Rising Tension in Three Fourths Home

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I want to talk about Three Fourths Home. It was injected into my ecosystem via Will O’Neill’s Top 10. I respect his taste and vowed to go through and do my due diligence. After having played it, stewed on it, spoke about it during an interview, and now sitting here collecting my thoughts on it, the part which makes Three Fourths Home exceptional is not only the strong narrative, but it is the mechanics used to access that narrative.

The two best descriptors I have I give to Three Fourths Home; it is both genuine and sincere. These are worthy descriptors for a story that aims to convey nostalgia and the universal bittersweet experience of returning home. It believably conveys the sort of internal emotional struggle it can be for an adult to return back to the stomping grounds of adolescence. It is an act similar to returning to a scene of a crime, open long healed scabs, or exposing the soft underbelly of youth that adulthood tries plate in armor. For some it is the long walk home after having failed at their professions, only to realize they also failed at tending to the fragile familial ties that get forgot in pursuit of trying to make ones way. It does all of this with grace.Three Fourths HomeWhile all of that is great, what was exceptional to me is the interaction required to engage with this narrative. In order for the story to unfold and the narrative to progress, we must press and hold the forward key. As we press and hold the car runs across the road, the rain falls to the earth and the cornfields whiz by. Releasing the key then brings everything to a standstill. The world is frozen; the story is put on pause.

The reason why this simple interaction is so incredible is that this very simple act builds tension. Tension is a critical element for storytelling and in each respective medium there have been methods discovered that best create tension. Tension can be established through sounds, camera angles, or even through colors. Tension can also be built through the use of game mechanics, think of the increasing difficulty as a way of building tension.  In Three Fourths Home, the tension is being built in the stories rising action, but through this simple interaction of holding a key down, another form of tension is made. Physical tension manifests in your finger, your wrist, and your arm. You don’t notice it at first, very little strength is required to hold a button press. Even as the story reaches its climax you still might not notice the physical tension being built up in your body. It’s not until the story is finishes, and you needn’t press the key any longer do you finally notice. It’s a release, both in a literal and figurative sense and it’s powerful.

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It’s a small thing that when I thought about it became an all-consuming notion. It was what mystified me the most.  Normally we look at controllers and keyboards as just a means to interact in with these experiences, so when a designer finds a way to acknowledge these devices as a necessary and useful way to communicate the experience it stands out.  Three Fourths Home finds a way to elevate its own sincere writing, through the necessity of a continuous button press. It’s such a simple mechanical interaction that elevates the entire experience and creates something that can only be achieved through the medium of games.

Perhaps that is why it was Will O’Neill’s top game of 2014 and IGF 2014 nominee.