Saving Tips + New Interviews

Hey everyone, Kent here with the regularly-scheduled Saturday update (the second week in a row that I’m doing it on time!). This one’s going to be a little less game-specific than normal. It primarily focuses on some saving tips for people who are thinking of trying the indie thing and want to put some money away, but if you want to get the latest news there are a few good interviews to share this week.

  • Giant Bomb (Article): I talked to Patrick Klepek about all sorts of things, and he wrote a great article about the history of the game and how I’ve tried to capture the experience of being a parent despite not having any kids.
  • Giant Bomb (Podcast): If you want to hear the full interview, you can check it out in podcast form! Listen in on my conversation with Patrick for more details.
  • VentureBeat: This is part of a larger series that focuses on why so many developers are leaving AAA for indie development. There’s some information about the game in there, but the larger focus is on contrasting AAA and indie dev.

And that’s it for interviews!

Now on to the main topic, which is life-focused and has nothing to do with the game. Earlier this week, my friend JP tweeted a question that sparked a lot of conversation:


It’s a good question, and I did my part to shame Chris Plante into researching the subject and writing an article about it (here’s hoping he decides to do it!). Anyway, in the course of the conversation I mentioned that a few years ago I learned a technique that helped me save money, and I figured it would be helpful to share it here.

But before I get into the nuts and bolts of the post I should give a little bit of background: I was a full-time employee in the AAA industry for ten and a half years before I went indie. Other than a few gaps between jobs, I had regular paychecks and the time and opportunity to build a savings account. I didn’t actually take advantage of that opportunity most of the time, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a steady living situation since graduating college. I don’t want my advice to come off sounding like a perfect solution for all financial situations, because it isn’t, but hopefully it will be useful for some of you.

Anyway. Enough disclaimers.

One of the best things you can do as an indie is have money in savings. You may be able to live off your savings long enough to make a game, or it may supplement a part-time job or bridge the gap so that your partner can support you both for a set period of time. But no matter what you do with the money, it’s never bad to have a savings account.

The Novelist doesn’t have any outside investors, I didn’t use Kickstarter, and a big reason I’m able to make the game is that my wonderful wife has a good job. So I can’t really comment on how to raise funds, and advising people to go get married to someone with a job probably isn’t too useful either. But it’s definitely the case that if one person in a relationship has a job it can be the difference between lighting your savings account on fire or merely watching it slowly melt away.

I’ve always been terrible at saving money. Well, that’s not exactly true; in the past, when I saved money it was always socked away in places I couldn’t touch it, like an employer 401k account. I thought, “Hey, I’m putting money away and being responsible, so whatever’s in my checking account is there for the spending!” I never spent more than I made or got into credit card debt, but I did my best to spend exactly what I made, leaving me with no liquid savings. If I ever had an unexpected expense (car repairs, doctor bill, etc) it was hugely stressful because I had no safety net whatsoever. I would kick myself for not saving money, but I never did anything to change the situation.

Then about four years ago I realized I wanted to change this behavior, in no small part because my wife is a much better saver than I am and we wanted to start building a nest egg for adventures like one of us quitting our job and working independently. So we started looking for ways to set money aside, and a financial advisor showed us a great methodology: have your paychecks deposited directly into your savings account, and then set up an automatic payment for a smaller amount into your checking account. It sounds simple, but it fundamentally changed my ability to save.

Maybe an example would help.

Let’s say that you get $1,000 per paycheck every two weeks. If that was me, I would look at each paycheck and say, “Cool, I have $1,000 to spend before I get my next paycheck!” If my expenses were only $700, I would say, “Great, I have $300 for fun stuff!” and figure out a way to spend it all. If rent/food/gas didn’t use it all up, I’d go looking for Blu-Rays or albums to buy. And if I was ever lucky enough to get a bonus at work or an annual raise I never saved the new money, I just said, “Awesome, now I have more money to buy stuff with!” In short, if I had money I was gonna spend it.

So let’s look at the same hypothetical $1,000 paycheck with a new goal: saving $100 per paycheck (which would be $200 a month and $2,400 a year). What you’d do is change your bank setup so that your $1,000 paycheck goes directly into your savings account, and then you’d set up an automated rule that transfers $900 into your checking account, leaving $100 in your savings account from every paycheck. It’s easy to set this kind of thing up with online banking, especially if your employer offers direct deposit.

It sounds really simple, but the effect it had on me was profound: I realized that no matter what was in my checking account, I would try to spend it. It had nothing to do with the amount of money itself. I would simply spend what I saw in my account. So when that $1,000 changed to $900, I just spent $900 instead. I didn’t miss the $100, because I never saw it in the first place.

They say that to break a habit it helps to remove the trigger: if you want to stop eating so many cookies during the day, hide them in the back of the pantry instead of leaving them out on the counter and tempting yourself every time you walk past them. It’s the same thing here.

Now, obviously there are practical realities to having less money to spend each month. It’s pretty easy to set up this kind of automated savings plan if that $100 is non-essential, but if the full $1,000 is required to buy food and pay rent then you can’t just cut out $100 without consequences; you’d need to find other ways to save if your necessary expenses are that tight.

But even if your budget is tight, you might want to give this technique a shot anyway. I found that when I committed to saving money it was easier than I expected to look at how I was spending my paycheck and find places to cut back.

We started cooking at home more, b/c money goes a lot further at the grocery store than it does if you eat lunch and dinner out; The Novelist has been fueled by reheated leftovers. I haven’t bought any clothes or shoes for almost two years. We got rid of cable, which saved us $100 a month right there (and arguably raised our IQ scores). Those are just random examples, but if you make an effort you can find a million small ways to save money.

Ultimately, you have to make it a priority to save. Putting your paychecks into a savings account and automatically setting some of it aside without ever seeing it is a great tool, but only if you make the changes to your budget necessary to live on the smaller sum; if you still spend the $100 you’re supposed to be saving and put the balance on a credit card, you’re worse off than if you hadn’t tried to save at all.

But you know where this technique really helps? You get so used to living on a fixed amount of money that it rewires your thinking. Any sum above your normal paycheck goes into savings by default. So if you get a 2% cost-of-living raise at your job, that 2% goes directly into your savings. In the past, when I got raises I instantly figured out what my new paycheck would be and started planning how to spend the new money. But if you get into the habit of living on a fixed sum and you never see your paycheck at all, then a raise or a bonus just increases your savings by default instead of tempting you to blow it on something you don’t need.

Anyway, this has turned out to be a much longer post than I planned, but in light of JP’s question I wanted to do my small part in answering the question. This advice won’t work for everyone in every financial situation, but if you’re steadily-employed and have room to cut a few expenses it can be really powerful to remove the Spend More Money trigger, set up an out-of-sight-out-of-mind automatic banking rule, and start building the kind of savings that can open up all sorts of exciting doors in the future.

Game Intro + More Tools

Hey everyone, check me out: doing the Saturday update on time for once!

There are no new interviews to share this week, but there should be a few coming soon. This was a good week for development; I started work on the game’s intro, which I hope to keep really lightweight and unobtrusive. The meat of the game is chapter-based and very systemic, but I want to make sure to introduce players to the mechanics and the environment in a safe way so they can get used to how the game works before being thrown into the deep end. The very fact that the game is so systemic makes it more difficult than normal to do traditional level-based scripting, but I was able to iron out the kinks and get a short intro sequence in place.

My goal is to create a tutorial at the start of the first chapter that does two things:

  • Establishes a bit of the family’s backstory (but not too much … I want players to fill in some blanks and piece things together for themselves)
  • Introduces the basic movement/navigation/interaction verbs in a safe environment, when players aren’t worried about stealth gameplay.

I’ve got the flow all implemented, and over the next few days I’ll put in the final content and get it up to a presentable state.

I also spent some time today putting in a handy little recap feature, so that if you’ve been away from the game for a while and then sit down for a new session you can review the previous story choices you’ve made and get back up to speed. It was a much-requested feature from earlier playtests, and it turned out to be much easier to implement than I previously thought (although fixing bugs and making it shippable took about 5 times as long as creating the basic feature).

I also realized that I forgot a few things in the write-up I did a few weeks ago about the tools I’m using to create the game.┬áHere are a few things I forgot the first time around (I’ve also updated the original post):

  • 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 yournam@gmail.com), 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.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. I’m trying to march forward and finish the game in the next two months, and though a lot of the work it takes to finalize a game isn’t sexy it’s gotta be done. Wish me luck!

Soundtrack Preview + Podcast Interview

Hey everyone, I’m checking in with this week’s Friday Saturday Sunday update! I know I keep slipping on these, mostly because I rarely have time to put together a blog post on Friday while trying to work on the game. I decided this week that I would start doing blog posts on Saturday … and then missed that date, too. But better late than never!

Anyway, this was a fairly slow week news-wise. The only new interview is with my friends over at This Is My Joystick, but it was a podcast instead of a written interview so that’s a bit of a change. Give it a listen if you’d like to hear us chat about the game. There are other games featured in the podcast, and The Novelist’s segment is at 1:34:40.

Neil asked for a bit of music to use in the podcast, and since I happen to have I spent some time last week tweaking the music I thought it would be fun to share a song here.

The music in The Novelist is created by an algorithm that randomly selects from a large list of scales to create a unique soundtrack for every player. Each time you start a new chapter in the game, the algorithm adjusts a large number of settings (tempo, the percentage of runs vs chords, the length of the runs, how linear or random the runs should be, and a bunch of other variables) and then starts a song that plays indefinitely without ever looping or repeating.

I really enjoy the effect; sometimes a surprising or beautiful musical passage will play, and I’ll feel a bittersweet twinge because I know that moment will never happen again. The music is completely transient, and you’ll never hear the same thing twice.

But while it’s pretty cool to constantly hear unique music, it also means that there’s really no such thing as a “song” in the game. For that reason, I created a debug mode where the game deletes all of the actors in the game and only plays music. It also selects from an additional set of criteria to break the music up into segments of traditional song-like length. The lengths are, of course, random, but right now it’s set to pick a length between 3 and 9 minutes. When the game is in this mode, it just sits there and plays different randomized songs forever.

Once the debug music mode is cruising along, I can then use a tool called Soundflower to directly capture the game’s audio buffer and record the music in real time. After doing that, I just have to go into an audio editor and clip the tracks up into individual songs. The debug mode creates a log file with the names of the songs (based on the scales) and some information about the tempos and lengths, all of which helps in editing them into individual tracks. For the official soundtrack release, I plan to use this method and generate a ton of songs, then go through and pick out the best ones to create the official score.

A month or two ago I tested out this methodology and recorded a handful of songs, and the track below is one of the songs I really liked (it’s based on the Aeolian scale, if you’re interested). This track is using an older version of the algorithm, and I’m still tweaking things to get just the right sound for the game (I’ve added some different types of runs and chord combinations since recording this track).

Be warned: this song may be mellower than what you’re used to in game scores. I want The Novelist to have a very ethereal, peaceful aesthetic, and as such the music is intended to be a background accompaniment, not a bombastic foreground component. So while this song might not make the best soundtrack for working out at the gym, it’s pretty nice for curling up with your favorite book.

If the embedded player isn’t working in your browser, or if you’d just like to download the song directly, here’s a link. I hope you enjoy the song, and I’ll see you guys next week!

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 yournam@gmail.com), 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:

@TheNovelistGame
Greenlight
RSS Feed
Press Page
@KentInPublic

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:

@TheNovelistGame
RSS Feed
Press Page
@KentInPublic

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.
  • GamesIndustry.biz: 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!
-Kent

Interview Round-Up

Hey everyone, here’s an update on what’s been happening on The Novelist lately. I’m going to try and do an update every Friday so that you can get a nice summary of the goings-on each week.

First off, thanks to everyone who’s voted on Greenlight! From everything I know the selection process is still shrouded in mystery, but when you have a game on Greenlight you get to see a chart of how your votes are tracking compared to the top games on Greenlight, and as far as I can tell The Novelist is on a great trajectory. Thanks to everyone who has already voted or left a kind word, and if you haven’t voted yet I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to support the game.

As for what I did this week, I focused solely on interviews. I had a great, much-needed getaway with my wife last weekend and got back Monday night, so I’ve only had 4 days to do interviews this week. I didn’t get through as many as I thought I would; I’ve found that doing a good interview takes time. I’m working on more today, but here’s a quick list of the ones that have been published so far:

  • Aussie-Gamer: This is part one of a two-part interview, and it goes into the background of the game and how the dynamic narrative works.
  • Indie Statik: This interview goes into detail on the backstory of the game (starting with my interest in player-driven stories) and also talks about replayability in The Novelist.
  • IndieGames.com: This one goes into the finer points of some of the mechanics, talks about why some of the decisions were made on the game, and explains some of the challenges of transitioning from AAA to indie development.
  • Shacknews: This interview, presented in prose form, digs into the central question of the game and talks about the different ways people may find meaning in The Novelist.

So there’s the list of interviews that have been posted so far. There are 4 completed interviews that haven’t been posted just yet, and there’s also a second part of the Aussie-Gamer interview on the way, so if you’re interested in the game there’ll be plenty more to read in the near future. I still have a bunch of interview requests to work through, too, so there won’t be a shortage of coverage any time soon.

As always, if you want to keep up with the game there are a few different ways:

@TheNovelistGame
RSS Feed
Press Page
@KentInPublic

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have great weekends!

-Kent

Phew! What a Week (and a Half)!

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay in getting a second update posted here, but the last week and a half has been completely overwhelming. The Novelist has received far more attention than I expected, which is absolutely wonderful, but after 15 months of working on the game silently it was a huge change to suddenly have to think about working on the publicity side of things. I’m really swamped right now, but I’m deeply grateful that people have taken an interest in the game.

Anyway, here’s an assortment of links that recap some of what’s been going on this week:

  • IGN Gameplay Video: This is the first public footage of The Novelist in action. They tried to keep it to 5 minutes, which is a really compressed timeline for a game like The Novelist, but it’s still worth watching to see what the moment-to-moment gameplay is like. The real meat of the game is making multiple decisions and shaping Dan’s relationships over time, which is the kind of thing that’s impossible to show in a short video. I hope to post a longer video soon that shows more of the chapter flow and gives a more normally-paced look at the game.
  • I participated in Indie Press Day, which was a really great time. There were a bunch of indie games there, along with press, and it was really fun to see other games, play a few of them, and watch people play The Novelist. It was the first time I’ve ever had complete strangers play the game, which was exciting and also valuable from a playtesting perspective; I already have a list of things I want to improve in the game based on watching people play it for the first time. Keep an eye out for stories coming out of that event.
  • I also sat down with Nathan Grayson from Rock Paper Shotgun today and let him play through a chapter of the game. We followed it up with an interview, so keep an eye on Rock Paper Shotgun for more coverage.
  • Speaking of press, you can always get a look at the latest coverage on the Press page. If you scroll down, there are links to the ongoing coverage for the game, so bookmark that and check back every now and then!
  • Remember, if you want to keep up with the game’s development there are a few different options. You can subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking the Follow link at the top of the page, you can find the game’s official Twitter feed at the top of the page, and you can follow me at @KentInPublic.
  • If you haven’t already, please consider supporting the game on Steam Greenlight. From what I can tell the game is doing well in the voting, and with a little more support I’m hopeful that we can get the game on Steam!

So what’s next? Well, I owe a lot of journalists a lot of interview replies. It’s gonna take me a while to get through them all, but I’m deeply appreciative of their interest and am going to answer every last question.

And development on the game marches forward! I finished outlining the final chapters of the game late last week and am going to start writing them very soon. I’m also going to get around to some of the unsexy features you need in a game, like an options screen, to balance out the tough creative work.

But in the short term, I’ll be heading out of town for a Memorial Day weekend with my wife. It’s been an incredible week and a half since the announcement, but it’s also been utterly draining. I worked some … let’s say … very long hours prepping for the Indie Press Day and IGN demos, and just like Dan in the game I have to make sure to spend time with the people I love!

I hope you all have great weekends, and thanks so much for your continued support and encouragement. Working on this game is very difficult at times, and your kind words and enthusiasm really do pick me up. You guys are amazing.

-Kent

Nice to meet you!

Hi, my name is Kent Hudson and today I’m announcing my game The Novelist. After more than a decade of working on AAA games like Deus Ex: Invisible War, Thief: Deadly Shadows, BioShock 2, and others, I quit my job in late 2011 and took a leap of faith into indie development.

Aside from doing some consulting here and there, I’ve been working on The Novelist for 15 months now. It’s definitely a very strange feeling to put it out into the world after keeping it under wraps for so long; to be honest, in many ways this is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. In AAA development you’re part of a team, so you never feel like anything is 100% on you. If something goes wrong, it’s highly unlikely to be completely your fault.

But when you work on a game in your apartment for over a year, it’s all on you. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the weird stuff … the only fingers I can point are two thumbs, pointed squarely at my chest.

But as nerve-wracking as it is to share my game with the world, it’s also incredibly exciting. When I went indie, I did it solely because I’d gotten to a point in my career where I was creatively unfulfilled and just wanted to work on something I believed in with the smallest number of creative barriers possible. Indie development is definitely challenging in terms of scope and stretching your money, but the ability to make something you believe in for the sake of the creative challenge makes it more than worth it.

Anyway, enough about me. The trailer is live, the site is live, and hopefully you’re interested in what I’ve been working on for so long. If you’d like to keep up with my blog posts, just click the Follow button in the menu bar above. You can find me on Twitter at @KentInPublic, and if you want to get in touch just hit the About page and shoot me an email.

Thanks again for checking out my game, and I hope it connects with you in some way.