The latest subject of my attempt to cut down my backlog from the Steam Holiday sales is yet another indie game, <em>The Novelist</em>. You play a spirit haunting a summer home, which a family of three has decided to inhabit for a few months. As an incorporeal being, you have a couple of powers that let you learn about why the family is there, and what each person wants. Your voyeuristic view of the family is hindered by your need for stealth, where you must possess lights in the house so they do not see you and get freaked out. Your ghost powers also let you peer into their memories, seeing how actions you’ve taken have affected them, and gives clues at what they want to do next. The meat of the game is spying on the family, finding whose goal is best to follow, and whispering into their ear, psychically suggesting an idea to them. Adventurous ghosts can even unlock compromises that allow two people to be sated, at the cost of how affective either choice will be. The father, the titular novelist, is attempting to get over writer’s block. The mother is working on her own artistic pursuits, attempting to paint, but as we learn, the relationship between the two of them is strained, with a divorce looming if the summer doesn’t go well. Even their son has some issues, finding it hard to make friends at school, and struggling with his studies. The interesting aspect brought up is, as you influence the characters’ choices, you see yourself and the way you think reflected. I write, and sympathize with the novelist. I was totally on board with him wanting to have a bit of whiskey or hang out with his friend to try and get his ideas flowing, knowing that this would counter not only to his family’s desire, but completely different from what others would choose. I tended to either the father’s writing or his troubled relationship with his wife, more than the son’s admittedly trivial desires of playing games or going to a theme park. The solitary nature of writing is a core facet that creates much of the conflict between the characters. The family is supposed to be one unit, but one or two members must have privacy and solitude in order to work. Compromise is necessary to make that relationship work, and the player’s conflict is trying to keep both the family and work plates spinning. Still, the major flaw of the game is that your choices seem to have almost too much power, or at least are not conveyed too well. In my particular outcome, the dad’s novel turned out great, the relationship stayed together, but the son basically ended growing up terribly. And in order to support multiple endings, the family appears largely indifferent to changes in the plot, so the precursors to any potential ending are throwaway lines of how they had a good night, or the kid having a slightly bigger frown on his drawings. So as a result, though we did occasionally compromise and play with the kid, even attempting to have him study well, his ending does not end up well. I wasn’t aware that not being able to play what and when you want ruins you for life. Conversely, I had thought I hadn’t allowed the novelist to spend much time with his wife, but apparently they managed to pull things together. Perhaps that’s the point though. You can try as hard as you want. Write that book. Have a date with your wife. Play with your son. It might just be the best book ever, or it might ruin your career. You might reconcile your relationship, or end up divorced. Your son may turn out fine, or have troubles later in life. There was no telling how affecting a minor moment may be, or how pointless it may be. That said, the endings are unsubstantial and forgettable enough that this idea may simply be coincidence, and generally this is an experience that’s novel while it’s happening, but quickly forgotten. Just the niggling haunting feeling of helplessness and questioning over how your decisions affect yourself and others. All things considered, despite its forgetful nature, it’s still worth a go, if only for the psychological survey you can give yourself, seeing how you handle the relationships within. And it’s an indie title, only made by a handful of people, deserving of support. This little experience, however brief, is still worth your time.
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