— an annotation on KENTUCKY ROUTE ZERO, ACT I —
When in 1975 the programmer William Crowther began transposing to digits the maze of twisty little passages that is the landmark Mammoth Cave complex underneath Kentucky, he may have unwillingly engendered the very first specimen of interactive, wholly textual fiction in which the portrayal of a real experience, as acquired from his subjective point of view, blends seamlessly with elements of literary fantasy. Part of the rightful merit belonging to this early page of the electronic entertainment record is derived from the circumstances inherent to the outset of his legendary Colossal Cave Adventure: a voluntary, part-time endeavor where various aspects of his life converged, from his keen interest in activities as dissimilar as speleology and tabletop games, to motives of a personal and emotional order.
Not unlike other forerunning treasures pertaining to digital prehistory, his seven-hundred odd lines of FORTRAN code would have likely been lost into the ether were it not for their rediscovery soon after and their subsequent improvement. The following year, Dan Woods, startled upon the accidental finding of the program stored in a Stanford University computer, would be responsible for compiling the enhanced edition which is still played and esteemed today for its visionary layout. The conclusion of this ensuing cooperation stands to this date as the unyielding pillar of adventure videogames as well as a seminal contribution to the blooming field of IF.
Decades after the PDP-10 and the ARPANET were deemed obsolescent, the practices of interplay altered drastically as an ever expanding industrial establishment was constructed above the early foundations cast by such guileless men – and, lest we forget, women - who sought only to hone the potential of mere workstations long before the arrival of personal computers. In less than frequent cases, it must be noted, the current creative impetus remains analogous to that which drove these unsullied architects to devise the first known pieces of digital entertainment and interactive narratives, aided by their coarse technological ally; however, the methods and ambitions cultivated ever since grew misaligned with these noble and unpretentious origins. Consumers, by and large, were sidetracked inchmeal from the substance which could bestow value to their playtime with the stimulus of quality. Fiction became adventure; became visual and aural; became a formulaic parody of its former glories. Stagnated in its revivalist gear and held captive by its hallmark quirks and irksome atavisms, the genre is largely confined to upgraded simulacra of the climaxes from a now distant golden age.
Evidencing the vital contrast between such dominating retro trends lacking in authenticity and a full-fledged work of original fiction rooted in historic references, Kentucky Route Zero had the unique distinction of being exemplary even before the project reached its completion. Whether or not they could make sense of what they saw, sheer intuition persuaded many to turn their attention to its tantalizing debut footage whilst recognizing, undividedly, that a giant was looming on the horizon. If this close collaboration between Jake Elliot and Tamas Kemenczy has inhabited more than a single corpus, and it has certainly presented itself in at least two different countenances, its expressive essence proved sufficiently cohesive to withstand the sweeping changes underwent throughout the creative process. And while ACT I is solely the introductory segment of a senecan quintefoil, it already encompasses ample import to be saluted for its reverent consummation of computer games as a laudable storytelling medium – one of vast, latent wherewithal.