I recently had the pleasure of playing and reviewing [bracket]games’ most recent release, Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition. The game’s story of guilt and heartache, coupled with the anonymity of the characters invites players to see themselves in the world and become immersed with the narrative, both of which I whole-heartedly did. I gave the game a 5 out of 5 and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve become a bit of a fan-boy for the game, telling as many people as I can about it and trying to get its name in front of more eyes.
Luckily for me, Three Fourths Home writer, Zach Sanford, has embraced my fan-boy tendencies for his story and has allowed me to pick his mind, learning where the idea for the game came from and how it has felt having so many people connect personally with what he has written. Below is that interview, but please do not read any further if you have yet to play the game as we will be talking about many of the plot points. Three Fourths Home is phenomenal, so go play the game, then come back here.
B – If we could get your name and what your role on the game Three Fourths Home is.
Z – My name is Zach Sanford. I was the writer/designer/artist/programmer on Three Fourths Home. I handled everything but the music, which was by Neutrino Effect.
B – First off, congratulations on the game. Three Fourths Home is a phenomenal experience, even gaining a 5 out of 5 here at Gamespresso. Can you talk about where the initial idea for this game came from and any inspirations that helped influence the style of the game?
Z – I started outlining the game after a really, really terrible part of my life that sent me back to Nebraska (not my home, but a place I’d lived for a long time while growing up) after having moved away to Minnesota several years earlier. So the set-up of the game was heavily influenced by the things that I was going through at the time. Beyond that basic set-up, I pulled a lot from other experiences I’ve had, as well as from the experiences of family members and friends.
That said, the story is entirely fictional. Some characters have traits that I can attribute largely to one person, but the circumstances aren’t any that they’ve found themselves in. The best way to describe the inspiration for the story is that my experiences provided the most, but were blended in with others’ experiences and reassembled into a story that is fictional, but somewhat parallel, to actual events.
The style of the game came largely from my development background. Prior to starting work on Three Fourths Home, I had worked a lot in Twine. I’d made several prototypes and some jam games that weren’t Twines, but Three Fourths Home would become my first large project outside of Twine. So a lot of the design of the game was influenced by the text-based games – [out] and Letters to Babylon, specifically – that I’d made before.
Designing Three Fourths Home, I wanted to adhere to a lot of the sensibilities of Twine while using visual elements and gameplay that served to strengthen the narrative, as opposed to simply existing beside it. I went through a few prototypes that demanded more from the player before settling on the simple “driving” mechanic that was coupled with the text of the game. It was a design that I felt could strengthen the player’s connection to the story (as opposed to requiring nothing from the player but dialogue choice), while also tying into the themes and narrative of the game in a way that wasn’t extraneous.
B – Kelly hasn’t been the best about staying in touch with her family, and it shows in her conversations with her parents and brother. There is a definite strain between them. I don’t mean to pry where I shouldn’t, but was there a guilt that may have been in your own family life that influenced your writing for Three Fourths Home? The story feels very personal.
Z – Of course! And I don’t think it’s an experience remotely unique to my own. For a lot of people, the whole “adulthood” process involves a slow but seemingly inevitable decoupling of the person growing up and the people that have always been in their lives. Children move away, have to deal with all of the bullshit that life entails, and it sucks them into a world where their family feels vestigial. It’s something that happened to me, and it’s something about which I’ve had many conversations with others.
And coming home brings that decoupling to the forefront. For both sides, personality and interests and the very concept of that person remain frozen in the shape that they were before. Years may have passed, but suddenly you’re left with people that are very different from the people they used to be, but they’re trying to interact in a way that ignores the passage of time, while these new personalities fight to be recognized. It’s a tension that anyone who’s had to interact with extended family after an extended period of time has experienced. Only it’s much worse when it involves parents or siblings.
B – In my review, I talked about how the anonymity of Kelly and her family, being both voiceless and faceless, allows players to substitute themselves in their place and add their own inflections to responses. Was this intentional as a means to try to bring players closer to the game’s narrative?
Z – Absolutely. In all of the games I’ve made I’ve aimed to have characters that could be inhabited by players and defined by their own idea of what they want them to be. That doesn’t mean an “empty vessel,” but it means allowing the player’s imagination to fill in gaps that will make them more identifiable. This carries over into the epilogue, as well – while we see Kelly, she is silhouetted, the details left to filled in by the player.
B – The recently released “Extended Edition” included a new epilogue. Taking place before the original game, this epilogue seems to give more context to the story. Was this part of the original story that just didn’t make the final cut? Or was the inclusion of this new tale an opportunity to revisit this world and further explore your characters?
Z – It was not part of the original story, and was not planned when the game initially released. I decided to add an epilogue after the game was Greenlit on Steam. It was an opportunity to add more to the story and, as you said, explore the characters a little more. That said, I had to convince myself to make it.
I felt that the story I wanted to tell was complete (with some cuts due to time) when Three Fourths Home was released last year. And the idea of adding an epilogue felt like a terrible idea. But I thought that there had to be a direction that could work, and I did want to revisit the characters, so I challenged myself to find that direction.
I went through a lot of concepts before arriving at the one I pursued. One involved the player taking on the role of Ben in the moments following the initial game. Another followed Kelly’s mom as she talked to her own mother about her marriage. I had set the constraints that I wanted to repurpose mechanics (forward movement, the slowing of time, etc.) from the main game, though, and I couldn’t figure out how to make them fit into any of the ideas I had.
That is, until I started outlining an epilogue that served as both epilogue and prologue, addressing Kelly’s experiences before the game as well as her reaction to the events of the main game’s narrative. I won’t spoil anything here beyond that, but it turned into something that I found very compelling.
B – Three Fourths Home was nominated for IGF’s Excellence in Narrative award this year. How has all the positive attention felt and what is it like hearing that so many people have connected to your story?
Z – It’s felt weird. I’ve always felt confident in Three Fourths Home, but it was a surprise (and an incredible one) when I heard that it was nominated at the IGF. Especially with the other games that we were nominated alongside, all of them phenomenal games by incredibly talented developers. It felt weird, in the best way possible.
Every time someone tells me that they enjoyed the game, or that they found an emotional connection with it, it’s heartening and inspiring. Games have a uniquely powerful ability to connect people to experiences and ideas, and I’m always striving to make use of that potential. It’s why I make games – to foster a connection with the player.
B – What’s next for you and [bracket]games? Are you all working on a new title?
Z – To Azimuth is our next big project. It’s an adventure game following a brother and sister as they search for their brother following his disappearance, and possible abduction by extraterrestrials, set in 1970’s Alabama (another place I can’t necessarily call “home,” but where I spent a lot of time growing up). Like Three Fourths Home, it is a game very much about familial relationships, but with a heavy dose of science fiction and conspiracy.
Q. Where can readers find your game and if they want to know more about you and/or Bracket Games?
A. Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition is available on Steam, Humble Bundle, and Itch.io. You can find more info on the game at threefourthshome.com, or more about [bracket]games and our other projects at bracket-games.com.