Interview with Ty Taylor!
The Bridge is a fascinating puzzle game that puts players in the middle of Maurits Cornelis Escher-inspired architecture and tasks them with getting out through a door. But as with Escher’s art, any sense of simplicity belies the thoroughly ingenious devising of the rooms.
Recently we had the pleasure of an email interview with none other than The Bridge‘s co-creator, Ty Taylor. Read on to find out the background and building of The Bridge!
XboxOneUK: To start, I’d like to ask a little about yourself. You studied for a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, during which time you started The Bridge, but did you have a future with videogame development in mind when you began studying?
Ty Taylor: I had made video games since Freshman year of high school, and as soon as I started my college CS degree, I explored making games more deeply. Oddly though, it didn’t really occur to me that this could be my career until much later (after graduating). Making games to me has always been a hobby, so I went through college refining my skills for my hobby. It was only after The Bridge became successful that I realized that making games could (and should) be my career.
XOUK: Having had no prior experience of game development within the AAA sphere do you think the availability and accessibility of game-making tools has meant that such experience is no longer necessary for creating both a critically and financially successful game?
TT: There are tens of thousands of people all over the world making games at this point, most of whom have never worked in AAA. This is because Unity, Game Maker, Unreal, etc. make it so easy to prototype a game. Plus, there are so many online resources and videos teaching you how to use these tools that anyone who is truly interested in making games can. That said, to make a high-quality critically and financially successful game, you’ll still need practice and the patience to put years into a project that you don’t know for sure will actually work. I created game prototypes for 8 years before starting The Bridge, and Mario and I spent over 3 years creating it.
XOUK: As mentioned, you began work on The Bridge during your time at university as it was necessary in order to fulfil a course requirement. What was the outline of the requirement that led you to creating what would become The Bridge?
TT: It was an open-ended Software Engineering project. It really focused more on the software architecture, so we could make whatever we wanted and just had to give a write-up on the software architecture and how it was used. So a large part of that class was just making the underlying engine for The Bridge and providing a tech demo. It was over 2 years of additional work (which involved throwing out that engine, ultimately) until the game was finished. Mario also had an open-ended art capstone that he worked on some of the artwork of The Bridge for. He also spent a couple years after that finishing the game with me.
XOUK: Mario Castañeda soon joined you on The Bridge as sole artist for part of his Art Minor Capstone. What was it exactly that drew him to the project and has seen you both go on to develop further titles together?
TT: Mario and I were both fascinated by Escher’s works, which is why I started The Bridge and why Mario eventually joined the team. As soon as he showed me his initial sketch of the main character I knew his art style would be perfect for the game. We discovered that we work really well together, especially with non-overlapping roles, so I can see us working on projects together for a quite a long time.
XOUK: The art direction of The Bridge is very well accomplished, inspired by the work of M. C. Escher. How did that inspiration come about?
TT: Initially I wanted to make a platformer about gravity, and I was thinking a lot about what you could do with gravity to make a puzzle game. This quickly lead me to multiple directions of gravity existing at once, like Escher’s Relativity. It then clicked with me that making “M. C. Escher: The Game” was a golden idea. So I wanted the gameplay and art style to make you feel like you were inside of an Escher drawing. Mario loved that idea as well, so all of the art is in Escher’s classic black-and-white lithographic style.
XOUK: And out of the many spectacular pieces by Escher is there one that – somehow – you’d love to see recreated in real-life?
TT: The two pieces that I was most drawn to were Relativity and Waterfall. Relativity more or less inspired the multiple gravity vectors existing at the same time in The Bridge, and Waterfall more or less inspired the impossible, mind-bending architecture in The Bridge. I was always fascinated by these and imagined myself walking around inside of his drawings. I knew a videogame was the only way to make that a reality, so that was my primary motivation for creating The Bridge.
XOUK: Sir Isaac Newton and gravity are the other highlighted sources that The Bridge draws upon. When combining Escher and Newton to form the puzzles what was the process you undertook to design them? Were some of the puzzles a puzzle to create?
TT: Blending Newton and Escher seemed almost natural after I had the idea of focusing on gravity as a means for traversing the world, and this seemed like a great premise on which to marry the art and gameplay well. What I did to create the puzzles is draw a level (not knowing if it was possible or not) in my sketchbook. I would then solve it in my head and evaluate if it had any merit (Was it interesting? Was it challenging? Was it trivial?). I threw away a large majority of the puzzles that were on paper, but if I liked the puzzle, I would prototype it in the game with temporary artwork, and if I liked that and if it playtested well, I would call it a final level and have Mario draw original art over of my temporary art. After all levels were created I just sorted them by the difficulty that the players had while playing them.
XOUK: The Bridge has 48 puzzles for players to solve, a satisfying quantity. Do you have a personal favourite out of the collection?
TT: My favorite is The Triad (Chapter IV, Level IV). I like this because it uses “3-2 duality”, a puzzle concept that I’m fond of. Essentially there are three regions that are connected by an inverter, which toggles the player between grey and white. You need to be grey to interact with grey objects and vice versa, so The Triad involves you looping around in interesting ways to make the “3-2 phases” line up correctly while solving the puzzle.
XOUK: Throughout The Bridge there are mysterious snippets of quotes, statues and paintings. The paintings in particular show two men who resemble both Escher and Newton respectively. Although this question may be asking the Most Obvious Thing Ever, is that actually the case?
TT: We wanted the story, like the atmosphere of the game, to be mysterious. Perhaps an additional puzzle of the game is piecing together the clues within the text and artwork to figure out the subtleties within the narrative.
XOUK: The official description for The Bridge describes the it as exemplifying ‘games as an art form’. In your opinion, what qualifies videogames in general to be recognised as art?
TT: I think the most important point to make with the discussion of videogames as an art form isn’t describing what videogames are recognized as art, but rather asking what art is. This is an opinion that widely varies depending on who you ask, but my point is that videogames themselves are simply a medium. Not all videogames are art, just as not all movies are art and not all drawings or sculptures are art. But the same artistic and creative principles that one would apply to a painting, for example, that justify that painting as art could be applied similarly to a videogame. Saying that The Bridge exemplifies games as an art form is a justification for the medium. As any screenshot from The Bridge could be printed and put in a gallery, so too could The Bridge itself.
XOUK: And following on from that is there another game or games that you’d list as illustrating how videogames can be acknowledged as art?
TT: I think art is a perception and an intention. Obviously game fine artists want their games to be art. Most game artists put a lot of their soul into the game, which in my (somewhat liberal) opinion of art, classifies the game as art by some standard. The Bridge was approached directly to be an art piece as well as game, which is an approach that I don’t think many games directly make, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any other game could by some definitions also be considered art, or vice versa.
(XOUK: Well said!)
XOUK: Your latest game is the casual puzzler meets competitive multiplayer Tumblestone. It’s already garnering many awards, mirroring your previous critical success with The Bridge. Would you say you have something of a knack for developing within the puzzle genre?
TT: I do believe I’ve found my niche with puzzle design. I love creating puzzles, and I find that the game genre that really speaks to me. With The Bridge, and even before it, I’ve had quite a bit of practice with designing puzzles, to the point that I would now consider myself an expert. I certainly see myself creating puzzles games primarily in the future.
XOUK: Many thanks, Ty!
The Bridge is available now on the Xbox Games Store.
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