In 2013, Kentucky Route Zero debuted with its first act. Regardless of the time over which Acts II-V were released, the video 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.
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 Kentucky Route Zero.
The team’s approach to experimentation – affording themselves a chance to make better decisions when it felt more relevant to make them – was inspiring to hear about. Most independent artists I know understand 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 managed to strike a healthy balance with their creative endeavors along the way, and I hope you’ll find something useful to take back with you to your own work after reading their story.
In the wake of Kentucky Route Zero‘s grand finale, it has earned immense critical praise and is now considered a masterpiece by many. Although the presence of a new console generation looms 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.
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 Evil, Final Fantasy Tactics, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Bloodborne, 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.
There are few games that I have replayed – and then again, and again, and again – as much as I did with Guacamelee!.
Each playthrough emboldened me to become an even stronger, faster, more magical luchadore, but they also revealed new layers to the game’s world. Guacamelee! was brimming with secrets, hidden between the difficulty spikes and its signature atmosphere. That attention to detail only went further in its sequel.
For my second longform piece on Engadget, I had the pleasure of talking with the series’ creators, DrinkBox Studios. Guacamelee! 2 became an opportunity for them to revisit a world they loved building in the first place, only to discover how rewarding the creative process could still be. I spoke with the team’s co-founder and producer, Graham Smith, art director, Steph Goulet, and concept lead & animator, Augusto Quijano, to better understand the sequel’s new landscapes, narrative beats, color palette and more.
As delightful as Guacamelee! 2‘s slapstick self-aware tone is, what stuck with me were its quieter moments – and how personal Augusto was in drawing inspiration from his Mexican upbringing. It’s clear that DrinkBox made even more thoughtful design decisions this time around, managing to distinguish the sequel from its already hyper-stylized predecessor along the way.
Read the full feature story on Engadget.