Film At Eleven by Bowen Greenwood [Comp01]

IFDB page: Film at Eleven
Final placement: 10th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

Like a miniature version of Dangerous Curves, this game takes us into a town where trouble’s brewing at City Hall, NPCs abound, and it’ll take a little trickery to crack the case before time runs out. Of course, there are significant differences. Instead of a downtrodden private eye, the PC here is the rather incongruously named Betty Byline, a television reporter on her first big assignment. The character’s name is strange, not just because television reporters don’t really have bylines, but because it signals a sort of cartoony, Archie-comics wholesomeness that’s notably missing from the rest of the game. It’s not as if the mayor is named Vinnie Veto and the bartender Sammy Scotchensoda. Thus, Betty finds herself a silly-name character somewhat misplaced in a more realistic world.

Another difference from Dangerous Curves is that the setting isn’t 1940s Los Angeles but rather a tiny little burg with the ill-chosen name of Pleasantville. The name will inevitably conjure up images of the 1998 Tobey Maguire/Reese Witherspoon movie, but it’s unrelated — pretty much everything’s already in color, making those images an unwelcome distraction. The game tells us that Pleasantville is a small town, and it ain’t kidding; pretty much everything significant in the town gets encompassed in a little over a dozen locations. This is appropriate, though, given that Film At Eleven is a competition game. In fact, the similarity to Dangerous Curves had me worried for a minute there, given that you could spend two hours in that game and not even come close to seeing all the locations. Instead, the smalltown setting makes the game’s scope perfect for the 2-hour rule of the competition.

Something else that helped me reach a solution in under two hours was the game’s generosity of design. There’s a time limit, but it’s not terribly tight — I had no trouble getting to the solution well before time ran out. Of course, this may be due to the fact that the puzzles weren’t terribly difficult, being mostly of the “give x to y” or “show x to y” variety. I don’t say this as a criticism — I’m all for easy puzzles. They keep me moving through the story while providing reasonable pacing, and help me to feel that I’m letting the PC be moderately clever without my having to be Sherlock Holmes (or Peter Wimsey, to reflect my current reading jag).

They especially help in competition games, where I don’t really have the luxury of spending a week letting the puzzles percolate. I didn’t have to refer to the walkthrough in order to complete this game, and that’s a refreshing change. However, I did look at the walkthrough after I’d finished, and discovered that to its credit, Film At Eleven provides multiple solutions to several of its problems. Such flexible design does quite a bit to enhance the pleasure of the IF experience.

That pleasure wasn’t completely unmitigated, sad to say. Aside from the poor naming choices I discussed above, the game is also lightly laced with misspellings and formatting errors. Quotes occasionally appear without quotation marks, linebreaks sometimes went missing, and spaces between words are MIA once in a while as well.

Moreover, several of the puzzles turned on the fact that the NPCs were unrealistically unobservant. For instance, I found myself able to smuggle rather large items through rooms occupied by people who might reasonably have had something to say about the theft. Even when a puzzle wasn’t at stake, I found it rather frustrating when I’d show an important item to someone who should have been surprised to see it, and they’d nonchalantly shrug their shoulders. Still, these quibbles aside, this was a solid game, and I enjoyed it very much. Betty Byline’s adventures gave me a pleasant evening’s diversion, and I felt a rush of vicarious triumph when I’d finally helped her reach that first big scoop of her career.

Rating: 8.9