Along with Aaron Reed, Victor Gijsbers was one of the most influential authors in the mid-2000’s. Both authors focused on the artistic an moral implications of the field, its connections to other art forms, and an emphasis on festivals like Spring Thing over IFComp.
He has been nominated for 12 XYZZYs, including two best game nominations. He won back-to-back Spring Thing competitions in 2006 and 2007. He is one of the most prolific IFDB reviewers and wrote several in-depth reviews for SPAG magazine.
De Baron (2006)
De Baron is Gijsbers’s most influential (and most controversial) work. It won Spring Thing in 2006, was nominated for Best Game, Writin, Story, NPCS, and individual PC/NPC XYZZY’s, and won the Best Use of Medium. It placed in the Top 10 in the 2011 and 2015 polls for the “Interactive Fiction Top 50 of all time”.
Explaining what De Baron is ‘about’ is always a dangerous task, as various reviewers and the author himself have wildly varying interpretations. Mechanically, it combines standard exploration with branching interactions with symbolic NPCs. Actions have lasting consequences, and each replay sees only a small portion of the text.
On the narrative side, De Baron is designed to provide maximum emotional impact directly to the player. It does this in several ways: by presenting conflicting choices, by presenting the players with riddles and mysteries in the story that force attention, and by forcing the player to constantly re-evaluate what their previous actions imply. This re-evaluation is completely explicit: characters directly challenge what you have done in a way that questions your reasoning as a player. All of this pulls the player in and helps them identify with the player character, until the final reveal of the game hits the player, drawing on a real-life subject with maximum emotional involvement that makes players realize the consequences of their real-life reasoning and thinking.
Many people (including me and contemporary reviewers) report being emotionally shaken, shattered, or destroyed by this game (see, for instance, rockpapershotgun.com/2007/11/07/the-baron/). It spawned many imitators in future IFComps and Spring Things. Games like Grief, Rendition, and Pascal’s wager show De Baron’s influence.
Fate is another experiment in moral choice. The player is a pregnant queen who foresees the future, and the future is grim. Her son will die in his youth.
The world is essentially an open sandbox.You can make a variety of choices, each of which affect the future. But the better the future you desire, the greater the price you have to pay.
The richness of this game’s text and its open sandbox form give it a great feel, and this is my favorite of Gijsbers’s work. I found its central moral dilemma easier to handle (destroying others to save your son) than that of De Baron. It was nominated for a Best Game XYZZY and won Spring Thing.
The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode (2010)
This game is a game designed purely to Make A Point. And that point is that interactive fiction games (and games in general, I suppose) need to be carefully monitored when used in school settings and others where inappropriate content carries repercussions. His argument is that, even with source code available, you don’t know if the author made changes to the source code before compiling that added bad content.
It took me a long time to figure out whether this game actually had inappropriate content or not (you can find a definitive answer in the comments in one of the IFDB reviews if you want to go searching).
'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus (2010)
This game is interesting both as a development of techniques in De Baron and a prelude to techniques in Kerkerkruip.
This game is a combination of a conversation and a battle, with differing conversational approaches and weapon strategies being treated the same way mechanically, both advancing a storyline and both changing hidden combat stats.
As a game, it had less impact than Gijsbers others, seemingly missing out on competitions and rewards, but as a technical piece, it’s intriguing and worth studying.
Kerkerkruip is Gijsbers’s second best-known game, and the best text RPG I’ve ever played. It took 13th place in the 2015 Top 50 Interactive Fiction of All Time poll, took 8th place in IFComp and won two XYZZY awards.
In its original form, Kerkerkruip was a completely text-based roguelike with randomly generated rooms. It featured a system of tiered monsters whose powers could be absorbed, with trade-offs (such as losing powers of lower tiers) that made the game more interesting. Combined with a variety of spells and systems, it was a fascinating game.
Now, with the help of others, it has been improved. It has a graphical interface, with beautiful text-based art and animation, as well as a religion system, more spells, etc. It’s one of the best things to have come out of IFComp, in my opinion.
Gijsbers’s games tend to be dark. Like Chandler Groover, who cites De Baron as one of his biggest influences, Gijsbers’s games paint a picture of a world of grey and darker grey, where corrupt or amoral individuals strive against each other for dominance.
Gijsbers’s writing is crisp, clear, and biting, like unsweetened dandelion tea. His worlds often feature castles, stone, darkness, steel, and dangerous mythical creatures.
He is best known for choices that force the player to evaluate what they really want, whether morally as in De Baron and Fate, or in combat as in Kerkerkruip.
Gijsbers influenced the interactive fiction world with his use of adult themes, evocative choices with conflicting rewards, and a focus on interactive fiction as serious art to be analyzed and discussed as such. He, Aaron Reed, Nick Montfort and Emily Short are largely responsible for bringing interactive fiction from a way of making entertainment to an art form. Numerous authors cite Gisjbers as an influence on their works.