Halloween Trivia Blast!

First, a quick note: The Novelist is currently on sale for $4.49 on Steam right now as part of the Halloween Sale. So tell your friends, and be sure to check out all of the other cool games that are on sale right now.

But the real reason for this long-delayed post is to share some Novelist trivia to commemorate the Halloween season. Although The Novelist isn’t a horror game, it’s littered with references to horror movies. I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a kid, and Halloween is still one of my favorite movies ever. So when it came time to make up names for characters and places in the game, I decided to have a little fun and use people and locations from late 70s/early 80s slasher movies.

That’s not to say that every proper noun in the game is a horror reference; I also tipped my hat to various friends and family, but I removed those references from this write-up because, well, this post is about Halloween and horror movies, not my friends’ nicknames. Plus they were all thanked profusely in the credits.

Anyway, below is what I believe to be a comprehensive list of horror movie reference in The Novelist. There are some spoilers, of course, so proceed with caution. Enjoy!


451 Torrington Road

The location of the Kaplans’ summer house is a double reference. 451 is a nod to the legacy of 0451 in immersive sims, and portions of the fantastic slow-burn horror movie The House of the Devil were filmed in Torrington, CT.

Alice
Alice, a character in Dan’s novel, is named after the star of the original Friday the 13th, which isn’t a great movie but does hold the distinction of truly kicking off the early-80s slasher craze. Ki-ki-ki-ki … ma-ma-ma-ma- …

Barb
Linda’s best friend Barb is a reference to the character of the same name in the should-be-better-known Canadian slasher flick Black Christmas, which predated Halloween by a good four years and has some truly unsettling elements, including an ending that will stay with you.

Ben and Laurie
Ben and Laurie are a couple mentioned in Claire Bradford’s diary. In Halloween, the main character Laurie Strode has a crush on a boy named Ben Tramer … who dies a fiery death in Halloween 2 (violent content warning).

Blairstown
The small-town portions of Friday the 13th were filmed in Blairstown, NJ, and Blair is also one of the best characters in the sci-fi horror classic The Thing. The university that offers Dan a job in The Road Ahead is located in Blairstown.

Brackett Books
The bookstore where Dan’s agent wants him to do a reading from his new book is named after Sheriff Leigh Brackett from Halloween.

Camp Emerald Lake
I would call this a thinly veiled reference to Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th, except all I did was swap out “Crystal” with another type of gem. What is that called? A completely unveiled reference? Anyway, this is the camp that Tommy has a chance to go to in The Inheritance. If he does get to go to camp, let’s hope he stays out of canoes (scary/violent content warning).

Claire Bradford
I once wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month. It had a lot of horror elements, one of which was the quality of the writing. Claire was one of the two main characters, and I always liked that name.

Dr. Samuel Donaldson
Dr. Samuel Loomis from Halloween is one of the all-time great horror characters. The name of Tommy’s doctor in The Novelist is a combination of Loomis’s name and the name of the actor who played him, the inimitable Donald Pleasence. Not “Pleasance,” by the way, as it was spelled in the credits of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later … which was doubly bad because the movie was dedicated to his memory.

Fairview
This is the name of one of the streets in the town near the Kaplans’ summer home, and Laurie Strode’s house in Halloween was located on the real life Fairview Ave in South Pasadena, CA. Yes, southern California in spring doubled as central Illinois in fall for the shooting of Halloween. You’d never guess, if it wasn’t for the green trees in full bloom and the palm trees in the background of some of the shots.

Grovefield Publishing
In Halloween, Michael Myers escaped from the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and drove to Haddonfield to stalk Laurie Strode and her friends. Smith’s Grove + Haddon Field = Dan’s publisher.

Pete Fuller
Hanniger Rentals
Sydney Bluffs, OR
This is who the Kaplans rented the house from, as conveyed in the first letter in the game, and it’s packed with references. Peter was the main character’s boyfriend in Black Christmas, and Lt. Fuller (played by genre legend John Saxon) was the police officer investigating the strange occurrences at the house. Peter + Lt. Fuller = Pete Fuller.

In the little-known but quite good — by slasher standards, anyway — movie My Bloody Valentine, the Hanniger family is quite prominent in the town of Valentine Bluffs and owns the mine that’s central to the movie’s plot. The movie was filmed in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia. Hence, Hanniger Rentals in Sydney Mines + Valentine Bluffs.

Hardesty University
Dan gets a job offer from Hardesty University, which is named after Sally and Franklin Hardesty in the absolutely classic film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (never let me catch you writing “Chainsaw” as one word in the title, even if the movie poster spells it that way; the official title uses “Chain Saw”.).

Harold Baxter
Harold Baxter is the man who investigates the house in the first set of diaries found in the nighttime chapters of The Novelist. He gets his name from Harold, a (poorly written, poorly acted) character who is dispatched early in the not-much-to-recommend-it-other-than-the-3D-gimmick sequel Friday the 13th Part 3D. Dick Baxter is a character who has a crush on Laurie Strode in the infinitely-better Halloween.

K—- Williams
The character who writes the final historical diary entries in The Novelist was named after Janet Leigh’s character in The Fog, which is, as director John Carpenter put it, “a minor horror classic.” I can’t argue with that (I’m a huge early Carpenter fan), especially since Carpenter’s use of his friends’ names in his movies was an inspiration for my own friends being included in The Novelist.

And although this particular reference is to a female character, I used the K—- and J—- convention to deliberately obscure the genders of the writer and their deceased partner. So don’t read any clues into this choice; I just felt that Janet Leigh, the original scream queen, needed a nod.

Linda
Linda is named after Lynda in Halloween, but since “Lynda” is such a distinct spelling I went with the more common version to avoid making too obvious a reference. I think it was totally the right call.

Lonnie
Lonnie, from Tommy’s book Lonnie Learns Letters, was named after a kid in … you guessed it: Halloween. Lonnie bullied Tommy early in the movie (a theme found in The Novelist as well), but Dr. Loomis gave him his just desserts later that night.

Mears
Mears is Linda’s maiden name, and this is a reference to Ben Mears from Salem’s Lot (the book more than the movie, honestly).

Meridian Avenue
This is another road in town, found in the very first letter of the game. In Halloween, the Myers house was located on Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena, CA.

Mr. Lowery
In the first set of historical diaries in The Novelist, Harold Baxter comes to investigate the house on behalf of the bank he works for. He mentions owing a report to his boss, Mr. Lowery. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) worked for — and stole a $40,000 house payment from — her boss in the all-time classic film Psycho. Her boss was named Mr. Lowery. I like to think that he’s the same man Harold Baxter put one over on.

Original Prototype
In the very first prototype of The Novelist, before it was even called The Novelist or featured the Kaplan family, there were 6 couples in a mansion by the sea. Their names were:

Annie: One of Laurie’s friends in Halloween.
Bob: Lynda’s boyfriend in Halloween.
Lynda: See above.
Paul: See below.
Rebecca: One half of the tragic romance in System Shock 2.
Tommy: The other half of said romance (more references below).

Paul
Dan’s agent, Paul, is named after Annie’s boyfriend in Halloween. Paul is never seen on-screen, which is probably good for him considering what happened to Bob (violent content warning).

Professor Strode
Professor Strode is on the staff at Hardesty, and he offers to help Dan get up to speed if Dan accepts the job in The Road Ahead. By this point you should know where any “Strode” reference comes from. If not, shame on you.

Sarah
Sarah, another character in Dan’s novel, is named after a character in the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be sequel Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (probably my favorite movie in the series). Sarah gets the distinction of delivering one of the truly groan-worthy lines in the Friday franchise. It kills me that I can’t find a video of this.

Scott
Yet another character in Dan’s book. Scott is named after a creepy dirtbag in Friday the 13th Part 2. My earliest memory of a horror movie was walking into a room when I was around 7 years old and seeing Scott’s death scene, which was somehow on normal TV, completely unedited. I was too awestruck to notice that Jason was holding the machete backward in the close-up (violent content warning).

Thomas Castle
This is the head of the lit department at Hardesty. His name is a combination of genre legend Tom Atkins and Nick Castle, who played The Shape in Halloween and later went on to direct kids movies. Well-rounded fella, that Nick Castle.

TJ
Linda’s old friend is named after TJ Hanniger, son of … Mr. Hanniger … from My Bloody Valentine. Not even his incredibly strong turtleneck could help him win back his former love Sarah, though.

Tommy
Tommy was originally named after the character from System Shock 2 (see above), but once his character morphed into a young boy I decided that he would be named after Tommy Doyle (the kid from Halloween) and Tommy Jarvis (the kid from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, played by the unforgettable Corey Feldman). Between Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover’s electric dance moves, The Final Chapter was a real launching point for legitimate Hollywood careers.

Seriously
If you only click one link in this article, clink the Crispin Glover link above if you unwisely skimmed past it (incredible moment in American cinema warning).

Tramer’s Way
Dan’s second book shares the same namesake as Ben (see above). It’s also an oblique reference to Stephen King. Dan’s first book is called Wind Song, which is a nod to Ben Mears’s book Air Dance from Salem’s Lot. And Tramer’s Way gets its title from Machine’s Way, an unfinished Stephen King Richard Bachman novel that made its way into his book The Dark Half as a novel by its protagonist.


Phew, I think that’s all of them! There were really quite a few more than I realized at first.

If you’re interested in reading some really entertaining reviews of the classic horror franchises, I recommend checking out the Summer of Blood series over at Antagony and Ecstacy. I’ve found that the author, Tim Brayton, strikes just the right balance between acknowledging and rightly criticizing the poor quality of most old horror movies while maintaining the ability to enjoy them as guilty pleasures.

Anyway, thanks for reading. It was really fun going back through this list of references and sharing a little trivia, and I hope you enjoyed getting a peek behind the curtain. Or, perhaps, behind the mask.

Happy Halloween!

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.