Please note that I don't update this web site anymore. You can visit my new personal blog at


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Have you played Façade yet? You should, you know.

Façade is the result of a research project about interactive storytelling by Michael Mateas an Andrew Stern. In Façade, you visit your old friends Trip and Grace, who just moved into their new apartment. Even before you are welcomed in, it is clear that Trip and Grace are having marital problems. During your visit, these problems escalate and you are caught in the middle.

The first aspect worthy of notion is that the absence of a goal is no problem. As a matter of fact, the people who I have observed playing Façade hardly noticed that a goal wasn't provided, since they naturally assumed they were supposed to save their friends' marriage. It's only after you've played Façade a couple of times that you realise that you are free to set other goals, too.

The authors invite you to replay Façade in order to fully experience the dramatic effect of the story and rightfully so. As a matter of fact, I didn't need any encouragement to play again. After I failed to help my friends save their marriage, I immediately wanted to try again and do better.

Replayability is aided by the fact that Façade is quite short. A single play-through won't take more than thirty minutes and is usually much shorter. This works out nice for this research project, but I think future interactive stories should have a longer playing time. I think somewhere around three hours would be ideal. This would allow a person to play an interactive story in much the same way as you watch a movie.

The ending in Façade is done very nicely. The story ends whenever you walk out of the appartment. Whether this is because you choose the leave, because you are asked to leave or because you are kicked out doesn't matter. The result is that the ending of the story isn't predetermined and still always feels natural. Such a physical trigger for the ending won't work with every story you can come up with, but it's very effective in Façade.

Not everything works out well. You interact with your friends by typing in sentences. I like the fact that the story continues while you are typing; it's good for the flow of the story. However, it also means that you regularly interrupt Trip or Grace while you didn't mean to. And if you are a slow typist, this scheme is especially cumbersome.

Another problem has to do with the text parser. It's not that the parser is bad, but the feedback you get is unclear. Thankfully, you never get reactions like 'I don't know what a down is', but this design decision has a problematic side-effect. Halfway through the story, Trip and Grace get so caught up in their argument that they choose to ignore your comments from time to time. Unfortunately, you often don't know whether Trip and Grace really decided to pay no attention to you or if the text parser just threw away your sentence because it couldn't make heads or tails of it.

Input is definitively the weak spot of Façade. I don't like natural language input and Façade has only strengthened that believe. In the case of Façade, however, I can't think of an alternative input method that would have allowed you as much freedom. For this research project, typed input might have been the best option. If you're making an attempt to create commercial interactive fiction, though, I think you should design your story in such a way that you can use a less troublesome method of input.

Façade isn't perfect, but it shows tremendous promise. I firmly believe that this is the direction interactive storytelling should take.

Back to blog index


mahlzeit says:

I've been interested in Facade for a while, but now it's finally available for download it doesn't seem like it will run on my computer... Do you think these relatively high system requirements (and download size) are justified?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 4:29 PM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

That largely depends on what you expect. If you are a gamer who is just looking for a fun experience, don't lose any sleep over it. I suspect the typical gamer wouldn't be very enthousiastic about Façade anyway. If you are interested in interactive storytelling, either as a gamer or a game designer, Façade is really worth the trouble. If you can't run it on your own computer, ask a friend to download it and check it out together. Since Façade is a research project, I can understand the decision to not waste too much time on speed and size optimizations. If Façade were released commercially, I think the high system requirements would've been a mistake. I don't really know why the system requirements are so high, so I can't really say whether they're justified. The graphics don't warrant them, in my opinion, but the complex story manager might. The large download is probably due to the spoken dialogue and I think that's justified.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 6:08 PM

Zarlord says:

Façade is just an 'imposture'. There is no AI behind it. It does not interact with the player. It always replays the same story and you just get kicked out of the room if you start to get rude. Believe me ! Try it many times and type random characters or even better do nothing and wait, then restart the game and do the same.

Thursday, October 13, 2005 12:53 AM

Tell me what you think

Since I'm not updating this site anymore, I disabled comments. You can visit me at my new site: