Level Design of Video Games – Pacing yourself in Kentucky Route Zero

Pacing is everything in Kentucky Route Zero. In a game where there are no mechanics, aside from dialogue choices, the pacing of the narrative and the feeling that is conveyed from this is what drives the experience. What Kentucky Route Zero does so well in its pacing is how it lets the player take their own pace.

The most important design element in KRZ is that there are no time constraints on how long a player can remain in a level or scene. The game relies entirely on player input to continue, coupling this with the fact that the narrative mechanics feel very non-committal it creates a slowly paced game where a player can feel comfortable and at ease to not only express themselves by taking on the role of a character but take their time. Aside from the unique art style and the narrative, the pacing stands out, to me, as the core of the game.

What I also find to be interesting regarding pacing is that not only is KRZ broken into scenes and acts but the acts are release sequentially, over the span of months and years. For me this creates a lasting experience which I revisit with each release, each time being able to take my time through the course of the game or even start where I left off resulting in gameplay that is comfortable for me because I determine when I progress.

Getting more into the level design of KRZ traversing a level is designed to be at a meandering pace. The Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces for example requires that the player take an elevator up and down a series of floors multiple times. This draws out what is otherwise a small level, into a slowly paced exploration of floors littered with segments of interest, such as a floor of bears. Not only is this lucrative for the developers, as they get extra time from layers for free, but the players can more easily understand the slow pace of the game without fear of losing their way.

Whats more, levels aren’t large, they aren’t confusing or trying to hide anything. Everything is framed for the player like a stage is framed to an audience for the optimal experience, this affords the player the time to explore what they see because it is already laid out for them. It also helps that levels are always appealing to look at, making it a pleasure to gorge on one scene for as long as one can. All the while not being worried by what the level or narrative has in store due to the non-committal intrigue that the dialogue presents. Rather than be concerned over what may come next, the player can instead spend their time deciphering the curious sentences of the characters, and ponder the different interpretations.

In short, Kentucky Route Zero would not be the game that it is without the pace it takes, it feels like moments, moments that can be drawn out or cut short, and where you can feel comfortable when nothing is going on.

– Battz

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