IFDB page: Carma
Final placement: 16th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition
Gotta love those juxtapositions. Right after I write a review where I spend an entire paragraph being a Grammar Cop, including several sentences about a comma splice, I fire up Carma. This game depicts the clashes between a wanna-be writer and the punctuation that said writer has heinously abused throughout his/her career. In fact, the primary complainant is an outraged comma, and that comma’s chief grievance is, you guessed it, splices. What can I say? It’s my kind of game. Even better, it’s done quite well, on the whole.
Carma uses the graphics and sound capabilities of Glulx to delightful effect, especially in its charming illustrations of punctuation marks dressed up to suit various occasions. One of my favorite scenes occurs when you ask the comma about splices. Suddenly, the scene dissolves, to reform as the archetypal spaghetti western town. Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly wafts over the speakers. We see graphics of a variety of punctuation marks, dressed up as stereotypical Western characters, and the comma (in cowboy hat and serape, naturally) marches towards you, ready for a duel to the death. It’s hilarious. The graphics in Carma are very well done indeed, and the music is pleasant, effective, and not overused.
Even aside from these, there are some significant programming achievements in Carma. Animations show up here and there, never to excess but adding pleasure with their presence. In fact, one of the best of these comes with instant replay and reverse replay capabilities, so that it can be savored over and over. Finally, in the most impressive piece of implementation, the game offers a punctuation test, in which the player can deposit punctuation marks into various unpunctuated sentences via the mouse. The game even gives a little giggle when you arrange a sentence into its most clever or unusual variant. Of course, the game fails to take account of all correct variants, which diminishes the joy somewhat.
There are other implementation problems as well. In one of the only sections of the game containing significant interaction, guess-the-verb problems are rampant. In another section, my attempts at interaction ended up freezing the game completely. To its credit, Carma warned me that there might be problems with what I was attempting to do, but this is rather cold comfort in the face of a crashing game. Features so problematic that they cause fatal crashes are features that should not be offered.
As I implied above, Carma is not a very interactive work of IF. Great swaths of it consist mainly of hitting the space bar to allow the graphics to advance to their next frame, or to prompt the next piece of text. In fairness, the game is upfront about this, even going so far as to issue a stern warning before the first prompt: “This is not a ‘game,’ so you will enjoy it more if you don’t approach it as a game.” People looking for a great deal of interactivity should look elsewhere.
In addition, as the presence of scare quotes in the above warning suggests, one of the great ironies of Carma is that it is itself quite imperfect when it comes to punctuation. Aside from the fact that the punctuation test excludes valid variants, there are also occasional howlers in there like “People v.s. Wanna-Be Writer.” Fortunately, Carma‘s cheerful and self-deprecating attitude saves it from looking too ridiculous by these errors, and even if it is more of a show than a game, it’s a show well worth watching. You might even learn, something. 🙂