January 6, 2008

Commentary: Façade

Façade is perhaps the most ambitious independent game project that I've every seen. For those who haven't heard, the game is designed to be an interactive drama. You play as the longtime friend of Grace and Trip, who's marriage is falling apart. Your actions (which are very limited) and words (which aren't so limited) affect how the story plays out.

The game does a lot of things right. The graphics are a bit goofy at first, but you get used to them, and they emphasize the important parts such as facial expressions. The voice acting is superb throughout. When Grace and Trip argue, it's convincing and powerful. And while the game is short (it lasts for about 15 minutes), it can be replayed several times before it loses freshness.

That said, interactive storytelling requires that all of the elements be just right before it works. In this case, the natural language parser that the game uses is obviously flawed. That's not so much a fault of the designers as it is an inevitable outcome for such an ambitious project.

There were several times that I'd suggest something sensible to one of the characters and they would reply "That doesn't even make any sense!" or "You think I'm... not communicative?". The parser is clearly set to pick up on certain words in order to figure out what is being said, and it fails often. Another manifestation of this problem is when you try to get in-depth on a topic; if you try to make another point about, say, the possibility of an affair, the characters are liable to yell at you for bringing up a subject that they've already discussed.

And so while Façade is interesting, and I advise everyone to play it a few times, it ultimately fails. The final product is fun to watch and well-produced in many ways, but the introduction of interactivity, as has happened to most attempts at interactive storytelling, breaks everything down.

Chris Crawford suggested in his latest book that a better solution for dealing with language is to present a set of menus for what words would make sense to the copmuter at that point in the sentence. Word-by-word the player assembles a sentence that the computer is guarenteed to understand. This limits the number of things that a player can say, but it eliminates the frustration of being misunderstood by the technology. Façade with menu-based language might be a fantastic game.

1 comment:

文章 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.