Polygon Feature – Kentucky Route Zero

Around this time in 2013, Kentucky Route Zero debuted with its first act. As of this week, its fifth and final act is here.

Regardless of the time over which Acts II, III, IV and V were released, the game has managed to hold its audience’s attention. It’s also been continually refueled by the creativity and personal touches of the team behind it, Cardboard Computer. I’m proud to help share their story in my latest feature for Polygon.

Right around the 7-year anniversary of Act I, I spent an evening chatting with Jake Elliott (writer & programmer), Tamas Kemenczy (artist & programmer), and Ben Babbitt (musician and sound designer) about their history together on the project and their unique approach to making it. They shared with me a plethora of personal anecdotes, technical challenges, creative successes, and insights into wrapping up production on a game like Kentucky Route Zero.

The team’s approach to experimentation – affording themselves a chance to make better decisions when they felt most relevant – is something I found rather inspiring. Any independent artist knows what it’s like to struggle with limited resources, whether that be time, money, collaborators, or some mix of all of the above. Cardboard Computer struck a healthy balance to keeping themselves in-check along the way, and I hope any artist out there – gamer, fan, or neither – can discover something useful from their experience.

In the wake of Kentucky Route Zero‘s grand finale, it has earned immense critical praise – already considered a mixed-media masterpiece by many. Although the presence of a new console generation is looming large over 2020, I think it’s safe to say we’ll continue to hearing about this soulful gem until further notice.

Special thanks to Matt Leone at Polygon for his support & assistance with editing & laying out this feature. Read the full story here.

Kentucky Route Zero is now available as both a “PC Edition” and a “TV Edition” (for consoles). Visit the game’s website to learn more.

E.16 – Games of the Decade (Bonus Episode)

Ten years ago, neither Alex or I were still playing video games – at least not like we used to. On the threshold of a new decade, we celebrate the ones that compelled us to return.

In our first episode of the year, we look back on 10 games of the past decade that surprised and delighted us. Be it for their technical accomplishments, creative world building, stellar writing, innovative mechanics or genre-defying structure, these games left us wondering, “How was this even made?” We argue for their place on our lists, and why each uniquely impacted us.

Tune in, and peer into the rear view mirror with us. We hope you’ll walk away with some fresh perspectives and a list of games worth revisiting.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval – my co-host – is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Music opening today’s episode is courtesy of Mono Memory – an 80’s inspired synthwave producer based in Edinburgh. The song is called “Crystal Beach” and can be found here on Bandcamp. Additional music came from the OST’s to each game as they were referenced.

E.15 ⁠– Civilization VI

What defines a civilization? Can (and should) building one be fun? Alex and I phone a friend for some answers, and get plenty to think about in return.

Since Civilization‘s debut in 1991, virtually every facet of Sid Meier’s long-running turn-based strategy video game has evolved. Even the game’s narration is now helmed by actor Sean Bean (GoldenEye, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc.). Today, the famous series ventures even further into new territory with recent console ports – in addition to its latest challenge: climate change.

Like the seasoned teacher that he is, Alex’s close friend and Civilization expert, Joe Jasek, walks us through the series’ fluctuating design choices, its relevance to world history, and the double-edged sword of its presence in a classroom setting. We learned a lot by the end of our conversation, and whether you’re new to the series as well or someone like Joe, we think you will, too.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval – my co-host – is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Joe Jasek is an English and Social Studies teacher who Alex found wandering the streets of Pittsburgh one day. They’ve been close friends ever since. He’s been playing Civilization since 2003.
  • Music in today’s episode came from the OST to Civilization IV & VI. Clips and narration are from Civilization II & VI

E.14 – Iconic Spooky Worlds: Halloween Special Edition

Good evening ghosts and ghouls. This is your co-host and fellow delver into the depths of madness: Alex Koval.

In the spirit of Halloween, Andrew and I have fortified ourselves in an old abandoned castle for our annual mailbag episode. Broadcasting from some antique radio equipment, and supplied with a cache of letters and tapes, we relive the video game moments that sent our friends & listeners screaming from their consoles & computers.

Yet, what is it that can make a video game so frightening? Is it the foreboding environments? The haunting soundscapes? Or the harrowing tales of lost souls? Whatever it is, barricade your doors, cast an incantation, and grab the nearest impromptu melee weapon. We have quite a few treats (and some tricks) in store for you in this very special edition of… SCREEEAAAAAAM LOOOOKING!

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, lifelong fan of the horror genre, and (usually) the co-host of Screen Looking. In celebration of the season, Alex took over hosting duties for this episode (as well as writing, producing, and assistance w/ editing).
  • Andrew Kuhar is the host of Screen Looking. However, he was too scared to take the reins this time. You can find him on the slightly safer grounds of editing & mixing today’s episode.
  • Guest Appearances include Eric Mathews, Joe Jasek, and Bill Lyon – special thanks to each of them for contributing their time and talents to our Halloween special.
  • Music closing today’s episode is “RE1: Save Room Remix” by Mono Memory, previous guest, friend of the show, and synthwave producer. Additional music includes a piano cover by Lucas King, as well as excerpts from the OST’s of their respective games.
  • Special Thanks to you, our listeners, for all of your incredible submissions! Alex and I were elated by the volume, range, and quality of spooky entries we received, from friends both old & new.

E.13 – Sony PlayStation (Console Retrospective)

Before Sony’s name ever appeared in front of the word “PlayStation,” it was nearly Nintendo’s that did. But if the Console Wars meant anything to you growing up, then you already know how that story ends. What proves harder to recall is how it all began, and its significance to the gaming industry today.

In celebration of its forthcoming 25th anniversary, Alex Koval & I revisit the serendipity that propelled the Sony PlayStation to becoming a household name. Combined with some of the most iconic branding in entertainment, an innovative design, subversive marketing and a critically-acclaimed games library, the gaming console would prove to have a quarter-century-long ripple effect.

Without the Sony PlayStation, our most cherished gaming memories may have never occurred. Tune in as we retrace its path to our childhood living rooms – and stumble upon the hidden gems that decorate its enduring legacy.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval – my co-host – is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Music bookending today’s episode was courtesy of their respective producers: Mikel, Orchard HiClips, and Lzls. Additional music was sourced from each video game’s respective OST.
  • References throughout our discussion include the Nintendo “Play Station” prototype, designs of the logo, controller, and the console itself.

E.12 – Kentucky Route Zero: Acts I & II (From the Archives)

In 2012, an independent video game inspired me to start a now-defunct podcast, All My Friends Play Video Games. The show didn’t last long – but the game, Kentucky Route Zero, has kept us waiting. With its fifth & final act seemingly on the horizon, we’re taking a special trip down memory lane by re-airing our 7-year-old impressions of the game’s first two acts.

In this previously lost episode, Hilary Bovay joined Alex and I to discuss Cardboard Computer’s indie darling, appreciate its visual sleights of hand, and predict which direction its mysterious characters are all heading. What we discovered was a story about a vanishing America, the hidden lives of artists at work, and what debt does to the less fortunate.

The wait between Acts III, IV, and V is somewhat unavoidable when discussing Kentucky Route Zero as whole. And in reflection, this episode behaves as a time capsule for the game’s fledgling days. The show very literally grew up to become Screen Looking, and we’ve changed as people, too. In that spirit, we invite you to tune in and enjoy our first ride through Mammoth Cave.

Additional Notes & Credits

  • New! Read Andrew’s feature story for Polygon, “How the creators of Kentucky Route Zero ended their seven-year saga
  • Follow along on our Instagram account, @screenlooking.
  • Alex Koval, my co-host, is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Hilary Bovay is an incredibly talented photographer from Aquidneck Island, RI, now based out of Cleveland, OH. She has a keen eye for aesthetics & visual storytelling, and her love for the original Crash Bandicoot is all you’ll ever need to know about her taste in video games.
  • Music in this episode is from the OST to Kentucky Route Zero, which was composed and produced by Ben Babbitt.
  • SFX foley (radio tuning) courtesy of freesound.org user RutgerMuller.

E.11 – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

With a series as iconic and influential as Metal Gear Solid, where does one even begin? In today’s episode, we look to our friends for the answer: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. For a game released in 2004, it offered an extreme level of detail in both its presentation and mechanics. But it also afforded players an unprecedented amount of choice. As such, it is widely considered the pinnacle of the franchise.

To better understand Metal Gear Solid 3‘s many poignant – at times hilarious – contradictions, Alex and I welcome two people who’ve never met to the show. Returning from E.5 is Ryan Ward, and we’re happy to introduce Al Pocci, one of Alex’s closest friends, to the Screen Looking podcast. What Ryan and Al share is a deep appreciation for all things Metal Gear, and they bring with them some fascinating perspectives to our conversation.

In Al’s words, “Metal Gear Solid 3 was the end of an era,” both for the series and video games at large. But what held the prequel together is also what generated some of its most entertaining points of friction. As we revisit what made Metal Gear Solid 3 work, we don’t shy away from Kojima’s more provocative messages, either. It might surprise you to discover how relevant it all remains, fifteen years later.

Additional Notes & Credits

  • Alex Koval, my co-host, is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Al Pocci is an expat, author, and paramedic based out of Galway, Ireland. His favorite games include Final Fantasy 9Gunstar HeroesFallout 3 and, of course, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
  • Ryan Ward has been a friend of mine since growing up together in Northeast Ohio, and now lives on the West Coast. Some of his favorite games include the Metal Gear Solid series and Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • Music and SFX in today’s episode are from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and its OST.
  • Articles & quotes referenced in today’s episode are courtesy of Gamepro, IGN, and Gamasutra.

E.10 – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice & From Software

“Hesitation is defeat.”

Is From Software’s latest, notoriously difficult video game worth enduring? One does not simply play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but the payoff is unlike what most of its peers have to offer. In today’s episode, Alex and I take as much of a look at Sekiro as we do the mystique, philosophies, and history of its creators.

Here to refill our Healing Gourds is none other than Mono Memory – From Software devotee, resident synthwavist, and our first international guest. Mono Memory is responsible for much of the music book-ending our episodes this year, and we’re thrilled to have him join us.

By revisiting the studio’s other critical darlings, Dark Souls and Bloodbourne, we discover how they’ve grown as artists, what distinguishes each franchise, and how a game over screen can be a narrative vehicle.

Additional Notes & Credits

E.9 – Gaming Tastes & Looking Ahead (Bonus Episode)

It’s time for a bonus round.

If you’re new to the show, this is an excellent place to start tuning in to the Screen Looking podcast. In our first bonus episode, Alex Koval and I take a respite from the deep dives for a chill, candid conversation about our tastes in video games – and how our personalities inform them.

In addition, we have a special announcement at the top of the episode, followed by some fun ideas for future installments.

We’ll be returning soon with more deep and varied explorations of why video games are such an interesting medium, discovering new stories and rediscovering old favorites. For now, we simply couldn’t wait to keep the conversation rolling.

Additional Notes & Credits

E.8 – Resident Evil 2 (Pt. 2: Story & Campaigns)

Sometimes, you look forward to something for so long. And then it’s suddenly over. It’s a little bittersweet, but our late nights with Resident Evil 2 had to end somewhere.

Having thoroughly discussed its stylistic departures in Pt. 1, Alex, Nick and I push forward through the remake’s more familiar narrative beats. From the survivors inhabiting its world to Leon and Claire’s alternate paths, to the means of survival and a handful of our own ideas, we lay it all on the table with our final words on the RE2 remake.

Tune in as we take our victory lap through the streets of Raccoon City — and live to tell the tale.

Additional Notes & Credits:

  • Spoiler Warning! This applies to the entire episode
  • Alex Koval is a full-stack web developer, an independent short-filmmaker, and a fan of the horror genre. We’ve been best friends since 2nd grade, and some of his favorite games include Resident Evil, Final Fantasy Tactics, Eternal Darkness, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Nicholas Kuhar is my brother, bandmate, and frequent donor of graphic novels. He is also the Director of Innovation at St. Edward High School in Cleveland, OH, helping young students unlock their creativity through new-media. Some of his favorite video games include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy VII.
  • Music at the top of today’s episode is from Resident Evil 2‘s remade OST, produced by the Capcom Sound Team. Our closing theme is a fantastic cover of the game’s “Save Room Theme,” courtesy of Mono Memory – an 80’s inspired synthwave producer based in Edinburgh.
  • References include Chris Saglimbene’s interview w/ writer Brent Friedman, an archived interview with the original RE2 team (from the June 1998 issue of Japanese gaming magazine, “The Playstation“), and an old commercial for the game’s original release.
  • Special cocktail REcipes coming soon…