Jake Elliott takes TPG on a trip through their new adventure title, Kentucky Route Zero. Discover how passion and drive lead to an IGF finalist nomination, thoughts on YouTube gameplay videos of Kentucky Route Zero, plus much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Kentucky Route Zero.
I’m an artist and game designer; I’ve made a bunch of small experimental games over the last 5 years or so. Kentucky Route Zero is a collaboration with my friend Tamas Kemenczy. It’s been a very deep collaboration, with both of us working on the code and design very closely, but the two areas where we’ve divided responsibility are that he’s done all the art and I’ve done all the writing.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I spent most of the last 12 years or so making weird software art and building software tools for audio/video performance. So video games are kind of a natural direction to explore when working with interactive (playable) audiovisual software, I guess?
In its current form, how close is Kentucky Route Zero to your initial vision?
It’s really been . Originally, we expected it would be a sort of non-violent, mouse-driven metroidvania with dialog. As we developed the game it slowly evolved into what it is now, which is more recognizable as a point-and-click adventure.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Kentucky Route Zero and if you faced a similar challenge.
This game isn’t meant to be at all challenging, at least not in the way people usually use that term when talking about video games. It’s not a place for a player to learn or prove a skill, or get into a battle of wits with its designers. So it’s been our task as designers to explore meaningful interactions without that meaning clever puzzles or tests of skill. We’ve relied heavily on play-testing, which has been hugely valuable. We’re fortunate to be part of a community of game designers that’s very open with feedback and very good at giving it.
How did you go about funding Kentucky Route Zero and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Early on (January 2011), we ran a Kickstarter campaign. This helped us purchase the engine we used to develop the game (Unity) and also to hire Ben Babbitt and The Bedquilt Ramblers to record the soundtrack. It’s also been really encouraging to have these Kickstarter backers go through the process with us; we sent them regular newsletter updates to keep them updated on our progress, and got encouragement and feedback as we went. So that was a really valuable aspect of Kickstarter that we didn’t know about going in.
Tell us about the process of submitting Kentucky Route Zero to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Now that we’ve been nominated as finalists in the IGF, we get a pass directly onto Steam, which is great. Otherwise, we haven’t really been in touch with other platforms. Selling the game directly is working very well for us — surprisingly well, given what we’ve heard from other developers who have tried to sell directly through their websites.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Yeah, we looked at Telltale as a model, and also at other indie games that seemed comparable in their scope and the kind of audience they had.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
I like the bundle thing in concept. I like to think it’s about solidarity: small/niche/marginalized developers packaging their games together so they can introduce their audiences to each others’ work. I’ve never been involved in one, so I don’t know if that’s really the case.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Kentucky Route Zero?
It’s kinda weird! The game is so content-oriented that I feel sort of uncomfortable with the presence of these YouTube playthroughs. That’s not really how we want the game to be experienced. But it seems to be a very popular thing to do: recording yourself playing a video game, optionally making some snarky comments, and uploading it to YouTube. I’m excited that people are excited about it, and maybe making a YouTube video is just how some people play video games right now. That seems kind of interesting and unfamiliar; I’d like to understand it better than I do.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Kentucky Route Zero?
Mods for Kentucky Route Zero would be a huge surprise! I don’t think it’s possible, the way we’ve built the game. But I like the idea of making a game that could also function as a creative tool, for machinima or modding. Maybe a goal for a future project – End
We would like to thank Jake for allowing a brief glimpse into the mind of an up-and-coming indie developer. You can pick up Kentucky Route Zero via the official site. You can purchase all five acts for $25 or one at a time as they are released for $7 a piece.