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Face to Face with Façade at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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Today marks another milestone in interactive drama as Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern launch Façade, a stunning interactive drama.

facade

On the face of it, Façade is everything it describes itself to be. It provides a user the opportunity of being a player in a twenty-minute interactive drama that is serious in tone, but not without its levity. These bots are a far cry from ELIZA and the user has a level of non-trivial interaction far greater than most cybertexts. Before critics enumerate what the system cannot do, it is a good day to celebrate everything that Façade gets right.

In the tale, you walk into a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” or perhaps Stephen Wolfram, as you drop by to see Trip and Grace 10 years after you introduced them. They invite you over for drinks (read:trap). As you arrive you find them married and about to annihilate each other, just under the surface, of course. As you sympathize with or antagonize them you have the chance to help them Stay Together along the lines of Al Green or to cause one of them (or yourself) to storm off. Or, as happened to me often enough, you can get kicked out for bad behavior.

The ludologists will probably find it disappointing in its adherence to Aristotelian proscriptions. But interactive storytelling gurus, like Chris Crawford are already on board. The system adapts in interesting ways. The faces are wonderfully expressive, and the story has an emotional intensity that is much more reminiscent of literature than of soap opera.

The best in-joke is the Magic 8-Ball that Trip likes to walk around with. Here is the simple-response system at its simplest and presumably its most variable. You use it when you are making decisions, just as you have arrived at the decisive moment in the narrative. As a responsive system, the 8-Ball, the user provides context and questions. Façade presents maximum specificity with a story “on rails,” as Jeremy puts it. By comparison, the less scripted random system is “trivial” compared to the artistically constrained system.

Congratulations to both. More reviews will follow.



1 Response to “Face to Face with Façade”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

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    I look forward to reading your punctuated reviews Mark.

    The excitement around the game release is pulpable in the blogosphere. Here is another review and a forum discussing the game too.

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