Kentucky Route Zero's second episode is due out in April, developers Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy of Cardboard Computer tell Joystiq at GDC. Elliott and Kemenczy announced plans to release each episode on a rolling, three-month schedule back in October, and they're standing by that goal. This puts the final episode of Kentucky Route Zero out in January 2014, one year after the launch of episode one.
"It's pretty aggressive, but I think we've got our workflow down so well now that we feel good about it still," Elliott says.
Kentucky Route Zero emphasizes the player as an actor, presenting choices that subtly impact gameplay and create unique experiences for each person. The mines in episode one, for example, clearly represent the importance of player input; it's possible to shoot straight through the dark passageways, or players can explore every tunnel and cranny. The second option triggers a scene directly following the mines – a scene that direct players will never see. Save files will transfer between episodes, Cardboard Computer confirms.
Still, the game has a definitive finale, without any branching story paths or "good" and "bad" endings. And it's not a happy conclusion, at least for some characters.
"It's a tragedy," Elliott says. "The story's a tragedy, it's a tragic ending. Hopefully it won't be too bleak, but it's in that tradition." During his panel on Tuesday, Elliott presented a few works of inspiration: the classic Americana morbidity in Death of a Salesman and the Southern Gothic vibe from Flannery O'Connor.
This ending will most likely take place within the drawling Southern universe that Kentucky Route Zero inhabits, complete with its introspective mood, superstitious overtones and twangy blues soundtrack. But at its heart, Kentucky Route Zero is a game about credit default swaps, payday loans, sub-prime mortgages and health insurance loopholes. Really.
"It's in there," Elliott says. "Those are the esoteric devices that express themselves in some of the situations that you do, these people who are dealing with all these credit problems, dealing with debt. Those are these things that, by design, are too mysterious and we can't understand them. In finance, they do that on purpose."