I am thinking a lot about Kentucky Route Zero these days, and I keep trying to forget about The Detail, but one element that holds both together is their use of pen and ink drawings as a base for the game. The Detail sticks close to genre norms – I found it striking and beautiful, but it also clearly drew from comic books and graphic novels of recent vintage, and stuck closely to crime fiction norms. KRZ, on the other hand, having no fucking genre, invents its own artistic style.
Both results rely heavily on specific styles. The Detail features heavy, thick lines, bold-but-basic colors, and not a lot of shading. KRZ is almost all shades, with lots of pastels in non-icky (yes, that is a technical term) colors, and very light tracings of the pen to demarcate borders and boundaries. Entire scenes in KRZ are in black and white, with the background black only being transformed by the white etchings when the cursor (or whatever your characters are traveling on) moves through that space.
The emphasis on movement is important, and I’ll talk about it again, but KRZ utilizes the deep greens and blacks of early CRT dumb monitors, and lights these scenes in interesting ways. At times the lighting feels as if it comes from Renaissance painting, with just off-center fires providing light by which characters can see. We are clued in early to the importance of light by Conway’s first problem solving expedition to the basement of the gas station at which he stops to ask directions, as he has to carry a flashlight only to discover that there are already people down there, playing cards, so the game’s fascination with light feels earned.
(I’m reminded of light here in several games – Sir You are being Hunted, in which turning on your flashlight attracts unwanted attention, WOW with its mysterious light that never moved, as you could see to the end of dark caverns without turning on obvious lights, the Torchlight series in which light moves with the characters and wakes up the thousands of mobs that attack you).
Light plays out differently in TD. Since the entire story takes place in the city, light comes from streetlamps and other external lights common to urban settings – restaurant signs, warehouse security lights, and so on. The background is often all black, with very little gray, a too-obvious metaphor for one approach to crime stories.
Magical realism vs. crime will be something I tackle later.
Dwelling with the colorful criminal underworld at the University of Arizona meant that I didn’t need to read crime fiction – I lived so close as to breathe it…