Author Highlights: Victor Gijsbers


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.

Selected Works:

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, It spawned many imitators in future IFComps and Spring Things. Games like Grief, Rendition, and Pascal’s wager show De Baron’s influence.

Fate (2007)

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 (2011)

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.


Thanks for this! Even if this:

makes me feel old. I generally don’t think of myself in the past tense. :wink:

I thought it might perhaps be interesting if I give some short thoughts on my own games to complement yours.

The Baron

An important influence on this game was Planescape: Torment, which I considered to be the best computer game ever made. Although its theme is completely different, and although it is a graphical top-down RPG rather than a parser-based interactive fiction, it shares two important features with The Baron: choice-based conversations and moral choices. Now the moral choices in a game like Torment are generally important mostly because of their real-world effects. In The Baron, it’s more about a search for explanation and understanding; I conceived of all the different choices not so much as choices, but as an exploration of the protagonist’s mind.

The theme was on my mind because of conversations with a good friend of mine who had suffered through this kind of situation. It’s so hard to understand how this kind of thing is possible; and yet one must understand, because without understanding, how can there be either prevention or healing? The game ends in questions, but was based on one simple conviction: you can understand nobody simply by calling them evil.

In this game, I spent a lot of time on content that few people will have seen. There is, for instance, a whole series of conversations between puppets… if that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because, well, it is exceedingly easy to miss.

This might be the game I’m still most proud of; the only possible other contender is Kerkerkruip. But they can’t really be compared.


I tried to push moral choices into a somewhat different direction here, while also making a puzzle game. In the end, I suspect that I fell a bit short on both goals: do we really care enough about any of these people to make harming them relevant? And do the puzzles ever reach the high standards of our community? I doubt it. Still, I think Fate is interesting and enjoyable enough.


More a tech demo than a game; it might give you an amusing couple of minutes. I got the basic idea from my readings in the theory of pen&paper RPGs, especially Ron Edwards’s work on GNS theory. Basically, what I tried to do was implement choices that you make as an author rather than as a character. This is still underexplored in interactive fiction, so to that extent the game remains relevant.

The Art of Fugue

A pure puzzle game with a unique game mechanic. I’ve got a backlog of people who sent me better solutions than the ones in the game itself, so this game is a source of guilt for me – I really need to do an update some day!

The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode

Originally, this game was called Hidden Nazi Mode. I wrote it at a time I was extremely interested in free and open source software, and used it to explore some of the dangers of closed software. On the other hand, are these really dangers? The hidden is also a source of wonder and excitement. So when I took out the hidden nazi mode, I, well, the less said the better.

'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus

I have to admit that I have forgotten a lot about this game, which suggests to me that it might not be very good. It demos an early version of the ATTACK combat system, using it for mostly narrative purposes. Does it work? Frankly, I have no idea – I need to replay it.


I have always had a weakness for combat-based RPGs and I started writing several story-heavy or setting-heavy ones in the medium of IF. (I believe I once published an alpha version of something called Gods of War, and I believe I also have the first rooms of at least two other games.) At some point I realised that I would never finish a game like that, because it simply takes too much time, and that my only hope for a serious combat-based work of IF would be in the form of a roguelike. So I made Kerkerkruip, which I consider a huge success. I still play it quite regularly, and I’ve put some work into version 10 recently.

Nemesis Macana

Looking at a list of my games, a word that doesn’t immediately come to mind is: funny. But with Nemesis Macana I tried to be just that. Did it work? I know that a few people found it very funny, and I think many more people were just somewhat bemused. (Reports from my beta testers were extremely mixed.) It still amuses me no end and I’m very very fond of it. But you need a very specific kind of taste to appreciate it.

It’s been a while since I published anything. Starting to work full-time (in academia, where your job consists of 60% teaching, 30% administration and 40% research) hasn’t helped and becoming a father hasn’t helped either. But I’d be surprised if I couldn’t quote the Terminator and say: I’ll be back.

Almost! The title was “Idols of War.” I believe I am one of the very few people to have beaten it.

You really have to select “Curse” and spam it, to give yourself a chance to concentrate without getting hit. At least that was the only way I found to get anything done.

Yes, you’re right! I need to crawl through my archives and perhaps upload one or two things to the IF Archive. (It looks like Nemesis Macana isn’t even on the IF Archive, and since the relevant part of my website is down, it’s not currently available for download.)

If perchance you need a blorb of Idols of War, I have one.

I hope this isn’t too bad a place to ask the next question – excuse me if it is!

I speak hypothetically: if there were a project to translate The Baron into Spanish, according to the GPL license under which it seems to be published (or so says IFWiki), it would be legal, wouldn’t it? – plus great news for the Spanish-speaking community.

Is The Baron actually published under GPL? If so, is its source code available anywhere by any chance? I’ve searched a little bit, but I haven’t found anything. And it would be great if some hypothetical translator could access those sources.

I suggest emailing Victor for the source. If you type ABOUT in the game and select CREDITS it explicitly says to do this and it says it is GNU General Public License.