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Talk to Me
Interactive Videogames Take a Small Step Forward

By Craig Froehlich
Video Game Review:

Procedural Games
To learn more and download the
game for free, visit

I have seen the future and it has a few annoying bugs in it. The new, ambitious “Façade” eschews what people normally think of videogames. It creates a dramatic situation in which player input determines the story’s outcome. In real life the situation at hand would inspire a wholehearted flight response. But this is a game and you have nothing to lose except your patience.

It seems to be more of a dare than a game. “Façade” begins with an awkward phone message from Trip, the protagonist twerp at the helm of a sinking marriage with Grace. You arrive with the intention of a peaceful evening of pleasantries with some old college buddies. Instead you become immersed in a matrimonial skirmish. Trip and Grace make a tedious pair. “Façade” seems less a game than a stage play with an audience-of-one. Grace, mired in her corporate existence, pines for artistic expression and Trip is apparently a clueless douche bag. Your role is to decipher the couple’s current situation and try to extend the tedium for another 15 minutes. After a couple of runs, the plot becomes apparent and you want to appease the designers and play along by trying to keep things simple. Even then, it’s hard to keep characters on track due to interpretation problems in the artificial “intelligence.” Then the deviance sets in and you hope to implode the program. “Fuck” carries little merit in the “Façade” world.

Remarks are typed and entered at the bottom of the screen. It’s called a text parser. There are no multiple choice questions here. Type what you feel. If your dialogue fails to prompt or cajole Trip and Grace, it can still be cathartic. You probably need to let someone, anyone, know that you are a killing machine, looking to get laid and that you have pockets full of honey mustard. At the most, Trip or Grace will escort you out and you can give it another go after a lengthy rebooting.

The “Façade” couple doesn’t stomach homoerotic overtures, doesn’t handle kissing the same as Europeans and will likely never open that damn bottle of wine.

You speak too soon or not enough. You find the weaknesses in the programming. You might even freeze the action or lose the ability to manipulate the world around you. Somewhere within the game your actions hold merit and if one can weather the glitches one might find the plot driving this 15-minute question and answer.

While the kinks in the programming become brutally clear during game play, its successes excite anyone wishing for something new in the world of artificial intelligence.

The stark graphics of “Façade” belie the complexity of this interaction. The variables involved in deciphering the English language certainly dwarf those simple manipulations of a joystick and buttons. Remind yourself of this when you spend two minutes weathering Trip’s and Grace’s nervous laughter after asking where one might find the bathroom. “You sex maniac,” Trip said. “Ha, ha, ha.”

You have less than a handful of physical actions. You can hug, comfort, knock, kiss and pick up objects. Often this can stir a response. Just as often, it can be utterly futile. Now and then, our characters leave the reservation. Nothing but shrugs, nods, blank faces. It is time to reboot.

“Façade” illustrates a major deficit in the gaming world. If you want to shoot people or baskets, chances are you can find a video game that satiates your needs. If you want interaction and a chance to express personality and intellect, chances are you’ll need to stoop to speaking to other Homo sapiens. However, we long for that alternative world in which we test waters without wetting our feet. In each of us lies a Japanese schoolgirl who loves the robot puppy that never poops and can always recover if batteries are in hand. While graphics keep most players satisfied, some of us want a game to talk back. “Façade” reminds us of the territory left unexplored by the gaming industry. If anything, it is a pioneer that will likely leave you wanting more.

craig [at]


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