The Baron - Discussion Thread *SPOILERS*

This thread is to be used for discussion of the August game of the month, The Baron by Victor Gijsbers.

This is for discussion of the story, the plot, the design, the parser…whatever you feel like talking about in relation to this game. Hopefully we’ll get some good insight on the game and what everyone thought of it.

Since this is for discussion of the game, be forewarned that SPOILERS will abound.

I didn’t write a review but I’ll post my thoughts shortly.

The Baron is probably the best game I’ve played that makes use of symbolism. It’s not really surreal, so you don’t have a lot of “What the heck did I just witness” moments. However, it is laden with things that make you stop and think…and these things are all related.

Honestly, it took me about 2 or 3 playthroughs before I realized what the story was about. The man who goes in search of his daughter, who’s been kidnapped by an evil baron that has sequestered her in his castle. However, the man turns out to be the Baron.

In the first playthrough, I cleaved my way through the castle. I killed the wolf, slew the gargoyle, I hacked up the Baron, and then apologized profusely to my daughter at the end (although i didn’t know exactly why I was doing so.)

The next time through, I threw my daughter’s toy bear to the wolves. When the gargoyle told me I had been here before, i tried to remember it. And I engaged the Baron in conversation. When I got back to the house, I looked in the mirror, and the Baron stared back at me…that’s when I realized what was going on.

From here, I decided to explore every nook and cranny of the game. I realized that the man was somehow molesting or abusing his daughter, and suddenly, he didn’t seem too likable. I found a hidden trap door with a doll family inside…I rescued the father and daughter from their traps, but was unable to free the mother…perhaps some foreshadowing of events to come? (I probably just didn’t look hard enough for the key to her cage.)

Each time, I tried something new…and each time, when I looked in the mirror, the Baron stared back at me. It was inescapable.

I killed my daughter, I killed myself, I forced myself upon her, I fled the town, I allowed myself to be executed, I apologized.

This is where my problem with the game comes in. In the early stages, when conversing with the Gargoyle and the Baron, your choices give you real, solid feedback. In the end though, when you choose how to end the saga, you don’t get any explanation, just a “game over” message. While this allows you to make up your own ending in your mind, I would’ve liked to have read an “end cutscene” that would reveal the results of my final decision. However, this may have been intentional, as each time you replay the game, it is like the man reliving the night over and over again…meaning he has slipped back into his sin. Only when you stop playing do you release him from his misery.

Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed the Baron immensely and would highly recommend anyone to play it.

So, how did everyone else play the game? Did you enjoy the ending sequence? What did you think of the man when you found out what he really was?

The twist made sense on my first playthrough. I don’t think I completed a second playthrough – I just revisited earlier parts to try different decisions. It definitely seems like you figured out more to do than I did. I found the doll versions at the Baron’s castle, but I don’t remember if I was able to rescue any of them (I should have re-played specifically to prepare for this discussion). I think I’ll have more to say when I look over my original transcripts, this weekend (again, something I should have already done… heh).

What’s interesting is that the first time through, I played in a certain way. I was cautious. I answered questions in a certain way, wondering why the other choices were even given. It didn’t occur to me that these other choices would be more applicable on a future play-through. This actually worked pretty well.

I missed most of what the game was about on my first play through. I killed the wolf, killed the baron and then killed my daughter (yes, I’m a bloodthirsty SOB at times :slight_smile: ), but at the same time I realised there was something else going on than was immediately apparent. It wasn’t till my second play through that I discovered the truth about the hero of the piece, who is anything but a hero considering what is later revealed about him, and after that my opinion of him dropped quite a bit and I wondered if maybe I’d missed something and that my character had turned out to be such a despicable fellow because of the way I’d played the game. Subsequent plays through set my mind at ease in one respect - the character is a despicable piece of work no matter what action you take… but there I think was one of the game’s failings. I don’t want to play a game where the main character ultimately turns out to be abusing his daughter; I want to be able to make decisions throughout the game that change his motivation and turn him into the hero I had originally perceived him to be.

What strikes me as interesting (and something I probably couldn’t pull off myself) is that the tone remains neutral. Even at the end, it’s all for the player to decide. There doesn’t seem to be a moral or a “this is right and that is wrong” kind of thing going on. If anything, I think it tries to explore how this situation would affect the PC himself, mentally and emotionally. Given the subject matter, I tend to not care how it affects the PC, but I think that was the point of it.

Arguably, you can make that decision at the end of the game, when you destroy yourself, flee town, or force yourself to stop the cycle and get your daughter to forgive you.

The point of view is definitely neutral, which tends to let you make your own decisions. I liked that, as I didn’t feel as if I was being led in any particular way.

I agree that the subject matter is a bit coarse for most, but really, if it handled a subject that was less taboo, could it have been just as effective and powerful a story? I think not.

Thoughts on The Baron

Although the player gets to help write the story (eg. in choosing future events at the end), I still developed a picture of the kind of man the PC is in this story … maybe because when a list of alternative answers was presented, it seemed as though all of them passed through his mind as real options (and he wasn’t just thinking of the answer I entered). So here is my view of the PC in this story.

The protagonist has a mess of conflicting images of himself, which makes sense for someone who is molesting their child. He is in deep denial of his guilt, but at one level he is aware of the kind of person he is and is in deep distress.

  1. The struggling human
  2. The victim
  3. The virtuous hero
  4. The guilty one

1) The struggling human

The picture is a mixture of hopelessness - “I cannot change” - and a struggle against it - “I hope that one day I will find the strength to act.”

Quotes from the conversation with the gargoyle:

“Again you come here, to fail once more. Do you still believe that it will once end differently?”
(4) “No, I cannot change. I have tried, as you well know. But the circle of fate is too strong: I am doomed to walk for eternity, and with each circuit I paint my soul a blacker shade.”

“But is it true that there is always another chance? How do you know that you haven’t been condemned to the eternal recurrence of suffering, like me?”
(1) “I know nothing, but I keep on hoping. Only when I have lost all hope will I have become a true prisoner of my deeds.”

“Then keep on to your hope. But remember that hope alone is not enough. At the hardest moment, you will also have to act.”
(2) “That is the problem–at the crucial moment I am not strong enough to act. But I hope that one day I will be able to find the strength to act.”

After the gargoyle describes his own actions:

(2) “Horrible! How can you do something like that?”
"Truly, it is terrible, and I have no excuse. All I can say is that I am too weak to resist my lust.

(This is not just the gargoyle’s opinion of himself - it is the PC’s).

Mistaking “lust” for “life”

The gargoyle expresses the protagonist’s own experience in a metaphor about “coming alive.” There is a deep confusion in the PC’s mind between “life” - freedom, casting off restraints, enjoying the pleasures life offers - and “lust”, which promises the same thing, but has different results (as seen in the story).

"I am made of cold hard stone, and I should be passive, immobile and without feeling …
I love life too much to remain as rigid as a statue … each night I have to make the choice between suppressing the life in me and remaining a statue, or spreading my wings and flying away …

"First I simply enjoy the wind past my wings, the rain on my face, the ability to think and experience, the opportunity of moving my muscles. In ecstasy I fly above the world. The forests go by below me, and in the distance I see hills and mountains. It is delightful!

"But soon I remember what I have to do …

“And as I do my deed a deep, deep hatred rises inside me, hatred for who I am and what I do. All my own joy withers and dies, and what remains is pure loathing for the monster that I am. I decide never to do it again, to resist the impulse the next night and remain a statue.”

The PC believes he only has the choice of either “remaining a statue” or “embracing life” (lust) - which doesn’t result in a lasting pleasure at all, but instead drains all of his own joy away (not to mention the self loathing and guilt).

Faced with only these two options, he justifies his actions …

2) The victim

Part of the protagonist tells himself that he is not to blame for his actions against his daughter, any more than a wild animal could be condemned for eating its prey - he was “made that way”, so it can’t be his fault.

(Gargoyle) “But even if I can change, can my deeds ever been forgiven?”
(5) “There is nothing to be forgiven, because there is no such thing as guilt. You have done what you had to do, to only thing you could do. It makes no sense to reproach yourself for that.”

(As the Baron) “Do you know that I, you, we both are quite guiltless, and should not be condemned for what we have done and what we will do?”

3) The virtuous hero

The part of the protagonist in the deepest denial is the “hero” who fights to save his daughter from the evil baron. This image of himself also includes a sense of invincibility, a mighty warrior who can sweep aside his enemy (the dragon / lust, or the baron / his own darkness) with ease.

x me
You look heroic in your heavy suit of armour; furthermore, you are strong, quick and fearless. If anyone can defeat the dragon, it is you.

x mirror
You gaze at yourself from the mirror, heroism shining in your eyes … A grim smile plays around the corners of your mouth when you think of the fear the baron will feel when you enter his castle to pound him into pulp with your strong fists.

This persona is faultless in his bravery and virtue - a fantasy constructed to compensate for the self-loathing that threatens to undo him:

attack dragon [second time]
… even if you have to pay for it with your own life, the monster must die.

There is also a measure of self-righteousness:

… Slowly you become angry at all your neighbours and fellow villagers. Where are they when you need them? Why is there not a single one among them with the guts to free Maartje? A lack of love–that is what enables people to ignore the problems of others. Everybody knows what has happened–but nobody does anything, because nobody feels responsible.

Self-righteousness is a tool for deflecting guilt; condemning others for what you are aware of and hate in yourself. He is angry that none of his neighbours have helped his daughter, but is the very one who is doing the evil act.

4) The guilty one

x mirror
The face of the baron stares at you from the mirror.

This is the most realistic part of the protagonist - he admits that he is “the baron”:

Against his will, apparently, the baron rises from his throne and starts walking towards you. You open your arms to embrace ho,; he does the same, even though his face is a mask of pure terror. When the two of you fall into each others arms, you feel how his body, his spirit, his essence merges with yours…after a few moments you are alone in the room. The baron has returned to where he came from: your soul.

The pain of this reality is ever-present, but the protagonist is not always in touch with it:

[After killing the wolf]
(4) Howl a lament for his lost mother.
You lift your head and howl and howl, and it sounds exactly like the lament of a wolf. You never knew that so much pain and sorrow were hidden in your heart

But he sees the abuse of his daughter for what it is after each time:

(Gargoyle): “And as I do my deed a deep, deep hatred rises inside me, hatred for who I am and what I do. All my own joy withers and dies, and what remains is pure loathing for the monster that I am.”

Choices

From this place of realisation, he has several choices:

(a) Retreat into fantasy - “the virtuous hero” above
(b) Deny all guilt - “the victim”
© Keep on trying to change - “the struggling human”

A few other options are also presented:

b Stop by strength of will alone[/b]

Why do you walk to the landing?
(1) I have succeeded at restraining myself. I have conquered my lust.

Has the circle of lust been broken forever?
(1) Yes. This was the last night I had to undertake this journey.

I have a problem with this option … it doesn’t seem to fit the struggle in the rest of the story. There are issues that the PC has to deal with that won’t just go away because he has decided he has “conquered his lust”.

Maybe it would have been best for the future part (“this was the last time”) to be left out ?

b Punish (or sacrifice) himself through suicide[/b]

If the PC kills himself, the question is asked:

Was this the easy way out?
(1) Yes. I could not continue living with this guilt.
(2) No. It was the hardest sacrifice I ever made.

b Find forgiveness[/b]

“But even if I can change, can my deeds ever been forgiven?”
(4) “Yes. I understand you. I know you have tried to fight against it. I forgive you all your crimes.”
The stone man walks towards you and, to your astonishment, embraces you. “Friend,” he sobs, “you do not know how much this means to me.”

This is a deep desire of the PC’s heart - he hopes against hope that he can be forgiven for what he has done. (Pity there was no option saying “God will freely forgive you”).

He has the tiniest hope that his daughter might also forgive him:

Will Maartje ever be able to forgive you for what you have done?
(2) Yes … perhaps there will be a day when she will understand me, just a little, and when she will feel just a very tiny amount of pity–or perhaps, even of love.

Afterthoughts

In some ways it is hard to identify with the protagonist in this story, but there are also lots of themes that are “common to man” (and woman). I think overall it was very well done, and it was a good choice to let the player choose how the PC reacted rather than just saying which response was the right one.

Great analysis!

Thanks !

Coming soon … psychological profiles of the thief in Zork, the vase in Constraints and the chicken in The Chicken Under The Window.

:wink:

Obviously I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really care for this game at all. Not because of the subject matter, but because, well, once you get past the shock factor (and I figured out what was going on by the end of the first playthrough, so it didn’t take long) it was boring.

Not that it’s a bad game, but after seeing that it won the Spring Thing and hearing so much praise for it I expected a lot more.

I dutifully played through a few more times, explored the other buildings, tried doing different things and choosing different overwrought dialogue options to see what would change and tried to get the best and worst possible endings, but eventually lost interest. I remember thinking that it really hurt the game that there was no ending…nothing I did seemed to matter.

Exactly. Out of the whole game, I probably found the section with the gargoyle the most compelling, since at least there I could make a difference and see the results.

DFisher, that is a singularly perceptive anatomy of the game! About option (d), which you regard as less satisfactory: I agree that it is hard to believe that this could be the end of the story, and it may therefore appear to be a too easy way out. But consider: the judgement that overcoming oneself by an act of will alone is possible and in this case happened, can be made by either the protagonist or the player. If by the protagonist, there is no reason to believe that he hasn’t experienced this countless times before; that it is merely a part of his overconfident heroic fantasy. If by the player, well - is it not the player who has fallen in this same psychological trap?

The last question is not rhetorical. I have no wish to look down on a player who makes a certain decision, or laugh at him from behind the scenes and exclaim “you walked into the trap I so cunningly set up for you!” If the player decides, in all honesty and after careful thought, that (d) makes for a convincing ending of the story, then he may have an insight I lack. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is great.

By the way - people, someone should have emailed me about this thread! I’m sure the authors of “games of the month” would love to know about the discussions. :slight_smile: Might be a good idea for the next installments.

Hmmm… that might have been a good idea actually.

Unfortunately, I think the game of the month idea has died out. I started playing All Hope Abandon but didn’t finish it, and now the IFComp is upon us I probably won’t get chance to have a play in the next month or so.

Playing IFComp games is going to be a big distraction for all of us (I would think) these next six weeks. After that, I’d probably be up for participating again, even though I came in kind of weak for the first discussion.

It might be better to just play a game, post lengthy thoughts, and let others join in if they like. If we had a lot more members, the Game-of-the-Month would probably sustain itself. A chunk of non-participation wouldn’t be noticed, the way it is with only a few of us.

I’ll probably do that then.

Actually, thinking about it, I’m probably going to be through the IFComp games quicker than I originally thought. I’m halfway through playing them now and the state of some of the games has got me reluctant to play them all.

ACK! I always start out assuming every game will be wonderful, so please say no more!! :slight_smile:

I’m like a little kid at Christmas right before the IFComp kicks off.

Then it kicks off.

And afterwards I’m wondering why my parents bought me such crappy gifts. :confused:

Thanks ! It’s nice to hear that from the author …

Fair enough. The player can decide if they believe option (d) is truly possible.

A question … the help text says:

I was wondering if there is an updated version of the game that includes this (or if you wanted to discuss it here) ?

You make me blush with shame. I really have to finish that updated version. There is, however, no reason for me not to post the design philosophy here first, so I’ll do that. I’ll have to write it first, but I should be able to do that soon.

What strikes me as especially interesting is this:

Did other people have this as well? Because if this is general phenomenon, there is a vast difference between conversation menus like I used in this game and the more traditional (in IF at least) “ask X about P” syntax. It is not merely the case that the former restricts the choices that the player can make (or rather, restricts the choices he can attempt to make); in addition, conversation menus are a powerful tool for constructing a player-independent psychological portrait of the protagonist. “Ask X about P” syntax ensures that the thoughts that go through the character’s mind are a subset of the thoughts that go through the player’s mind, whereas conversation menus allow the author to depict internal struggles and deliberations of the character.

I can imagine a conversation menu like this:

  1. Let’s kill the wolf!
  2. Wait, no, cruelty to others is a bad thing.
  3. On the other hand, these wolves are dangerous creatures. I might save someone’s life by killing a wolf now.
  4. But I can’t know for sure. Pre-emptive killing is surely wrong.
  5. Oh, to hell with morality, killing this half-starved wolf will be fun! And I can show off to Jude by presenting her the skin.

Where the player chooses at which point of the possible mental process the character will stop. This technique has potential.

Of course, the above only points to a difference between two ways of organising conversations, not to an intrinsic superiority of one over the other.

When I was playing The Baron, the thoughts expressed by the different menu options seemed more “parallel” than sequential - a struggle between the different alternatives.

If I came across the above menu options in a game, they wouldn’t quite feel right to me … maybe if there were no direct references to the other alternatives it would feel more natural.

[Edit: on reflection, maybe it would work OK - but it would make the PC seem very indecisive].