Monthly Archives: June 2013

New Interviews + Dev Tool Info!

Hey everyone, here’s the weekly Friday Saturday update. I was traveling all day yesterday, so this one’s late again. I’m back to a normal schedule, though, so hopefully I can stay on track starting this week. First off, there are two new interviews to check out!

  • Analog Addiction: This one recaps my thoughts on the state of narrative in games, and I also chime in on the Xbox One’s lack of self-publishing options for independent developers.
  • nJoystic: This interview, written in prose form, talks about the background of the game and touches on how my own goals for the game are present in Dan’s character.
  • I also did a podcast with This Is My Joystick this week, and it should be up soon.

Now that the interview roundup is out of the way, I thought it would be fun to give a breakdown of the tools I’m using to build The Novelist. My programming skills are amateur at best, so as a solo designer it was critical that I find a way to build a game without having to write hardcore code. Here you’ll find a list of all the major tools I’m using to make the game. If you’re looking to get into games or want tips on great pieces of software, read on!

Game Tools

  • Unity Pro 3.5: Unity is the backbone of the game, and I absolutely love it. I spent my entire AAA career working in Unreal, so it was a bit of a change to move into Unity for my independent work but I’m happy I made the switch. Unity is an incredibly flexible engine: its component-based architecture means you can build your own custom objects and gameplay actors, and the fact that you can edit the game while it’s running is a huge deal. Being able to tweak things in realtime and figure out how to improve the game while you’re playing it is a massive boost to productivity and iteration times. The only reason I’m not using Unity 4 is that I bought a 3.5 Pro license before Unity 4 was announced, and I’d have to buy a brand new license to upgrade to Unity 4. I look forward to doing that post-ship, though, so that I can get a Linux version of the game out!
  • uScript: I’ve been making games professionally for 12 years, and uScript is the best design tool I’ve ever used in my life. It’s the reason The Novelist exists. It’s more than just a visual scripting language: it’s a robust tool that integrates perfectly with Unity to do much, much more than level-based scripting. Here are just a few of the reasons I love it:
    • It outputs C# code, so unlike realtime-interpreted scripting languages it actually performs very well at runtime.
    • It plays nicely with Unity’s component and prefab system, specifically since you can create scripts that run on an object itself. This means that instead of having to base everything on level-based scripting, you can have an object that runs its own behaviors. This is how I created the AI behaviors for the characters, and I also used it to create all of the various gameplay objects in the game: books, possessable light fixtures, interactive objects, and so on.
    • It has a powerful reflection system, which means that it can interface with other Unity plugins. There’s no extra support required to get it running with code from other programmers on your project or other plugins you’ve downloaded from the Asset Store.
    • Sorry if that got a little technical, but I tried to keep it as high level as possible. Suffice it to say that uScript is the reason my game exists. No one has written a single line of code for The Novelist; everything has been built in uScript.
    • It’s still in beta, so there are a few quirks left to be ironed out, but the developers are very active on the forums and they’re dedicated to making uScript as great as it can be for the launch.
  • CGBot: This isn’t a tool, but it’s the company that has created all of the artwork in the game. I have zero ability to create high quality art assets, but I knew what I wanted the game to look like. I described it as best I could to the guys at CGBot, and they were able to translate my non-artistic direction into the current look of the game. CGBot is run by my old friend Serg (we worked together at Ion Storm Austin and Midway Austin), and you should give them a look if you need any kind of art for your game!
  • NGUI: This is the plugin I’ve used to create all of the UI in the game. I’ve used it for everything from the main menu to the object interaction prompt to the letters and text you read in the house. I also use the NGUI: HUD Text plugin to create the thoughts that float above characters’ heads.
  • Highlighting System: This is the shader I use to draw outlines around selectable objects in the game. It’s a small thing, but it’s important!
  • Cheetah3D: I have no ability to create 3D models or animate them, which makes it all the more amazing that I can use Cheetah3D. I use Cheetah to pose the characters in The Novelist for things like memories and chapter recaps (like Dan at the end of the trailer), and Cheetah interfaces perfectly with Unity to make this process quick and easy.
  • ProBuilder: Although the artwork in The Novelist was all created by CGBot, I used ProBuilder to create the original version of the house. It’s important to be able to iterate quickly when creating a new space, and ProBuilder is a great tool for building 3D spaces easily.

Other Tools

  • Scrivener: If you do any creative writing and you don’t use Scrivener, you’re doing it wrong. Part word processor, part organizer, Scrivener lets you keep every piece of writing about your project in one place. You can make it as simple or complex as you want, and its organization tools make it easy to keep track of things and set up your project in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Evernote: This is where I keep track of anything that isn’t in-game writing. Evernote has come a long way since its rocky start, and I now rely on it for all sorts of things: contracts, random notes that I jot down during the day, bug lists, playtester feedback, you name it.
  • Dreamhost + WordPress: These are the two tools I use to run this website, and I couldn’t be happier with them. If you want a simple way to set up a website and have powerful, hassle-free hosting, I highly recommend signing up for a Dreamhost plan and using their one-click WordPress install.
  • Apogee MiC: This is the microphone I’m using for voice recordings, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s really compact and it has a pre-amp built in, so you just plug it into your USB port or iOS device and you’re set. No power cords, no extra gear, just a great mic that’s ready to go. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to record voice or music, check it out!
  • TwistedWave: This is a really powerful sound editor. I’ve used it for cleaning up voice recordings, applying filters to sound effects in the game, and even recording the soundtrack via Soundflower (described in the soundtrack preview post). I’ve also used it for personal music projects, and I highly recommend it. It’s a little more expensive than some programs, but it’s incredibly powerful and polished.
  • Google Apps: I love Dreamhost, but their webmail interface is … well, it leaves something to be desired. They make it easy to host your email with Google Apps, though, and for $5 a month you can have Google handle all of your mail. It works with your existing domain, so you can keep the same email address (as opposed to, and you get all the Gmail benefits plus an administrator dashboard. All in all it’s a great option for small companies that don’t want to run a full IT department or host their own servers for files and email.

Phew! I didn’t realize the list would be this long when I started it. I heartily recommend everything mentioned above, and I hope the information is useful to anyone trying to make their own game. If you are, I wish you luck!

In the Air / On the Road

I’m writing this on a plane as my wife and I fly back to North Carolina for a week to visit my family and see my brand new nephew for the first time. I’m also going to my niece’s second birthday party and seeing all of my family for the first time since the holidays, so it’s pretty exciting.

One of the benefits of being a solo indie developer is that as long as I have my laptop with me I can work from pretty much anywhere, so I’m going to try and stay productive next week. Last May I came to North Carolina and spent the week creating the algorithms that generate the procedural musical score for the game, so there’s a precedent for actually getting work done on vacation.

There aren’t any new interviews to share this week, although there are a few in the can waiting to be posted, including the first podcast interview I’ve done for the game! That one was a lot of fun, and I’ll post a link when it goes live (it even includes a sample of the game’s score).

This week I focused on writing. My goal is to have 9 chapters in the game, for a number of reasons:

  • Given what I know from playtesters about how long it takes to play a chapter, having 9 chapters should provide a really good game length: anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on how thorough you are about finding every last clue. Long enough to have a good experience, not long enough to feel tedious, and a good length for replayability.
  • Making 9 major choices (plus some number of smaller choices) will give players a chance to see the effects of their decisions, understand the dynamics, and have time to adjust in case they decide they want to play a different way.
  • I’m using the classic 3-act structure, and having 9 chapters provides a nice symmetry for dramatic spikes in chapters 3, 6, and 9.

Previous playtests have had 5 chapters (which the people who have done all three playtests are no doubt sick of at this point), so there are 4 new ones on the way. I got two of them done this week and started on the third, so my goal is to have all 4 new chapters finished, with a first pass of revisions and cleanups, by the end of next week.

So that’s what’s going on with development. The game is still climbing the Greenlight charts slowly but surely, which is great to see. I’m also in the process of signing up for the new Amazon Indie Game Store, which is really exciting; the more ways to get the game out there, the better!

Thanks again to everyone who has continued to support the game by sharing the news, retweeting @TheNovelistGame, preordering on the site, or sharing a kind word. It means a lot to me.

More Interviews and a Development Update!

Hey everyone, here’s the Friday Saturday update for this week. Sorry for being a day late, but yesterday was a bit rough on the development front; it was one of those “everything that could go wrong did go wrong days,” and the trend even extended to my lunch burrito. When you can’t even get a good burrito from your regular food truck, you know it’s gonna be a tough day.

But enough about that! First, as always, here are the best ways to stay up to date on the game:

RSS Feed
Press Page

With that out of the way, here are this week’s interviews. Things are slowing down on the publicity front as I get back into hardcore development, although I did get a few interviews done this week. I still plan to answer every request I’ve got, so look for more coverage to keep trickling in!

  • Polygon: Here’s an article/interview from Megan at Polygon, who played the game at Indie Press Day. This one gets into the central question of the game and touches on my own lack of an answer to it.
  • Greenlit Gaming: This one talks a lot about the decision mechanics of the game, and even goes into some of my favorite games from the past. I had fun doing this one!
  • Lastly, I’ll share one of life’s most important lessons with you all: never have a bullet list with only two bullets in it.

That’s it for interviews and publicity. I’m back to focusing on the game most of the time and trying to get it finished and out to you guys. Next week I’m going to write the last four chapters in the game, which is really exciting. I’ve got them outlined, which is actually probably the hardest part of putting a chapter together because there are so many narrative/gameplay criteria that have to be met. The challenge revolves around finding situations that:

  • … have no obvious right or wrong answer.
  • … have three equally sympathetic, mutually-exclusive character outcomes.
  • … are self-contained from a time and location perspective.
  • … can be mapped to ordinary household objects.
  • … don’t contradict any other chapters in the game.

When you try to meet all of those criteria it can be harder than you might think, and once the outlines are in place the actually writing of the content could almost be construed as the easy part (although writing doesn’t come naturally to me, so it’s kind of all the hard part).

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve got all the UI and menu stuff done, which is a big load off my mind, and now it’s really just about adding the last of the content and working on polish, polish, polish.

Thanks again to everyone who’s preordered the game, sent a supportive email, or voted on Greenlight. Please keep it up! Tell your friends, send them a link, RT posts from @TheNovelistGame, and help me spread the word. Indie games don’t have marketing budgets or PR departments, so grassroots support is the only tool we’ve got; thanks so much for helping me share The Novelist with the world!

Until next week …

More Interviews, Greenlight, and UI Work

Hey everyone, Kent here with the Friday update. As always, here’s a list of ways to keep up to date with all things Novelist-related:

RSS Feed
Press Page

I’ve changed the press page link (both here and on the main site) to go to the article list, so now if you click on Press at the top of the screen you’ll be taken straight to a list of the most recent articles on the game (you no longer have to scroll through all the press copy and screenshots/videos).

To kick things off, how about another round of interviews? There were some really in-depth ones this week, so if you’re still interested in learning more about the game there’s a lot to dig into:

  • GameSpot: This one was really fun. I met Carolyn at Indie Press Day, and she put together a fantastic set of questions. Read this one for info on the relationship-based dynamic narrative of The Novelist, among other things.
  • Joystiq – The Novelist was featured in Joystiq’s ongoing Indie Pitch series! After reading so many of these it was pretty surreal to see The Novelist on Joystiq’s front page. The highlight of this one, for me anyway, was weighing in on the “AAA vs. Indies” conversation and the indie movement as a whole.
  • This one just went up today, and it’s one of my favorites. It talks about the game, of course, but it really digs into the personal angle of making an indie game. Work/life balance, anxiety, stress, personal investment, and beliefs are all discussed, and it also has an explanation of why I didn’t look to Kickstarter for funding.
  • Plus 10 Damage: This one explores an interesting idea that David (the interviewer) had about The Novelist being a second-person game. I’d never heard it put that way before, and it was fun to think about. It also includes a hint/teaser about who you play in the game (though it doesn’t answer the question outright, of course).
  • Fund This Game: Check this one out to learn the various things that influenced The Novelist (including the music).
  • Aussie-Gamer: Last but not least, here’s part 2 of my interview with Aussie-Gamer. You can find a link to part one in last week’s interview round-up if you missed it the first time. In part two I explain why I chose to make a stealth game (as opposed to an isometric game, a 2D game, or something else).

Phew! That’s a lot of interviews! I haven’t made it through all of my interview requests yet, but I’m getting close. Since I’m the only person working on The Novelist, time I spend working on publicity and press is time I’m not spending on the game, and this week I hit a wall where I felt I had to get back to the game and get some work done. I’ll continue to work through the publicity stuff this weekend and next week, so there’s still more on the way.

This week I was able to start working on some things that are so exciting, so groundbreaking, so influential, so creatively forward-thinking that it’s hard to put my excitement into words, but I’ll try here. That’s right, I started implementing … menus! I spent time with innovative features like mouse sensitivity, v-sync, anti-aliasing, volume (separate controls for music, sound effects and voice, of course), mouse smoothing, and so on.

All of those features have been supported under the hood for a long time, but they were always tied to keyboard shortcuts instead of having proper menus for adjusting them. This week I buckled down and cranked out a main menu with all the trimmings (new game, continue, options, credits, and so on). It’s not the sexiest work in the world, but it’s been a great way to get myself back into the flow of building the game after all the press and announcement excitement. I have a few things to finish up this weekend, then it’s on to more exciting story-related features and other stuff that’s actually cool.

One last thing: please support the game on Greenlight! It only takes a moment to vote, and every vote helps get the game closer to a Steam release. If you’ve already voted, thank you! If you still want to help, spread the word to your friends via Twitter or word of mouth. Indie games don’t have budgets for banner ads or marketing campaigns, so word of mouth and social media are the best tools for getting the word out there. Every mention of the game helps, so thank you to everyone that’s been supporting the game so far: it really does make a difference.

See you guys next week!