March 27, 2004


by Andrew Stern · , 4:07 pm

andrewGDC41.jpgA proper post with substantial information about the goings-on at this year’s Game Developers Conference will have to wait until I’m back home on Monday (or maybe Noah or Michael will get a chance to post something first). Until then, just a few quick comments, and then some pictures.

GDC is consistently satisfying, my favorite conference. It’s the sheer volume of talented and creative and intelligent people sharing their work and ideas and good will that makes it so pleasurable.

Facade didn’t win any prizes at the IGF. Disappointing for sure, but made up for by the smiling and laughing crowds that surrounded the Facade kiosk the whole 3 days. Facade also caught the eye of a few uber-designers, who gave us some invaluable feedback.

Here’s some pictures, mostly of people (little of the conference events themselves, sorry). We’ll post more pictures here in a few days.

Mike van Lent, Katherine Isbister, Andrew, Michael

People amusing themselves at the Facade kiosk





Noah and Adam Chapman

Gonzalo and Matteo

Gonzalo bows before Chris Crawford

Chris lamenting over lunch

Brenda Harger and Don Marinelli of CMU ETC playing Facade

Gonzalo consoling us with a toast after the IGF awards

Chaim Gingold and Adam Chapman

Noah and Andrew

Doug Church and Robin Hunicke watching Matsuura-san’s latest, Vib Ripple at GameHotel

The greatest Facade player at the show!

Drinks at the Fairmont

Hanging out with Jane Pinckard at the speaker’s party
Peter Weyrauch (Oz Project, Zoesis) in the background

Jane and Jason della Rocca

Bloggers unite: Jason (Reality Panic), Noah (GTxA), Gonzalo (, Michael (GTxA), Jane (GGA), Andrew (GTxA)

The above + William (, Ludonauts) and Eric Z

Robin and Andrew

Dave Perry watching Facade being played by Republic’s Demis Hassabis

Chris Hecker playing Facade

Click here for Sean Barrett playing, as Noah takes notes?

8 Responses to “GDC Pix”

  1. B. Rickman Says:

    Congrats to Andrew and Michael on the successful demo. I really should have gone, I don’t know why I didn’t… oh yeah, the $$$.

    You’ll have to let me know when you do a demo in the LA area.

  2. Sean Barrett Says:

    It was hard for me to draw many conclusions about Facade when I played it on the GDC show floor, as I had the mental load of having read the paper twice, seen a videotape of it a year ago, and having read Robin Hunicke’s comments on it a few weeks ago.

    In particular, I felt like I was utterly failing as a participant–flailing badly, not contributing. On reflection, this can be blamed in part to my being a poor gameplayer (the first time I tried Grow, not really understanding the point, I happened to get lucky and max out like 6 objects, and the second time I tried it I only maxxed 2, at which point I quit), and in part because the pressure of giving a public performance made me flail worse.

    But, on reflection, I do think I can add one comment beyond those of Robin’s: the narrative builds strongly on unknown-to-the-player backstory about Grace and Trip, backstory that they are both familiar with but the player is not. The problem is it was unclear whether the character was supposed to have knowledge of it that the PC didn’t have. Would a sordid affair between the PC and Grace eventually be revealed? Was I allowed to “invent” such a thing? Or was I merely in a detective story, playing a private eye who by careful prodding would be able to let the story come out?

    The idea that I could invent backstory for Grace and Trip seems very ludicrous on the face of thinking about implementation, but I think I was quite tempted to do so, simply so I could participate in the story on the same level that Grace and Trip were.

  3. Sean Barrett Says:

    That should have read:

    “it was unclear whether the player character was supposed to have knowledge of it that the player didn’t have.”

  4. Walter Says:

    During one of my sessions with Facade, I attempted to reveal to Grace that I loved her, that I had always loved her, etc. I think that was an instance where I ran up against the unfinished portion of Facade, and I imagine the finished version will allow for the possibility of successfully wooing Grace or Trip. Nevertheless, it’s certainly possible to invent a private backstory for your PC.

    In general, though, I doubt that it would be good practice to have elements of backstory involving the PC surface in the way you suggest, Sean (unless there’s a plausible explanation for the PC’s forgetting). I think you just have to accept the most parsimonious backstory: that your relationship with both was fairly superficial.

    If an affair between the PC and Grace (Trip?) figured into the situation, what I call ‘experiential authenticity’ would suggest that the participant be aware of that affair before walking through the door. Of course, that would also mean that the deeper the relationships, the more the participant must be made aware of. Larger amounts of noninteractive content would have to prefigure the interactive.

  5. Michael Says:

    Interesting that in almost all the pictures of me, I have a different drink in my hand. Apparently I spent the entire week alternately drunk and cranked out on coffee.

  6. Sean Barrett Says:

    Walter, I agree about the most parsimonious backstory issue; the problem I see is that, in the moment, as I’m struggling to interact with Facade and the characters, I find myself _wanting_ that level of interaction, because they have it; and if I’m not carefully self-monitoring about how the system most probably works, my “improv intuition” would let me freely run wild that way. (What did the guy with improv experience do about backstory?)

    In part, perhaps I encounter this because it’s been a big issue for me in “interactive fiction” of the text adventure variety; I really dislike games where the player doesn’t know things the player character does, and yet both major games I’ve written use exactly that device. Nobody likes to preface their IF game with huge non-interactive sections, so people have learned to dole that material out slowly, arranging situations so that the information never matters before it’s revealed. (In my games, the missing information has little interactive value, but it drastically shifts the context of the activity to add drama.)

    But mainly I think it’s just something about the nature of the particular experience in Facade, especially the two versus one situation.

  7. andrew Says:

    Sean writes, “the narrative builds strongly on unknown-to-the-player backstory about Grace and Trip, backstory that they are both familiar with but the player is not. The problem is it was unclear whether the character was supposed to have knowledge of it that the PC didn’t have.”

    It’s true that a lot has gone on with Grace and Trip in the past, which is fuel for their current conflict. But, we don’t intend the player to know anything about that. The only bit of shared backstory you discover during the play is that you introduced them in college, but that’s it.

    In Facade we want the player character to be you, not some pre-defined person with feelings and memories of its own, that you are somehow supposed to role-play. Once all the player names are in the system, you’ll hopefully be able to choose your own name, and essentially be a stranger to Grace and Trip, only told you were friends long ago. Only by interacting with them do you learn about what’s been going on with them in the past. (Personally I find the role-playing a character with backstory a conceptually problematic idea; however Michael has much less of an aversion to it than me.)

    That said, as Walter suggests, you could pretend to have more backstory with them than we expect you to; the system’s responses are possibly open-ended enough to allow your own fabrications to blend in coherently with their dialog. But it’s not expected or required you do this. One could imagine a more advanced system which could take the player’s offers of events that happened in the past, and dynamically incorporate them deeply into the drama. That would be really cool.

  8. Michael Says:

    As Andrew said, in Facade we purposely avoid creating a complex backstory for the player character. In those cases where we refer to past events involving the player (e.g. “remember when you introduced us?”), either affirming or denying knowledge of the past events are possible courses of action. In this case, it’s the affirming or denying that’s interesting (agreeing or disagreeing with Trip), not the details of the past event.

    One of the problems with having the player “be themselves” is that it’s difficult in a short experience to embroil the player in the central conflict. In Facade, Grace and Trip really have the central conflict – they’re the ones in crisis who must make a big decision that will change their lives. Imagine if you wanted the player to be in the marriage that is falling apart. In a blank slate situation where you don’t give the player a backstory, the player would have to reenact the whole marriage first (temporally cutting appropriately) before getting to the crisis. Maybe you could do this in some future epic length interactive drama, but certainly not in a short form drama like Facade. In a one act play, the play opens right on the brink of the crisis; the conflict escalates almost immediately. Without an explicit player character (player backstory), in a short form drama you can’t place the player as the central character in the conflict. So in Facade, the player is an intimate visitor to a conflict, but isn’t centrally having the conflict.

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