Façade and the Future of “Artificial Intelligence Adventures”

Note: This blog post assumes some familiarity with the 2005 adventure game Façade, and how it works. For a background on it, please check out my presentation here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1kDkpDEd–1-67mpshn3-0NO8ISIG6rgdZfsTQvsa3_c/edit?usp=sharing

Façade was the first game I ever downloaded on my PC. This was back in middle school, when Let’s Plays showing the game struggling to keep up with a barrage of hilarious and vulgar inputs from YouTubers were all the craze. In turn, when I played it for myself, I did the very same thing – push the game’s boundaries with bizarre dialogue and laughed as Grace and Trip looked at me in wide eyed surprise. I never ended up finishing it though, and now, after playing it through for the first time, I regret that.

Even back then, however, I was fascinated with the potential of a game like Façade. In-between bouts of laughter, I marveled at how Trip and Grace were still giving relatively human responses to the ridiculous things I was saying, and wondered how such a thing was ever made – especially in 2005.

Years later, I now have played Façade, and have only become more fascinated by how it works. Additionally, I have since began researching computer science and looking into concepts such as artificial intelligence and game design. Digital experiences like Façade, and the future that lies before them, is the place where all these interests intersect.

I touched on this in my presentation, but it is impossible to deny there is a significant demand for a follow-up to Façade. Everywhere I looked in the process of researching for my presentation and blog, there were commenters clamoring for a follow-up or remake. To their point, a follow-up was in one point in development, and by Façade’s original creators, to boot. Titled The Party, developer Matthew Mateas pitched it as such in an interview:

“where Façade had two computer-generated characters, The Party will have ten, a far more complicated proposition, but dramatically richer… The game will last about forty minutes, rather than twenty. It will support more physical action, allowing the player to do things like rendezvous with characters in a private room, lock doors, carry things around, and fire a weapon.”

Matthew Mateas

To me, and other fans of Façade, this concept sounds nothing short of perfect, and represents the ultimate evolution of what Mateas’ original project sought out to do. In turn, the way he capped off his interview was rather unfortunate. When asked if such a project was feasible, Mateas responds by saying a simple prototype would be “doable within twenty years” (Mateas 2006).

Twenty years? Surely that has to be some mistake. With how viral Façade went on the internet (even despite the fact that it got popular for its unintentional comedic moments), surely the market must be saturated with AI-driven verbal sandboxes just like it. Something like The Party must be in development as we speak!

Sadly, none of these hopes have any evidence to back them up. Releases of this type of game, which I call “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Adventures”, have been scarce over the years since Façade’s release. Only two notable examples come to mind: Event[0] and the AI Dungeon series, and both will be focused on later in this blog post, all in the context of Façade and the future of this genre.

But first: what is an “AI Adventure”? I see AI Adventures as an evolution of the “Text Adventure” game, a genre popularized in the 70s and marked by the usage of text commands to influence the game state – being utilized in controlling one’s own character, influencing the environment, and defeating enemies all by utilizing a bank of commands (similar to a computer terminal). However, these types of games are limited in terms of what specific commands they can process – if you don’t type in something that is explicitly planned for, all the game can do is give you a generic response and wait for you to tell it something it can parse. This is where AI Adventure titles differentiate themselves. In games of this type, artificial intelligence and language processing are used to make software attempt to respond intelligently to any input, no matter if a hard-baked response to it is present. This allows for a near-infinite amount of versatility and gameplay options, but also justifies why AI Adventure titles might be so rare. Making AI models powerful enough to reasonably respond to players both poses a huge challenge technologically, and also doesn’t make for a marketable framework – games like this, by design, are often absent of non-stop action, cinematic set pieces, or riveting multiplayer, all of which are big selling points of today’s industry.

But this makes the AI Adventure games that did end up coming out there all the more fascinating. I would consider the 2016 title, Event[0], a perfect example of the genre. At first glance, the text-input system of this game looks more like a traditional adventure game than an AI one, as the player’s main interaction is with a literal computer terminal – a system which is notoriously resistant to any out-of-the-box input handed to it. However, I should note that this is not just any terminal, but in fact one controlled by an in-universe sentient AI, and one capable of driving the game’s entire story forward by procedurally generating over two million lines of dialogue. In fact, the AI behind the computer terminal is so complex that it is able to shape a personality in accordance with the player’s input and even unintentionally made a new ending to the game through a bug in how it worked. AI-driven actions like this, that are both profound story-wise and technologically, are what make me beyond excited for the future of AI Adventures, and stand as the true evolution of Façade.

Speaking of the future, I would be remiss not to mention the AI Dungeon series when discussing this new genre. Originally created in 2019, the game is at first glance a text adventure game not unlike Zork and other titles of old – its interface, after all, is just simple text atop a black screen, narrating one’s journey paragraph-by-paragraph as they go along. It doesn’t take one long, however, to see where AI Dungeon makes itself unique (it’s in the name, after all!). In truth, every line of text within the series of games is written by an AI, building off an input consisting solely of a training set of known stories and the player’s own instructions, rather than a bank of keywords and actions. All you have to do is choose a setting (or make your own) and give it a sentence to start out with, and a wholly custom text adventure will form around your successive inputs. Furthermore, the AI used is not just powerful, but one of the most robust models in the entire world: as of the latest version, AI Dungeon is powered by OpenAI’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or GPT-3 for short. To give you an idea of how awe-inspiring and versatile this AI is, here is a set of images that GPT-3 made from scratch, just from someone typing a text prompt to it.

To me, these images are shocking – the illustrations are so well done that I fear for the clip art industry’s future, and the picture mockups are indistinguishable from real photos. Now, imagine this type of power, but brought to storytelling.

If you have played AI Dungeon, you may see this as a bit of an exaggeration. And I’ll admit – stories within the game can often get derailed or sound like gibberish. But even still, the ability of this game to improvise around the player’s input dwarfs that of Façade. I have seen the program respond reasonably to full paragraphs of input, I have seen it dig up old characters and utilize them flawlessly, and I have seen it build an understandable story complete with a beginning, middle, and end. AI Dungeon is nothing short of awe-inspiring and is the type of experience that I’d recommend to anyone besides the faint of heart (as capable as the model is, it has a tendency to create content that veers into the explicit, which led to developers making the controversial decision to try and wipe such stories from the platform).

This all is not to say that AI Dungeon has proved Façade redundant in the modern age. I thoroughly have enjoyed playing both, and each experience offers something completely different. Rather, I mean to say that the future of AI Adventures could represent a wonderful melding of these two experiences. What if Mateas’ Party could finally be realized, with the power of GPT-3 at the helm? What if someone could form 3-D explorable worlds around the infinitely expansive creations of AI Dungeon?

These are games that I would stop at nothing to get to play in my lifetime, but such a sentiment requires a lot of hope. In the above-mentioned interview, it was hinted that Façade’s follow-up has likely not be realized due to lack of publisher interest. Event[0], despite good reviews, hasn’t necessarily clawed into the mainstream. AI Dungeon’s first version floundered to pay for its own bandwidth. But, with its newest GPT-3-powered edition attracting $3.3 million in seed funding, I firmly believe the future is bright for AI Adventures. With news like this, Mateas’ 20-year estimate for The Party could be delightfully proven wrong.

Or not. Whatever happens, though, I’ll be waiting for it all the same.

Works Cited

Adventure Gamers. AdventureGamers.com, cdn.nivoli.com/adventuregamers/images/screenshots/15792/3997.jpg.

AI and Games. “The Story of Facade: The AI-Powered Interactive Drama | AI and Games.” YouTube, 22 Apr. 2020, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POv1cOX8xUM&ab_channel=AIandGames.

“AI Dungeon-maker Latitude Raises $3.3M to Build Games with ‘infinite’ Story Possibilities – TechCrunch.” TechCrunch, 4 Feb. 2021, techcrunch.com/2021/02/04/latitude-seed-funding/?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAZ6u5hPIa7VBrZTc6BQBNL81pqT_xjcdsiu4ntoYsIL2Vx-oqID-_5GlsAbJYsXzitWCaX8IWOEQtGD-WytQv9sNJen5QpzcXlbVdrWTGvaQpZtARACtnSxLINFIg3UjLd-NSxxYpxQr8zs5pYjyWxuG2t-5So2A-7Fqyp20rHO.

“Event[0] is 2001 Meets Firewatch, Due This September.” Eurogamer.net, 13 July 2016, http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-07-13-event-0-is-2001-meets-firewatch-due-this-september.

Event[0]. Directed by Ocelot Society, 2016.

Facade. Directed by Andrew Stern, and Michael Mateas, 2005.

Harris, John. “Creating the Ever-improvising Text Adventures of AI Dungeon 2.” Game Developer, 9 Jan. 2020, http://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/creating-the-ever-improvising-text-adventures-of-i-ai-dungeon-2-i-.

Latitude. AI Dungeon, play.aidungeon.io/.

Mateas, M., and A. Stern. “A behavior language for story-based believable agents.” IEEE Intelligent Systems, vol. 17, no. 4, 2002, pp. 39-47.

Ocelot Society. “Event[0] by Ocelot Society.” Itch.io, ocelotsociety.itch.io/event0.

OpenAI, 18 June 2021, openai.com/.

Quach, Katyanna. “AI Game Bans Players for NSFW Stories It Generated Itself.” The Register: Enterprise Technology News and Analysis, 8 Oct. 2021, http://www.theregister.com/2021/10/08/ai_game_abuse/#:~:text=AI%20Dungeon%20was%20predisposed%20to,and%20characters%20into%20their%20stories.&text=The%20document%20contained%20a%20dump,the%20website%20Choose%20Your%20Story.

Rauch, Jonathan. “Sex, Lies, and Videogames.” The Atlantic, 1 Nov. 2006, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/11/sex-lies-and-videogames/305293/.

“This AI-Powered Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Text Game Is Super Fun and Makes No Sense.” Gizmodo, 3 Aug. 2020, gizmodo.com/this-ai-powered-choose-your-own-adventure-text-game-is-1844593111.

“Virtual Friends: AI-Powered Chatbots Help Against Self-Isolation.” MedicalExpo E-Magazine, 7 July 2021, emag.medicalexpo.com/ai-powered-chatbots-to-help-against-self-isolation-during-covid-19/.

Wawro, Alex. “Event[0] Has an Ending So Secret Even the Dev Team Didn’t Know.” Game Developer, 12 July 2017, http://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/-i-event-0-i-has-an-ending-so-secret-even-the-dev-team-didn-t-know-about-it.

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