četvrtak, 29. kolovoza 2013.

Cardboard Computer - Kentucky Route Zero

Svjetlo u tmurnom svijetu video-igara. 
Tajne ceste u špiljama ispod Kentuckyja i tajanstveni ljudi koji njima putuju.


Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King's Quest series, or more recently Telltale's Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.


"Smart, thoughtful, sweet and incredibly well crafted – it’s the perfect game to play in the small hours of a lonely night. Be warned though; it’ll leave you hungry for unknown roads and longing for an invitation to the blues." Rock, Paper, Shotgun

"Evokes the feeling of old ghost stories told around a campfire. There's the familiarity of friends and family around a warm, man-made fire, but with it comes the unnerving tale of the strange and unusual. Kentucky Route Zero is beautifully bizarre and perfectly poignant, and most of all, deserves your attention." - 9.5 - Destructoid

"However you respond to its ethereal imagery, this is a game which makes a rare suggestion: who a player is may be more important than what they do." 84/100 - PC Gamer

Kentucky Route Zero: Adventuring into Appalachian Limbo

"I've got a delivery on Dogwood Drive, but I'd rather watch the sunset." –Conway, Act I, Scene I
Kentucky Route Zero, created by indie developer Cardboard Computer (Tamas Kemenczy and Jake Elliott) is, so far, a well-polished crystal that shimmers out of the otherwise looming darkness of the video game industry.
So far, that is, because the game is intended to be released episodically in five "Acts," of which only the first two are currently available. Acts I and II are written superbly, with simple yet often deeply poetic tenor. Their art direction is first rate, blending Brechtian staging with De Stijl modernism. The game play is also a unique hybrid of familiar point-and-click adventure interface and engrossing interactive dialog. In the initial episodes, Kentucky Route Zero is a tranquil fantasy, a beautiful, haunting, and contemplative experience—adjectives one gets to use all too rarely when talking about video games.
The game revolves around a cast of characters who collectively are trying to find a place that feels like home. Players primarily navigate the game as Conway, a soon-to-be-retired delivery truck driver on his last delivery to a seemingly unknown address on Dogwood Drive tucked within the rolling "hollers" of the Kentucky Blue Ridge Mountains. Upon arriving at a non-operational Equus Oils gas station, we're informed that the address that we're looking for must be somewhere along the mythical Kentucky Route Zero. This highway lies beneath the soil, within the famous caverns of the Bluegrass State. Above ground, players navigate a map along Route 65, attempting to find clues to help Conway find his final destination. As players encounter other lost souls similarly seeking a permanent resting place, they come to understand that the Zero also serves as a kind of junction between this life and the next.

Still images from Cardboard Computer (Tamas Kemenczy and Jake Elliott), Kentucky Route Zero (video game). Act I, Scene II: Marquéz Farmhouse.
In the second act, for example, when players finally get a chance to take a tour of the subterranean highway, driving directions require activating waypoints and crystals to change the road. It becomes clear that this highway was not engineered by mortal hands, but rather by supernatural forces. A full explanation of this phenomenon is never directly given, and players are left with trying to decipher and interpret the mysteries of this phantom road.
It is in these unexplained, yet intuitive, moments that KR0 points towards a hopeful future of independent game development in that it posits a style of play that asks player not to merely solve puzzles, or to race through dialog, or to admire its realistic rendering of 3D space. Instead, this game asks players to reflect on what lies underneath the surface of appearances and gameplay. This nuanced experience invites players to develop the kind of rich relationships with characters that rarely occur in contemporary gaming.
In some moments of KR0, this invitation is next to impossible to avoid. During late stages of the first act, players have to travel through an abandoned mine on an almost unbearably slow electric trolley cart. During this sluggish ride, we learn significant backstory about the leading female character, Shannon, through interactive dialog. As Conway lays injured in the cart, Shannon divulges information about her relationship with her sister – whose ghostly presence players have encountered previously in another scene. This information is imparted to players only intermittently through long stretches of claustrophobic and quiet repose.
All too often when playing games released in the past two years – even in the most well-crafted blockbuster titles – moments of character development only occur amidst havoc and/or destructive violence. Bioshock Infinite seems one of the more fitting examples of this, as players learn the story of Booker and Elizabeth amidst brutal hand-to-hand decapitations. As a result, the potential for contemplative character-building is couched within advancing the player through some type of bullet-hell. KR0 co-creator Kemenczy suggests that this problem is not only one of content, but also of design. In a recorded interview over Skype, he commented on a central contrast between what he and Elliott have made and product from the mainstream industry, saying that in the latter "these moments … are still like a B-Side. They're just like an upgraded cinematic cut scene. [They] are not a primary concern."
In other words, within "AAA" games – or titles with enormous budgets and markets – the potential for dynamic character development manifests in the form of an apology rather than an epiphany. It is as if those brief interstitials act only as a kind of "mild interruption" in order to make a half-hearted argument that games are becoming more mature. This is only employed in order to counter-balance a more familiar, and marketable, hack-and-slash death match.
This is not to say that KR0 is unique merely because it is non-violent—many other games share this quality. What makes it unique is that Elliot and Kemenczy have created an experience where the player never quite becomes a commanding authority in shaping the way the world works. We advance with Conrad and friends far into the thicket of a metaphysical wonderland, but we never feel as though we've mastered it. This dynamic of uncertain mastery over the game becomes a central device in determining the relationship players have with their characters.

Still image from Cardboard Computer (Tamas Kemenczy and Jake Elliott), Kentucky Route Zero (video game). Act II Scene III - Museum of Inhabited Spaces.
When players engage in dialog with characters within KR0, the player is presented with a series of responses and/or prompts to initiate further conversation, a familiar technique within contemporary games like the Mass Effect series developed by BioWare. However, players quickly discover in KR0 that these decisions actually don't create any specific or noticeable circumstance within the game, and that these choices are more about establishing tone then they are about dictating gameplay. A powerful example of this from KR0 can be found in the conversations  – if that's what one can call it – a player conducts with his/her companion dog. In these exchanges, the resulting choices end up reading more like haikus than a scripted dialog logic-tree: "There are some horses out there behind the house. I guess they don't sleep in the barn. It's too spooky for a horse."
This kind of non-evaluative decision-making is a common trait of what game researcher Jesper Juul would describe as an "expressive game." In this micro-genre, which he largely identifies with sandbox-style titles, the player makes choices among a variety of options that don't dictate any specific outcome for the overall gameplay. When comparing "expressive games" to typical first-person shooters, he claims that "these games let players make decisions based on other criteria." These criteria are not based on utility and optimization, Juul argues, but instead based on a desire to make the game an expressive space.
In this way, the choosing of different dialog responses within KR0 allows the player to shape the characters in nuanced ways, and to develop an equally nuanced relationship with them. At times this relationship is uncertain, positioning the player in a space where he/she might not fully grasp the unfolding events of their interaction. This uncertainty, however, is not alienating; on the contrary, it allows players to develop an understanding of the characters and to sympathize with their desire to find a place to call home. The comfort found in these types of exchanges is a central part of what separates KR0 from other indie titles that have emerged in the past couple of years.

This is to say that playing KR0 feels like you're actually helping create a profound and insightful story – finally fulfilling a promise proposed by next-gen console developers since the introduction of the XBOX 360 in 2005. This positions KR0 at the forefront of establishing computer games as an expressive medium, one in which players are offered choices that do not relate to the completion of a mission, but drive the development of character and narrative. As such, the game offers a glimpse into possibilities for the medium that larger titles rarely explore. - rhizome.org/

Magic Realism and the Bluegrass State: Kentucky Route Zero, Act 1   by  

Kentucky Route Zero is the kind of game that captures the spirit of a place. I've lived in Kentucky for most of my life, my family hails from deep hollers in mining country, and there are aspects of this game that speak to some part of my spirit, if you believe in such things.
Act One, because Kentucky Route Zero is episodic, is a kind of slow burn that might deter some people from enjoying it. For me, the pace became almost meditative. The game carries with it a haunting, dream-like atmosphere that is accompanied easily by the pace. If you're looking for action packed thrills, you probably shouldn't be looking at a point and click adventure. That said, Kentucky Route Zero might bore you to tears.

Act One is about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how far you want to delve into this world. That exploration element is one of the ways that KZR sets itself apart from many of it's point and click adventure counterparts. Early on in the game, you are given a basic black and white road map to act as your map, and it's how you navigate between points. What could've easily become a boring fix, or turned into poking around, you are instead encouraged to look and see if you can find all of the details the world has to offer.
Directions are given in a decidedly rural style, another tidbit that really contributes to the overall feel of the game. You are told to travel past landmarks, and can't simply click on where you are traveling next. Instead you must travel around the map the way Conway would have to if he were given the same bizarre instructions.

There are moments where you can simply listen, either to the repeating hymn heard through the walls of an old church, or a small bluegrass band playing in the dark. It is in these moments that you get to soak in the spirit of a place that maybe doesn't exist anymore.
One of the more interesting aspects of Kentucky Route Zero is the way it approaches player interaction. While there is definitely an explicit story to be had in KZR, you are allowed to choose what your player says. It could be likened to the dialogue trees in games like Mass Effect, and really contributes to creating the character the way you imagine him. Is Conway a quiet and stern sort of guy? Would he be offended or taken aback by the way the people are talking to him? How does he respond to the oddities around him? In the three times I've played the game, I've had several decidedly different and unique stories, even if the end result is the same.

The first moment I saw the horse head of Equus Oils, one of the opening scenes in Kentucky Route Zero, I was blown away. It is hard to describe, but it is certainly something I've never seen in video game art, and the closest approximation I can make is Sword and Sworcery. The art style is simplified, with almost a watercolor like affect, and moments where you are permitted to just soak in the excellent scenery are well worth the pause.
Kentucky Route Zero has a second act that has recently became available, and if the other episodes are as beautiful and well put together, there's no reason not to buy. The game is available on Steam, and is honestly a must buy if you care about story and ambience. 

Kentucky Route Zero review

Review by Philippa Warr
The first serving of a five course point-and-click feast, Kentucky Route Zero is an otherworldly tale in which an antiques deliveryman searches for an address which may not be real. The only way to reach it is via a similarly existentially challenged highway – the titular Route Zero. What follows is a meandering, dream-like journey through a rural nightscape, evocatively rendered in an aliased vector style and accompanied by swelling ambient score.
There are no explicit puzzles here – except for the meaning of the things you experience along the way or riddles proffered by your occasional companions. Characters fade from reality like apparitions, a radio booms out choral music in a deserted church, a burning tree marks a turning along the highway, and an old tannoy pings the depths of a disused mine, stirring memories of a forgotten disaster.
With words like ‘magic realism’ being yanked up Kentucky Route Zero’s product description flagpole, you might fear a whistlestop nothing-is-what-it-seems tour through an is-it-isn’t-it unreality. And though you do indeed get that, the game’s creators are subtle, thoughtful and manipulative with it.

Rather than beating you round the head with philosophy, the game weaves a charming spell from the first moment deliveryman Conway’s truck pulls into a gas station. Text actions shun the traditional minimalism of point-and-click language for more evocative options. An in-game computer, activated by clicking a symbol rather than selecting any “use x with z” syntax, does not do anything so mundane as turning on. Rather it “wakens from its reverie” and demands a piece of blank verse as a password which you yourself construct line-by-line from a succession of options. Delightfully, each combination creates a poem of pleasing sound and equal plausibility but of differing meaning.
Complementing the text are the carefully choreographed and animated visual shifts which push your focus from one space to another. An attempt to tune a malfunctioning TV-set causes the wall behind to disassemble, revealing more clearly the night-time landscape which is also depicted on the small, fritzing box. Elsewhere, blooms of distant music or the chirruping of crickets draw you further into this strange moonlit otherworld.
Around halfway through this first act Kentucky Route Zero’s facility for creating contemplation reveals itself fully. Conway uses the echoes from a tannoy to check the structural integrity of an abandoned mineshaft (though quite how this works remains unclear). The player selects from dialogue choices as Conway mumbles into the microphone, and, regardless of which you pick, a groan reverberates through in the darkness. The selection isn’t important to move the game forwards, nor does it have any impact on the events that ensue – it exists only to make Conway your own private creation. Later you describe Conway’s thoughts in the same way, sculpting his inner life as he breathes into the microphone.

Creating an environment where the player falls so easily into introspection is Kentucky Route Zero’s major triumph. But its succession of rich, poetic images might also prove a bewildering, perhaps even aimless, when so unchained from a sense of narrative causality. There are moments, too, when the rhythm of the narrative and the rhythm of the game come into conflict – segments involving wilfully slow physical movement test your patience, for instance – but its spell is rarely broken and the discord soon recedes.
Kentucky Route Zero funnels you along a prescribed path, sparsely populated with commands and with little room for maneuver. But there’s considerably beauty in how it acknowledges these limitations and asks what sort of game choices are really the most important. Other adventures see you decide a character’s fate, their successes or failures. Kentucky Route Zero makes a point of asking you to describe their interior instead – and, by extension, yourself as well. However you respond to its ethereal imagery, this is a game which makes a rare suggestion: who a player is may be more important than what they do.

Nema komentara:

Objavi komentar