The Face Behind the Façade

We’ve recently been discussing Façade’s unique meta-media approach to Electronic Literature (as well as its very…  permutable platform).  Yet, to be quite honest, I feel very underwhelmed by our conversations thus far.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel there is still so much to say with regard to Façade’s brilliant execution.

To use an old cliché, Façade is nothing if not ambitious. But there is even more to Façade than is immediately apparent.

Whether or not you define Façade as an Interactive Story, a game, or both, one cannot ignore its use of modern game mechanics.  The first person perspective, the tangible in-game items, and the interactive characters are common features in many of today’s more popular games.  What separates Façade from the pack, however, is more than just its inclusion of a parser and a colossal array of input values:  it’s Façade’s commitment to the complexities of virtual reality long since abandoned by the game industry.

I was not surprised to see this image at the bottom of Façade's homepage. In fact, I felt it entirely appropriate.

No, that was not a hasty generalization — there was indeed a time when many game developers shared Michael Mateas’ (co-author of Façade) focus on Immersion and Transformation.  Games like the Petz series of the early 90’s, which Mataes coincidentally promotes at the bottom of Façade’s homepage, strove to produce the same unscripted realism that we encounter in our everyday life.  More so than that, these developers sought to add the same subtle yet very distinct behavioral patterns and personalities now absent in most modern games.

It was unfortunate that the game industry’s rapid climb in commercial viability during the 90’s changed developer’s focus.  The little nuances such as facial expressions, music-accented mood changes, and involved character interaction have taken a back seat to more profitable mechanics like game content and…  well…  more game content.  Of course, the recent rise of game publishers certainly hasn’t helped matters either.

And this brings us to the question I’ve slowly been working to from the start:  is the New York Times correct then in their assertion that Façade is indeed the “future of video games“?  I typically try to open that question up to everyone else, but this time I’ll do that in conjunction with actually answering — and you’re damn right it is.  Façade argues with convincing sound and fury in favor of quality over quantity; it suggests a recognizable value in the culmination of these nuances, and proves that a one-room game with only two characters, no leveling system, no DLC or add-on packs, and no scale of benevolence can still be fun.

  6 comments for “The Face Behind the Façade

  1. davidadas
    March 27, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I embedded this link above, but I’d like to share it again anyway:

    This video is a crucial component to my argument above. More importantly, it shows just exactly what influenced the development of Façade.

    Still, there’s a lot to be said about the game. I’m hoping you all will provide your input on this as well.

  2. rschlimb
    March 28, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I agree with you, the video game industry has abandoned interactivity for more in game content. There is very little ability to choose your own path in most video games, your responses are chosen, everything is predetermined. Although a video game is a very finite medium because you can only program in so many different paths for the user to take. I personally have never played a video game in which you can type out your whole response. Even choose your own path video games only give you a few choices to choose from, kind of like an HTML style interactive fiction piece. I’m not sure how they could take it much further than they already have. The developers would need a lot more space in the game to fit all the program language for typed responses. I cannot wait to see how video games evolve in the near future.

  3. cmccrzy
    March 28, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I LOVED Catz. It was so fun! I got to see all of these breeds I’d never met before and I could get lots of kittens and such. It was like online role-play. Heck, you could even pair up cats. You have to learn that some breeds are more likely to breed together, and some art. The cats all have different personalities (sorta). It’s fun to see the cats interact, especially with the themed cats (the cowboy cat, the Egyptian cat, etc.). I haven’t seen something as detailed and interesting and as INVOLVED with the characters in the game since. It might be because the characters in the game are cats. They don’t have greater goals like saving the world or making money or getting revenge. They want food. They want to play. They want to sleep. They want to fight. They like minor exploration. And they like to have kittens sometimes. They also like affection. They aren’t evil. They could be annoying, but that’s about it (and if they are, you can just put them away). So you get to know the cats a little better – they’re just easier to understand.

    I have seen this as a heavily bashed subject of recent games: what do I know about the character I’m playing as/steering? When I know about them, why should I care? They seem cold, stupid, overly bloodthirsty, incomprehensible, etc. Catz got around this problem – you can make most of the environment and are responsible for taking care of the cats. They respond to your behavior and the other cats you introduce them to. You don’t have to get a secret or ammo or run through a corridor without dying to move to the next enemy-filled building and get the next secret. You just live and play with the cats.

    It is definitely quality over quantity. I remember playing Catz day after day after day. Similar conceptual games involving animals, or even games like the Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon are also games that pull you back. I think this means that people want more freedom in their gameplay. Certainly, I could play through an entire run of all three DeathSpank names and every Tomb Raider. And I love popping into Oni and playing a level or two (or the entire thing, which isn’t too long once you’ve beaten it once or thrice). But the games I would prefer to go back to are games like this. With characters you can keep having stories with (there seems to be a relatively unlimited supply of kitten possibilities). You could also do this by looking at the Pokemon games: once you’re done with the real story… what do you do? Tournaments? Restart the game? Level every pokemon you’ve caught to 100? Unless you’re OCD like me, you’ll move on to something else. Not to bash the game design quality behind Pokemon, since it’s pretty good and they’ve made great progress. But it’s not something I’m really compelled to return to after a couple years. However, I would gladly replay Catz if I could get a workable version my home computer.

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