July 5, 2005

Finally, the Curtain Opens on Façade

by Nick Montfort · , 1:12 pm

I am extremely pleased to announce the release of Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s Façade!
Grace and Trip in Facade

This long-awaited one-act interactive drama, featuring a 3D environment and voice-acted, AI-driven characters, has been a testbed for research in and development of new discourse-based NLP techniques, a new drama management framework, and new ways of allowing behavior hierarchies to interact. It has been the source of more than a dozen academic publications co-authored by Michael and Andrew, as well as Michael’s Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. dissertation. A pre-release version of Façade was a finalist in the 2004 Independent Games Festival. Façade is also delightfully entertaining and abundant in its dramatic and artistic merits. It offers a fairly short dramatic experience that is intensive and compelling, and unlike anything else I have seen in video games or other interactive systems. The New York Times called Façade “the future of video games” and one person who has devoted his life to interactive storytelling, Chris Crawford, said the system was “the best actual working interactive storyworld yet created.” You can read the official press release on Façade, read on for more about the release, or skip directly to the the download page on InteractiveStory.net.

The initial release of Façade runs on Windows computers with processors of at least 1.6 GHz. (Andrew and Michael are looking for volunteers to help port Façade to the Mac.) The one-act drama is a product of their studio Procedural Arts and has just been released on the new label Auto Mata, which was started by your favorite bloggers. Façade is available free of charge (and licensed so that you may freely distribute it) and can be obtained from the download page on InteractiveStory.net. From there, you can download the 800MB program via BitTorrent; Andrew and Michael also provide the program on two CDs which are sold at cost, for $14 plus shipping.

Since the program is provided for free and and the CDs set is sold at cost, and because you like schwag, you may also be interested in supporting the creators of this system by purchasing some of the Façade merchandise that is available. The items for sale include the “hint book” Behind the Façade, which Andrew and Michael will email for a donation of only $5; there are also T-shirts, a hat, and other items.

Although we love for you to post comments here, and hope that you will, there will also be a bulletin board set up on InteractiveStory.net for detailed discussions of matters related to Facade. I can’t wait to hear what others think of this piece. Michael and Andrew tell me that they are also eagerly looking forward to people’s feedback about, comments on, and criticism of the first fully-realized prototype interactive drama, Façade.

76 Responses to “Finally, the Curtain Opens on Façade

  1. Interactive Drama Façade Released (ELO) Says:

    […] of video games.” More information and discussion about the release can be found at Grand Text Auto. Mateas and Stern’s press release about the system has more […]

  2. nick Says:

    Façade is currently the main feature at Idle Thumbs, where Steve Gaynor found much promise in the system, even if there were a few disappointments. (“Try as I might, though, I could never get Grace to agree to leave Trip and run away with me. Also, it turns out Grace and Trip aren’t swingers.”) Here’s Gaynor’s review.

  3. Jake Says:

    We’ve written a little about Facade over at Idle Thumbs ( http://www.idlethumbs.net/display.php?id=181 ) and there’s some discussion going on amongst our readers, if anyone is curious and looking for something else to read :).

    [Update: Oops!! Okay then :) ]

  4. Robin Says:

    Congrats Andrew and Michael! Look for a post on gewgaw as well!

  5. The Ludologist » Blog Archive » Façade Released Says:

    […] s to Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern for releasing their interactive drama, Façade today. Official announcement. Download here. Though Façade is Michael and Andrew’s […]

  6. jason Says:

    Congrats! The merchandise is particularly fitting and hilarious.

  7. josh g. Says:

    Is the game mirrored anywhere else yet? Unfortunately, BitTorrent traffic is blocked at my workplace.

    (I mean, sure, I could wait until I get home, but that’s a long time from now.)

  8. michael Says:

    We’re only providing a Bit Torrent download of Facade. But who knows, perhaps someone will decide to mirror it… (if someone does mirror it, please let us know).

  9. chrisf Says:

    Congratulations guys. I’ll have to wait till I get into work to torrent it, ’cause my PC doesn’t meet specs. Can’t wait to have a go.

  10. USC Interactive Media Division Weblog Says:

    Façade released

    After 5 years of development, Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas have released Façade, their one-act interactive drama, under their new aptly-named shingle Procedural Arts. You can download Façade for free, or if you don’t want to wait for all…

  11. Mark Marino Says:

    Congratulations to Mateas and Stern! We’re beginning our series of reviews over at

  12. Rob Mosher Says:

    Is there anyway to install Facade to another drive than the C: drive? My C: drive is dedicated to windows, and thus I don’t know have enough space on it.

  13. andrew Says:

    Is there anyway to install Facade to another drive than the C: drive?

    Sadly, no, it became too much of a programming hassle to get Facade working on different drives other than C:. We require that Facade be installed to the C: drive. We apologize if that means you can’t run it. (Good thing it’s free…)

  14. Ernest W. Adams Says:

    Just a minute. You created one of the most important video games in the history of the medium — probably THE most important video game of the last 10 years — incorporating all kinds of new AI techniques — the basis for a PhD thesis, several articles and conference papers …

    … and it’s too much of HASSLE to get it running on anything but the C: drive??!!!

    Are you completely insane?!

    It’s a one-byte variable constrained to ASCII values between “A” and “Z” for God’s sake!

  15. andrew Says:

    A bit more explanation — the installer can easily install to any drive, that’s not the issue — but the Facade architecture has various parallel process components that launch one another, yada yada, and it made our lives much easier to have everything live and run off a single drive. (You’ll find several little technical gotchas like this in Facade; like how pathplanning is quite imperfect, how you have to quit and relaunch each time you want to replay, etc.)

    If the C: drive thing becomes a major problem, we can try to do more work on it and release a patch. We figured it was better to trim some stuff off our task list, and release only 2 years late. :-/

    Thanks for the fabulous plug though, Ernest! We may need to quote you on that. :-)

  16. Jeffool Says:

    Kudos for getting it to a release state guys (Well, kudos and ‘thanks’.)

    Gave you a little plug over on Evil Avatar as well.

  17. Ian Wilson Says:

    I just put a small review on my blog, but basically, amazing! It really works great!
    Lets hope that the world at large sits up and takes notice (at this point I have about given up on the games industry).

    I think we (readers here) should all do what we can to promote this, it is important (as Ernest very well stated) to all of us here. I was doing some image editing just now so I made a quick (read probably crummy) “get facade” button taken from the “get firefox” button. Its on my blog under the “Grand Text Auto” link, please feel free to copy and distribute (its under a cc license).


    In case you guys need help distributing CDs in Japan I can copy them here and save you some postage if you need. I will also write a note on the web site of the IGDA in Japan to let those members know to spread the word amongst Japanese developers.

    Heres to Andrew and Michaels conviction and determination!

  18. Frasca Says:

    It’s time for those champagne bottles! Congrats guys!

  19. michael a Says:

    Nice work, but I had expected *slightly* more polish after so many years. I’ve only run through it a few times, but a couple of them the thing just seemed to disconnect. I could wander around, pick things up, etc., but could no longer say anything or interact with the two characters. The theory is interesting; the execution just doesn’t seem there.

    As for technical polish: I can almost but not quite live with the fact that it doesn’t allow installation to anything other than the root of C:. People have been writing programs using Java and additional components for years that manage to do it, so I can’t imagine Facade is that much of an exception. Additionally, the installer .exe itself has the distinct honor of being the only file I can think of to actually *hang* Windows whenever right-clicking on it, or tree-browsing to the containing folder via Start > My Computer. Now *that’s* impressive.

  20. The Ludologist » Blog Archive » Façade Mirror: Download Here. Says:

    […] çade from this site.   Click here to download. File size is 800MB.   Read the officially announcement here.   If the downloading is denied, you […]

  21. Jesper Juul Says:

    The trackback above already says so, but I have set up a mirror of the installer for the time being:


  22. andrew Says:

    Façade made the main Slashdot front page this morning (here’s the thread itself). No wonder the BitTorrent traffic shot up…

  23. Borut Says:

    Congrats guys! That’s fucking awesome. Now about releasing ABL… ;)

  24. Ian Bogost Says:

    Wow, the /. comments are really interesting. Perhaps predictably cranky given that crowd. And really, the game isn’t necessarily meant for technogeeks. So, maybe it’s better that they read the way they do. Still, it would be nice if they played it first huh? :P

    Andrew/Michael, what do you think? Is Facade a game you’d want players of God of War and GTA and the like to enjoy? Or, is the primary goal to reach a new audience?

  25. andrew Says:

    We’re trying not to have too many expectations of who Façade will or won’t appeal to; different people will probably get a range of things out of it. Certainly with Façade we want to tap into a new audience — e.g. people who love books, TV, movies and theater but are mostly turned off by today’s games, because games are typically not about people and people’s lives, and/or are too hard or too much work to play (not casual enough).

    But we’d like to believe gamer-gamers could enjoy Façade or something like it; if some don’t like it, I suspect it’s because of the flaws and limitations of this particular implementation, not because of the concept or genre of interactive drama itself.

    Anyone have thoughts about what existing or new groups or markets Façade will appeal to?

  26. Borut Says:

    There are so many factors that would go into determining who might be interested enough to pursue an interest in indie games in general (Facade having additional specific appeal for the nature of the strides forward it has made). I mean, who is interested in indie film? It always boils down to that subset of people who are more literate in that media, have the time to spend researching indie artists, and are interested in entertainment that explores themes outside the mainstream. So, the GTA audience in general, no, but given how many millions of copies that series has sold, even 1 percent of that audience could be 100,000 people. There is some subset of that audience who would be, it’s just a matter of how much does it cost to reach them (through what channels), and what’s the total number.

    I don’t buy Chris Crawford’s argument that interactive storytelling inherently has to find a new market – the largest section of people who are most likely to use their computer to explore dramatic entertainment already are to some extent, whether it’s playing the Sims, Half Life 2 or even web games. I’m not saying we can’t reach new people, certainly, but indie development in general will only succeed if they can find enough current players to support themselves.

    Look at alternate reality games – there’s a market of what, like 2 million people, many of whom just go and participate in each new game as it comes out. We can look at their characteristics and how that market was reached to shed a little light on that as well (there’s a couple books out on the subject that I’ve been meaning to pick up).

    There’s certainly a subset of “lapsed” gamers – who the content of today’s games simply doesn’t appeal to any more (having in fact, grown up to want to be entertained by something beyond simple power fantasies). The problem is, they probably don’t read games.slashdot.org, but what do they read or otherwise consume entertainment-wise?

  27. Jeff On Games » Blog Archive » Facade is out Says:

    Writing Escapes me…

    Facade is out

    As just about everyone interested in the topic has posted, the game Facade is out and […]

  28. Marilyn Says:

    I was one of the testers of Facade and I think this technology might provide great computer-based therapy. I would call the experience of playing Facade “intense” not “fun,” but perhaps a different theme would appeal to game players.

  29. andrew Says:

    As Michael just reported in comments of the recent Phrontisterion6 post, which deserves re-linking here, some good commentary and critique of Façade can be found at Chris Crawford’s Phrontisterion 6 conference report, including Rick Smith’s critique. (The report has lots of other good information too about the conference in general, of course. :-)

  30. Adam Says:

    WOW! It’s FRICKIN’ GREAT! :> Sorry for the caps but this deserves it. I have to admit that when I first opened it I messed with the window size and settings a bit and it seemed a bit finicky but once I was playing it, well WOW. I’ve been playing adventure games all my life since I was a little kid with interactive text fiction. I have to say that playing Facade has been one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had on a computer. My girlfriend and I have been in stitches for days playing with it. I mean it’s by turns just fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, infuriating! It’s downright creepy and in a word: glorious! It makes us laugh with mirth and laugh out of discomfort and sometimes just give up and let these two people fight it out while we stand and watch, morbidly fascinated. It evokes so many genuine, real-life emotions and memories and it often leaves you feeling the same impotence–and confusion over how much to interfere–that one feels when caught in the sad spectacle of two friends really letting out their raw anger at one another. It also made us oddly philosophical, actually considering the difficult life issues that Grace and Trip raise.

    I agree utterly with Marilyn. It’s not “fun” It’s not light entertainment. It’s as powerful as the most moving play I have seen. It really stirs you up, gets your adrenalin pumping through emotion, rather than through violence as do most games today. Despite the lack of gaming “fun”, the emotional aspect does make it addictive, at least for me.

    Other than that, as others have also commented, of course I think Trip is a bit of an annoying prick and I’m in sadly, hopelessly enamored with Grace ;>.

    Oh, and the music works wonderfully, really provides atmosphere and corresponds to the changing feelings of the characters.

    Great work Mr. Mateas and Mr. Stern! Thanks so much for finally releasing such a gorgeous episode of virtual interaction. I can’t wait for a whole Facade-world, I’ll be the first in line to fork over my entertainment budget for it. BTW, I am one of the seeders and it’s been going continuously at maximum upload speed with huge numbers of peers connected since I started a couple of days ago. Anecdotal of course, but looks like there is a lot of interest! CONGRATULATIONS!

  31. Rob Says:

    Awesome! Congratulations!

    BTW, I’ve been running Torrent all day to help seed the distribution. :)

  32. andrew Says:

    Adam, wow, that made our day!

    Gamespot has just begun mirroring the Façade download, although it requires you to give them your name, address, set up a login and password… We’re waiting for Gamespot to update their displayed info text with a bit more information, before we list them as an option from our download page.

    They file Façade under “adventure / first-person / modern”.

    btw there have been over 2400 completed BitTorrent downloads, now 36 hours after first launching. That’s 1.75 TB of data moved. Currently over 500 BitTorrent seeds.

    We’ve only gotten a small handful of emails from people with technical problems — so far so good…

  33. CEmCom: Blog » Interactive drama Facade released Says:

    […] ownload it for free at http://www.interactivestory.net. Here is an announcement for its release. http://grandtextauto.org/2005/07/05/facade-is-released/ […]

  34. b Says:

    Very cool and I look forward to what comes next. This probably has been brought to your attention before but in case it hasnt….it seems that Trip and Grace dialogue is encoded in .wav files? It seems you could cut down the 800mb download significantly if you encoded them as mp3s. I know the large download is a barrier to getting this seen by more people.

  35. andrew Says:

    That’s yet another Façade technical gotcha… we tried to make the dialog audio as mp3s, but we couldn’t get the performance to be snappy enough. To allow Grace and Trip to react immediately to the player, we technically couldn’t get mp3 files to start playing fast enough.

    The music soundtrack files are mp3 though, because it’s okay if there’s a small delay when they start playing.

  36. andrew Says:

    Commenters over at Idle Thumbs have started posting excerpts from their generated stageplays. These 3 had me ROTFL.


  37. GamingStation » Façade | A WebLogNetwork Member Says:

    […] t the outcome of the game. Certainly going to give the game a try some time this weekend. Full Story , Official Site Permanent link: […]

  38. Reid Says:

    I view Facade as a major breakthrough and applaud the effort. It’s unfortunate that some people are having trouble with graphics and sounds because this really needs to be EXPERIENCED to be believed. As someone else mentioned, I feel very tense trying to think on the fly of what to say to help Grace and Trip kiss and make up. Twice now Trip has left Grace and me. I’ll be playing this some more as each time I play, I experience something new. The first time I played I didn’t even know I could interact with objects in the room.

    On the discussion of who would be interested in this type of game. I don’t think many people know that something like this exists. I think this kind of game is brand new, innovative, never before seen. Once people know about it, it’ll catch on… it’ll become water cooler conversation, it’ll have different applications such as entertainment vs. therapy vs. education. Imagine a Facade like game where you are a powerful political leader and you are in a room with 8 other world leaders. Topic of the discussion is nuclear arms, very volitile, choose your words carefully. It could be an amazing experience and really open up people to become aware of themselves in new ways. “Gee, I never thought I would do a 180 and agree with such a dangerous policy, but after hearing so and so talk about it, I realized I was wrong before.”

    I would love to see this kind of stuff in all types of games, FPS games, RPG, you name it, it’ll make the game so much more interesting if the dramatic moments are morally ambiguous. In an RPG, you have two party members that are arguing, which one do you side with? How good of a leader are you to help settle their differences?

    I don’t know how much access you would need to a game engine, but have you considered using a current gen game engine and making a Facade like mod for it?

    Lastly, I would like to bring up the issues of closed captioning. I’m an advocate for closed captioning in games (http://gamescc.rbkdesign.com/) and my team and I, Games[CC] created the Dynamic Closed Captioning system for use in Doom3 (http://www.planetdoom.com/doom3cc/). While playing Facade I have difficulty hearing some of the dialog and thus don’t know what to say to the characters. If you ever update Facade to include closed captioning, please let me know because it will greatly improve the experience for hard of hearing and deaf gamers.


  39. andrew Says:

    Reid, thanks for your comments. On the concept of closed captioning — great idea. We’re planning to release an updated version of Façade in the not-too-distant future that allows players to turn on text balloons, which will effectively serve as subtitles / closed captioning.

  40. Dominic Arsenault Says:

    Just downloaded this yesterday night, and I’m looking forward to trying it out during the week-end. To add a bit to Reid’s comment, closed captioning is also very useful for people that don’t speak or hear spoken English in their everyday lives.

  41. Patrick Says:

    I have only been able to run Facade a few times (nothing technically wrong with it, just a matter of time) and I see its potential and possibilities. One such market would be online RPG’s. Used as a possible module for a system to provide that role-playing experience that is lacking from current systems.

    A player walks into a bar on the badside of town:
    Player: Yo, I want a glass of milk
    NPC: Excuse me?
    Player: Milk
    NPC: Whatever, how about a beer?
    Player: How about I punch you in the face b****
    NPC: Bite me
    The NPC draws a shotgun. Begin Combat Mode.

    As opposed to current systems:

    Player: Yo, I want a glass of milk
    NPC: Sorry we do not serve that
    Player: Milk
    NPC: Sorry we do not serve that
    Player: Ok then, how about I punch you in the face b****
    NPC has no reaction.
    Player uses an emote command, such as lick or slap at the NPC.
    NPC has no reaction.

  42. michael Says:

    I don’t know how much access you would need to a game engine, but have you considered using a current gen game engine and making a Facade like mod for it?
    Reid, in the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech, we’re working on an academic release of ABL (the autonomous character language we used for Facade) integrated with the Unreal Tournament game engine. The ABL/UT project serves as an infrastructure for Dotcom, a sample social game we’re creating using the infrastructure. This is the closest thing to a Facade-like mod within a current game engine.

    This said, it’s important to note that:
    1) ABL is only one of the technologies that we used in the creation of Facade – ABL/UT doesn’t include the natural language understanding system, the drama manager, etc.
    2) Andrew and I developed a bunch of custom facial animation code and AI code written in ABL to control the faces, that isn’t part of the ABL/UT mod.
    3) Our discourse management system includes several AI layers, including a rule-based conversational context system, that aren’t part of the ABL/UT mod.
    4) ABL is a programming language. This means that non-programmers won’t be able to write characters using ABL/UT.

    So ABL/UT is by no means a “turnkey” system with which one can create Facade-like experiences. However, I do hope that ABL/UT can serve as an infrastructure for other academic groups doing research in autonomous characters and interactive drama.

  43. Brad O'Donnell Says:

    Facade is one hell of an achievement.

    At this point, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting both Grace and Trip to let down their defenses and admit their respective truths to one another without either of them storming off. This means I’ve enjoyed it enough to have played it for hours upon hours.

    I’m not sure if the free-wheeling nature of the interface helps or hurts the experience. On the one hand, it’s a nice way to keep things flowing; on the other, the characters often find even the simplest of contextually relevant responses incomprehensible. For instance, when Trip says Grace is driving him crazy, and I respond “short trip”, I get puzzlement in return. In fact, they don’t respond so much to the content of my message as much as to the signal that I’m interested. I can pretty much get a good ending using only the words “why”, “how”, “yes”, “no”, and a couple of others. Anything approaching a full sentence perplexes them.

    Facade is insanely fun to play or to watch being played. It shares this property with GTA — the action is sufficiently compelling that other people are more than willing to watch it until their turn comes up.

    Some reviewers have said, “If I wanted to watch people argue, I’d visit my parents,” etc. Although on the surface this is a condemnation, I see it as another thing it got right. The scenario is genuinely uncomfortable, and the excellent voice acting and facial system really bring that out.

    I understand that since this is an academic project, a lot of fun options are unavailable — or at least they seem to be (perhaps when my Behind the Facade booklet arrives, I’ll learn better). I can’t encourage their bickering to the point of fisticuffs. There’s no knife in the kitchen, so I can’t stab them myself. Not much hanky panky, although I did once manage to get Grace to trick Trip into staying in the kitchen while I made out with her.

    Watching people play Facade, I am reminded that simulations are necessarily finite, while there is no limit to the player’s desires to fuck shit up and/or reliably generate an optimal resolution.

    But jeez, it’s absolutely amazing, folks. Especially the “I know what you’re getting at” section. The first time Trip tallied my actions, I just about plotzed.

  44. Jeff Paine Says:

    First of all, I think a full-screen mode would be great.
    Second of all, this program needs a higher compatibilty rate.
    First two times I tried it, the AI wouldn’t respond. I could knock on the door until my hands fell off but nobody would answer.
    The third time, the AI was a little slow. Well, that’s actually an understatement. I kissed Grace, walked over to Trip, 30 seconds later I see a shocked look on his face. 30 more seconds later, Trip and Grace go “uh…” And my PC is well past the limit for CPU speed.
    This looks like an interesting game and I hope to get it running OK soon so I can check it out!

  45. andrew Says:

    Façade seems to have trouble running on some machines, regardless of the CPU speed; a few players have written us about it. We’re trying to diagnose what’s wrong — stay tuned to the Help and Troubleshooting pages on the website, thanks.

  46. Jeff Paine Says:

    Alright. One more question – the download.com mirror says it has version 1.03 – is this updated from the FacadeInstaller.exe that’s being distributed on the GameSpot mirror and via Bittorrent?

  47. andrew Says:

    Nope — Download.com just has it mislabeled, we’ve written them to correct it. All installers are the same.

  48. Jeff Paine Says:

    OK, thanks

  49. Mark Marino Says:

    The scripts at Idle Thumbs are excellent. This will be a new genre, no doubt. Is it playing the game or playing against the story?

    I’m going to pick up Brad O’Donnell’s entry in our second take over at WRT.

  50. Justin Hall Says:

    I added Facade to Wikipedia:


    A basic page! Could use some of your edits –

    Nice work on this project! Thanks for freely sharing your results.

  51. andrew Says:

    Thanks Justin! Glad to get your help getting the word out. :-)

    We’ll add more links and info to the Wikipedia as needed.

  52. scott Says:

    Congrats, guys.

  53. michael Says:

    One of my students informed me that she saw Facade mentioned on G4. I searched G4’s site, but didn’t find any mention of Facade. Did anyone see the G4 coverage?

  54. Jeff Paine Says:

    It was on Attack of the Show last Friday (I believe it was Friday)

  55. michael Says:

    OK, this episode. Plus, Kevin delivers a Free Play Friday game worth downloading… must be Facade. What did they say about Facade?

  56. michael Says:

    Here’s what Rachel (student collaborator on this preliminary evaluation of Facade) says about the coverage:

    They showed a brief demo of the host’s gameplay and gave a favorable
    review, alluding to how great it would be if you could have first
    person dialogue interaction in a first person shooter game. In
    total, it was maybe 5 – 8 minutes of coverage I think?

  57. Jeff Paine Says:

    Oh yeah, basically they showed some clips of the game (obviously), and they talked a little about the concept, and how the AI reacted intelligently to what you say (for example, they told Grace that her art blows, and they said she would react to that and get angry at you) And then they said it would be cool if they could implement this into other games, for instance a military shooter where you have to calm down your fellow soldiers.

  58. andrew Says:

    A little update on Façade’s rollout — it’s been one week since it was released, and there have been over 25,000 downloads so far, between our BitTorrent and the mirrors on Gamespot, Download.com and Jesper’s server.

    Considering the installer is 800MB, that’s over 20TB of data moved over the Internet, all virtually for free for us as developer/publishers.

  59. Jeff Paine Says:

    Me and my brother got a new computer and it came in yesterday, today we hooked up the internet and of course the first thing I downloaded was Facade, since it wouldn’t work on my laptop. It’s really great and fun, but my only complaint is that the action is too fast for you to get your words in fast enough. I found myself actually saying what I wanted to a line or so ahead of where I wanted to say it. So maybe a future version can have it so it pauses when you’re typing something in? Or maybe have it as a togglable option.

    P.S. Trip’s pants are too high. You might want to think about pulling them down a little in a future version. :P

  60. Richard Evans Says:

    Thanks for making this publicly available.

    It is hugely ambitious and very entertaining.

    The biggest “Ooo, wow! I am witnessing the future of interactive entertainment and I want to kneel before it!” moment was when Trip said told me I had really been pressing his buttons tonight. He redescribed my behavior back to me quite accurately (praising him, praising his flat, flirting with his wife, asking if he had been having an affair), and asked if this was me trying to get him to realize something about himself. He then revealed more about himself, which was something of a shock, but also seemingly inevitable. This really felt like character self-revelation caused by an understanding of player behavior.

  61. andrew Says:

    We appreciate your feedback Richard, that’s great!

    [Ed’s note: for those who do not know, Richard Evans was the AI developer behind Lionhead’s Black and White, and is rumored to be currently working on next-generation Maxis projects.]

  62. nick Says:

    Wanted to note that I wrote a review of Façade for the SPAG (Soceity for the Promotion of Adventure Games) Newsletter, issue 41, which has just been published. SPAG is an email newsletter also available on the web.

  63. andrew Says:

    Great writeup, Nick; hopefully it will get Façade on the radar of more folks in the IF community.

    For those with American cable TV access, the videogame channel G4 has a show called Cinematech that apparently will be doing a piece about Façade called “Who’s Afraid of Interactive Drama“, at 10pm EST on July 27 and repeating the show a few times until August 2. (I don’t have cable, but I’ll try to find someone who does so I can watch.)

  64. nick Says:

    Façade is also written up quite positively in Phil LoPiccolo’s last editoral for Computer Graphics World. Thanks for Norm Badler here at Penn for the tip about this article.

  65. andrew Says:

    There’s a review of Façade and interview with us in this week’s Boston Phoenix, with the subtitle “Virginia Woolf meets Grand Theft Auto”.

    Traffic update: downloads have reached 40,000 today.

  66. Fox Harrell Says:

    After experiencing “Façade,” and having had several weeks to digest the experience I have decided to offer a summary of my observations and experiences.
    I think it is a very successful and evocative work. Here is what struck me:

    The nuanced tone of the characters in verbal intonation, facial expression, and positioning in space all add to the emotional resonance of the work. There is a lot of subtle work in the characterization of this “materially successful” couple. The visual design of the system supports this as well– two-dimensional world and avoidance of primary colors in the color scheme serve the tone of the narrative well. Visually it is conspicuously different than other game-like systems, this becomes a marker of the authors’ intentions to create a serious interactive dramatic experience for adults in contrast to the numerous juvenile targeted narrative computer games that exist.

    Façade is quite different than narrative adventure games for example, because in those games the moment-to-moment interaction is largely not dialogue-based but action based. The use of dialogue in Façade seems to be about influencing characters and uncovering hidden levels of meaning. In a typical narrative computer game the dialogue is used to move the plot forward and to make decisions that affect player character resources — with development of the player character (enhancement of statistics and acquisition of possessions) often given equal status as a goal to the plot driven goals.

    As in the Mateas, Vanouse, Domike collaboration “Terminal Time,” there are fixed narrative attributes and variable narrative attributes between each execution of the system. In my own work I have found that a potential power of a computational narrative artwork is meaningful difference between repeated user experiences. For example, meaning comes out of the contrast between the output of different executions of the software. Terminal Time uses this characteristic as its central feature — it critiques the dominant and monolithic voice of traditional documentary film with clever rhetorical differences and political positioning between each system execution. Façade also takes advantage of meaningful difference between user sessions , but this occurs more in the user’s accumulation of experience with the story world and interaction mode. We learn how to avoid certain paths or dead-ends. We learn how to move Grace and Trip to discuss one subject matter or another, and potentially how to delve deeper into that issue next time. We learn of the paths that there are to explore and we can keep mental notes of them for the next iteration. Thus, the meaningful difference between runs here has more to do with uncovering more of the narrative space (learning the full story between the characters) and game-like accrual of user experience.

    An additional effect of this characteristic, is that though the experience is more “narrative” than “game,” many users will still adopt a goal-based strategy when interacting with the system. For example, users may feel a sense of failure when failing to reconcile the arguing couple. My suspicion is that even while exploring the narrative space, users will have a sense that there is the “correct” set of paths that end in the couple’s reconciliation, and a set of failure paths with the user either being kicked out or the failure of Grace and Trip’s marriage in one or more ways. I believe that this sense comes out of (1) and expectation for game-like conventions yielding from popular computer gaming and interactive experience, and (2) the characteristics of the meaningful differences between user sessions.

    The experience also surprised me in the degree to which its interactive fiction (IF) heritage manifested through my subjective experience of interacting with it. For me, the character of moment-to-moment interaction with an interactive fiction system, involves learning the types of interaction the system expects from me. Since it is never possible to anticipate everything a user might attempt, there is always some effort to deal with unexpected user input. Interacting with such systems has a qualitative feel to it, whether it is a generic response such as “I don’t understand what you typed,” a clever response in the tone of the game (that still indicates that the user should make another choice) such as in the LucasArts “Monkey Island” series of games, or an attempt at a more graceful response that tries to deal with the user’s actual intentions.

    In Façade, I found myself trying to understand the sorts of input that the system would respond reasonably too. Hence, as in IF, there is this feeling of testing the boundaries of the input system. On several occasions the system did not understand what I meant as earnest input, e.g. (if I recall correctly) when I typed “Grace, I really like your painting” for some reason Trip responded with a statement like “You think I should start to paint?” I remember in my youth a similar process of having to reign in my input patterns to something that the system would recognize. All this is not to say that Façade is qualitatively equivalent to these older interactive fiction systems, rather that Façade is a quantum leap forward in an underdeveloped legacy of interactive narrative systems.

    This interactive fiction character did not only have to do with the limitations of the Natural Language Processing (NLP) system. It also came from the narrative constraints. The tension between the ability to interact with the characters and environment and the dramatic arc of the story is more apparent than I would have guessed. The user’s agency exists only within the dramatic world of the system. I do not see this as a fault. I agree with Eric Zimmerman’s assessment of successful games as being systems of constraints, as noted in the book “Rules of Play” co-written with Katie Salen. Mateas and Stern’s work provides an example of a similar value for interactive narrative, the user should *not* be able to do whatever s/he wants within the narrative world. The user should be able to make meaningful choices that result in meaningful differences within the story world.

    Which brings me to an issue debated between Chris Crawford and Michael Mateas on Grand Text Auto (or was the debate elsewhere and only recounted on the blog?). In paraphrased form, Crawford argues for iconic user input languages whereas Mateas argues for allowing users to be able to express himself or herself in natural language. Crawford is interested particularly in guaranteeing the salience of user decisions with regard to the story, while Mateas is interested in allowing users a means to express themselves in their own manner as well as avoiding exposure of the deep structure of the system’s narrative content.

    My feeling is that both approaches probably have their place, but what is important is the qualitative experience of the user. Interpreting natural language alone will not allow for individualistic sense of expression for users. This is not to say that it should be uniformly avoided, however.

    Since there are limitations to the state-of-the-art for natural language processing, and since it is a hard problem in general, the system ends up ignoring a great deal of the user input — focusing on noun and verb combinations. Because of this, individualistic and idiosyncratic input is incorporated at meta (social) level in the output scripts generated (as seen in some humorous examples of Façade generated scripts), but not at the level of user interaction and meaningful difference in system execution. Since the goal was to allow users a mechanism for personalized interaction this is probably not a desirable situation.

    It is useful to note that an iconic input system could be built atop natural language system that takes iconic input and maps it to an input form recognizable by the NLP system. Likewise, atop an iconic system an NLP system could be built that maps parsed input to iconic input recognized by the system (perhaps even presenting graphical output of the iconic system as a form of acknowledgment of exactly how the system has parsed the user input). The point of this duality is that while both systems carry debatable features and drawbacks, the important debate is about how well the system supports the stated goal: meaningful interpretation of personalized input patterns.

    For design of such systems I usually look at mappings between desired functionality and how these are represented in the system’s interfaces. Thinking about the problem this way, the idea of “input that expresses a user’s personal style” is too broad, it is important to ask “personalized how?” It is also important to ask what the core function of user input is.

    For example, it may be important to allow users to input action/object combinations. This means that a verb/noun combination or possibly verb/noun/direct-object combination is the core user input type. It may be important to allow the users a range of emotional modifiers for these action/object combinations. Then perhaps the system should also allow for a set of emotion oriented adverbs. The main idea here is that a tight system could be produced from a minimal set of input options that constrains system to create a narrative world where user-action and intentions are always meaningful. The user can still have a sense of personal approach to interaction, but only in a way that is incorporated into interaction with the system. I offer this “emotion adverb” example only as a loose sketch to illustrate a general idea. A tight loop between user input and narrative world results probably will create a sense of user style meaningful within the story world (as opposed to a sense of user input style visible at a level outside of the system). Such a tight loop could be implemented successfully via iconic languages, a restricted natural language, or even a menu-based system. The important issue is for the author to carefully describe a range of meaningful user actions and a means to enable them unambiguously in the story world.

    In summary, I believe that Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern have offered a valuable contribution to the world of procedural story-telling. Their production model (independent, experimental, academy-industry collaboration), their vision of artificial intelligence, their vision of interactive narrative, and even their distribution model (free!), represent vital work within the community of people interested in gaming, interactive narrative, computational fiction, and all related areas. The fact that Façade is a fresh and engaging experience is a bonus.

  67. michael Says:

    Fox, thanks for your thoughtful comments. It was great spending the afternoon hanging out last week, discussing these issues in detail, and learning more about your current work. I will definitely write a post soon (probably when I’m back in Atlanta) about your work in poetry generation, and, more generally, your work using conceptual blending in AI-based generative art.

  68. nick Says:

    Brass Lantern just published a Façade review by Matthew Murray: “brilliant in every conceivable way except as something to play.”

  69. andrew Says:

    Harsh. Thanks for the link, I guess ;-/

    Actually I agree with some of Matthew Murray’s criticisms, but of course not to the degree of severity he paints them.

  70. modgeulator Says:

    Would it be possible to compress the audio into ogg or mp3 (or some other lossy format) and have them decompressed to wave files during the installation? That would get around the performance issues you encountered playing back mp3 files while also greatly reducing the download size.

  71. andrew Says:

    Yes — a proactive user has already suggested that to us, and even prototyped it for us; we just need to find the time to test if it sounds good enough, and rebuild the installer. We’ve just been too busy to do that yet (as well as a Mac port, fix other bugs, etc.) It’ll happen at some point… :-)

  72. Jeffrey Paine Says:

    Facade is NOT compatible with Windows Vista. Just though I should bring this to your attention. It will load the game, then it will say “animEngine.exe [or whatever it’s called] has stopped working”

  73. Grand Text Auto » Machinima Made Easy, Within a Tycoon Sim Says:

    […] een a unusually prolific year for computer-based drama; in addition to Indigo Prophecy and Façade we have last week’s release of Lionhead’s much-anticipated The […]

  74. Dan Says:

    Is there some kind of workaround to get past the 1.6Ghz requirement? I have a 1.5Ghz Pentium M with 1.2GB of RAM…In practical terms, is the game really unable to run on that slightly slower configuration?

  75. nick Says:

    Purportedly holding down shift-F12 while starting, but don’t tell anyone I told you.

  76. Alex Hazell Says:


    We thought you and your visitors might be interested to hear about a new Alternate Reality Game that we’re putting together.

    “Traces of Hope” is being launched as the first ever charity online ARG and is being built by the British Red Cross to coincide with its Civilians and Conflict month. The game features Joseph a sixteen-years-old caught up in the Ugandan civil war, separated from his family, hungry and alone in a camp overflowing with thousands forced to flee, Joseph is desperately seeking his mother. But he needs your help…

    Registration will open on Sunday 28th but until then there’s a teaser page at http://www.tracesofhope.com and a teaser video at http://www.vimeo.com/1811645

    We’d really appreciate a link to the game or any coverage you could provide. Any questions please let me know,



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