#645 Façade

Posted: 19th November 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

101st played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Michael Mates and Andrew Stern
Publisher: N/A

After all that celebrating and big names, we now go to something more experimental. Facade (please ignore the lack of cedilla from now on – while it’s in the name, it’s more work for us to put it in each time… and we still need to play 900 more games!) is an interactive fiction game. You visit a married couple you introduced to each other 10 years ago for a celebration. It turns it’s not, however, a happy marriage.

The big feature of this game is the parser. Rather than putting in short simple phrases, suck as we saw in Zork, you communicate with the game by typing in full sentences – which are the things you say to  Trip and Grace, the friends you meet. You can drive them apart and keep them together – it’s all open.

Our Thoughts

Not too long ago film critic (and one my personal heroes) Roger Ebert came out with a rather controversial diatribe against video games. In his editorial he resigned video games as something that, unlike movies, literature and music, will never reach the realm of art. Whilst there are many games to come on this list which we believe contradicts this statement entirely (such as Flower and The Path) it is time to start our argument with Facade.

This game is truly is a testament to the ingenuity and dedication of its two developers who managed to create something that is one of the most advanced games on this list despite the lack of visual prowess. Yes. True, you might not stick to the one true vision of the creator – games by their nature being more interactive than any other art medium, but that makes the accomplishments in this game even more impressive.

The game itself has a simple concept, and beyond your words, the interaction seems limited, but this is the closest you might get to a reflection of real life. Of course, whether it’s art depends highly on what your definition of art is anyway… If the Alien movie is art, then why isn’t Resident Evil that?

Questions like this have been subject to much scrutiny in recent years since gaming has become a more widespread phenomenon even if many would like to relegate it to the world of geekery (not helped by it’s depictions in other media such as The Big Bang Theory). Not helped by it being the most profitable type of entertainment at this point in time, which opens it up to even more scrutiny from figures in the “art world”.

The fact is that few games have truly tried to effectively capture the human condition and the motives behind our actions. To give games like The Sims their dues they have given it a good stab but Facade is one of the select few that have been able to successfully depict a microcosm of human emotion in an effective and intriguing way that warrants multiple plays due to randomised conversational flashpoints.

In the end, despite the graphics, which look less impressive than many other games, the game is engaging. Repeat plays show you part of the game is mechanic, with the way some items repeat and the game moves between ‘phases’, but even then the character feel real, with plenty of things to say and secrets to reveal. The most impressive thing here is that the game responds to your action. If you agree with Trip, Grace will be less happy, and vice versa, you can flirt with them, but only up to a point, and they’re all too happy to hear what you think of their decorating. The game can also be terminated early if you go in there with the plan to be completely obnoxious or act like a Jehovah’s Witness. The sheer look of horror and disapproval in the eyes of your hosts is priceless. Although even when I tried to be as outrageously flirty as I could, Trip and Grace seemed to take their time in throwing me out that you wonder what they really want… there are several different ways you might have introduced them. It is also interesting how much a bearing your first few sentences make on how the characters treat you; immediately complement Grace and it’s hard to turn her against you later in the game.

Whilst there are some difficulties in the parsing of certain sentences this is so much more advanced than either of us expected and shows how far technology has come in the last few decades. Even if the sentence parsing isn’t perfect, sometimes being silent for a bit longer helps them work things out for themselves.

It’s also interesting that whether you try to help the couple split or reconcile the pay-off of this ‘one act play’ is able to affect you on a very emotional level. Neither Trip nor Grace are particularly blameless individuals but it is their flaws and their griping that makes you take sides to the point that we both talked for a while afterwards about who was to blame for the marriage falling apart.

It is genius since every player will take away something different from their experience. And isn’t that what art is all about?

Final Thoughts

 In the end, this game isn’t about the gameplay – there’s a bit there, but it doesn’t matter much. In the end, this is about the experience, about learning more about these people and keeping them together, or not. Lots of options, and there is no wrong or right. A game worth playing just to experience it.

If you want to play this game yourself, it is available on InteractiveStory.net for free. PC only.

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