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You Should Probably Play Facade

Rather suspiciously coincidentally, just after I happen to bring up designer/theorist Ernest Adams in relation to a Gamasutra article, the man goes and actually publishes an article on Gamasutra. Clearly I am psychic or something.

Adams, always a popular speaker at events such as Game Developers Conference, has long been a champion of interactive storytelling as a medium, challenging game developers to come up with more creative ways of communicating with players. In his article You Must Play Facade, Now! he implores readers to download the freely-available game Facade (as the title suggests), as well as elaborates on why he thinks it's so important.

A new video game called Facade has just been released to the public. I'll say this right up front: Facade is one of the most important games ever created, possibly the most important game of the last ten years. More important than The Sims; more important than Grand Theft Auto; far more important than Half-Life. If you are a game designer, or you want to be a game designer, you must play this game.

Are Adams' superlatives deserved? Well, Facade does make dramatic leaps in terms of how a story in a video game can be told. The game casts the player as a friend of married couple Grace and Trip; you arrive at their apartment as they are going through some marital rocky waters. Over the course of the game, you can help them get back together, drive them further apart, hit on one or both of them--you do whatever you want. You can say anything you want to them too, because the game uses a natural text parser, certainly the best anyone has put in a game. Facade uses procedural methods to interpret what your typed text means and what affect it will have on Grace and Trip; they respond with body language, facial expressions, and recorded speech.

As designers Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas are quick to point out, the game is just an experiement. It was entirely designed and programmed by the two of them over five years. As such, the game's visuals are rudimentary, but the important elements (facial expressions and body language) are well-represented and easy to read. One can break the illusion of reality in the game by deliberately being a jerk and typing nonsense, but when doing so the characters react much more realistically than, say, the NPCs in HL2's scripted sequences...

I first saw Facade at GDC 2004. Since then I have written editorials praising it, have met with its creators, and have eagerly awaited its release. Now that it's out, I hope gamers and designers realize the implications it has on storytelling in games. It doesn't have to be applied to this kind of theatre-like drama; these procedural algorithms can and should find their way into all sorts of games. The designers have expressed their hope that professional developers will use their technology, and hopefully we'll start to see games taking advantage of it soon.

The game is available for download from FileShack. The developers' website is

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