Thanks for the tips, DJ! I have played most of these except for Fail-Safe, which has been recommended to me more than once now. Moving it up another notch on the to-play list. I will definitely try it.
All Things Devours is an interesting example of what I was just talking about, above. Athough I’ve solved it, I didn’t recall quite how it began, so I reloaded it in my browser, and it all came back to me as to why this game failed to really interest me. The first line of the transcript is fine. It’s mysterious. It raises questions.
The following paragraph then proceeds to throw that out the window and immediately answers every single question raised by ‘You’re in’, and then some, leaving me nothing more to wonder about except how to solve the puzzle. Here it is…
The plan now is simple: go to your lab, plant the bomb, and run. The prototype will be destroyed. The military will have no way to continue the experiment. No-one will die. The guard is out securing the grounds. The building is empty. You have six minutes.
Now, I enjoy puzzles, and I prefer my IF with puzzles to without. But after reading that paragraph, I am no longer really motivated at all to solve this puzzle, because I already know (at least I think I know, which is just as bad) absolutely everything that’s going to happen when I get to the end. The game just told me. (Possibly one question might have remained as to the nature of the ‘prototype’ but that was easy to figure out anyway, because it is directly related to the game’s genre, and genre information about a game is pretty hard to conceal from potential players. Most people don’t even consider it a spoiler.)
So, while it’s great for orienting the player, this is not a particularly wise thing to do, narratively! I don’t have any general need to prove to myself that I can solve any particular puzzle. I only really feel compelled to do so, in order to reveal important story. If a game leads me to believe that it has already given me all of the important story up front, and there is little left to wonder at but whether I will win or lose, then it has effectively destroyed a lot of my motivation even to play. In fact, the only reason I even bothered to solve ATD is that I was playing ‘cooperatively’ with a friend, but we get a little competitive sometimes – I couldn’t very well just let him go ahead and solve it first, could I, just because the story lost my interest in the second paragraph. And the puzzle was great, enjoyable, and well implemented, but it didn’t make any difference to my interest in the story, because the damage to my suspense level was already irrevocably done.
So to sum up, it’s probably not the best idea to rely on people’s desire to solve puzzles for their own sake, to pull things forward narratively, because not everybody has that desire, and in any case it makes for an unintriguing actual story. Of course, YMMV as always.