Facade is by no means a technological marvel. The character models are the butt of many jokes (and memes, which will be the majority of the pictures in this post) and there’s the occasional graphical hiccup from time to time. And the voice acting….well, it was certainly serviceable. And playing the game on modern Windows 10? A nightmare. I miss my MacBook, but I doubt even playing it on there would’ve enhanced my experience any more than it already was.
Then again, it was released in 2005 and worked on mostly by two people, so fair’s fair. Today the game shares a legacy with its rough development; its unique method of story telling that forces the player to become directly involved in the interaction of the two main characters, Grace and Trip. Long before Telltale Games (rip) made the idea of player-based story choices as the primary focus in a video game commonplace, Facade took its own shot at it, and the result? Well, it might depend on who you ask.
The E-Lit Collection says that Facade “comes closer than any digital literature work thus far to realizing a long-held dream, which is the creation of an interactive, animated fiction that can accept any type of language produced by the user and assimilate it into the outcome of the narrative”. While something like this may not be anything special today, at the time of release most of this was true. There were plenty of similar flash “negotiation” games at the time, but none of them really came close to having an open conflict like Facade had, there was typically a straightforward solution that may or may not have appeared obvious to you at the time. But Facade, with its text-based choice system, meant that you basically controlled how the game played out, even if you weren’t aware of just how much weight your responses could carry.
Since this game was allergic to Windows 10, I decided to watch a playthrough of the game, aptly titled “How To Actually Win Facade”. This may seem like cheating, but considering that the wrong responses could even lead to a murder on your hands (well, their hands, but you get the idea), I wanted to actually see the thought process behind what would be considered “winning” the game, if morally at least. So as the protagonist “Diana” (the names were user-generated from a selection), I watched for the next 17 minutes as Trip and Grace bickered about the small things; despite the constant attempts at complimenting each other, they just seemed destined to want to pick a bone with each other. I came here for a good time, not marriage counseling.
The dialogue, while a bit camp, accompanied with the (serial) killer music in the background, made for a very uncomfortable scenario the entire way through. Trip and Grace constantly want you to back them up, to focus their frustration on the other spouse. But slowly but surely, their cold demeanor began to crack once questions about each others’ feelings started to crack; they still loved each other, and any questions doubting that put them on the defense. This led to what was perhaps the climax of the game; an former affair on Trip’s side, and a slightly less shocking confession of former love from Grace in college. Even the player was getting irritated at this point, typing in “win already” and variants that would hopefully drive the conversation forward. But eventually, the two of them realized their lonely nature was driven by their skeletons hiding the closet. As they two of them bid Diana farewell (“I think you helped us.” “Totally :3”), I realized that this was an outcome that is still interesting even today; the player technically “won” the game by resolving the conflict….but only because they were trying their best to. What could have happened if the player had malicious intentions instead?
Facade is in many ways, a classical example of e-lit. Not only is a narrative told through the usage of technology, but the technology is also used in a way that enables the player to interact with the story more than any normal book would have allowed them to. What I had experienced was just one of many ways that the player could interact with the story given to them, with the choices they had presented. No two player experiences are necessarily the same, and that level of depth, combined with the unique storytelling approach, is perhaps why it is still a studied piece of e-lit today, even with all the technological advancements made since the game’s release.
Graphics aren’t everything in a game, and Facade certaintly proves that. While a lot of people today are confused by the literary impact it might’ve had (although it still has a healthy known existence thanks to memes), it has a style that hasn’t quite been matched even by modern storytelling adventure games today. It may be a little rough around the edges, but that’s just sometimes the nature of e-lit, and while the story might not be everyone’s cup of tea, even I felt like the average person would find themselves caring about the brief interaction during their time with Grace and Trip, and in that sense, it becomes an effective e-lit work to demonstrate the power that the genre can carry.