Merk's Spring Thing 2006 Reviews - The Baron

3 views
Skip to first unread message

Mike Snyder

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 11:35:10 AM4/24/06
to
TITLE: The Baron
AUTHOR: Victor Gijsbers
EMAIL: victor SP@G lilith.gotdns.org
DATE: April 2006
PARSER: Infocom
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform .Z8) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware
URL: http://www.sidneymerk.com/vst06/baron.zip
VERSION: Release 1

The Baron deserves a spoiler-free review.

The difficulty is it's a game that can barely be discussed at any length
*without* spoilers. I think this one is as spoiler-free as you'll find, but
*anything* said about The Baron might be too much. In other words, reader
beware.

The author's introductory text describes the story's theme as disturbing,
shocking, and tragic. On the surface, it's about a missing girl and the
father
determined to save her from her captor, the evil Baron. I use the word
"evil" because the game does ("x photo" in your bedroom, near the
beginning). After that, it's left up to the reader. What kind of monster is
the Baron? Can he be redeemed, or should he die? Is he a monster at all?

The story (if ever a work of Interactive Fiction wasn't a game, this is it)
begins in a cave. You must slay the dragon, because nobody else will. I
found
no way to achieve this, but later events make it clear that you don't have
to.
After this, the main quest begins. Along the way - and it's a journey that
feels much longer than it actually is - you encounter three obstacles. These
are decision points, not puzzles. Each obstacle can be overcome in numerous
ways. Not every way is obvious in a first play-through, and some of the
multiple-choice decisions won't even make sense the first time. It should
really be played at least twice. The second time, your decisions are likely
to
be wildly different - not because you're poking around for changes to the
story, but because you will understand the story in an entirely different
way.

Before setting out toward the Baron's castle, look around the house first.
At
the Baron's castle, it also pays to poke around. Even though the story lacks
puzzles, it features bonus material for the observant reader. A torture
chamber, found through a hatch under a rock at the castle, hints that things
aren't exactly as they seem. Well, not so much that, but it's a good
indication that the author is relying on symbolism to enhance the story.

In relating what has happened at the *end* of the story, the PC mentions
nothing of a dragon. It stands to reason that the story's first scene was
someone else's experience. If this is the case, it might have made more
sense
for the dragon to approach from a southern lair, while the PC stands firm.
When it ends, the story offers no congratulations. You haven't won. You
haven't lost. The final choices allow the player to affirm his or her
convictions. The story doesn't tell *you* what's right and what isn't. *You*
tell the story.

What I expected from The Baron wasn't what I got. In his introductory text,
Gijsbers does a good job of preparing the player. Actions should be taken
because they're meaningful in the situation, not because they "solve a
puzzle". My first reaction was "sure - I've heard this before." I can't
help but treat IF as a game - even when the author tells me not to - because
every decision affects the outcome. In The Baron, that's not the case. Some
decisions affect the PC's dialogue at the end, but none of it affects the
experience of the *reader* except to the extent that the decisions
themselves
are part of the experience. So, even though the author warned me that it
wasn't a game, I tried to play it like a game. I expected something dark and
sinister. I expected torture, helplessness, suffering, and perhaps victory
in
the end. The story delivers these things, but in an unconventional way... in
a
disturbing, shocking, and tragic way.

If all of this leaves you wondering just what you might be getting into if
you
try The Baron, by all means read a spoilery review. Even though this could
soften the punch of experiencing it for yourself, you might be doing
yourself
a favor. You may say to yourself "bah - I can handle blood and gore and
text-
rendered pain." If that's what The Baron actually had in store for you, a
disclaimer would be unnecessary.

It's difficult to say if The Baron hits the mark, without knowing what the
mark was. The final choices in the walkthrough included with the Spring
Thing
version (available from the HELP menu) might be how the author imagines it.
Most of us won't be able to feel compassion or empathy for the Baron,
though -
let alone identify (thank goodness) with the story itself. So, are these
final
decisions meaningful to us, as readers?

With precious little else to be said without delving into spoilers, some
discussion of the design and craft is fitting. The story file is in .Z8
format, written in Inform. The English translation of the Dutch original
(also
included) is surprisingly good. Aside from a few typos, not much in the
translation detracts from the experience. Even with a second play-through
(or
read-through) of some of the story, I found it easy to complete in an hour
and
a half. Certain bits - especially the dialogue - are presented in multiple
choice lists. The rest of it, however, manages to maintain the traditional
IF-
style command system. You move around a map. You get, drop, and examine
things. You open doors. You take an active part, just as IF is meant to be.

It's hard to describe The Baron as a *good* story, in the way a game can be
a
*good* game. It's an *effective* story. Appreciating it doesn't mean
*liking*
it. Even so, I can imagine the opinions of various readers will vary wildly.
Some may say it was emotional. Some may say it wasn't. Some may say it was
purposely manipulative. Some may say it was an honest and heart-rending
story.
Some may resent becoming an unwitting participant as the story unfolds. Some
may describe it as grim. Some may feel entirely detached from it. Some may
say
it will receive accolades it doesn't deserve, while others may believe it to
be unfairly criticized. Some may even say it's a story that didn't *need*
telling.

I say... nothing, except that it was an interesting experiment. In the
context
of the Spring Thing competition, it's far too short (even adding a replay or
two). I was moved (I'm a parent - how could I not be moved?), but this alone
doesn't make it a clear winner when this year's competition features three
other very good games. Scoring it is even harder than reviewing it. After
some
thought, I have settled on a middle-of-the-road score. It succeeds as
Interactive Fiction, and it doesn't pretend to be a game. It fails as
entertainment (for me), even though it's more like art for the sake of
emotion. In another context, it might be a "9" or a "10". It should prove
to be one of the most memorable works of 2006, regardless.

My Spring Thing score: "6"


Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 2:21:08 PM4/24/06
to
Hi Mike,

Thanks for your excellent review! Very thoughtful, and I think it does a
wonderful job of conveying what the piece is and is not without spoiling
the experience.

Two quick reactions.

> In relating what has happened at the *end* of the story, the PC mentions
> nothing of a dragon. It stands to reason that the story's first scene was
> someone else's experience. If this is the case, it might have made more
> sense for the dragon to approach from a southern lair, while the PC stands firm.

My reaction to this will be somewhat spoilery, so I moved it towards the
end of this post.

> It's difficult to say if The Baron hits the mark, without knowing what the
> mark was. The final choices in the walkthrough included with the Spring
> Thing version (available from the HELP menu) might be how the author imagines it.

The choices in the walkthrough were chosen because they (a) were the
quickest way to end the piece, and (b) involved an action [destroying
something] that I felt might otherwise be non-obvious. It is not my
'pereferred' ending, nor the action I would advice anyone to take in
real life. I, personally, believe too much in the human potential to
change to believe that it is the best end.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what my preferred ending is; the
piece itself is neutral in this respect (or at least as neutral as I
could make it).


Kind regards,
Victor


S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E


Your interpretation of the dragon scene is very interesting! It is,
however, not what I had in mind. For me, at least while I was writing
it, the dragon represented lust; the 'baron' represented the decent,
honourable and even courageous part of the protagonist; and the
unavoidable death that awaits him in this scene is his (temporary?)
consumption by lust. Something ancient and fiery stirs within him, and
he awakes to undertake his infernal quest.

Actually, reintroducing the dragon at the end might be a good idea -
though it should be done in a way that would not break the sudden
realism of the final scene. Perhaps a momentary vision. I will think
about it for the post-competition release.


Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 2:24:12 PM4/24/06
to
Just to avoid confusion, a small addendum to my previous spoilery
remark, also protected by spoiler space.


Victor


> S
>
>
>
> P
>
>
>
> O
>
>
>
> I
>
>
>
> L
>
>
>
> E
>
>
>
> R
>
>
>
> S
>
>
>
> P
>
>
>
> A
>
>
>
> C
>
>
>
> E
>
>
>
>

> the 'baron' represented the decent,
> honourable and even courageous part of the protagonist

Only in the first scene, of course, where the protagonist still thinks
of himself as a baron.

Mike Snyder

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 2:38:25 PM4/24/06
to
"Victor Gijsbers" <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote in message
news:b00c$444d170f$9161cc34$27...@news2.tudelft.nl...
> Hi Mike,

>
>> In relating what has happened at the *end* of the story, the PC mentions
>> nothing of a dragon. It stands to reason that the story's first scene was
>> someone else's experience. If this is the case, it might have made more
>> sense for the dragon to approach from a southern lair, while the PC
>> stands firm.
>
> My reaction to this will be somewhat spoilery, so I moved it towards the
> end of this post.

Thanks. I also made an additional reply, after the spoilers.

>> It's difficult to say if The Baron hits the mark, without knowing what
>> the
>> mark was. The final choices in the walkthrough included with the Spring
>> Thing version (available from the HELP menu) might be how the author
>> imagines it.
>
> The choices in the walkthrough were chosen because they (a) were the
> quickest way to end the piece, and (b) involved an action [destroying
> something] that I felt might otherwise be non-obvious. It is not my
> 'pereferred' ending, nor the action I would advice anyone to take in
> real life. I, personally, believe too much in the human potential to
> change to believe that it is the best end.

Yeah, I wouldn't have gotten that one without the walkthrough, now that you
mention it. There may have been some foreshadowing, in certain conversation
paths with the gargoyle, but by the end, I hadn't considered it.

>
>
>
>
> S
>
>
>
> P
>
>
>
> O
>
>
>
> I
>
>
>
> L
>
>
>
> E
>
>
>
> R
>
>
>
> S
>
>
>
> P
>
>
>
> A
>
>
>
> C
>
>
>
> E
>
>
>
>
> Your interpretation of the dragon scene is very interesting! It is,
> however, not what I had in mind. For me, at least while I was writing
> it, the dragon represented lust; the 'baron' represented the decent,
> honourable and even courageous part of the protagonist; and the
> unavoidable death that awaits him in this scene is his (temporary?)
> consumption by lust. Something ancient and fiery stirs within him, and
> he awakes to undertake his infernal quest.

I had thought of that as well, and it seemed to fit. I'm not sure why my
other idea seemed more likely. Maybe it's because the dragon *wasn't*
mentioned at the end. When I thought it was just a fantasy story, I expected
to find out that the Baron was really the PC at the beginning, scarred and
disfigured due to the encounter with the dragon. Hmm.... I guess in a way, I
was right about that. Anyway, thanks for the explanation! Most people will
probably get it right. I just saw something that wasn't really there I
think. :)

---- Mike.


Mike Snyder

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 2:42:45 PM4/24/06
to
"Victor Gijsbers" <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote in message
news:809ae$444d17c6$9161cc34$27...@news2.tudelft.nl...

> Just to avoid confusion, a small addendum to my previous spoilery
> remark, also protected by spoiler space.

You mentioned that you may do a second release. If you want, I can send you
my transcript. I'm not sure how helpful it will be, since I didn't really
get stuck, but maybe something will jump out as being not quite what you
intended. Let me know, and I'll email them tonight (don't have it here at
work).

--- Mike.


Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Apr 24, 2006, 8:13:37 PM4/24/06
to
Mike Snyder wrote:

> You mentioned that you may do a second release. If you want, I can send you
> my transcript. I'm not sure how helpful it will be, since I didn't really
> get stuck, but maybe something will jump out as being not quite what you
> intended. Let me know, and I'll email them tonight (don't have it here at
> work).

Yes, that would be helpful. Please send it. (I invite anyone with a
transcript to send it to me.)

Greetings,
Victor

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages