A robot explores an abandoned deep-sea science station to learn how to stop a crystal plague.
This story works as a mystery which players untangle as they explore. The writer employed themes of loneliness and vulnerability. Hagen's efforts to generate sympathy for robots feel less forced than Moonowl's which constantly demand what the reader should feel. In Tides of Chrome, the player decides his or her own sympathies through choices. The isolated and imposing environment builds a forbidden atmosphere. The lone robot protagonist gets hunted from forces above and below, without fully understanding either side. Hagen also uses a ticking clock element worked into the story rather than enforced manually through documentation. I think all this works better than Moonowl's attempts at grafting lubricant over blood, wires over entrails, etc.
Some players may find Hagen's mechanics overly harsh, though. The game employs an easy grab-and-go system for choosing skills, but some of them may never get used after a long playthrough. The fix-the-machine part of the game requires players to strip their powers, sometimes without having used them yet. Some abilities occupy three out of five slots, only to have them placed on the chopping block unused.
Like Moonowl's entry, Energy has various uses apart from serving as health points. For instance, players can sacrifice their robot's life force to resuscitate other machines or blast holes through barriers. This can become too punishing, especially with only five starting Energy units. In at least one area, you can lose 2 Energy by successfully using an ability. The costliness does add some severity to the story tone, but players will feel hopeless enough to rely on metaknowledge and replays to succeed.
The environment and choices look smartly designed. The first choice, though something of a hackneyed idea, makes the player think hard. It also seriously affects a large part of the game. The events arising from player choices make logical sense.
But the story overall lacks a certain human touch. Given the punishment players endure from the rules, some will need more than an unrewarding trek through cold, lonely steel. Deeper in, the game lacks emotional investment and characters apart from dutiful robots. These essentials can slip away too easily in gamebooks without authors noticing. Readers then confront a steep wall: Fix the machine. If you want. If you like punishment.
Coincidentally, I too wrote a marine adventure this year which required heavy research. So I know a problem arises with Hagen's phrase, “dozens of kilometers above Deepcore.” On Earth, the deepest parts of the ocean don't even reach one dozen kilometers. A nuclear submarine can't descend below 1000 meters. The pressure around Deepcore would necessitate foot-thick (or thicker) armor for survival. The text also fails to describe the considerable time needed for descent. Section 70 could use the term floodable airlock, and on 88, ground should become seabed.
The writing in the introduction looks great. But further in, the discipline breaks down. Early on, an occasional wending sentence leads to problems.
“Your last assignment, the one that eventually got you decommissioned, was as a researcher in the complex known as Deepcore, a newly discovered science station at the bottom of the sea left behind by the architects.”
Did the architects leave behind the sea or the station? The next sentence contains at least ten subjects for readers to grapple with.
“After a few months, you had only just begun to get a hold on the mysteries hidden in there, when one of the explorers somehow managed to trigger a mechanism that shattered half of the facility and for some reason caused earthquakes and volcanic eruptions all over the planet.”
The that vs which rules need applying. The first paragraph of section 10 got loaded with it's and has for instead of far. On 82, “covered to the brim” would look better as brimming, not that walls really have brims. Repetition occurs throughout, such as with “from the direction from.”
But vagueness hurts the writing the most. Hagen has riddled most paragraphs with extreme uncertainty and few specifics: “but it still takes a while until,” “not much later,” “It doesn't take long until,” “you are engulfed by nothing but blackness,” plus many uses of seems and seems to. Behold, a chain of unconfidence on 96: “you might also be able to make sense of . . .” Here, could decipher would say the same thing.
Adding to the vagueness, the text also uses far too many words of negation. The reader only learns what doesn't happen:
“What you had not expected was that it was not extracting data . . .”
“and while this didn't have any effect on data collection, it prompted an immediate signal to 'Science Sector One: 137' (note this). Now you have a promising destination, but your meager map material gives no clue as to where to find it. In any case, it won't be here”
Hagen combines negation and vagueness, both of which I've italicized from here out:
“You have not come too far away from the armory when something falls into the water somewhere in front of you.”
The word it, whether expletive or known noun, shoots down any specificity, adding to the murk when combined with negatives:
“It doesn't look as if it's out to hurt you.”
Despite so many words, we learn little:
“but since the same probably cannot be said of all the things they are meant to display information about, it is no wonder that on some of them there's nothing to be seen but blackness.”
“It seems your unauthorized entry has been registered somewhere, and this little guy has come to restore things to order!
If that's the case, then security units of some kind might indeed be on their way as well, and you should better bring some distance between you and the armory. But then it occurs to you that this repair bot would also need some kind of map data to operate, something which would be invaluable to you if you could extract it. However, having seen how fast it can move, you 're not all that positive about your chances of catching the bot.”
Even move there looks worrisome. Slugs move. I would have written it like this:
Your intrusion must have registered in the Deepcore network, and this beetle bot came to restore order.
If so, security bots will arrive next, and you better distance yourself from the armory. This repair bot, though, must operate with map data—a vital and extractable resource. Yet, watching the bot's leaps makes you question your ability to catch it.
If the uncertainty matters that much, to add vulnerability for instance, then just add, You presume to the start.
Of course, reducing wordiness will fix most of these problems. Consider section 30. Some sentences need half their land taken from them.
“The fact that there are chairs in front of most of them shows that the place is meant to be operated by biological beings; droids would not require any means of comfort or avoiding exhaustion such as this.”
The presence of chairs before them suggests this command center had biological operators rather than tireless droids.
Some should lose three quarters:
“Maybe they were intending to take command in person only in case of emergency... but when trying to follow this thought, you conclude that there are simply too many unknown variables for you to attempt even closely reasonable speculation.”
Maybe they'd assume emergency control personally, but you can't speculate.
The gamebook's events appear highly organized, and the writer shows great potential in the introduction. Perhaps, like so many today, he had little time to spend with the later sentences. I'll have to give this one another try to work on the alluring mystery and puzzles.