The Novelist

FBT is a ghost being driven out of his home by a moany family.


Set around the 80s or 90s (maybe the 70s based on the lead’s porn-star moustache), the Kaplan family move into a condo on the beach where dad Dan hopes for the focus to complete his novel, while his wife tries to amuse herself and bullied son tries to fit in. But they’re not alone in this house; a voyeuristic ghost witnesses the family’s thoughts and fears, and influences Dan’s choices as he balances his work and family life.

There’s two modes, Story or Stealth. In Stealth, the family can spot you and that influences their behaviour, but you can invisibly navigate by haunting light fixtures, which you can make flicker to draw their attention while you go nose through their diaries. What kind of person was I to have stuck around in the afterlife just to meddle?


As well as reading their diaries we can also read their thoughts. But those are just snippets like ‘wish he’d try harder’ or ‘hope dad takes me to the beach like he promised’. You can also enter their memories, revealing what’s bothering them – Dan ignoring his wife, her wishing to join an artist’s co-op, the kid feeling lonely. This is basically a management sim – in fact, it’s just The Sims, we’re trapped in a Sims house.

Actually, it’s not even as complex as a bunch of Sims milling about. This is Oblivion NPC-level stuff. They circle, mutter ‘hello’ at each other and that’s it. Within only a few minutes you’ve scoped out the house and the people, and all you do is click on thoughts, watch each one’s memory then you wait until they sleep and whisper to Dan, which dictates what action he’ll take. Whichever you chose will impact one positively, but piss off the other two.


And discovering their innermost thoughts is extremely basic. There’s no real insight, just what they want to do that day. Rather than being able to make them understand what Dan is trying to achieve, you're deciding if he or they get a fun day out. If everyone would just suck it up for a few weeks and let Dan write the damn book he’d be free to indulge them, but it’s designed to be impossible rather than complex, impactful choices.

Also the choices are so groan-worthy. Of course Dan gets an opportunity to do a public book reading the same day his wife has to attend a funeral. Of course his wife’s art co-op needs funds just as he gains the money for his book to be advertised. Of course he needs this particular day to finish a chapter the same day as a kids-go-free offer at a theme park.


I was really hoping I’d be like The Overlook's Grady and send Dan insane, have the wife find ‘all work and no play makes jack a dull boy’ on the typewriter then chase her with an axe. But no, it's endless no-win options which quickly stops being impactful.


I don’t get why we have to interfere in everything. What are we doing? Are we some good ghost that just wants to help Dan understand his family? It's also rather narrow-minded that we can only influence Dan. I know this is 70s/80s/90s but come on, how come he’s always deciding what the family does, how the wife behaves, how happy the kid is? Surely it would be more complex and rewarding for a ghost to give everyone an insight. Why can’t we influence the wife to take more of an interest in the kid, why is it all on Dan? And why is the wife so selfish as to say "Dan pays for all this... wish he didn't work so much" which is it?!



You can never win. I gave wifey the money for her art project, and the next day she’s bitching about my drinking. I stop drinking, she moans I'm no fun. The book is his job yet at no point does the wife actually let him get on with it, it’s always couched like ‘I know he needs to do the book, but…’. Having said that, why the hell does Dan keep wandering away from his typewriter? She has a point.


You can create compromises, where no one’s happy, but quite quickly I realised the one who was the most unhappy was me. Wandering this basic house listening to passive-aggressive complaints from three people who never actually talk to each other is infuriating.



I got the worst possible ending – Dan’s book failed and he took a teaching job. The wife had to leave her art behind, they both ended up in a loveless marriage filled with affairs. And the kid? He got bullied, failed at school and wound up taking dead-end jobs and becoming a loner?! As it listed his failures, I expected it to end with him going postal.


It might be an indie game but that doesn’t excuse how incredibly basic this is. We’re distanced because we’re not part of the family, and influencing Dan is far too narrow an experience. If we were a ghost looking out for the lonely kid we’d have insight, seeing the adult world from the point of view of this kid could have been heart-breaking. Especially the kid I ended up creating.


As an art game exploring what it takes to keep people talking, about how communication and sacrifice are key, even one about the cliché 'life is what happens while you're busy making other plans' it totally fails. It's incredibly smug too, gleeful in the way it constantly sets you up to fail. I wanted to make the family happy, find a route for all but there's no way to create a happy unit; but the creator did – the end credits gush about how supportive and wonderful his wife was during this process. Maybe if you’d spent less time making her happy and more on the game we’d all be happier.