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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC; Winner, Best Use of Medium - 2006 XYZZY Awards
1st Place - Spring Thing 2006
Play This Thing!
The Baron is a provocation, both in form and in content: in form, because it requires the player to choose not only actions but also an ethical philosophy; in content, because it asks what moral options remain for a person who recognizes himself as monstrous.
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The Baron begins as an experiment in futility - a fascinating exploration of someoneís inability to change the inevitable repeating pattern of their life. As you set off on a quest to rescue your kidnapped young daughter from the evil Baron - made all the more sinister by a note left saying he has to be with her as he loves her - you have a righteous task in place. Which makes the implications of your inevitable failure so very interesting. And then it changes.
I was so deeply affected by this game that after finishing it the rest of my day was pretty much a write-off.
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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." [...] 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.
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Number of Reviews: 10
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
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.
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.
The highest point in the whole story is probably the conversation with the gargoyle because it mixes the parable illustration, self-realization and choosing one's attitude to the central problem. That moment's wonderful mastery is slightly undermined by its placement in the story arch, and by the appearance of a similar dialogue that felt (at least in part) superfluous.
Unfortunately, De Baron suffers from an unnecessary problem: typos, particularly in key scenes, are distracting, and the proofreading by an English native speaker would also weed out some of the other translation problems. A more serious problem concerns the design. Outside of conversations, the standard exploration gameplay feels too obvious and you will often mechanically perform actions ("solve puzzles" would not be accurate) that you know beforehand are going to uncover the next piece of exposition.
One way to fix the problems mentioned would be to make the actions and choices matter at the end of the story, have a native English speaker go through the text, redesign the exploration (sparser exposition, removing or enhancing the puzzles) and cut the Baron scene. The last suggestion is maybe radical but that scene contains a lot of what is already obvious and also duplicates some ideas that were already covered.
The experience I was left with was that of filling in an interesting, thinly disguised psychological test but not receiving the results. It is an interesting exercise none-the-less.
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