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About the Story
Embark on an exciting adventure as John Harper, an experienced saturation diver in the oil industry. With one of the most hazardous occupations in the world, John is used to danger. But the clean-up under the recently abandoned Rider Beta oil rig still holds a shocking surprise for him and his team. They are not alone...
Entrant - SeedComp! - 2023
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In the Deep is an entry for Seedcomp. It uses the seed called "Offshore Oil" that grabbed my attention because of its unique subject matter. You play as John Harper. He works as an independent contractor in the oil and gas industry and has extensive experience as a diver. But this next work assignment is going to test his limits.
Offshore oil rigs/platforms (same thing?) are peculiar things. How do you design something that sits at surface level where we all can see it, but can also reach down to the bottom of the ocean so it can dig deeper into the Earth's surface? And I mean deep. There’s a reason it’s sometimes called “deepwater drilling.”
The ones that boggle my mind are those huge Norwegian rigs. Rather than floating with machinery trailing down underneath, they are supported by concrete legs that extend all the way to the ocean floor. They look comical- unsettling even- out of water. I remember the first time seeing a picture of one after it was built, and a weird chill cut through my body just by staring at it. Huh. That's how I felt.
Of course, after they are slowly pulled into the ocean and sunk at their site, all you see is the top part sticking out of the water. I have to hand it to the engineers: they know how to make things happen. Bonus points for the fact that the legs are hollow with STAIRCASES that you can mosey on down like you were (almost) in a normal building.
My point: I was intrigued when I saw In the Deep. I thought it was a novel premise for an interactive fiction game, and one that tickled an odd curiosity I have about these human-made structures (challenge: try particle accelerators).
The game begins as you report to work at a harbour for transport. Two things catch your attention: a surprisingly high number of military personnel and an activist of unknown affiliation who cautions you about a cover-up for a failed sea monster experiment. He warns that you may be roped into the cover-up without being told the truth. Something about him gives you reservations… but you have a job to do. Soon after, you are transported to a ship called the Sea Eagle.
Most of the choices you make are structured around dives. I was a bit disappointed that the game does not take place on the oil rig, but oh well. Diving around it is good enough. And it is cool. The oil rig is called Rider Beta and was evacuated of its crew (if that’s the right term) due to an undisclosed incident. The diving team is tasked with doing maintenance at the drill site and to keep an eye out for a missing remotely operated vehicle (ROV). But the assignment takes a bizarre turn as the real purpose for the dive team slowly emerges.
A chunk of the gameplay is allocated to NPC interaction that occurs regularly. The two supporting characters are your pals Herzog and Frank, notably Herzog who right away corners you about a secret plan. Rumor has it that the oil rig was part of a bioweapon project during which a creature managed to escape. Such a creature could bring in big money, and Herzog says he has contacts who are interested in making a deal. Will you help him, or will you focus on the task at hand?
I wish the game slowed down a little and took the time to expand upon its setting associated to the seed chosen from the comp. However, the author does a nice job at conveying the dangers of saturation diving. It adds realism (although I am not saying that In the Deep is meant to be a realistic) and atmosphere without overloading the gameplay with technicalities. The author also describes the ocean depths in a convincing manner, that sense of isolation where you are dependent on potentially fragile pieces of technology.
Basically, the gameplay revolves around whether you choose to help Herzog with his plan of selling the rumored mystery creature. If it exists, of course.
Now that the official part of the meeting is over, Herzog gives you an interested look.
As a result, Herzog serves as the “hook” (from a narrative standpoint, not a pun) for the story. He is also portrayed as the corrupt character. Resourceful, but ultimately driven by money. He does some unsavory things (Spoiler - click to show) (ex. sabotaging Frank’s gear), and while you have options about how much you get involved, you feel roped into siding with him if you want to fully investigate the story. In this sense, the story felt linear. You will reach the (Spoiler - click to show) big discovery at the end regardless of teaming up with Herzog, but you receive less context information than if you agree to his plan when he pitches it.
Turns out (Spoiler - click to show) the creature is real… long dead and scavenged by filter feeders. The author conveys an important truth: lifeforms unsuited to the ocean environment become food for the smallest of creatures. I’m not sure what the creature was engineered for (assuming that it was engineered to begin with, details are scarce), but it clearly did not stand a chance on the ocean floor. Furthermore, its corpse is contaminating the surrounding environment. Already, fish are dying. By the way, you are the only diver down here.
The gameplay comes down to three major choices:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Steal specimen to sell.
Give specimen to science.
The first option is only available if you teamed up with Herzog since you need his contacts to make the sale. Also, you have the choice of going public with the story, but no one believes you. Even if you claim the carcass for your own. I guess the protagonist would have a better shot if the creature were living.
What frustrates me about the story is the loose ends. (Spoiler - click to show) What caused the oil rig to collapse that happens partway through the game? Who, specifically, was conducting these experiments? What was the purpose of the engineered creature that escaped? I have a few ideas, but ultimately the game skimps on details. Exploring this reveal a little more would do a lot in terms of player engagement.
The game is not incomplete, but the adventure feels like it is cut short.
Only a slim rectangle of screen space is used for the text, which is a bit on the small size. It’s not too unreasonable in size but does make you go looking for a way to change it. Typically, the "control zoom" command does the trick, but for some reason the game was not responsive. Possibly an issue on my part, although the text size is generally smaller than with most choice-based games.
That aside, the backdrop is black with a blue border running along the sides of the text. Graphics are included. I especially liked the imagery on the menu page. A simple but effective look. The only other visuals are artwork for each of the endings (five endings total), which added nice flair.
Playing In the Deep was a mixed bag of fun and unanswered questions. There is not a lot of depth (now, that’s a pun) with the story, and yet there is a mystery element that entices you into replaying. I think its depiction of the ocean from a diver’s perspective is the strongest point. If you like ocean settings, this game has great atmosphere.
There are a few bugs: (Spoiler - click to show) When Herzog asks if you love money, you can say yes or no. If you say yes, and then choose the option that says, "This sounds stupid," the game starts all over again. Also, there are two endings (Millionaire and Leave It To The Experts) under “Ending 04.” I assume that one of them is supposed to be “Ending 02” since we have ones for 01, 03, and 05.
Besides that, it is a decent game that inspires multiple playthroughs.
If you like the idea of diving where humans rarely/don’t usually go, consider Tangaroa Deep. It is a Twine game about operating a deep-sea submersible as you explore the ocean depths for science. Your only connection to humanity/surface is a colleague’s voice over radio. Like In the Deep it considers how one would be compelled to stray from a risky mission to pursue a rare find.
This game reminds me of bits of a lot stories--Armageddon, Sphere, Alien. But it's it's own thing.
This is a choice based game where you are a oil rig diver on one last job. You're told that something bad happened down there and you have to fix it. But things get...weird.
The game had a pretty small default font and for me only used about 25% of my screen. Most of the choices were between 2 or 3 options, and I felt like I had real interactivity. There were some weird repetitions in the text some times, like when asking questions at the beginning.
The story didn't really resonate with me the way the choices did. Instead of building up tension it revealed things early, then acted as if you didn't know them, and big plot events didn't have buildup while big buildups had no payoff.
Still, I'm glad I played and had a good time.