Decisions never fully satisfy everyone involved. Often times, what may seem like a compromise, is really just a cloaking mechanism to mask selfish desire. In the case of a struggling family, decisions by one party ripple into life shattering consequences, even when intentions are seemingly pure.
Imagine that you are pulling the strings for a family of three: The father, a novelist, trying to work his way through his second novel, the mother, a painter, attempting to hold her family together, and the son, having difficulties of his own at school.
Summer comes and now you're in their new home, the place where everything was supposed to get better, with the task of uncovering the issues, and making decisions for the future.
Welcome to Kent Hudson's The Novelist, a game of cause and effect, ambition and heartbreak, of family values versus personal desires.
Hudson gives you the choice to be invisible to the Kaplans or to travel through light fixtures and sneak across rooms, careful to not be noticed by Dan, Linda, or their son Tommy. No matter which option you choose, you will be presented with clues as to where their story started, and it's possible destination, but the path that it follows is up to you, The Novelist.
While not a particularly long game, (one playthrough lasts roughly two hours) The Novelist is an unforgettable experience that begs to be replayed. From observing family interactions, to watching them alone, the Kaplan family comes to life. Broken down into chapters where you find fragments of letters, journal entries, colored drawings, and explore memories of each family member, your job as the narrator of their story is to decide how to end each sequence and deal with the outcomes of your actions.
At the end of each chapter you have to choose in outcome that favors one person. Throughout the six chapters, your goal is to balance your decisions in order to keep the family afloat.
Then you reach the end, the credits roll, and you're left feeling betrayed, not by the game, but by yourself as The Novelist. How could you do those things? The decisions you made out of your own selfishness as the player of the game will stay with the Kaplan family for the rest of their lives. And even if it ends on a slightly optimistic note, there is still the feeling that you could have done more for this family.
Of course, you start all over again, making different choices to receive different outcomes, in the pursuit of giving the Kaplans the lives that they deserve.
Without question, Kent Hudson has created one of the most remarkable experiences in gaming. Despite its formulaic structure, limited setting, and lack of action, The Novelist somehow manages to break down emotional barriers, accomplishing what every great piece of art does, the creation of feeling.
Two years ago, Hudson was a developer at 2K, working on large audience commercial releases, but by the end of 2011, he had left his job to follow his passion for creativity. There's no doubt that he put everything he had into this game. You can't help but conclude that the Kaplans trials were Kent's struggles too. One must possess unique courage to strip naked for the world to see.
Hudson was brave enough to leave a life of comfort in exchange for uncertainty, and ultimately created a puzzle that teaches players more about themselves and the effects of even the smallest decisions on the ones they love, than any video game before it.
It succeeds on so many levels, from the tranquil background music, to the sound of the typewriter keys as a letter is revealed. The attention to detail is remarkable, almost to the point where you feel bad interfering with their lives, because you, as The Novelist, will interrupt the tragic beauty of the Kaplan family. But then you remember that you must continue.
Is it the best game of the year? No, but it doesn't try to be. Hudson's intention was not to compete with the high sales figures and state of the art graphics of AAA titles, but to do something much more important: Transcending mediums to create a product that denies being classified as just a game, in favor of delivering an emotional experience.
Kent Hudson's The Novelist is available for download on Steam for $14.99 on PC and Mac. Those who are open to story based games, people who enjoyed choose your own adventure type books as a kid, writers looking for inspiration, or anyone who wants to take an honest look into the dynamics of a family, should do themselves a favor and support this game. You won't regret it, or forget it anytime soon. Step into the role of The Novelist and think before you act. The decisions you make affect the ones around you, and in the end, yourself.