[INFORM] Damnatio Memoriae

“Damnatio Memoriae” by Emily Short

This was an interesting little game that I wasn’t really sure what to make of. Playable for nothing more than a few minutes, and with an event kicking in after a dozen moves and abruptly killing you off, it’s unfortunately not the sort of game that is likely to hold much lasting appeal.

You play the part of Agrippa Postumus, the magic-using grandson of Caesar Augustus. Augustus is dead and your life is in danger. Act quickly or it’s all over for you.

I was actually looking forward to this game. The previous game I played by the author, City Of Secrets, was one of the best games I’ve played over the past few years. Five minutes into playing Damnatio Memoriae and I had been killed three times. My enthusiasm began to wane quite swiftly after this. I think one of the issues I had with the game was that I never realised just how short it was until I’d completed it. I had the idea that the two locations available at the start of the game were just a small part of what was on offer, and that if I could figure out how I needed to solve the puzzle that ultimately left me dead, I’d be free to explore the rest of the game. Unfortunately, when I figured out what needed doing, after dying roughly a dozen times, the game ended anyway.

The game has a few neat custom commands, but it’s over with so quickly that there’s not much chance to make use of them. Like reading the intro to a superhero novel where the hero’s powers are listed in great detail to whet the appetite… and then THE END is promptly displayed. The THINK command came in handy for hiding the evidence of my ‘crimes’ as it revealed what still needed to be done, and I found a use for LINK as well (quite an inspired command actually, even if there wasn’t enough time to make proper use of it), but REVERSE LINK I never got to use and ENSLAVE only ended in my slave getting killed instead of me and then me being imprisoned (and thus the game ending anyway).

It took several runs through the game before I figured out everything that needed doing to avoid being killed and then, just as I expected the game to really open up and start properly, it ended. Yes, it’s a short game. Two rooms in total, although as one of them doesn’t need to be entered (as far as I could tell) and is a dead end, what you’re left with is essentially a one room game that can be completed in a dozen moves and no more than a minute’s playing time. Nicely done all the same, but I couldn’t help thinking this wasn’t an actual game so much as the introduction to one.

There were a few annoyances at play, although I’m not sure if this was down to the game itself or Inform 7 in general. The help menu, for instance, was a pain to navigate, requiring N to move down to the next help item and B to move back to the previous one. The arrow keys didn’t work for some reason, although they did in Inform 6 help menus. Other than that, I found myself amused by Inform’s default response whenever I tried to move certain items: THAT’S FIXED IN PLACE. One of the items was a vase which, while large, was hardly fixed in place. Another was some hay. The last was a stool. A stool! Fixed in place! I think the kind of responses I used to get back on the two word parsers that plagued text adventures in the 80’s would have been preferable: YOU CAN’T DO THAT.

6 out of 10