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.
Ten years ago, neither Alex or I were playing video games all that much – 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 Evil, Final Fantasy Tactics, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Bloodborne, 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.
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.
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
- Music in today’s episode is by Mono Memory – an 80’s inspired synthwave producer based in Edinburgh. The song is called “Crystal Beach” and can be found here on Bandcamp.
- Photograph by Hilary Bovay, my partner, previous guest of the show (E.2 & E.3), and co-host of The She League Podcast.
- “Ludonarrative dissonance is the conflict between a video game’s narrative told through the story and the narrative told through the gameplay. Ludonarrative, a compound of ludology and narrative, refers to the intersection in a video game of ludic elements and narrative elements.” –Wikipedia
- “What’re ya’ sellin’? What’re ya’ buyin’?”