'Taking genre conventions as your starting point is kinda boring'

"When I first started... I thought everything had to be a platformer," says Cardboard Computer's Jake Elliott, discussing Kentucky Route Zero's ground-up design.
"Taking genre conventions as your starting point is kinda boring."
- Cardboard Computer's Jake Elliott Two-man studio Cardboard Computer is poised to release the second act of its idiosyncratic, Southern Gothic point-and-click adventure Kentucky Route Zero "any day now," says co-creator Jake Elliott. Gamasutra had a chance to sit down with Elliott recently to get his read on developing a game from the point of its setting, rather than its mechanics. "When I first started making games I was so immersed in 'Indie' games with a capital 'I' that I thought everything had to be a platformer," says Elliott. "It was my go-to idea about how a game would function... But taking genre conventions as your starting point is kinda boring." Kentucky Route Zero began life as a Metroid-styled exploration game, Elliott tells Gamasutra. "There wouldn't have been any violence or shooting. Just exploratory, and you had to do a lot of backtracking. We have some early prototypes of it; it's kind of a weird fit." Elliott says that working through the game from the point of view of its setting allowed him and co-developer Tamas Kemenczy to continually finesse Kentucky Route Zero's mechanics until the tone of the game showed through. "We started stripping away gameplay mechanics, [things like] challenges and puzzles, and that turned it into more of a point-and-click, but that's definitely not where we started. It's just a process of undoing our preconceptions of what the game would be like." One of Kentucky Route Zero's most artful aspects is the way it encourages players to make non-binary decisions. "We're used to thinking about consequences in games as being win-states and fail-states," says Elliott, "or as narrative branching devices. But in the case of this game the consequences are often just what words are hanging in the air, what words you decide to commit to the record of the game." Above, you can see a Let's Play walkthrough of Kentucky Route Zero's first act by Unmanned author Jim Munroe, who is simultaneously interviewing Elliott about the game's design. Spoilers ensue, of course, but it's an excellent insight into the design process from a game writers' perspective. On the subject of the game's upcoming second act, the Cardboard Computer duo remain tight-lipped, but we're bound to see an evolution from the previous installment. "Act Two is a lot different than Act One in some ways, which will be pretty evident when it's out," Elliott offers. "You'll be able to see with Act Two that we're still figuring out some of what the design of the game is." You can preorder the entire five-act series through Steam or the game's website.

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