Kentucky Route Pitstop: Here And There Along The Echo

Kentucky Route Zero isn’t just gaming’s finest slice of magical realism and shaggy dog symphonies, it’s also a magnificent feat of myth-making. Like so much Americana, it straddles the line between fact and folk tale, and finds recognisable unrealities along the road to the grave. If the melancholic dramas of the main episodes take place at centre stage, the occasional interludes aren’t the entertainment in between acts, they’re happening somewhere in the wings, backstage or downriver. The latest free offering, Here And There Along The Echo, has a sinister setup – a telephone that can only dial one number – but turns out to be the closest the series has come to revealing its own absurd comedic heart.

Amusing or not, I reckon that telephone is haunted and there’s the usual melancholy undertone to the wit. Everything you need to play is on the site with the download link but I’ll happily admit that I didn’t realise I’d already been given the number I needed to start the journey until I’d spent some time listening to the Operator’s recording.

When you do manage to reach the audio machinery of the Echo, you might recognise Will Oldham’s voice at the other end of the line. He’s such a natural fit for the world of Kentucky Route Zero that it feels like he might have been along for the whole ride.

But what is Here And There Along The Echo? It’s an interactive radio play in the form of a telephone helpline. You’ll learn what to do when handling a snake and maybe you’ll even manage to learn a little bit about the telephone itself and the wider world of Cardboard Computer’s ongoing travelogue.

As with Kentucky Route Zero itself, the writing may be the main draw but the technical accomplishment should be mentioned as well. It’s a minimalist setting – a first-person view of the telephone, with a cursor to push buttons and handle the receiver. But move that receiver from one unseen ear to the other and the audio travels with it. The device has a tactile quality. It’s satisfying to hang up and to punch those numbers.

What will happen to the actual phone? What does it all mean?

32 Comments

  1. Axess Denyd says:

    Well that’s just silly. The Echo River tour closed years ago and all the boats have been moved to Lost Rive Cave.

    Disbelief NOT suspended.

  2. DrollRemark says:

    Don’t the free updates usually appear shortly before the full episodes? Please confirm so I can escalate my excitement accordingly.

    • Oozo says:

      So far, that has been the pattern. Which means: even more joy. (I mean, not that having Will Oldham as a narrator for… whatever it is they have come up with this time wouldn’t be reason enough for joy anyway…)

  3. Vandelay says:

    When is all of Kentucky Route Zero going to be out? After it become game of 2013 (will it also be game of 2014?) it jumped to near the top of my must buy games, but I feel a little reluctant to buy it when it hasn’t been finished yet.

    • DrollRemark says:

      I say this with the greatest of respect for your buying habits and all general personal life choices, but just buy the damn game already.

      Would you sit on your hands and not watch a film everyone raves about because you knew it was part of a trilogy? Are Half-Lifes 1 and 2 no good to you because 3 isn’t out? Is Game of Thrones not enjoyable because the story hasn’t finished yet?

      There’s enough content in KRZ right now to provide its money’s worth, so if you really want to play it, just do so. If anything, I’d advise against playing the game in one go because it dilutes the ability to sit and reflect on each part. I decided to try that when the last episode came out, and found that the lengthy sitting drained my enthusiasm for the new content. So I came back to it a few days later and it was much, much better.

      There’s nothing lost in the gaps between episodes. It’s not a game where you have to remember exactly what you were last doing each time you play.

      So in conclusion, just buy the damn game.

      • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

        Man, I bought KY0, but all the things you suggest as outlandish sound in fact very sensible. I remember when Lost was in its second season and I was like “sounds cool, but I think I’ll wait until the series is over to see how it pans out.” Now I don’t have to watch it ever! Ha!

        But here is my KY0 purchase advice: you can buy episodes separatedly, and if you’re so excited about it it may be the case that the amount of money you’ll save by buying the whole thing at a discount when it’s out might not be worth the joy you’ll have from playing the installments that are out now, and you can do that without buying anything unreleased.

        • Canadave says:

          FWIW, I think you’re missing out on some amazing television for not having seen LOST.

          / tangent

          • stahlwerk says:

            I concur. If you assume that blowing up the bomb in the 70s ended the whole time loop charade then and there, causality be damned, it’s a perfectly fine series.

    • Unknown says:

      Act II came out about 6 months after Act I. Act III came out almost a year after Act II. At some point between II and III, they said they were working on improving their workflow so that the wait between III and IV would be shorter. If I had to take a stab in the dark, I’d say Act IV will probably come out at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, and Act V will probably come out next summer or fall.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Because of the changing perspectives and obsursist connections, it is hard to keep straight many of the threads in the months and years between episodes. For me, it’s a game that does not suit the episodic format, and I’d engourage you to sit things out.

      It’s also not clear to me that the game will ever be finished, since the devs have to be suffering from cashflow issues. Most traditional day-one purchasers would have already bought in, so the devs are now inevitably relying on back-end revenue with much smaller margins, such as bundles and Steam sales.

      • Sarble says:

        On the one hand wait until it’s finished, on the other it may never be finished?

      • NotOscarWilde says:

        That’s unfortunate. Do you have any specific information about their monetary issues?

        I’m fairly sure there is a lot of people like me — people who bought in a Steam sale, fell into a deep, deep in love with the series and would pay some more money to see it finished.

        • Canadave says:

          I think that’s supposition re: cashflow. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming in a little more slowly for them now, but they haven’t given any indication that they’re having difficulties at this point.

      • elilupe says:

        On the other hand, if you’ll allow me to get a little pretentious for a second while I attempt to guess authorial intent, doesn’t the fact that your memory of the past episodes gets a little murky between releases sort of go along with the themes and ideas in Kentucky Route Zero? The world of KR0 is all a little dreamy, nothing is quite clear, and locations and people move and change in the background, much like your memory does.

        I dunno, just a little thought experiment I guess. It’s stretching a bit but I think the wait between episodes actually improves the game, in a sublime, subconscious sort of way.

      • faelnor says:

        If Cardboard Computer had cashflow issues, they wouldn’t be pushing additional content which is both entirely free and involves hiring a famous singer for the voiceover.

      • athorist says:

        I think pretty much by its nature, it has to be episodic. It has to be in five parts, because that’s the traditional structure of a play, which is one of the many elements of culture (and history – brick sandwiches!) the game is referencing. Maybe that doesn’t help cashflow, but on the other hand, not putting your product up for sale doesn’t really help your cashflow either. If they were going to wait until everything was finished sometime next year, they’d probably have run out of money by now.

        As for keeping all of the game fresh in your memory, it’s possible (and even rewarding) to replay it.

    • TomxJ says:

      The only thing better than playing KR0 is thinking about KR0 inbetween episodes.

      I’d advise getting into it as soon as.

    • Emadwolf says:

      its a game to be played before completion of Acts to live with its myth and stories and with timing of Acts releases and in between free games of it like this. designers are trying to connect you with the games world a blend of fiction with reality so if you guys dont want to loose these part of the game its better to own it now

  4. AngoraFish says:

    If only they spent less time writing interludes and more time finishing the actual game…

    • DrollRemark says:

      Only if your chosen definition of “the actual game” is purely the episodes released within the paid version.

    • Canadave says:

      I think the interludes are a pretty important part of the story, myself. The Entertainment led directly into a scene in Act III, and the playwright also ends up appearing as a character in that act. They also do a great job of varying the tone of the game and changing up the style a bit.

      • AngoraFish says:

        If the interludes are a pretty important part of the story, they should actually be part of the story, not distributed in a format that most owners will never even hear about.

        • athorist says:

          They’ve said on Twitter that they will put them in the steam game, once the main parts have been finished.

          You pretty much have to play The Entertainment to make sense of Part III. Echo Falls is a place on the zero, so this part more adds background, than actually being necessary to understand the game (so far – maybe Part IV will refer to it).

    • lokimotive says:

      That’s silly. Limits and Demonstrations was an interesting bit of world building, but, in my opinion The Entertainment was absolutely vital. It was a fantastic game and I’m incredibly happy that they made it. Don’t be so silly. Harumph.

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    SputnikSweetheart says:

    Woop. I really like these little segments, they add a little to the mystery but still remain intersting standalone experiments. And have Bonnie Prince Billy telling you what to do when you have a snake on your arm is clearly a plus. Hopefully the next chapter is almost ready.

  6. Grovester says:

    I was lucky enough to play this on my way to work this morning, and was thinking that something about the narration was awfully familiar (especially the little ditty to his food). Very glad to hear it was Will Oldham himself, which kinda makes sense, given he’s from Kentucky. And is odd.

    If you feel like it, you can call the number from a real phone and get to play the game on a real phone. Not recommended unless you’re in Kentucky. Or calling from work and they don’t check the bills.

    And to the people wondering if they should buy it; yes, buy it, now. And take time to digest each episode, and make sure you play the interludes in the right order at the right time.

  7. mouseclicker says:

    A) I had no idea this was Bonnie Prince Billy doing the voice recording. It makes so much sense, I love it.
    B) I recommend, if you can, to call the number with an actual phone instead of playing the program. It makes it seem so much more real and intriguing. I love that they actually got this phone number and set up a real recording tree. I may have racked up a sizable long-distance bill for my employer in the process of going through this.

  8. Shadrach says:

    I think this is absolutely brilliant and wonderful – and I find it strangely soothing for some reason. Must be that voice…

    Looking forward to part IV. For some reason I thought it was finished with part III but not sure where I got that idea.

  9. alms says:

    Should I avoid this if I haven’t played any KRZ episodes yet?

    • Canadave says:

      Hopefully you get a chance to see this comment, but there are no real spoilers in this that I can recall. As in the past two interludes there’s probably some foreshadowing for Act IV, but it otherwise stands on its own.

  10. noah2251 says:

    I think that the end of the auction for the weird telephone (in three days from now) will be the release date for act IV. or, it could e that i don’t understand ebay, and the auctions can only last so long and the end of the auction doesn’t mean anything.