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Interactive Story

Façade Technology

chauchau0 2006.08.25 01:04


Façade
Technology


To create Façade, we developed several innovative technologies, including:

• ABL (A Behavior Language), a special purpose programming language (technically, a reactive planning language), designed specifically for authoring personality rich, emotive autonomous characters. This language builds upon pioneering work by A. Bryan Loyall, Joseph Bates and the rest of Oz Project team at Carnegie Mellon University.

• A drama manager that dynamically sequences units of story (dramatic beats) in response to the history of the player's interaction.

• A custom rule language for authoring robust natural language understanding rules. This NLU language is implemented on top of
Jess, a rule engine implemented by Ernest Friedman-Hill at Sandia National Laboratories.

• A discourse management framework for keeping track of multiple conversational threads and deciding which response is appropriate in the current context. This is built on top of Jess as well.

A custom non-photorealistic animation engine that supports fully procedural facial expressions. Implemented in C++ using OpenGL.


In addition to developing these custom languages and technologies, we have also developed extensive idioms for authoring procedural content within our architecture. These idioms include ways of organizing character behavior, including dramatic dialog, so that multiple actions and conversational threads can dynamically mix together, ways of authoring beats (units of story) so that they can be dynamically sequenced in multiple orderings, and ways of structuring our natural language understanding rules so that multiple tiers of rules work together to recognize common synonyms, idiomatic expressions, and more complex syntactic expressions.

Our
publications page describes many of these technologies in detail.

These technologies made Façade possible. But, they are not end-user authoring solutions for creating interactive stories. Our current tools and authoring techniques require programming expertise; in fact, even expert programmers familiar with language such as C++ and Java will have to learn new ways of thinking about programming to program in ABL. For this reason, we are not publicly releasing the authoring tools at this time, though we will be working towards the future release of higher-level authoring tools that enable writers and artists to create Façade-like content.

Façade and its technologies are owned by
Procedural Arts, a new studio we've started. If you're interested in commercial possibilities of the Façade technologies, please email us at the contact info found at Procedural Arts.

There will be an academic-use release of the ABL character language from the
Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech later this Fall.

Vision and Motivation for Façade

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. Façade 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 Façade 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 Façade 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 Façade, 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, Façade 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 Façade could never be produced.

Façade 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 Façade is a necessary complement to the commercial game world.

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