De Baron

by Victor Gijsbers profile


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Number of Reviews: 19
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Choose Your Own Damnation, March 27, 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.

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Victor Gijsbers, March 27, 2011 - Reply
Thanks for your review, Sam, and you make several good points. I do not, however, believe that The Baron could have been rendered as a CYOA, for the following VERY spoilery reasons:
(Spoiler - click to show)Although there are several sequences that could have been rendered as CYOA -- talking to the gargoyle, talking to the baron -- there are other sequences where the open nature of an IF is, in my opinion, crucial. This is partly true for the exploration scenes in your own house and the castle, where there is a lot to discover. But it is more true for the scene with the wolf, and absolutely crucial for the final scene. There are perhaps a dozen ways to get past the wolf, but they require the player to think out of the box and consider the thematic significance of the action. And the final scene -- there are many ways to end that as well, and listing them would have spoiled everything. For example: it is the dreadful sequence of thinking that maybe you should kill yourself; searching for a way to do so; and carrying out the self-imposed verdict; that is powerful. A menu choice "(4) kill yourself" is not. (I am, of course, not saying that you have to kill yourself. It is only one possibility among many. Not the happiest. Also perhaps not the unhappiest.) Another example: there is one way to end the final scene which one of my beta testers could not bring himself to type in, but because he wanted to know whether it was implemented, he used a z-code text extractor. That is certainly something a CYOA could never do. (In fact, you could not open that most horrific of possibilities to the reader in a CYOA, because by putting it in a list you have sanctioned it as an author, in a way that you do not sanction it by implementing it in an IF.)
Sam Kabo Ashwell, March 27, 2011 - Reply
Mmm, that makes sense; I suppose that this picks out something that flatly contradicts what I said in the review, which is that -- because of the non-puzzle design -- it's very easy to play the game as if it were CYOA, which is more or less what I ended up doing. So I suppose the moral is 'metagaming will destroy us all.'
WidowDido, March 28, 2011 - Reply
"it's very easy to play the game as if it were CYOA"

This was unfortunately the case with a friend of mine. I blamed it on a lack of experience with IF, but I am now thinking it is the conversation system. Perhaps the beta tester had a different experience because 'metagaming' as well (knowing it was IF and that certain things could be implemented and should be tested).
I am curious if you did much exploration in the areas that allowed for it, or if you did not focus on this because of your CYOA expectations? I ask based on watching a friend play.
Sam Kabo Ashwell, April 1, 2011 - Reply
I did some exploration in the house -- enough to feel as if the only significant thing to do was to look at everything, make one binary decision (Spoiler - click to show)(take the axe or leave it and then leave. In the castle I randomly happened to pick the direction that went straight to the Baron.

I think some of this had to do with the combination of conversation menus and puzzleless structure. Traditional IF has gateway-puzzles for a reason: they give the author a little more control over pacing. "Slow down. Take a look at stuff. Poke at the game mechanics." The plot of The Baron discourages loitering or exploration for its own sake -- you're not exactly visiting the castle for its late-Gothic architecture.
And the thing about menus: obviously a lawnmower would have been hilariously inappropriate for this game. But a non-lawnmower menu system has a powerful effect: it precipitates you forward through the story, it creates a CYOA-like feel that the past is sealed and will not reward re-exploration. Again, this feeling is totally appropriate for The Baron, which relies on a pretty rapid pace to keep the player off-balance and seared by intensity, but apparently it comes with a cost.

(I'm probably going to rewrite the review above to reflect that, well, I basically got it wrong. I should know better, by now, than to do snap-reaction reviews.)
WidowDido, April 8, 2011 - Reply
I am glad to see you take reviewing seriously. I will be reading more of your reviews after this comment (I read this one because it was for De Baron).

If you end up rewriting this review, I encourage you to include at least a description of your snap-reaction, or explain how and why the second review differs from the first. Not only do I find the revaluation interesting, but it may be instructive for other reviewers in framing their own thoughts.
WidowDido, March 28, 2011 - Reply
I am writing a review of De Baron. I have replayed it a few times since the "game as art" discussion on E Short's blog.
For reasons only known to V Gijsbers, there are fragments involved in the exploration of the house that could not have been rendered CYOA without severely changing the narrative. (Spoiler - click to show)The exploration of the castle contains a strange dungeon scene--the reason for its inclusion I am still trying to work out. Although entering/exploring the dungeon was not at all difficult, a CYOA style would have an effect on pacing (and arguably the psychology) of the reader/player. As Gijsbers states above, a player's knowledge that there is even the potential for the implementation of all manner of actions in the final scene can be central to the player's experience.

The conversation system allows V Gijsbers to exercise a good deal of narrative and thematic control over the work, but unfortunately I think it leads to an association with simpler storytelling techniques.
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