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Kentucky Route Zero team springs to life with a new interlude

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Kentucky Route Zero IGF trailer Cardboard Computer
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Kentucky Route Zero, an episodic game that’s been in production for more than seven years, has suddenly sprung back to life. A new, smaller game experience dropped just this morning, accompanied by its own cable channel and a call-in phone line.

Cardboard Computer, the indie team behind the game, made the announcement this morning on Twitter. They’re known for making these types of “interludes,” small projects which fill the gap between Kentucky Route Zero’s larger episodes. This one is called Un Pueblo De Nada (A Town Of Nothing) and takes place inside a fictional local station called WEVP and focuses on a late-night program hosted by a woman named Rita. You can actually watch that broadcast, which plays in a loop online. Individual segments are available to play through an an unlisted database.

In the parallel game experience, which you can download here, players take on the role of the program’s producer. That means you can watch the “real” programs that you’re interacting with in-game acted out live on the website.

A scene from Una Puebla De Nada, an interlude of Kentucky Route Zero, features a man with a sitar hosting the “weather.”
A scene from Un Puebla De Nada where you help produce the weather forecast.
Cardboard Computer
A scene from Un Puebla De Nada, an interlude of Kentucky Route Zero.
That same scene, as broadcast by the fictional WEVP-TV.
Cardboard Computer, Una Puebla De Nada

Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero is known for its sense of “magical realism.” It’s something the team discussed with me at length over drinks way back in 2013.

Kentucky Route Zero plays with that sense of depth in common spaces. Its major scenes taking place at a bait shop, a farmhouse, a gas station. It’s the characters that bring the places to life. “All of these people are living here,” said co-creator Jake Elliott, “just all this residue because of people spending so much time there. That’s something … with a lot of the locations in the game, that I think is the feeling of this space having history, having residue.”

While struggling with a way to represent that residue in a game, they struck upon an obscure genre of literature, magic realism. Best exemplified by the author Gabriel García Márquez, it’s a kind of storytelling that seamlessly blends the fantastic with the mundane. Characters are themselves complicit in the sometimes hallucinatory tableaus this genre allows writers to create. The past and the present can be together in the same room, and the disorder that that creates is a personification of the helplessness characters feel. In a way, magic realism mirrors the kind of escapism some say gamers themselves indulge in with their hobby.

”It’s also part of why this game takes place in the South,” Elliott said. “Magical realism is a really interesting way of doing this … politically directed sort of exploration of what people’s experiences are like when they’re marginalized. That’s, I guess, why we wanted to use that trope.”

Since then, its story has expanded greatly. Fans are eagerly awaiting its fifth, and final, episode.

Today’s announcement also comes with another treat. There’s a phone line at WEPV where fans can call in for a special message from late-night host, Rita, and even leave their own message after the beep.

Late last year, Cardboard Computer also announced that it will be coming to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

“We’ll release it at the same time as we update the PC version with Act 5,” it said, “which we’re planning to do in the early part of 2018.”

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