Recommendations wanted: more plot interactivity, less puzzle

Okay, so: I know there’s lots puzzleless IF in the world, but searching the IFDB for the ‘puzzleless’ tag presents me with a long list of mostly experimental, surreal, character study, landscape, or otherwise arty IF. This is cool, but I’m left wondering – is there not much IF that’s light on old-fashioned puzzles, but still heavy on conventional plot? Or, if there ARE a lot of games like this, is there a term I should be using other than “puzzleless” to find them?

I know I’m not looking for ‘choose your own adventure’ type-games; generally I dislike multiple choice and (even moreso) hopping over arbitrary periods of time after every turn. What I am looking for is IF which is mainly about making decisions within a setting and influencing a story, where the player solves plot-related problems rather than mechanical puzzles.

I’ve yet to figure out how to reliably find games like this, though. ‘Puzzle-driven’ exists as an IFDB keyword, but not ‘story-driven’, and references to ‘role-playing’ tend to point me towards games with settings similar to Dungeons and Dragons rather than games about playing a role in a story.

Anyone have either game recommendations or a better way to find what I’m looking for?

I don’t have any advice about how to search for these games, but two recent, big games with a lot of plot that might fit your bill are:

  • Blue Lacuna, by Aaron Reed (played in “story mode”, which you can choose after the prologue, there is a lot of story and almost no puzzling)
  • The King of Shreds and Patches, by Jimmy Maher (does contain quite a number of puzzles, though none very difficult; but also contains lots and lots of story)

I’d recommend re-posting your request as an IFDB poll (since that lets you query the collective opinions of IFDB visitors directly), and adding a ‘story-driven’ tag to some games based on what results you get. It’d be a slippery and subjective tag to be sure, but so are many of the most useful existing ones :slight_smile:

If you want some shorter games than the ones Victor mentioned, you might try Masquerade by Kathleen Fischer; as I recall it has a couple of puzzles (although they’re not “find the object to unlock this” so much as “How do I trick this person into letting me into this room?”), but it’s mostly about figuring out how the PC is going to act in the world.

Into the Open Sky by Matthew Lundquist might also be of interest – there’s a couple of puzzles, but mostly it’s about exploring the world and discovering its story. (One caveat: The author isn’t a native English speaker, and the prose occasionally gets wobbly; but I liked it anyway.)

You might also try Emily Short’s Best of Three, which does proceed mostly by a multiple-choice conversation system, but which doesn’t have the time-skipping effect that CYOAs do. And there isn’t anything that you’d call a puzzle.

A lot of puzzleless games seem to proceed on a pretty linear plot, which didn’t sound like what you’re asking for. I’m thinking of games like Duel in the Snow or East Grove Hills (which I thought was underrated), where there’s usually pretty much only one way to go on. (And Photopia too, of course.) But if you don’t mind the plot being foreordained, you might try those.

Have you tried “Violet” and “Nightfall” yet?

I love Violet as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t put it anywhere near a “less puzzle” category.

What about The Baron?

I’m actually a little fuzzy on this distinction (and not in the H. Beam Piper way) … I guess to me, if the player is making choices to solve a problem, that’s a puzzle. A problem is a puzzle is a problem, since either must be solved.

Do you mean puzzles focused on character interaction rather than inventory? I think that’s my closest guess (for example, helping talk down a jumper from suicide rather than figuring out that the blue potion goes into the bronze bowl to create the green steam to revitalize the white parrot)?

Nightfall has lots of groovy story (mainly backstory …) but most of the actual gameplay is good old fashioned inventory-based physical puzzles, as I recall.

Yeah, I’m confused about that too, though my own reading was that maybe Morley wanted games where the puzzles were very smoothly integrated into the story and didn’t stand out as set-piece challenges.

If that’s what’s desired, I recommend Jon Ingold’s “Make It Good” (plotty, lots and lots and LOTS of ways the story can change based on what you do). Also insanely hard to get to come out to the “best” ending, so another way to look at it is that the whole game is an enormous and hugely intricate puzzle. Depends on your definition.

I thought that Morley might be talking about games where you have choices that will affect people’s reactions, but they aren’t so much puzzles; it’s not a mystery how people will react to your choices, even if it can be something of a surprise. Hence Masquerade; the different choices you make aren’t really puzzles for the most part, but you are “making decisions within a setting and influencing a story.” Into the Open Sky isn’t quite like that – I’m not sure there’s multiple endings – but the different bits of backstory you can unlock have a similar effect. (And I think you have to choose – you can’t unlock them all.) And I was thinking of Best of Three rather than Alabaster because Alabaster is more about solving various mysteries, which gives it more of a puzzly aspect for me.

Thanks for the recommendations. Can’t wait to start investigating some of these.

And sorry to have been unclear. I see now that the IF wiki defines a puzzle as “anything that impedes a player’s progress towards a goal” when what I meant was more narrow.

What I mean by a problem is a situation which can be approached in different ways with different consequences, where the question is more “what should I do” than “what can I do”. I think of a puzzle as being self-contained, binary (either a solution works or it doesn’t), and constructed so the correct solution is also the cleverest; a brainteaser standing between the reader and more story. It’s not exactly an issue of being well-integrated into the story, persay. Violet’s puzzles are well-integrated , I think, but they’re still about the challenge of finding the clever solution after the author has arranged circumstances so other, less-clever solutions are ruled out. (I did like Violet, but that’s because I don’t actually dislike puzzle games, I’m just looking to explore other things).

Basically: Games played through character interaction, games about choice, games about solving mysteries as long as the brilliant detective never has to get her car keys and revolver off the top of a Snapple machine using only six milk bottles and a tuning fork, no matter how well-rationalized that is in-story. I’m fairly flexible.

Ah. In that case, I recommend checking out the tags “conversation” and “moral choice” on IFDB – not all completely puzzleless, but many of them are closer to what you describe, and reading the reviews will probably give you an idea of whether they’re what you want.

Also “An Act of Murder,” a mystery about observation and conversation.

I… should have thought of that. :blush:

But thank you for helping me get a better handle on what it was I was looking for.

Incidentally, I downloaded a few games from this thread with the intent of playing a little of each and then picking the one that grabbed me at the moment to play next.

I’m mentioning this because, while I only played the first bit of Masquerade, the very first thing in the game is a room where there are two exits, one blocked, and the other immediately ending the game. The puzzle there is very simple, but the thing that was blocking my way (a nervous 17-year-old boy) was also something I felt I could reasonably get past in several ways that were more obvious than the solution – not the least of which being just walking straight by the kid.

I’m not saying this to comment on Masquerade since I only played a tiny bit of it, and I gather the rest of the game is substantially different (I do intend to play it through eventually). But, forgiving my non-standard IF vocabulary here, this is a good example of what I think of when I think “puzzle” rather than “problem”. Sure, it’s a part of the story, but my natural options were seemingly restricted to create a mini-challenge with a clever solution, and I was stopped dead in my tracks until I got it right.

Regardless: I tried Make It Good next, which I’m already head over heels for. I have no issue with it being “one big puzzle”, and I don’t mind that I’m unlikely to solve the case on the first playthrough.

The thing is, I have a goal, I’m free to take a lot of actions that may bring me closer to that goal or set me back, but in the mean time I’m doing stuff as opposed to not doing stuff. Thus far I haven’t hit a moment where I feel like I’m being held back from doing something I could reasonably do in order to create a puzzle where one otherwise would not be. I have played other games like this, but I wish I had a magic word that I could enter into google in order to play more of them; games that let me risk making mistakes instead of holding me back until I get the right answer; games which prioritize allowing reasonable interactivity within a story over creating that “I was stumped, but now I am triumphant” feeling.

I feel like I’m grasping for terminology that probably exists. But maybe not. I’ll stop talking now.

Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of when I mentioned that it had a couple of puzzles – I really should have said that one of them is the first thing you see. I also couldn’t solve it at first and wound up going out the wrong exit. Sorry.

well, what I recommend is locations, locations, more locations !

What I most like in IF is exploring and mapping every location :sunglasses:

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

I can’t believe no-one’s recommended ‘Vespers’ yet. It’s very much about plot and moral choice.