I guide the protagonist of The Bridge, an older gentleman, to a wall. The character can’t jump, but he obviously needs to get to the door, which is on a higher ledge. To get him to the door, I turn the world; the wall becomes the floor, and I’m able to lead him to the door. This is the world of The Bridge, the first game from developer Ty Taylor. The Bridge is a 2D puzzle game that mixes the physics of Isaac Newton and the mind-bending architecture of M.C. Escher. The art, beautifully done by Mario Castaneda, is in the style of black-and-white lithographs, giving the game an otherworldly yet realistic feel. According to Newton, objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and in the game this is true. The Menace, a large ball that smiles and frowns, is heavy, so once it starts barreling towards the protagonist, you have to turn the world, finessing the world so its pieces go where you want them to. Each object in The Bridge has its own weight and properties, and the adherence to Newtonian physics throughout the game impressed me. Intrigued by the game, I contacted Ty Taylor, and we discussed The Bridge by email.
In the game, if you make a mistake, you can rewind time and correct your error. Rewinding time is a mechanic many associate with Jonathan Blow’s Braid. “It’s no secret that Braid was a huge inspiration of mine,” Taylor said, “and as it should be. It’s a fantastic game. But my inspiration from Braid was purely structural. What Braid is to time, The Bridge is to gravity.” This is true. Braid manipulated time in various ways; in The Bridge, you can only rewind time. As you advance in the game, you encounter vortexes, swirling gravity wells that can trap you, inversions, and veils that change gravity. Understanding how gravity is manipulated in the game is the key to solving the puzzles.
“This was probably the most difficult thing to get working in the game from a technical standpoint,” he replied when I asked about adhering to Newtonian physics. “I had to invent a lot of concepts in dealing with how I can change physics in an M. C. Escher style world while still achieving an environment with standard Newtonian physics.” I wondered what came first during development, the art or the manipulation of gravity. “The puzzles and concept came first. I knew starting out that I wanted the game to be centered around gravity rotation and the M. C. Escher themes. After I had implemented a few of the levels myself, with my own ‘art’, I brought Mario onto the team.”
The story is not straight-forward; players do need to pay attention to the style of the game and what is and isn’t presented. At first, the Menace seems to be the enemy, but as I played, I noticed that the Menace smiles and frowns, which signaled to me that it was not an active antagonist. I mentioned this to Taylor, and he answered, “That’s a great observation, one that I think most people miss. The menace, while something that you need to avoid in the game, is quite often also used as a tool for shutting off vortexes and opening doors. It’s both an enemy and a friend, and this bipolar nature is graphically represented by his two simultaneous happy and angry faces.”
I then searched for meaning in the choice of every being with eyes, the protagonist, the Menace, and people in paintings, having blank eyes. However, having no eyes “isn’t tied into the story in any way.” The decision for characters to have blank eyes is an artistic one because “having such a distinct yet attractive style for the eyes really draws a player’s attention towards the character and menace. When working in black-and-white, we have to take extra steps to draw a player’s attention to the important things. We did things like blurring the background and animating all objects that you can interact with. Having blank eyes is a bit more psychological, but we felt that it would keep the player’s attention on the character and menace as well.”
I pressed Taylor some more about the story, asking about Pythagoras, esoteric mathematics, and Escher’s work, but the story is intentionally ambiguous. “I definitely don’t want to divulge too much about the story. I want a player to experience the game for what it is and interpret the story their own way. Mario and I certainly had a defined story in mind, but given the type of game The Bridge is, we felt that it would be best to convey the story in the mysterious way we did. I love hearing different ideas and opinions on what the story means from people who have played all the way through.”
The Bridge has two parts; the first 24 levels are the Standard World. After the player solves all of the Standard World, the more challenging Mirrored World becomes available, adding more ways to interpret the story. As I guided the protagonist, whose look is “very loosely” based on Escher, through the Mirrored World, I quickly realized that this world is much darker and sinister in tone. At first I thought the Mirrored World had bloody handprints, but Taylor assured me the liquid is not blood. “The story of the mirrored worlds is the protagonist exploring the past, to further discover what is going on in the world, and the ink marks are clues. It’s unfortunate that people mistook the ink for blood, but we tried adding spilled ink bottles to avoid this—one more tricky part of working in black and white.”
The Bridge is the first game to please both the Escher fan in me and my inner science nerd. The puzzles are perplexing, but with patience, they are solvable. The Bridge is not a game you steamroll through; taking breaks allows your mind to digest the rules of the world. I was mesmerized by the aesthetic of the game, and I appreciated how the meaning of the game depends on the player. With so many games telling me what they are about, having one that encourages many interpretations is welcome. I enjoyed my time with The Bridge, which is available on Steam and Gamer’s Gate, one of the few puzzle video games I’ve played that I would recommend to others.
Note: Ty Taylor provided me with a review copy of the game.