Friday, October 13, 2006
who's afraid of virginia woolfenstein?
So, I don't really play computer games, but the Atlantic has a story this month on a "game" called Façade that is an effort to create an "interactive drama." The premise of the game is that you are invited over to the apartment of a couple of friends, Grace and Trip, and you show up at At A Bad Time. A disagreement between them ensues.
You get to pick up objects, sip on a drink that Trip makes you, and engage in various benign displays of affection with either of your hosts. More importantly, your typing things represents you saying them. Because Grace and Trip are actually talking, by which I mean the game plays audio clips, it's not like chatterbots (such as A.L.I.C.E.) where the game's AI has ways of reformatting things you say in its response. But some things you say do elicit responses (the characters also direct "yes or no" questions to you at various times during the scene).
Like many attempts at AI conversation, the resulting "realism" ends up depending much on how the computer responds when its parser had no idea what you are trying to say, and here the setting makes sense. Because Grace and Trip are arguing, when you say something the game doesn't understand, they will just carry forward their dispute in one way or another.
The downside: who really wants to play a game that is based on watching married people fight? I get enough of that at family holidays. If you play the game straight--trying to imagine what you would actually say if in the situation the game presents--you play most of it trying to figure out nice ways of either excusing yourself or changing the subject.
Apparently, the creators of Facade are working on a new game that will be based on a party. Again, another setting that makes sense because if the computer doesn't understand you it's easy to just have the characters act as if their intention is to ignore you and just talk to one another. And, better comedic value than a fighting couple. Still, I thought an even better premise for both comedy and protagonist-ignoring-cross-talk would be to have the player be the student at a dissertation defense.
Update: Lucy tries Facade, and has her own problems.