/or awkwardness of the situation. After about 20 minutes of gameplay, the struggling marriage either ends with some sort of resolution (either Grace leaves Trip or they make up and Trip apologizes for belittling Grace's artistic career) or you are forced to leave. The latter is a true testament to the AI's ability-- you are promptly shown the door for any rude or inappropriate comments directed at Trip or Grace. Regardless of the outcome, each play has a different script depending on the interaction of the player. The dialogue is not always seamless and Trip and Grace can sometimes come off as aloof or dumb, but at its core, Façade breathes life into its characters in a dramatic and sometimes comedic way that distinguishes it from the mainstream gaming market.
Façade distinguishes itself conceptually by emphasizing everything that it is not.
“Instead of making a game about action figures in elaborate but childish game-worlds, they would make a story about adult characters and adult relationships. Instead of firing bullets at the characters, the player would fire words. The player would talk to the characters— in ordinary English, input with a keyboard rather than a joystick, And the characters would talk back, to each other and to the player.” Rauch, Jonathan (November, 2006) "Michael Mateas"
Creators Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern differentiated themselves with their unique approach to game making. Mateas' background in AI allows for the gameplay to be focused on the player's interactions with the characters-- a stark contrast to the usually passive role gamers play in the overall arc of a game's narrative. This important difference allows for the dramatization of interactive gameplay in a way that was previously unknown by the gaming community. The game becomes less of an escape and more of an experience.
An art form of this manner has the potential to be an immensely powerful cultural tool. A player is forced to make choices in this virtual world with the expectation of a realistic outcome. This redefines ones relationship with the game and the idea of a virtual character. Façade seeks to evoke an emotional response from the player in contrast to creating a mind numbingly beautiful hyper reality along the lines of a typical commercial game. While Façade is a giant leap forward in what it means to interact with a game, the experience can be repetitive and the AI does not always react with the fluidity of a real life conversation. Countless gamers have filmed their attempts to 'hack' the game and posted them on youtube with the most popular titles reflecting a variety of interactions in line with the creator's intent.
While Façade is innovative and unique, it borrows from familiar gaming interfaces as seen in games such as "Sweaty Palms" and "My Candy Love." When you are prompted, you have a choice in dialogue that shapes the overall arc of the story. However these games are highly limited in comparison to the free flowing nature of interaction in Façade. This is what makes the game such a conceptual novelty. The narrative goes beyond the predetermined pathways of a traditional game's storyline. It looks to create an AI that acts within a context of the player's choice opening up the range of possibilities for gameplay.