Kentucky Rte. Zero, Act V
At twilight in Kentucky, as bird songs give way to the choir of frogs and insects, familiar roads become strange and it’s easy to get lost. Those who are already lost may find their way to a secret highway winding through the state’s underground caves. The people who live and work along this highway are themselves a little strange at first, but soon they seem to feel familiar: the aging driver making the last delivery for a doomed antique shop; the young woman who fixes obsolete TVs surrounded by ghosts; the child and his giant eagle companion; the robot musicians; the invisible power company lurking everywhere, and the threadbare communities that struggle against its grip.
Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game in five acts featuring a haunting electronic score and a suite of hymns and bluegrass standards recorded by the Bedquilt Ramblers. Rendered in a visual style that draws as much from theater, film and experimental electronic art as it does from video games, this is a story of unpayable debts, abandoned futures and the human drive to find community.
Originally published episodically over a span of years, the game now includes all five acts along with the “interludes,” which were originally published separately. It has also been localized for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish (both European and Latin American).
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Kentucky Route Zero was made by Cardboard Computer, a group of game developers comprised of Jake Elliot, Tamas Kemenczy, and Ben Babbitt.
Jake Elliot is a game developer, musician, and artist who lives near Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a town of 30,000 that is almost adjacent to Fort Knox. Jake has been making nonviolent, slow-paced, narrative games since early 2010, among them Dog and Bone are Friends, A House in California, We Were You and The Penguins’ Dilemma.
Tamas Kemenczy is a game-maker and programmer based in Chicago. In addition to working on video games, he has had work featured at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and has taught game art at ILUM University in Milan.
Ben Babbitt, based in Los Angeles, is also a game developer and a musician for Cardboard Computer. In addition to producing the soundtrack for Kentucky Route Zero, he makes his own music and soundtracks. His most recent release, as of April 2021, is Kentucky Route Zero: Memory Overflow, a collection of music from the interludes, radio music, videos, cutouts, extended drifting mixes and others made between 2011 and 2020.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR THE CREATORS
Why this? Why now?
We made this game over roughly 2010-2019 and it reflects a lot of what we experienced or saw happening around us during that time — especially predatory debt systems like payday loans and subprime mortgages, the rise in displacement & homelessness in the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, and the many failures of the state to protect exploited and vulnerable people against natural disasters like the hurricanes in New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and so on. But also this is our first game as a team, and we took an experimental approach. We were playing with the form, mapping out some of what we can do with it, and trying to get a feel for it.
What were you surprised to learn as you were making it?
What was the most challenging aspect for you?