Touted by the New York Times as the future of video games, Façade is a fun 15-minute "one-act interactive drama" that uses AI extensively in an attempt to go beyond simple branching choices to deliver a realistic interactive experience. The result of over five years of collaboration, Façade offers "...a real-time 3D virtual world inhabited by computer-controlled characters, in which the player experiences a story from a first-person perspective." The game was released in July 2005 as a 800MB freeware title that you can also pay $14.95 to have it shipped on 2CDs. You need at least 1 GB of free space on your hard drive, and at least a Pentium 1.6 GHz, otherwise the game will refuse to run once installed. |
The plot, in official words, goes as follows: "...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."
You interact with Grace and Trip by typing out full sentences and watch their responses. Like a real-life situation, you can choose to stay silent and watch the situation unfold in real time, but sooner or later you will be tempted to speak up. What you say can influence the outcome, which is usually either an amicable solution or a spectacular flameout for the arguing couple. The open-ended nature and multiple endings mean there is a lot of replay value in Façade, although multiple replays also expose the limitations of its AI routine. After finishing the game 5 times or so, I began to notice that many events in the game are quite predictable: they are merely shuffled randomly as to occur at different times during the game. Although the AI is indeed quite complex, it seems a bit too easy to 'break' (i.e. making Grace of Trip utter some illogical statements or acting far too paranoid or upset), especially when I type short sentences like "yes" or "no." Also, I appreciate the authors' decision to use voice-acting extensively in the game - everything Grace or Trip says is spoken out loud - but this places a huge constraint on the game's size and range of possibilities. I would be happier to hear nothing at all but to have many more hours of gameplay or dialogue.
Despite all the quirks and limitations, Façade is an extremely well-designed and impressive piece of work. Its dynamic interactive mode provides a refreshing change from the simple dialogue trees found in most interactive fiction or adventure titles. Highly recommended, and a wonderful first step into the future of NPC interaction.
Reviewed by: Underdogs