IFComp 2020: “Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane” by Willershin Rill

IFComp 2020: “Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane” by Willershin Rill

adventures
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‘”Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane” by Willershin Rill’ is a Twine game by Willershin Rill. (Major spoilers follow.)
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This is really a review of “The Knot”, the title given by The Author (the real life person entering these games, as opposed to the names of the ‘authors’ on the IFComp website) at the end of the game.
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“The Knot” is a form of metafiction, not so much within the games themselves (Adventures, Incident, and Terror) but in the way they refer to one another. The parallel that comes to mind is the puzzle book Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, in which answers to puzzles are hidden more or less in plain sight before the puzzles themselves (e.g. a quiz on insomnia is preceded by an essay on insomnia, whose purpose is not given nor initially known). This applies to the games as well, where information required to solve the puzzles is embedded in a story of some kind (e.g. the order in which the orbs are placed is preceded by a story about the planets, whose purpose is likewise unclear at first). The difference, of course, is that the book stands alone while the games are interdependent. Furthermore, The Author makes it a point to emphasise the importance of the embedded information, presenting it in an ordered list and even reminding the player to record it somewhere, thereby reducing the puzzle’s difficulty greatly.
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It’s difficult to form a synthesised understanding of the plot, and I think this difficulty is intentional. It’s not merely a question of trusting a particular source and dismissing the rest as biased or unreliable. Contradictions abound: in the final scene, and at the beginning of Incident, “Formicore” and “Gevelle” are addressed as separate people with distinct positions (that of Ship Linguist and Navigator respectively), yet Terror is seen on the competition page to be entered by someone called “Gevelle Formicore”. In Adventures, Ilfane is an autarch, addressed as “she”, but in Incident, “the Ilfane” is a faction that Willershin Rill defects to, and in Terror, the Ilfane is something that contains The Knot and that can be “opened”. Likewise, in Incident, Teresten is the name of a ship, but in Adventures and Terror, it’s the name of a people and the land they’re from.
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And crucially, the question of what The Knot is is never answered. Based on the first line of the blurb of Incident (“The scientist Chirlu created The Knot to be a source of peace and prosperity for the galaxy.”) and how it’s coveted by the Nazis, I initially thought that The Knot is a metaphor for the atomic bomb. But if this is the case, why is The Knot described in mystical terms as something that provides immortality (Terror), facilitates space travel (Adventures), and distorts time (Incident)? I’m not very sure what The Author means by titling his/her work “The Knot” — is it called The Knot because it cannot be untied (or the opposite: it’s meant to be untied, I just haven’t managed to do it yet)? Or because switching between games to solve the puzzles is akin to the twists and turns needed to tie a knot? The line at the end of the game, “Sorry to send you on a wild goose chase!” is both reassuring (in that it validates my theory that the plot is deliberately unknowable) and disappointing (in that I would like to be proven wrong; a bulletproof plot is almost always preferable to one with holes, even one meant to be written as such — and even then some frame of reference has to be established). The game might have been overly ambitious in this sense — in addition to using three different mediums for three points-of-view, it introduces the further complexity of removing any frame of reference whatsoever as regards the basic considerations of character — I have no way of knowing, for instance, is Ilfane is a person or a faction. If this is deliberate, I’m not sure what its significance is. Is it possibly a reference to how the Nazis distort facts beyond comprehension?
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The unknowability of the universe, if indeed meant as such, is perhaps congruous with the myriad of Lovecraftian monsters attacking the player. In Incident, a swarm of Ilfane is described as having “mandibles”, while in Terror, Chirlu — a play on Cthulhu? — moves with a “dry squelching sound”.
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Accessibility wise, “The Knot” is excellent. Besides the generous font size, sentences are also center-aligned with wide margins at either side and significant spacing between the lines. It’s obvious from the writing that The Author trimmed away as many unnecessary words as possible, ensuring the digestibility of each screen. There is even the option to “skip” a series of passages after reading it once, which I really appreciate. The overall layout is clean and attractive.
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ICE CREAM FLAVOUR: Pinecone. Strange, unknowable, formed of layers and symmetry.
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