Screen by Edward Floren [Comp02]

IFDB page: Screen
Final placement: 29th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition

For a rookie outing, Screen really isn’t too bad. That is, of course, if it’s really a rookie outing. In the comp you can never really be sure that anything is what it appears to be, and for all I know “Edward Floren” is a pseudonym for somebody who’s released a half-dozen games. But I don’t think so. There are a number of errors that experienced Inform coders are less likely to make, such as “You have so far scored 0 out of a possible 0, in 36 turns” in response to SCORE. The more familiar you are with Inform, the more likely you have encountered Andrew Plotkin’s web page of tips and tricks that gives the solution to eliminating this untidy message, or for that matter figured out how to eliminate it yourself.

For another thing, there’s the fact that although there are plenty of scenery objects (and I know this because typing GET ALL listed them out — another rookie mistake), many of them aren’t implemented at all. It doesn’t take very many “You see nothing special about the <whatever>” messages for immersion to fall by the wayside. On the other hand, some other aspects of the game are coded rather nicely, such as the custom cant_go messages and the room descriptions that change depending on whether you’re seeing the room for the first time or not.

The prose quality is a similarly mixed bag. Much of the writing successfully evokes a sweet nostalgia as it depicts Jordan the PC’s return to the scene of his childhood games. Riffs on Baby Boomer pop culture are handled lovingly, with a light enough touch to let them feel touching without being cloying. On the down side, this game would definitely have benefited from another round of proofreading.

Consider the flashback to Jordan’s first kiss, where he stares at the girl he likes and the narrator tells us, “She looked so sweat.” This is one of the worst sorts of English errors to have in the public release of your game — not only does it miss its intended meaning, but in fact it squarely hits another meaning entirely, and a rather comical one at that. Certainly it’s an understandable error — it’s only one letter off the correct spelling, and could even be a typo, and for that matter “neat” and “beat” have the intended phoneme. Then again, the word “sweating” is used only three sentences later, which makes the error a little less understandable. In any case, it’s a bad, bad mistake that entirely punctures the otherwise poignant scene. And lest it seem that I’m pouncing on the whole game for one little mistake, I hasten to add that little errors like this (though none worse than that) are present throughout the game, and should have been eliminated before its release.

The prose errors didn’t stop me from enjoying the game overall, though. For the most part, it’s a short and sweet little romp through childhood memories and favorite TV shows. The puzzles, too, are mostly straightforward, though I was unfortunate enough to trip repeatedly on a rather tightly timed puzzle towards the game’s end. The problem there was that although I had figured out the elements of the puzzle, the solution required an extra step that, as near as I can tell, was completely unclued.

Dear me, every time I start to praise this game I end up criticizing it. Overall, Screen is a nicely sketched vignette. Even if it feels rather aimless and disjointed at times (man, there I go again!), I didn’t want my 45 minutes back after I finished it. It’s a nice start at the IF craft, and I look forward to the author’s next work.

Rating: 8.0