IFComp 2020: The Knot

The Comp is on its last day. Let’s take one last look at a game that I previously judged without knowing its full extent. You won’t find The Knot in the list of entries, because it’s spread out over three games: “Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane” by Willershin Rill, “Incident! Aliens on the Teresten!” by Tarquin Segundo, and the one I had written up previously, “Terror in the Immortal’s Atelier” by Gevelle Formicore. (The title The Knot is used in the closing credits for the whole.) Note that the author names are part of the title. The putative authors are just as fictional as the game content; each nonsense word they’re composed of, “Willershin” and “Formicore” and so forth, is used in the other two games in some other capacity, as the name of a fantastic creature or a lost civilization or whatever.

The three games are in different genres: fantasy, space opera, Indiana-Jones-style tomb raiding. But they’re exceedingly similar, fitting their content into the same patterns, even reusing essentially the same intro text and room description, just swapping out some words to fit the genre. The connection between them couldn’t be clearer, and the only reason that I missed it when I played Atelier is that I hadn’t even noticed the existence of the other two games yet. The titles even strive to minimize this possibility of this happening: because they all start with quotation marks, they get listed together when alphabetized. But my IFComp account is set up to randomize the order by default (the better to give every game a fair shake), and the unprecedentedly large number of entries made it easy to lose sight of them. So, bad luck there.

The reuse of names had me wondering if the three works were set in the same world at three points in time. Is Dr. Chirlu, the “action scientist” who worked on creating a powerful energy source known as the Knot, the same person as Autarch Chirlu, who rules his world with an iron fist, using a mysterious artifact known as the Knot to maintain his immortality? I don’t think that works, though, because the same words are sometimes used with completely different meanings. “Ilfane”, for example, is a legendary hero in one game, an invading alien race in another, and the device housing the Knot in the third. There is, however, some suggestion of connections between the worlds beyond just the presence of an immensely powerful object called the Knot. Like when the tomb of Ilfane contains a representation of the solar system where the spaceship Teresten is. And it is these connections that form the basis of the puzzles.

As with the fact that the games are connected, the game goes out of its way to make the puzzle clues really, really obvious, to the point of putting “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT CLUE” in flashing letters at the top of the page and saying “Perhaps you should take a note of this if you ever come across [situation found in another game]” afterward. I have a better suggestion than taking notes, though: these games are best played simultaneously, in three browser tabs or, even better, if you have enough screen space, three browser windows, side by side. That way, when you find a clue, you can keep it on the screen while you play the other two games, looking for the puzzle it’s a clue for.

Anyway, there’s not a lot of game past the point of noticing the connections I’ve just described, completely spoiling the experience of discovering them. Two of the games don’t properly end in themselves, just leaving you hanging on a page with a final clue that you need to reach the ending of all three stories in the third. This goes a step beyond the Hat Mystery and into Broken Age territory: a story that needs to exploit the meta to conclude, its characters sharing information through the player that they have no possible in-world source for — unless you consider that they’re sharing it via the one thing they all have access to, the Knot. Which fits at the meta level as well, because, as I’ve said, the Knot is the name for the conjunction of the three games. It’s been said that the ultimate goal of every game is to destroy the world by bringing it to a successful conclusion. Here, the Knot, the in-world manifestation of the trilogy of games, solves all of its protagonists’ problems by deleting itself from their worlds, right at the point where the player’s interactivity ends.

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