by Joseph Leray
"The Novelist," a new indie stealth-adventure game by Ion Storm and 2K Marin veteran Kent Hudson, has one of the saddest, most melancholy premises I've encountered: you play as a benevolent poltergeist haunting novelist Dan Kaplan and his family.
Supernatural nightmare notwithstanding, the Kaplans' ectoplasmic best friend can read people's thoughts, eavesdrop on their conversations, and thumb through their journals -- all the better to keep the family from coming apart at the seams. Dan's career is stalling apparently, but it's nothing a ghostly presence can't fix. "The Novelist" is kind of like the last episode of American Horror Story: Murder House, but with more humanity and grace and less campy gore and trashy gossip-mongering.
So there will probably be some dialog-based problem-solving -- should you encourage Dan to hang out with his wife, spend time with his son, or get loaded on Lagavulin and work on his novel? -- but "The Novelist"'s trailer also suggests some rudimentary stealth mechanics. That's kind of a neat touch, given that ghosts tend to be invisible and incorporeal, but the Kaplan's are apparently squeamish about their otherworldy housemate.
Here's the kill shot, though, as described by Hudson on his game's official site:
Dan’s relationships – to his work, his wife, and his son – react and shift in response to your choices. With a different sequence of events in every playthrough, The Novelist gives life to a unique experience each time you play.
This is ambitious stuff for a one-man dev team, but Hudson's been going at it since late 2011. The game traces his only struggles working as an independent designer, but "The Novelist" will likely resonate with anyone who works creatively -- not to throw a wet blanket on a promising game concept, but working from home can be incredibly difficult. I know I could use some heavenly help every once in a while.
"The Novelist" is currently available for pre-order on Windows and Mac, and will be available DRM-free later this year. There is, naturally, a Steam Greenlight campaign underway as well, if you care to spare a vote.