Beautiful Disasters: The Surprising Fun of 'Bridge Constructor'
Bridge Constructor's trial and error format yields miniature dramatic struggles against gravity that -- in their brevity -- are stressful, engaging, and beautiful.
In theory, the novel idea of Bridge Constructor, a physical puzzle game in which the player constructs bridges, should not be much fun. I don't find many people who obsess over bridges and the optimal way to build them. In fact, I don't even really discuss the merits of bridge engineering on a yearly basis. It is just not part of our cultural zeitgeist. Bridge Constructor's premise is also so dull. “Build some bridges on this budget” is basically the entire plot and rules the of the game. Yet, it manages to be an exciting, engaging, and surprisingly fun game that intrigues practically anyone.
The first thing about Bridge Constructor that makes it surprisingly fun is the amount of creativity the game makers have allowed in the designing of bridges the player can make. The levels in the game are only varied in the distance that the bridge has to cover, the player's budget in creating the bridge, and the materials available to create the bridge, which you may think would get repetitive, but this somehow creates enough variety to keep the player engaged for hours because no one strategy will work all the time. Also, the physics engine allows some of the most inane designs to succeed. Every level has many solutions, and while it can take awhile to figure one out, the player can be confident their solution was their own concoction, not something the game developers just spoon fed them.
While playing with my wife, our combined creativity often yielded very humorous results. Unlike trying to play a single player game like Civilization V or Pikmin 3 together, in which there is almost always one “correct” option and a bunch of wrong ones, in Bridge Constructor multiple people working together can create the most bizarre, but sound bridges. This makes the game a blast to play with a bunch of amateur engineers standing around the computer.
Because of Bridge Constructor's trial and error format, it is very easy to get people engaged in the game. The player forms a bridge and then sends some hapless vehicles to cross it. The player can see where the tension is building on the bridge and what causes the bridges failure, but everyone has different solutions as to how to solve the problem. The game is so simple it only takes a minute to understand the rules if you're watching someone else play and only two to start throwing in suggestions.
The game's trial and error format also yields these sort of miniature dramatic struggles against gravity that -- in their brevity -- are beautiful, stressful, and engaging. Every time the player tests the bridge, they're holding their breath, hoping for nothing to break. But when something does break it's hilarious because of the way the entire bridge collapses if just one piece fails. You never “kind of fail” in Bridge Constructor; you either succeed by the skin of your teeth or fail spectacularly.
This week I played the game in my office, and I was surprised by how many people would come up behind me and watch me play the game. Everyone I played with initially thought it was a dumb concept for a game, but they also ended up enjoying whatever period of time they played or watched way more than they thought they would.
I believe Bridge Constructor's fun comes from its physical nature. Nobody likes to watch their friend play Bejeweled and watching someone else play Tetris is usually just a frustrating experience. Bridge Constructor works as a team game because its operations coincide with similar rules in the real world. The player engages with gravity and engineers with the reality of physics (even if it is just silly game physics) in mind. It's easy to understand without being explained and is never overwhelming in its execution. At the same time, while slow in pace, it is constantly pushing the player towards success through trial and error. It may never be a “great game” in terms of narrative, but Bridge Constructor is great at its tiny premise and shows that even the silliest idea can be made extremely fun.