Not-Quite-A-Review: The Baron (2006)

Pudlo is extremely good at detecting sensitive subjects to which people might react emotionally. On Usenet he crafted subtle yet maximally inflammatory posts, carefully avoiding making them obvious trolls, and posted them using a fake name. It was also common for two or three people to mysteriously appear from nowhere and agree with Pudlo. At some point he took a step up from fictional sockpuppets and started posing as other well-known people from the community. (Remember that on Usenet there’s no verification of any kind. You can post using any name and email address you like.) That was also the point where it wasn’t just annoying (or amusing, depending how you took it), harmless trolling anymore. I’m not a huge fan of displaying the post count next to every post, but it does prevent anything like that from happening on the forums.

Personally I can live with Pudlo being active on the forums. If you put him on the foe list you don’t see his posts. If he makes a post, I click it open and go back again just so that it’s removed from the unread posts list. It becomes annoying only when people take the bait. The thread becomes active and keeps coming up in the unread posts list. Sometimes a genuinely interesting and constructive discussion comes out, and that’s great, but mostly it’s just a bunch of people battling against windmills. It’s useless to try to argue with Pudlo, because his posts don’t reflect his opinions – the posts are completely artificial, their only purpose is to annoy people. There’s no reason to tell him that his review is unfair or that he is nitpicking about inconsequential things. He already knows it because he does it on purpose.

Debatable, but anyway that’s why I called it a “threatlike thing.” Even if it’s not a threat, using the imagery of violence against another poster is inappropriate. Kind of like that Introcomp reviewer who told Poster to kill himself; that’s obviously not a threat, but it’s not an appropriate thing to say.

I’m not advocating being nice here. It’s perfectly appropriate to sling insults Pudlo’s way; that’s sauce for the gander.* It’s the violent imagery that I don’t like.

*Explanation for non-native speakers.

Indeed. I was just hoping I wouldn’t sound like micheal corleone. You know: “I fink somefink bad could happen too yoo. I’m makin yoo an offer one can’t refoose.”

Sounds more like Sonny or maybe Vito – I remember Michael as being smoother. :wink:

My comment was a response to katz (see above), and was specific to katz’ comment.

Bad prose is by definition unengaging prose. Unless, of course, you have a vicarious shame fetish and enjoy to be embarrassed on other people’s account. I see that a lot in the IF crowd. I suppose it’s comforting to know that no matter how mediocre one’s own writing is, there’s always someone like Victor around.

Artful in the sense of being artificial, certainly not in the sense of being skillful.

You admit that Victor’s prose is inelegant, and yet you find it engaging. You concede that his symbols are incoherent, and yet you find them charming. I’m beginning to suspect that you like this game so much because it allows you to feel superior.

Victor not being in the same league as Nabokov is a minor issue. After all, very few writers are. A far bigger issue is the appalling lack of literary culture among the IF crowd. Before you write a game about rebellious robots, it’s a good idea to have read your Clarke and Asimov. Before you write anything about adults having sexual relationships with children/adolescents, it’s a good idea to have read Nabokov, Hardy and Petronius. I can see you people scratching your plebeian heads and going: “Who the fuck is Petronius? Who the hell is Hardy?” That’s a BIG part of the problem. You ALWAYS write within a tradition. When you don’t know the tradition you’re writing in, you end up writing The Baron.

As to the notion that Victor is outside the pale of criticism because he writes in his second language, how about the Paralympics of IF? We’ll have one venue where only the natives compete and another one for the cripples.

You’re still hurting from that sic?

No, I’ve moved on - unlike you, apparently.

Regarding all your “bad prose means the game’s unenjoyable” diatribe… I’ve reviewed a game, just yesterday, where the purple and overdone prose failed to engage me as a reader. However, it achieves a rather excellent atmosphere. I was immersed by the overal text even as I was skimming through the actual words and sentences. “Andromeda Awakening”, also, I have a lot of peeves with, but I can’t deny it’s good at establishing atmosphere and location, even when it fails abysmally at times in the actual words (case in point: a room called “Nail” when it should be called “Talon”).

If you want to limit yourself to perfection, there’s very little you’ll find. If you can’t admire the good in spite of the bad, can’t spot the success even in the failures, can’t find enjoyment without constantly finding fault, there’s really no point in you being in a growing, mostly Indie community at all.

EDIT - Just for clarification, I’m not saying prose isn’t important, I’m not saying prose can’t make or break a game. It can. It is all-important, and off the top of my head I can cite “Dangerous Curves” as great prose, an example you’ll probably scoff for being genre literature/pastiche. “Death off the Cuff”, in a different way, also has great prose - and it lives on that prose. Remove the prose and the game becomes very dull very fast.

So I’m not saying it isn’t very important. But I am saying there’s more to the prose in IF, and bad prose doesn’t always mean bad, unenjoyable experience.

Unless you’re pedantic. In which case good luck finding something you’ll enjoy.

Unless you’re a pedantic masochist. In which case have fun playing games you don’t like and then posting not-quite-reviews about them.

EDIT 2 - Another example that’s just occured to me - you’re not going to watch “Il Trovatore” for the libretto, it’s infamous as one of the worst librettos in opera. That doesn’t mean the music isn’t fantastic, and it doesn’t mean Opera isn’t supposed to be primarily a combination of story and music.

I wasn’t planning to post here, but some of the comments have been so heart-warming that I wanted to show that I have seen them. And while I do that, I guess I can weigh in on the “issue”.

I have not read Pudlo’s posts (which are hidden from me), but from what I gather he has heavily criticised the prose of The Baron. That is fine. If the game reads like a hasty translation from the Dutch original, that is because it is a hasty translation from the Dutch original. One thing writing The Baron has taught me is that if you want to write a text in both your native and your second language, you should write the latter first, and then translate back to your native tongue. There is a good reason translators generally translate to their native tongue.

Improving the prose of The Baron is one of my sleeping projects. I have a partly rewritten version somewhere on my HD, and if I ever return to that, I’ll certainly click open Pudlo’s review and scan it through for valid criticisms of the prose. After all, a bad sentence found by Pudlo is still a bad sentence, and a game with fewer bad sentences is a better game.

On the one hand, then, Pudlo illustrates the fact that you can be a jerk without being wrong. On the other hand, he illustrates the fact that you can be right and yet have no understanding. His review of Blue Lacuna was a perfect example of this: he spent his entire review criticising some prose passages at the start of the game. He was mostly right in his criticisms, and I do not even think that such criticism is unimportant, since bad writing is, well, bad. And yet, it was the least enlightening review of Blue Lacuna that I have seen. I do not know whether the same holds for his review of The Baron, but I would not be surprised.

The cause of this, of course, is that Pudlo is not interested in reviewing or analysing games. He is interested in his idée fixe: that only genius is worth living for; that most IF falls far short of genius; and that these two truths have to be made clear to a a community that fails to acknowledge them. I have sympathy for the first claim, though I do not hold it as dogmatically as Pudlo does. The second claim seems unassailable to me. But the idea that there is community that must be enlightened about these claims, and that must be enlightened through techniques of trolling, is absurd, and Pudlo’s behaviour is not that of a wise man.

Of course, fools have their uses. If a whole community has fallen into a dogmatic slumber and self-satisfied sleep, and lies dreaming that their meagre accomplishments are the pinnacle of creation, then they need to be hit with a bladder on a stick, forcefully, until they awake. That is the task of the fool. It is, I think, Pudlo’s self-image. Unfortunately for him, nobody seems to be sleeping: many of us are not looking for genius, and those who are (I consider myself among them) know that they have not yet found it. And when everyone is awake and trying to do his or her work, the guy with the bladder is bound to be both useless and pretty annoying.

Don’t feed the troll and don’t fight the fool. After all, we have work to do; you do not get to the level of Nabokov and Conrad by idling!

How childish. Are you afraid my posts will traumatise your delicate psyche? Could someone please explain to me why a grown person would be afraid of reading reviews of their own work? If you’re too delicate to take criticism in stride, why do you release your work to the public?

I’m sure it’s very comforting to see the flaws purely as a translation issue. The problem with that approach is that the badness of your prose transcends language.

The above is bad prose not because it was poorly translated from Dutch, but because its metaphors are trite. I’m sure the original is just as trite as the translation.

The reason why The Baron is bad fiction, apart from the prose? Well, since there’s not much else to look at, let’s look at your use of symbols. The broken mirror as a symbol of split personality is so tired, even Hollywood has stopped using it. The dolls in the “dungeon” are laughable, and so is the “dungeon.” The wolf and the cub as a Moral Dilemma is transparent in its silly hypocrisy. The gargoyle with its multiple choice questions is tedious in the extreme. The decision to have a “simple” lumberjack as a stand-in for the Good Guy and a “sophisticated” baron for the “Evil” gynophile completely misses the psychological mark. There is nothing sophisticated about people who molest children. For the most part they are emotionally retarded men who are afraid of women. The coup de grâce of the piece, the “unexpected” twist where the Good Guy and the Bad Guy are revealed to be the same person has been done to death, not least by Hollywood. Check out Angel Heart for a decent treatment of this particular cliché.

I was hoping you’d have the sense and maturity to admit that The Baron was a youthful indiscretion, and leave it at that. The fact that you persevere in defending it, while flaunting your disdain for me, I find perplexing. Do you seriously think The Baron is an important contribution worth defending?

How is insulting me going to change the fact that you have no talent for writing?

Having just finished The Baron my biggest concern is its failure to problematize its subject matter. Portraying the insestuous half of the personality as a dragon and the uninsestuous part as a warior doesnt tell me any thing about the nature of insest. It just trivializes the issue by using old textadventure tropes. Maybe a textadventure is not the right platform for this kind of subject.

(Sorry for my english)

Funny. Where you see trivialising, I see an opening scene which, in retrospect, is rather heavy handed in its symbolism, but which as a mood-setter did a fine job of making me expect a certain setting, only to yank the rug from under my feet later on. It didn’t seem such an important scene in respect to the main theme, either - not compared to the final bedroom scene, and the previous scene in the hallway.

It’s bugging me a bit that no-one seems to talk much about their first experience of the game - where the main theme isn’t made clear. Of course the game would be much better, artistically, if it could stand that sort of analysis as well as it stands the first impressions - that goes without saying. Yes, once you’ve played it through you may feel a certain heavy-handedness. But when I played it first I didn’t assign any meaning to the dragon other than seeing it’s a fight scene between a protagonist and an antagonist, a powerful antagonist. It’s very possible that that’s all it’s meant to do - set a scene.

I’m perfectly happy with letting a certain symbol be less meaningful if it’s to communicate something to me as a player/reader. Yes, it’s better if I can later dissect the symbol and see how rich it is, but if it worked the first time around, I’m happy.

You’re reducing the game to its twist-value.

That’s the consequence of reducing the game to its twist-value. It becomes a disposable item, since it can only surprise you once.

When you release a literary text – and I believe IF games are literary texts – you are inviting people to visit your planet. Planet Thornton has a department of classical studies, a gay bar frequented by Caesar, a seedy strip club full of T.S. Eliot-quoting drunks, a statue of Pynchon, a cheeky Space Moose and a bunch of other stuff. Planet Gijsbers is dimly lit. It’s hard to see much, and the little you do see is symbolic, never literal, always referring to something beyond itself. As you explore Planet Gijsbers and realise that the axe isn’t really an axe, that it can’t be swung, and that the wife object isn’t even a proper object but a dumb noun with an EXAMINE routine attached to it, you come to the conclusion that you’ve been invited to the planet of a young man who is a bore to his friends and a nag to his family and whose imagination couldn’t fill a thimble, much less a planet.

That’s probably the best post you wrote in this thread. Keep it up.

I wouldn’t call it “reduce”. Possibly “focusing”, because the twist-value is a big part of it, and a big part of the overall experience - that moment when you re-evaluate all that’s gone before in light of what you’ve learned. Badly done, twist-value is dull, cheap, trite. I didn’t find it badly done here, because it was preceeded by rather obvious symbolism (meaning, it didn’t “fall from the sky in a parachute”, as we say in Portugal). I get it that what bugs you is how obvious it was, in retrospect.

But the value of the game isn’t all in that twist-value, and just because the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed (once you’ve played it through - until then, it establishes setting and mood, which is a very important part of an immersive experience) it doesn’t mean there aren’t parts worthy of reliving. I found it very curious to revisit the first bedroom scene, interacting with everything in very many ways, knowing what I know now. That part I found to be very well done. Then there’s the conversation with the gargoyle, which becomes much more meaningful - and that conversation is preceded by the wolf scene, which is at once something completely different from the rest of the story (in which it analyses the actions and motivations of an IF player, and forces him then to acknowledge them - something very interesting in IF, where actions are usually much more important than motivation) and completely, er, related to it, excuse my bad English (in which it forces the PC - distint from the player - to take action and then to evaluate it, which sums up the overall theme of the game: taking an actions, realising the motivation behind it, feel the consequences… and then hopefully to dare to take a different action).

There are scenes in the Baron which I remember well for the emotional response they evoked in me. I’m more than willing to overlook a bit of heavy-handedness here and there (especially since it didn’t feel that heavy-handed to me).

Heh, that’s actually a bit more like Planet Ingold. :wink: Jon, I don’t mean to offend you, but however much I like All Roads, and I do, Pudlo just described how it makes me feel.

Maybe we should just accept that we’re looking through different telescopes. Planet Gisjbers does feel a bit pretentious to me, at times - not in a bad way, but rather like… hmm, like I enter a pub in Manchester and am greeted by a bartender speaking flawless BBC English. A bit high-tone. Doesn’t bother me, and I like how that tone meshes in with his stories, be they a tale about actions and motivations like The Baron, a story about how far one is willing to go and to self-sacrifice for the future like in Fate (a game which I feel has some issues as a “game” but which I highly respect and admire for its ambition), or Figaro, which I always considered to be the essential Gisjbers when reduced to the smallest possible particle without losing any of its properties.

The rest of your sentence you devote to issues that reveal only that a bit more beta-testing couldn’t have hurt. That’s all they reveal.

OK, but “You plebeians lack my vast knowledge when it comes to adults banging the shit out of kids” is probably not the slick burn you think it is.

Y’know, it has always been my impression that the incestuous child abuse aspect of “De Baron” is not in fact the central focus of the story: it is merely a tool by which the main theme of moral discernment might be illustrated. As such, I would disagree that the game belongs in the same tradition as Nabokov; in my opinion, it has more in common with Waugh and Greene; and I would point out Trollope’s “The Warden” as another tale of discernment.

Quite possibly, when you don’t know what tradition someone’s writing in, you risk end up writing not-quite-a-review of it.
Supposing Victor hasn’t read Lolita (and with the rest of the IF plebs has never heard of neither Hardy nor Petronius), what reason is there to suppose that The Baron IS written in the tradition of Nabokov, Hardy, and Petronius (even supposing there is such a tradition in the first place)? The matter of child/adult “sexual relationship”? In that case, why not equally well assume that The Baron is written rather in the tradition of Jin Ping Mei? Or does Jin Ping Mei belong to the same tradition with Satyricon?

And while I’ve never read Petronius (saw the movie, doubt it bears a strong resemblance, content to miss the relevant in-jokes in a certain semi-recent work of IF), I’m entirely comfortable saying that Nabokov and Hardy are both tedious, slogging crap, and the idea that anyone needs to read them for any reason (other than to get a passing grade in some soul-grinding class designed to turn you away from reading forever) is just such a bland, emptyheaded Uncle-Tom notion. Pudlo’s fetishizing of anointed (rather than quality) writing reveals his limitations far more than anything else he might fetishize.

None. One of Pudlo’s chief trolling methods is arbitrarily declaring conditions which bear no relationship to reality (like his broken-record Lucy-Van-Pelt-style bubblegum-card thing). Like all of his techniques, it’s either fundamentally dishonest or shockingly ignorant, depending on your guess about the Pudlo character and the person (and/or AI and/or spam-generation script) behind it.

the word “cripple” should be a no-go amongst literary people I should add.

some epic posts in this thread :laughing:

IMO, Podlo has done exactly what he has set out to do: Writing “not quite a review”.

A review should have a dual purpose: It should elucidate pros and cons of a piece of art or a game for its potential audience, so that they know whether they’d enjoy the work in question or not. And it should give feedback to the creator about strengths and weaknesses, and show him how to improve further.

Podlo does nothing of the kind but setting arbitrary standards of perfection which are clearly unreachable and unreasonable (Does one have to be Shakespeare to write a worthwhile piece of IF?), but without showing a way how to achieve those standards. The review is just there to hurt and belittle, and stir up a bit of trouble.

Small minds try to make other people smaller. Great minds try to make others greater.