New Update + 50% Off Sale + GDC Slides

Hey, everyone, I just wanted to let you know that The Novelist is 50% as part of Steam’s Weeklong Deals! It’s also available at the same 50% discount here on the site and on the Humble Store, and those purchases come with a Steam key as well.

It’s on sale to coincide with a small but significant update to the game. In working on my GDC talk this year, I began to fully understand the scope of an issue with the game’s relationship tracking that could lead to players getting endings that were a little worse than I’d originally intended. In short, if you made decisions that favored one character too many times in a row, you could hit a scenario that would cause that character to not get the full benefit of your decisions.

Over the course of the game that could limit your chances to help other characters, and could ultimately lead to an ending that was a little more of a downer for one of the characters than players may have intended. To be clear, this was an edge case: I don’t have data on how many players actually hit it, but it wasn’t a particularly likely scenario and it didn’t have a huge impact on the endings, but it could have made the difference between a happy or sad ending for a character in certain cases.

That issue is now fixed.

If you want to know more about this issue, or if you want to get an in-depth look at how your decisions affect the characters in the game, you can see all of the details in the PDF version of my GDC talk. It has a bunch of graphs and charts in it but it isn’t particularly complex, so you don’t need to be a game designer to understand how the system works. And if you’re not worried about seeing how the sausage is made, it may be an interesting read in terms of finding out how the game works under the hood. Heck, it might even entice you to do another playthrough and see if you can send the Kaplans off into the sunset full of smiles and happiness.

And there’s one other nice feature in the update: a significantly reduced memory footprint and better load times. I added a huge amount of VO to the game very late in the development process, and I didn’t have time to optimize it as well as I would have liked. So the game took up more memory than it really should have, which of course also meant that load times were longer than they had to be. In this update I’ve optimized a lot of VO logic to make the game much more efficient, which has the added benefit of reducing load times.

So that’s the state of the state. The game will be on sale all week, so make sure to take advantage if you haven’t picked it up yet, and spread the word if you have. Thanks, as always, to everyone for the support and kind words over the course of the project. I’m still toying with the idea of putting the game on other platforms, but I’m also beginning to work on ideas for an entirely new game, so it’s an exciting time!

Valentine’s Day Sale! Linux! Customizable Controls! Other News!

Hey everyone, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted but today’s a big day for The Novelist!

First off, the game is currently on sale for 40% off to celebrate Valentine’s Day. You can buy it right on the front page of the site, at the Humble Store, or as part of the Valentine’s Day Sale over on Steam. The sale will run from today, February 14th, at 10am PST until Sunday February 16th at 10am PST, so take advantage of the discount this weekend and tell your friends to do the same!

But the sale isn’t the only news; today there’s also a big update to the game that adds two features players have been asking for: customizable controls and a Linux version. There are also a number of bug fixes in the build. Here are the full patch notes:

Major Changes

  • Added Linux support
  • Added customizable controls
  • Upgraded to Unity 4.3, which brings performance and memory improvements

Minor Changes

  • Improved rendering of thoughts above character heads to reduce popping
  • Added animation to the loading screen
  • Disabled the ability to flicker lights during sleeping sequences
  • Improved audio handling of character interactions
  • Fixed a bug where menu option descriptions would incorrectly show
  • Fixed a bug where resolutions below 800×600 could be selected
  • Fixed a bug where “The Story So Far” text would be misaligned on Retina displays
  • Fixed a rare bug where players would not be able to view objectives if they quit during a specific point in the intro
  • Fixed a bug where some UI elements would scale incorrectly in high resolutions
  • Fixed a typo in the objective screen
  • Fixed a black outline on the loading screen in some resolutions
  • Fixed a bad lighting seam in the art studio
  • Fixed a typo in a playtester’s name (sorry, Aaron!)

The patch brings the game to version 1.1. The new build will download automatically on Steam, and if you bought the game through the website or the Humble store you can visit your Humble account to download the latest version. You can also follow the link you got in your original purchase email. It was fun bringing the game up to this latest release, and I’m very happy with the polish and performance it adds.

And there are a few other bits of Novelist news. First, I’ll have the game at the SXSW Gaming Expo, where it’s been nominated for the Gamer’s Voice Award. The show runs from March 7th to 9th, so if you’re in Austin stop by the expo floor and say hi. It’s free!

And lastly, I’ll be talking about the dynamic narrative systems in The Novelist at GDC. If you’re attending the show and you want to know how the underlying story systems in the game work, I’ll be explaining them in detail. It’s going to be a busy month and a half, so I’m looking forward to some downtime once GDC wraps up.

That’s all I’ve got for now. As for what’s next, I’m toying with a few ideas. New platforms for The Novelist? Novelist-related apps? Kicking off a new game altogether? I’m not quite sure yet, but it’s an exciting time. Thanks, as always, to everyone who’s supported the game or shared a kind word. I hope you enjoy the new update!

DICE Nomination!

Whoa! The Novelist was nominated for the Outstanding Achievement in Story award at the 17th annual DICE Awards! It’s going up against 4 big-budget AAA games:

  • Beyond: Two Souls
  • BioShock Infinite
  • The Last of Us
  • Tomb Raider

Needless to say, I’m truly honored that my game is being considered alongside such successful mainstream titles. It’s crazy to think that this weird little thing I made in my apartment will be on the big screen at an awards show.

What’s more encouraging, though, is seeing such strong representation from indie games at this year’s show (you can see the full list of nominees here). Going back just a few years the awards were dominated by mainstream AAA games, with nary an indie title in sight. It’s fantastic to see that the crazy amount of quality and innovation in the indie space is being recognized by larger organizations (the Downloadable Game of the Year and Outstanding Gaming Innovation categories are a murderer’s row of incredible ideas and execution).

Again, I’m honored that The Novelist is part of the discussion.

As for what’s next, I’ve made great progress on updating the game to Unity 4.3. I’ve fixed all the stuff that broke during the upgrade, and next week I’ll dive into adding customizable controls and pushing out some text builds on Linux. As always, stay tuned, and thanks once more to everyone who’s supported the game!

1.01 Patch + 2014 Plans

Hello, and Happy New Year!

I just published the first patch for The Novelist. It should download automatically on Steam, and you can log into your Humble account to download the latest version there. This is a good time to remind you that every purchase on Humble, be it through the Humble Store or the front page of this website, comes with a key that lets you add the game to your Steam library. Signing up for Steam is free, and adding your Humble games to your Steam library is a great way to make sure they stay up to date without you needing to download updates manually.

As for the patch, it fixes a handful of bugs:

  • Fixed an instance where quitting the game during the final nighttime sequence would cause the game to hang on a white screen at startup.
  • Fixed Linda using a minor voice line in a specific chapter that should have been used in a different chapter (chapter names intentionally obscured to avoid spoilers).
  • Fixed Dan and Linda’s hand-held letters flashing like readable clues.
  • Fixed an instance where “The Story So Far …” would be blank during the final nighttime chapter of the game.
  • Fixed “The Story So Far …” using “VII” instead of “VIII”.

At this time, there are no other known bugs in The Novelist, though if you do find a bug just head to the Support page and I’ll work on fixing it as soon as I can.

As for what’s next, I’m still working on the first major feature update to The Novelist. I hope to add customizable controls to the game, and will definitely be adding Linux support. I’m also going to investigate adding subtitles, although that may need to wait for a future update. I don’t have an ETA for the feature update, since some of the changes from Unity 3.5 to Unity 4.3 are significant and will require reworking some core parts of the game. I’ll get it out as soon as I can, though.

I’ll also be posting a Linux progress report fairly soon, as I’ll need to recruit people for Linux beta testing before pushing the update live. I don’t know what the sign-up process will be just yet, but stay tuned.

Anyway, that’s the state of things as we kick off 2014! Thanks to each and every one of you who bought the game, told a friend about it, or sent me an email about your experiences with it. It’s been quite a ride so far, and after getting in some long-overdue relaxation over the holidays I’m excited about seeing where the game will go in 2014!

Week One Is in the Books!

Hello!

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but a lot has happened since then … for example, like the game being released! You can find it on Steam, on the front page of the site, or on the Humble Store. I’ve put a bunch of quotes and links to reviews on the front page, and you can find more reviews and thoughts on the game on the press page.

It’s been amazing to see how people have been connecting with the game, and the personal emails I’ve gotten from players have been really touching. I never set out to make a game for everyone, but my hope was that the themes and decisions in The Novelist would speak to a group of gamers looking for something different, and I couldn’t be happier about the personal experiences people have been sharing on Twitter, in email, and in reviews.

So what’s next? Right now I’m still spending a lot of time with PR stuff, fielding requests for review copies, answering interviews, and trying to keep the site up to date with the latest coverage.

I’ve also started the process of updating the game to the latest version of Unity, which will allow me to release a Linux version and add support for customizable controls. There have been some pretty big changes to Unity between 3.5 and 4.3, so the upgrade process will take a lot of hand-holding before things stabilize, but I’m sure I’ll get there soon enough. Along with a few minor bug fixes, that’s what’ll be included in the first update to the game, which I hope will be out early next year.

Anyway, that’s about all for right now. Thanks so much to everyone who has bought the game or has shared their thoughts about it. Please continue to spread the word and let your friends and family know about the game.

Thanks, everyone!

The Wait Is Almost Over!

I’m very excited to announce that The Novelist will be released one week from today, on December 10th!

The game will be available on Steam and via this website. The Novelist will be $19.99, with a launch discount price of $14.99. In addition, preorders through the website will receive the soundtrack as a free bonus upon the game’s release. The soundtrack will be available for sale once the game is live.

All purchases through the site will receive a key to unlock the game on Steam, and the game will be DRM-free.

It’s been an amazing journey. The ups and downs have been huge, and it’s hard for me to believe the game is actually going to be out in the world soon. I truly hope you all enjoy it, and thanks again for all of your patience and support.

-Kent

Soon …

Hey, everyone, Kent here checking in with a quick Novelist update. There’s a lot to say, but I don’t think it’s quite time to say it; there are shiny new consoles out, Thanksgiving week is here … I think I’ll let the smoke clear just a little bit, but …

… soon.

Very soon.

Stay on Target …

Hello! I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, but I wanted to give everyone a quick update on the game. In short, things are going very well and you won’t have to wait much longer to play The Novelist.

But before getting into the state of the project, I should mention that I’ll be showing the game this Wednesday at the Good Game Club event. It’s being put on by the same folks who ran Indie Press Day back in May, and this time it’s open to the general public as well, so stop by if you’re in the area!

Now, back to the game. I recently sent out a content-complete beta build to my friends and family playtest group. About 25 new people were added to the group in this round of testing, so for the first time in a while I’m getting fresh impressions from new players, which has been really exciting and valuable. The response from players has been really positive; it’s a night and day difference from the alpha build back in August, and I’m glad I made the tough decision to delay the game.

The game is in the home stretch. I’ve picked a release date, and I just sanity-checked the schedule with my wife; she runs operations at a tech company and was a game producer before that, so she knows her stuff when it comes to schedules. I have a list of tasks I must complete to finish the game, I have a release candidate build schedule, I have a press plan, and I’m working on finishing touches like putting together the preorder bonus soundtrack, setting up my Steam store page, and so on.

Now, I’m not ready to announce the release date quite yet. After missing the original summer window I want to be 100% sure that I’m going to make my date before I announce it. I need to get more people banging on the game and finding bugs, but barring unforeseen disasters I feel really good about getting the game done on time.

So that’s the state of the state. I’m diving into the hardcore final push, where I plow through my task list as fast as I can, respond to any bugs that testers find, and get this thing DONE! Thanks, as always, to everyone who’s sent a kind word or expressed support. I’m excited that the finish line is in sight. Stay tuned for more updates in the next few weeks!

Progress Report

Hey everyone, I wanted to check in and give a quick progress update on the game. In short, things are coming along very well!

I went to LA last weekend and spent both days recording VO for the two adult characters, Dan and Linda. I’m happy with the results, and I spent this week editing it all and adding it to the game. It was a huge amount of voice to process (14 hours of sessions that ended up as over 800 individual files), but I think it makes a huge difference in the game.

To that end, I just fired off a new playtest build so that friends and family can check out the new voice work and give their thoughts. If all goes well, the only things left to do on the game will be recording new VO for Tommy and re-implementing the old introduction chapter to match the new gameplay loop.

The game is (gasp!) getting pretty close to done! I’m still not ready to pick an exact date yet, because of course unexpected things can happen. The playtesters will find new bugs, they’ll probably have great suggestions about how to further polish the game, and there are still some bugs and small features I want to work on before picking a date. As discussed in previous blog posts, after missing my September 22nd deadline I want to be 100% sure I have a date I can hit before I announce anything, but I’m hoping that time will come very soon.

Anyway, that’s it for the moment. I’ll be taking some time off next week, as some family will be in town for a trip that was originally planned when I thought the game would be out in September … but honestly, I could use a break. “Burned out” doesn’t begin to describe me right now, so working half-days next week will probably be good for the game overall. It will give me some much-needed space from the game and recharge my batteries for the final hardcore push.

As always, thank you so much for your support. Your emails, tweets, and comments on the Steam page are a constant source of encouragement for me, and I truly do appreciate every single one.

Coming Up for Air

Hello, there! It’s been a while!

For the past few months I’ve done a blog post every Saturday, but the last two Saturdays have cruised right on by without an update. Why? Because I’ve been working around the clock trying to finish the game. The last few weekends I decided to just put my head down and keep working on the game instead of doing blog posts. I don’t even know what the blog posts would have said, other than, “Hey guys, I’m … uh … working on the videogame.”

But last night I wrapped up a brand new build and sent it out to the playtesting group, so I’m taking today off. In the past month I’ve had exactly one day off, for a family visit, so things like blog posts and email correspondence and press requests have fallen by the wayside. I look forward to taking a deep breath and catching up on all of that stuff soon.

So what’s the state of the game? If you remember from my prior blog post about the alpha build, I sent an alpha playtest out to friends and family in early August, and it wasn’t up to my quality standard. I got some great feedback from some very smart developers and built a one-chapter demo of an updated core loop w/ lots of new features. I iterated on that a few times, and once I was confident in that direction I started propagating those changes throughout the entire game.

That’s the build I sent out last night. The entire game has been updated with the new core loop, which includes new types of memories, more diverse writing, tons and tons and tons of low-level feature refinements, and updated artwork and animations from my friends at CGBot. The game is playable front to back with the new style, and almost all of the content is implemented. My friend Tynan Wales (mentioned here) was a huge part of getting this build done. He did all of the posed scenes and chapter wrap-up dioramas for the entire game, which make a massive difference. Thanks, man!

The next step is to record all-new VO for the game, which I’m doing this weekend in LA. That’s a really exciting prospect, as even the small amount of temporary VO I have in the game now adds a ton of flavor and depth to the characters. The Novelist is a text-heavy game, but hearing the characters provide voiceover for their writing really brings it all to life.

Other than some final animation polish, VO is the last big chunk of content that needs to go into the game, and that will happen very quickly; the pipeline and functionality are already in the game, so adding the VO is literally just copy/pasting new .wav files over the temp ones.

There are, of course, small bugs to squash and little polishy bits to do. And once the playtest data starts rolling in I’m sure there will be other things to fix or change. But the game is, in large part, done. I’m still not ready to announce a date, as I want to see more playtest feedback and get more opinions on the game before deciding exactly what I need to do to finish it, but I’m working as hard as I can to wrap it up soon.

I know the press coverage has gone dark for a while, which was a byproduct of focusing 100% on the game to the exclusion of everything else, but I’ve got plans for sharing much more information about the game soon. I’ll definitely posts some new screenshots, and I’ve also been thinking about doing a commentary video that shows off one chapter of the game so that you can get an idea of what it’s like to play moment to moment.

There probably won’t be a blog post this weekend, as I’ll be in the middle of a marathon VO recording session, but I’ll try to keep you guys up to date more frequently than I have lately. Thanks, as always, for your continued support.