IFComp 2020: Terror in the Immortal’s Atelier

This one’s baffling. It’s a small one-room puzzle game set in a wizard’s laboratory, which is the sort of setting that seems highly conducive to one-room puzzle games. But it’s written in Twine, which isn’t. And instead of packing the room with massed detail to build puzzles out of, the environment is almost barren. There’s a macguffin you have to unlock, and there’s a bookshelf containing a small collection of fairy tales twisted to a villain’s perspective (really the piece’s highlight), and there’s an alchemy workbench where you can mix ingredients with fanciful names like “knook bile” and “haint juice” and “tungsten”. The puzzle is to select the right ingredients in the right order to unlock the macguffin.

The problem is that there aren’t any clues. I say that with some confidence: it’s a tiny game, and there just aren’t many places for clues to hide. You might think that the bookshelf would be the likeliest place, but it explicitly tells you not to waste your time looking for hints there. And a combination consists of five picks from a set of 15 ingredients with repeats allowed, for a total of 759375 possible combinations, well beyond easily brute-forcing. Each wrong guess results in death, with some randomized details about what kills you and how.

I don’t think I’ve ever sneaked a look at a Twine game’s source code to solve it before. Here, I mainly just wanted confirmation that winning was possible, that it wasn’t just a story about having no information and guessing wrong and dying. It turns out that there are in fact two combinations, one that wins the game and one that gives you a series of nonsense words that I assumed to be a hint for the winning combination, but if so, it’s a highly obscure one. Even knowing the answers, I had no idea how the puzzle could be solved. The macguffin is referred to as “the Knot”, so maybe it’s meant to be a Gordian one, only untanglable by breaking the implicit rules? The game’s blurb says “Remember, no knot unties itself. You may need to seek aid from an unusual source.” (emphasis mine) — maybe reading the source was the right idea? It wouldn’t be the first game I had played where cheating was part of the intended solution, but that didn’t explain the solitary inscrutable hint. And after you enter the solution, what happens? You get a view of a grid with some cells marked, clearly part of another puzzle. But it’s just a passive image, with no way to apply it.

It was only after submitting my rating, and fussing with the clue some more, and moving on, that I looked at that Comp’s game list and noticed two other games that, although submitted under different names, have suspiciously similar cover art and descriptions, with some shared made-up vocabulary, like “Chirlu” and “Willershins” and, most of all, all containing that line about no knot untying itself and seeking aid from an unusual source.

In other words, it looks like we’ve got another hat mystery on our hands, albeit one that’s more obvious about it. I just wish I had noticed this before the two-hour mark, when my rating locks in. As it is, I rated the game rather lower than I would have if I had noticed the rest of it. I may rate the other parts higher to compensate.

1 Comment so far

  1. Gevelle Formicore on 4 Oct 2020

    Sorry you got “tangled up” ha ha ha anyway neither Tarquin, Willershin, or I realized “source” might be seen as a pun (it was staring us in the face too long and too obvious) so we’ve made a slight change to the descriptions (now suggesting players get help from “an unusual place”).

    Glad you liked the fairy tale books though — I lobbied hard to be the one to write the Terror section because I knew I’d have a lot of fun writing them. 759375 is a hilarious number — none of us did the math but figured five-item combinations were high enough that no one would be able to brute force it. (The puzzles in the other two sections have slightly different mechanics so I’d assume the numbers are different but still fairly high.)

    Anyway thanks for playing and for your comments on our game(s)!

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