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De Baron

by Victor Gijsbers profile

Fantasy
2006

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Number of Reviews: 15
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short, dark philosophical fantasy game (updated), February 7, 2016
I knew what De Baron was like before I tried it, so its my own fault, but this game made me feel bad and uncomfortable. Many people equate this with greatness, which explains why books like The Kiterunner are so popular. But in both this game and the Kiterunner, I feel the author is simply going for shock value.

This game centers around a man in search of his daughter, who is held captive by an evil Baron. In travelling to the baron, you meet a linear succession of creatures and characters, with some exploration required. Everything is vastly symbolic, and includes long, philosophical conversations.

The baron has dark intentions for your daughter, and you yourself have some issues to work out.

I played this game, so I can't tell others not to; but I can say that I think that you can get your fix of philosophy and deepness in better ways.

Note that the author and others have provided an alternative viewpoint in the comments.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Masterpiece, February 4, 2016
by SeanStark (Probally in a library; they have computers too!)
This is how I think all IF's should be. After the first reading I was shocked at the conclusion but was utterly entranced. After finishing it I stopped, and replayed it immediately. This was a work of pure and utter genius. (Spoiler - click to show)I loved the switch in perspective, when I died
At first I thought this was going to be your run of the mill hero finds the princess (albeit his daughter in this case) but I was so wrong yet happy about it.
I was captivated by the elegant prose (English isn't this guy's first language?!) The way the talking was done made it feel so natural and allowed me to think about every option at length. This reminded me of a text version of Heavy Rain (a game which, although a revolution in facial graphic programing, is just as heavy in moral philosophical content as well); half way through I got the point but was not deterred. This game had me questioning so many moral issues without me even knowing it.
On my first reading I got a pretty piss-poor ending due to me not knowing some in world secrets, but on the second reading (since I finally understood who I was) I got a very bittersweet ending which I not only found satisfying, but it made me wistful, sad yet hopeful. The main thing that made this game great was the prose, which shone bright in the conversations which you hold with various people. Due to this unconventional interface, frequent IF players will have to readjust, however once you get the hang of it you'll see just how much potential this kind of IF presents for heavy, story based, IF's. My favourite line is: (Spoiler - click to show)>Kill self (2)I do it for you (1)Yes. I am strong enough. Was this the easy way out? (2)No. I was the hardest sacrifice I ever made

My only criticism is:
The castle ruins are a little difficult to navigate (but again soon you figure them out) and when you leave your house you say >down
but then it asks if you want to go to the ground or the garden but as of yet the player shouldn't know this. It should allow a little smoother movement.

Overall this game is a masterpiece. Some other reviewers have attacked it for it's simpler interpretations of Nietzsche and Freud but just read it and see for yourself how much thought has been put into this brilliant story.

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Limitations, Will, April 3, 2014
by perching path (near Philadelphia, PA, US)
5 years on, I find the perspective from which I wrote this review naive and unreflective.
De Baron is about the sexual abuse of a child. I almost completely failed to deal with that (central) aspect of the story, and my concluding paragraph is (as streever's comment pointed out) entirely incorrect.

What I wrote about the piece's structural aspects may still be of interest.

review from August 1st 2008:
(Spoiler - click to show)There's evil in De Baron, and the medieval trappings of the narrative do very little to pad its edges. It's real evil, and it resides primarily in the PC (though there is no character in this story whom a sane person would want to be). Trying to deal with this evil through the necessarily limited choices provided by dialogue menus can be frustrating. I can reject the importance of guilt and forgiveness by typing numbers, but there is of course no way for me to inject my own ideas about the psychological and interpersonal mechanisms of the consequences of wrongdoing.
One can say that these ideas are not things the PC would think of, but I'm not sure Gijsbers would wish to have the universality of his piece eroded in this way.

Pavel Soukenik described De Baron as a psychological test which does not give its results. I think the results can be given by the player throughout their second playthrough of the piece. Even if they choose not to do so, what further analysis could the program give beyond its final series of choices, which try to force the player to think through the motivations behind their (and/or the PC's) actions?

The prose did jar me out of the story at a couple of points. I didn't particularly mind the occasional grammatical errors, but certain phrases were so melodramatic as to undermine the piece's general seriousness. I would be interested in reading a review of the Dutch version.
The mechanics of the game are smooth, though I'm inclined to think that the occasional bits of physical interaction should be either complicated or further simplified. Having to retrieve the torch to read something, though it only took 4 turns, seemed a pointless chore.
As my rating would indicate, these minor technical flaws don't do the piece too much damage.

Why do I think this a very good work, despite its limitations? Possibly because its structure involves both the inexplicit revelation of what one is and the creation of sympathy with an unsympathetic protagonist, my favourite IF devices. Possibly because it's well-implemented enough that I spontaneously (Spoiler - click to show)howled at a wolf and received an appropriate response. Possibly because it treats its victims as humanely as is possible from inside the PC's head. Certainly because it succeeded in its ambitious aim of making me think about human will from a novel angle.

Finally, I'm inclined to think that the content warnings and minimum age requirements associated with De Baron are unnecessary. As with most written works, those who lack the maturity to deal with it will find it neither interesting nor entirely comprehensible.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Disturbing story, November 26, 2013
by streever (America)
This is an engaging and deep take on an incredibly divisive situation.

I don't think the game goes far enough in the warning; I think it should employ a trigger warning. I know people struggling with the exact situation depicted in this story, and I know some of them would feel an enormous set-back post-reading. If you think you may be in that camp, please read the following spoiler for the trigger warning. (Spoiler - click to show)This game revolves around a father who has sexually abused his daughter. Themes include sexual abuse, guilt, fault for sexual abuse, and a question of culpability.

Ultimately, where this story is successful is in the way it presents a bleak moral situation without moralizing or judgement. The player is completely free to arrive at the emotional resolution they are seeking. I appreciated that the game never sought to dictate how I should feel, but rather asked me at every step. This is an excellent mechanic for other games dealing with morality that want to go beyond the subtle.

I appreciated the nested easter eggs which gave greater context and clarity to the situation and revealed in small ways that something is wrong in the narrative.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A brave, engaging work, June 7, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: victor gjisbers
Play it if: you're interested in spending half an hour with a courageous, if flawed, moral allegory with overtones of Nietzsche.

Don't play it if: you were looking for a game, or have little to no tolerance for some grim realities in your IF.

Reviewing The Baron demands a kind of scrupulousness not common to the medium. This is fundamentally a work which is not about gameplay or puzzle-solving, nor even necessarily about character, but about theme and allegory. In this respect it's sort of the Der Himmel Łber Berlin of IF - though tonally the subject matter is in almost diametric opposition.

The Baron's main strength lies, I think, in its ability to draw you into responding emotionally to the character, whether it be sympathy or revulsion. The means by which it does this is interesting and worthy of a degree of analysis. In essence, the story is driving at a question about human nature, a question we might summarize as "Do we bear responsibility for our animal desires?" The question experiences four major iterations in the story: the wolf, the gargoyle, the baron, and finally the PC himself.

In another review, Pavel Soukenik comments that the conversation with the gargoyle is slightly undermined because there was another dialogue that made it feel repetitive. I would respond to this with two points. Firstly, repetition is an intentional element of this story - I mean, the gargoyle outright says the phrase "eternal recurrence". The repetition of old habits, old battles, is not just tacked onto the story, but also an important motif in discussion of these taboos.

Secondly, there is a progression in these four iterations, though it may take a bit of thought to see it. The four iterations do re-state the question, yes, but they begin from a point of distance from the player character and become more personalized. It's easy not to blame, even to sympathize with a wolf for fearing and attacking humans; this is after all what a wolf does. The gargoyle frames the question in sharper and accessible terms: both by introducing spoken language and by explicitly referencing specific emotions like joy and lust. The baron gives these emotions human immediacy because he is the first time we are coming face-to-face with the human consequences of acting out one's animal desires. The specific nature of the act, if not obvious beforehand, is made explicit here. And the final iteration, that of the player character's own response to Maartje, brings the point home by asking the player to do more than judge and respond to others, but apply the morality to himself.

The secondary point being made by the story is thus that it's a lot easier to agree to or sympathize with an idea when it is presented in general terms, but often becomes a lot more difficult or complicated as it gains focus, specificity, and a human dimension.

When still ignorant of this structure, I found myself playing out the PC's inner conflicts at different stages of the game. My first response to the wolf was to talk to it and howl at the moon to share its grief. I told the gargoyle that he could only receive forgiveness from his victims, but that there was always hope he could break the cycle. But when I got to the baron and heard his excuses for his actions, I got irritated with him and responded with hostility. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with responding one way to an idea in principle and another to the idea in practice, but it was in my conversation with the baron that I realized the game had made me play out that discontinuity: that I had given different visceral reactions to what is basically the same philosophical question, merely because the environment framed that question in different terms (generalisms about emotion and freedom versus the "real" consequences of an actual crime).

And of course in the end I found myself driving the player character towards the most positive outcome I could imagine, essentially in total opposition to my instinctive sympathy for the devil at the story's outset.

Just as we have a high regard for puzzles that engage the player's intuition, for elements that seem to anticipate what the naive player would do, I have a high opinion of The Baron for its rather shrewd understanding of how I would react and modify my reactions to the scenarios it poses. I do have a couple of notes, though.

(Spoiler - click to show)If there is a weak point to this allegory, it would have to be the final sequence between the player character and Maartje. Firstly because, as Maartje doesn't respond to anything the character says, the scene is just a way of literalizing the work's ideas, which I thought had more weight when they remained implicit. "I learned X was wrong today" doesn't feel like an ending worthy of allegory with this sort of depth. An attentive reader - even a fairly inattentive one - will have formed their opinions on their own. With no way of affecting the game world, there's no real reason to make them say them outright.

Second is the degree of choice the player is given, and here I mean two specific choices: the choice of repeating your crime (or not), and the choice of breaking the cycle (or not). In both cases I don't think this should have been left up to the player. The instinctive choice of most all players would be simply to have the player character not rape Maartje and break his cycle of lust. The problem is that this is too easy to be true to the realities of child abuse. The kinds of deep-seated psychological factors that lead to this sort of behavior do not resolve themselves due to dreams, and aren't overcome by anything so simplistic as "choosing not to". That final scene gives the player a get-out-of-jail-free card which has not been earned - and I would argue, cannot be earned.

My alternative to that scene would simply be ending the game with the player character entering Maartje's bedroom, and leaving it up to the player to decide how the character as played would act. That to me feels like the most "honest" ending.


Another issue is with the mapping. I feel The Baron would have benefited from more conviction in how it chose to shape the player's navigation. There is a degree of free movement in that the player can seek out details not necessary to advancing the story, but at the same time the goals to be hit are ostensibly linear in progression. The two coexist a little awkwardly here for my taste. Making the geography more linear while having the player cross the path of those details might have served the flow of the story better (though I must admit that it isn't immediately obvious to me how I'd go about doing it).

The English translation of the work is good, with only a couple distinctive typos betraying its previous life as a Dutch-language work. The narrative voice does a good job of complementing the dreamlike nature of the setting without making it too obvious.

In conclusion, The Baron is very much worth your time, though more as an exercise in allegory and theme-centric narrative than as an intellectual exercise. I can see it not being for everyone in the way 2001: A Space Odyssey is not for everyone (I personally find 2001 bloated and meandering as hell), but it deserves at least a playthrough - by those willing to engage with a couple of admittedly difficult concepts.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Disturbing, but too well-made to write off, June 1, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)
I was reminded strongly of "Blue Lacuna" when I played this. But this is worse. Death is everywhere - literally and figuratively. I'm sickened and horrified and the game enhances this by presenting a public view and the true private one, allowing players to see how far things have degenerated.

I liked the conversation menus. I don't know why people hate them so much. I really enjoy them, as well as interfaces where possible topics get listed. I can never come up with things to ask about on my own or invariably miss something.

I'm still trying to process the game. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only to those who I know have read and can stomach things like this. I don't know how this game improves my perspective on life, but maybe it sheds light on my own moral code. As far as I'm concerned, the PC has no excuse and I feel no sympathy. Just because an act cannot be helped does not make it okay. It is still a bad act, even if the origin is understood. I pity the illness, but not the person, since they know they are doing wrong.

This game moves smoothly and deserves to be played. But since it does deal with a pretty traumatic real world scenario, I think it's important that people considering playing it assess whether something like that would cause serious harm because it hits too close to home. I cannot say I enjoyed the story, but did enjoy the exploration of the settings. Good mirroring in them, and that makes it work from a literary standpoint.

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Wow., September 6, 2011
This game left me deeply sad and shocked.
I played through it twice and I can't stop thinking about it, it sticks with you like that. I can't really recommend it because it isn't wholly pleasant to experience, but of course that kind of talk will intrigue most people anyway.
I take off a mark because there are a number of noticable typos and grammatical errors, but they're easy enough to look past.

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Stunned, July 6, 2011
by calindreams (Birmingham, England)
I literally sat in stunned silence after completeing this piece of interactive fiction. My reaction to this game was impounded by the fact that I'd got confused with the zfiles I'd downloaded and thought that I was playing an old Scott Adams game. How wrong could I have been.

This was my first experience of a puzzleless 'game'. The warnings given by the author were very appropriate (although I only read them after I finished), although I'm not sure if it's children who need the warnings.

Disturbing and thought-provoking. I knew I wasn't playing the game I thought I was when I started having philosophical conversations with mythical beasts. Personally I wasn't so keen on the menu based conversations, but they were approprite for this piece. The typos didn't really detract from my immersion in the storyline.

I never guessed what was actually going on until the very end. It's good to see that interactive fiction is being used to explore darker territory. It's hard to say whether I'd recommend this game. But for mature adults who are willing to be disturbed and provoked, then yes, it is an important piece that deserves recognition.

Now to get on with playing 'Voodoo Castle' (the game I meant to play!)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Choose Your Own Damnation, March 26, 2011
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
More than any other IF work I've played, The Baron's reputation precedes it. I knew that it was going to be pretty dark. (Spoiler - click to show)I knew that the protagonist was going to be loathsome. I knew that sexual child abuse was going to be involved. The game itself does a thorough job of warning you about it. So I wasn't shocked by any of it -- but it's still a very powerful piece.

The Baron could have been rendered, without losing very much by way of interactivity, as a CYOA. Virtually all of the significant interaction comes in the form of menu choices, and the elements that are not menu choices could have been trivially rendered as such. It's almost stateless. By a formal definition of IF, it isn't much of a game. But the expectation of inhabiting the world, IF-style, is a very powerful tool for identifying with the protagonist. The danger of a ream of menu choices, particularly if they're tough or uncomfortable ones, is that the player will detach and be pushed out of the world: which defeats the entire point of rendering serious material in an interactive form.

The Baron is not particularly striking in the questions it poses: it's striking in how it builds up to those questions. A lot of this is independent of the IF/CYOA distinction: it's the Socratic method of framing questions in different ways in a particular order. But a list of checkboxes is easier to blank out than a world that, it's implied, you are going to have to live in. An IF world is one in which you have to engage -- there's a genre expectation that close reading is going to be required to negotiate the world.

It's not perfect; the detaching effect of multiple-choice isn't entirely eliminated, and the pace is quite rapid -- which makes the developing plot less predictable, but also means that you never have to live long with any of your choices.

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Ponder your fate, May 7, 2010
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
(Warning: This review might contain spoilers. Click to show the full review.)The game is conducted in standard text adventure style for movement and interaction. To reinforce that understanding, the first scene of this game takes place in a not-initially-apparent dream where the player is an armored knight encountering a fire-breathing dragon. Outside of that dream, the same play mechanisms are in place, with a few minor exceptions.

Dialog is an important element of the story of the game and as such, it eschews the default ďask aboutĒ and ďtell XĒ and instead uses multiple choice to determine what the player will say. There are often four choices to choose from and the responses are not terribly different from each other in tone, but greatly despondent in meaning. The reason for this is that the game uses these discussions as the principal means of determining WHY the player is saying what he is doing. In a way, the game is doing a low-level psychological study on the player through his actions. Instead of giving a report at the end, however, the game uses the playerís responses to subtle guide the remainder of the game to match the rationale behind the playerís actions.

This is an incredible concept, one executed few times before or since because it introduces a very obvious drawback: it causes the scope of the game to increase exponentially. The story branches quickly become innumerable and a single developer will have a hard time keeping up unless they place some pretty strong limitations, which is what Victor did in The Baron.

The game tells a single story where all events have been fixed and there is really only one ending. While that may seem stifling for a game trying to explore the varied motivations behind player actions, it both is and it isnít. It is rather confining in that no matter if your intentions are noble or cynical, there will never be an opportunity to turn away from your fate.

On the other hand, it is liberating because avoiding your fate isnít the point of the game.

The protagonist is a father, which, in and of itself, is full of the complexities of raising children but this game narrows down on a single facet of this character: his daughter has been destroyed by the misguided actions of a single man. The game refers to the man as the Baron, and the progression of this game is the fatherís attempt to confront the Baron and plead for him to stop and free his daughter.

Each step of the fatherís journey, he encounters beasts driven by instincts they find hard or impossible to resist. (Spoiler - click to show)At first he meets a mother wolf who is searching for any food in the cold winter to feed her cubs. Then he encounters a stone gargoyle brought to life but only as a result of feeding on the happiness of others, leaving them bitter and depressed. Finally, you meet the Baron himself, who begs for understanding and sympathy. He admits to being a beast and denies the ability to be anything else.

In the end you reach your daughter and get to talk to her. Through the dialog you have with her, you decide if you have the same determination now as you did when you set forth to confront the Baron or if your vigor has waned. Whether you will let the Baron take her again, or if you will remain vigilant and end the cycle.

Itís a fascinating setup for a dialog over ethics and morality. Itís designed not to challenge your puzzle solving skills but your philosophical stance on conflicted situation. The actions of the Baron are reprehensible, but does his struggle over his nature make a difference in how we perceive him?

As a game, unfortunately, there is less here to be impressed by. It lends itself to two playthroughs on average, one to realize what is going on and see the twist, and a second to make the choices that matter to you. The branching dialog trees arenít revolutionary, even if theyíre not typically used in this manner. The on-rails nature of the game means that if you arenít intrigued by the initial setup, you will probably be fairly bored by the time you reach the Baron. There is also one point at the ruins near the Baronís castle where I got fairly turned around because it wasnít clear to me how certain areas of the ruins connected to each other. So, the one place where the game isnít strictly linear suffers from slightly muddled navigation.

And then after you complete the game, there is the matter of closure. The game doesnít offer you answers or even much in the way of a definite future for any of the characters. The point of the game, as I was alluding to before, is to make you, the player, think and feel conflicted, and not necessarily to give resolution to the conflict between the protagonist and the Baron. Thatís hard to except, at least initially.

The end of the game is not the end of the story, because the story has no end. Every victory for good or triumph of evil is still just one more day done. Even someone who has done undeniably evil things in the past and holds no hope for redemption, still must face the next day. And even if you decide that the protagonist does succeed in suppressing the Baron that day, heíll still have to do it again the next day, and the day after, until one of them gives up forever.



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