(c) 2005-6 Procedural Arts

Vision and Motivation for Fašade

  The dream of interactive drama, perhaps best envisioned by the Star Trek Holodeck, has players interacting with compelling, psychologically complex characters, and through these interactions having a real influence on a dynamically evolving storyline.

Motivated by our belief that a fully-realized interactive drama has not yet been built, we embarked on a five year effort to integrate believable characters, natural language conversation, and dynamic storyline, into a small but complete, playable, publicly-released experience. Fašade is the result of this effort.

Videogames excel at giving players high-agency experiences — that is, providing ample opportunities for the player to take action and receive immediate feedback. With Fašade we wanted to create an interactive drama that provides the level of immediate, moment-by-moment agency found in games, but unlike games, also provides longer-term player influence over the plot itself.

In addition to the very local, in-the-moment agency of games, we want the player to experience global agency, that is, real influence on the overall story arc, over which topics get brought up, how the characters feel about the player over time, and how the story ends.

Additionally, the story-level choices in Fašade shouldn't feel like obvious branch points. We believe that when a player is faced with obvious choice points consisting of a small number of choices (for example, being given a menu of three different things to say to choose from), it detracts from the sense of agency; the player feels railroaded into doing what the designer has dictated. Instead, in Fašade, the story progression changes in response to many small actions performed by the player throughout the experience.

  Rather than being about manipulating magical objects, fighting monsters, and rescuing princesses, Fašade is about the emotional entanglements of human relationships. Instead of providing the player with 40 to 60 hours of episodic action and endless wandering in a huge world, we're interested in shorter experiences that provide emotionally intense, tightly unified, dramatic action. Rather than focusing on the traditional gamer market, we are interested in interactive experiences that appeal to the adult, non-computer geek, movie-and-theater-going public.

Contemporary videogames make use of increasingly sophisticated graphics and physics simulations. Yet the core gameplay — navigating, exploring, shooting, jumping, unlocking — has remained the same for years. At the annual Game Developers Conference, game developers often complain about the lack of innovation in the game industry, the increasing dependence on sequels, and the design conservatism arising from ever more expensive production cycles. In this climate, a commercial experimental game such as Fašade could never be produced.

Fašade thus highlights the need for a robust independent game development scene that builds fully produced, radically experimental games, blazing the trail towards new game genres. If games are truly to become the cinema of the 21st century, expressing and commenting on the full range of human experience, an independent game scene that builds experimental, art-house games such as Fašade is a necessary complement to the commercial game world.

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