Façade, gaming redefined
I am what you would call a "gamer". I have been playing video games starting with the NES. Since then I owned many consoles and dozens of video games. My love for video games is due do the stories and the wonderful worlds game designers imagine for us. That's why even though I bought 4 consoles since I arrived in the US 7 months ago I am not a hard-core gamer. Once the story has been told, the game is over and I want to play at my own pace. I can spend weeks without playing and when I play, it cannot be more than a few hours a week and this makes me happy.
I should be thrilled by the recent release of the XBox 360 but I am not. I am, actually, sad. As the hardware becomes more and more complex, game developers need more and more time to create their games, most of the time for the sake of better graphics. I love good looking games but most of them don't entertain me anymore. And despite its incredible power the XBox 360 only offers me games I've played with millions of times before. I've always liked Nintendo's approach to gaming and I cannot thank them enough for what they are doing with the Nintendo DS and the Revolution: the hardware forces game developers to be creative, to bring us a new breed of video games. I don't want yet another Blizzard's RTS, another Madden NFL iteration, another boring FPS with dark hallways... I want more of ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Wario Ware, Pac Pix, Meteos!
Façade might just be what I was waiting for. This innovative game is in fact an AI based art/research experiment. Presented as a one-act drama, Façade first appears as crude-looking, very short game. Yet, thanks to 5 years of engineering, its authors managed to create a novel architecture which supports emotions, body language, facial expressions, natural language generation and parsing and a drama-managed plot.
The game doesn't even dictate you who you are. When launching the game you are asked to choose a name, and therefore your sex. You are then dropped in the game itself, a 3D world in which you interact through a first person point of view. The game starts at the front door of two of your friends, Trip and Grace, who invited you over for dinner. As the drama unfolds it becomes apparent their couple is having trouble and you are the witness of their unhappiness. What should you do? I can't tell. It's different every time you play the game. The characters react to your actions (you can comfort, hug and kiss them) and to your words (you can talk to them at anytime by simply typing something on your keyboard) so it's really up to you. You can try to help them the way you want. Or you can just sit tight and see what happens. There is no goal other than experiencing a good moment of what gaming could be.
Even though it's not graphically appealing, Façade is technically impressive in the way it parses the sentences you type. I also really enjoyed the generation of natural dialogues. Characters hesitate, interrupt each other and so on. It's not perfect but it's refreshing. Also the lips-syncing might no be very good but look at the facial expressions and the body language of Trip and Grace. After having seen bland and neutral states on characters faces in almost every 3D video game I played to, I'm thrilled.
So please, if you are on Windows, go to the official web site and download your free copy of the game. Some of you will love it, some will find it deeply boring but I doubt you will remain unconcerned about it.
Oh and I wouldn't worry too much if you are not on Windows and cannot play the game. After all, it's written in Java and OpenGL and the authors seem interested in any help to port the game to another OS (at least MacOS X).