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The Slacker's Guide - Will & Grace Meet Grim Reality: Facade

by Chris Barylick
August 19th, 2006

Maybe it's time to discuss relationships. There aren't that many universal necessities in this world, but relationships are one of them and unless you plan on living in a cave for the rest of your days, keeping a journal of your thoughts and holding intense political debates with nearby fauna, you're probably going to need to become involved in at least a few of them.

Facade, a donation-based game from Procedural Arts, takes the ideas and intricacies found in multiple human relationships, and applies them to a video game unlike anything you've ever seen before. Driven by an advanced artificial intelligence engine, the game puts the player in the first-person context of politely visiting a couple they haven't seen in 10 years and catching up with them in a social setting.

Simple enough, and as the person enters the apartment, the immersion begins. The hosts, Trip and Grace, gladly invite the player in and here the player can begin to fully interact with the people, objects and environment around them. Pick up an item in the apartment and Trip or Grace might provide a full commentary as to its origins and what it means to them, or dovetail their current conversation into a more complicated issue in their lives. Walk up to a character to hug, caress or kiss them, and the social dynamic can change within seconds.

Facade, a free artificial intelligence-based game by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern.

For one of the first times in a video game, the engine has been wrapped around conversational input from the player's end. Simply type in what you'd like to say and the characters will respond, react and shift the conversation like they would in normal day-to-day interactions. Mention something inappropriate or overtly personal and Trip and Grace will laugh nervously, look uncomfortable and react with tense body language. Like most artificial intelligence engines, certain key words will elicit a stronger reaction than others.

A standard game of Facade may run between 10 and 20 minutes with events and details changing between each play interval. A call may be received which pushes the conversation along a new tangent, or a character may bring up different points for the player to contend with. With no clear way to really win the game aside from getting Trip and Grace to admit what's really on their minds, the player becomes involved in taking sides, playing one character off each other and settling down the conversation so they can find out what's really going on with their friends' lives. Push one character too far or behave inappropriately, and the characters will show you the door, the game fading out and offering you a play by play text transcript of what occurred.

Grace studies Trip in the Facade.

Completely unlike anything I've ever seen, this is where things get interesting. Granted, Facade is an almost experimental title, like an art house movie or a David Mamet play with slightly less profanity and shock value at hand, but the variables of the game shift entirely both with each play cycle and the identity the player chooses as the game launches (a list of names as well as male and female genders can be chosen from). A cool graphics engine helps convey the necessary emotions while second-to-none voice acting creates, amplifies and rounds out the mood of the game.

Facade is the result of a multiple-year effort between a small team and politely requests that players chip in via PayPal if they liked the game. The title is a 132 megabyte download through Ryan Gordon's server which expands to 250 megabytes once installed. The game requires Mac OS X and at least a dual 1.0 GHz G4 or faster machine to run.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,


Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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