Kentucky Route Zero, and player choice (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 14:04 (108 days ago)

Kentucky Route Zero has gave me pause about player choice in narrative games.

The developers said something very interesting:

Yeah, I think so. I think that that way of thinking about it — I remember us talking about it in those terms pretty early on, thinking about the player as a performer of the story. Just like an actor in a play, in a performance of any kind, has a lot of influence over how the performance functions, but they don’t write the script still. So yeah, that’s definitely something we thought about early on.

And also this idea of what it means to have agency in a story. A lot of the times when players talk about agency, they’re more talking about control over the strategy of the game. They’re saying, “Do I have the option to sort of minimize and maximize, and employ a strategy to make this story go the way that I want it to?”

We didn’t want to let the player be strategic or play strategically. And that shows up in a lot of different ways in the game, and it’s been something that has been a design guideline that we’ve come back to a lot. We’re presenting the player with different choices but not really giving them the data to know which choice will impact the narrative, or even what’s going to happen when you make those choices.

We want the player to make choices a lot of the time out of curiosity, or out of following their interest, or as a way of doing this performance, adding certain inflection to the story.


What an interesting take. I've always thought games to be quite reminiscent of the stage. For instance, Final Fantasy 7's static camera and low resolution models lean towards broad gestures by the characters to convey emotion, much like a stage actor for whom the audience cannot see the intricacies of his or her face reliably beyond the first few rows. Many games are like this. KRZ makes this literal by having no faces on the characters at all.

But the idea of choice as strategy is something else entirely. Think about the choices you make in games where you can change the outcome. How many goal oriented decisions you make based on your attachments to certain characters or situations. Does that give you the story you want, or the story you need? Would it be wrong to say your decisions in something like Until Dawn are not made to maximize drama, but to keep the characters you like alive? In a game is it better to play the actor, or the writer / director?

What's a game like where your choices have no outcome on the story, but have an outcome on the experience? Is this a superior way to design an interactive narrative? I haven't played Detroit, so I simply cannot compare this to a game that give high levels of story direction to players in a sophisticated way. But I suspect the strategy element of it will still be at play.

And so I question what I know.

What an amazing little game.

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