Kentucky Route Zero: Wrapping Production on an Indie Gem

Austin Horne
Staff Writer

PC: Austin Horne

 In January of 2013, a new game from Cardboard Computer released to 205 Kickstarter backers. The game only had one act out of a planned five. Since then, the two developers, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy, added a new member, composer Ben Babbitt. They spent seven years building the rest of their game, and won an obscene number of awards along the way. Kentucky Route Zero released originally to 205 people before going on to win game of the year awards multiple times, and has went on to be number four in Polygon’s “100 Best Games of the Decade.” 

Kentucky Route Zero released its final version at the end of last month on PC’s and every major console. I hope you are asking the same question as me: how did two people and eight-thousand dollars go on to make one of the most celebrated titles of the decade? If you don’t know much about the video game industry, I have to talk about something that has changed about this business in the last decade. Video games have been figuring out their spot in media for a long time now, and we’re learning some new things about the format.

One thing that has become clear is that a small, talented studio is capable of making games that look better than the juggernauts of the industry. Games have been fully embraced as art pieces, and the indie game scene has seized the crown. Kentucky Route Zero jumps into this concept head first and drops any design constraints that don’t fit into their quietly fantastical version of Kentucky. Cardboard Computer seems to have borrowed more from graphic novels and arthouse films than from other games. One of the simple brilliant things about Kentucky Route Zero is that it never tries to mess with you.  There aren’t any puzzles, combat levels, stats, or even mechanics in this game.

Cardboard Computer cut out anything distracting from the incredible visuals and writing. In doing so, they created a breathtaking experience that feels distinct from every game I’ve ever played. At times,  I would compare it more to television or a book. The game plays out in scenes and is more than comfortable giving those scenes time to expand organically.

Part of the point of Kentucky Route Zero is to enjoy the trip you’re going on. The game has a destination in mind, but it revels in the scenes where everything stops, and you can savor the moment. There is comfort in focusing on the rain, a performance, or the echo of a mine before bringing those scenes up to the game’s absurdist mythology is masterful.

Kentucky Route Zero makes me excited to see what’s coming next since—as Cardboard Computer showed—there could be unknown talent around any corner.



Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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