Ty Taylor leads TPG down the development road of his unique puzzle title, The Bridge. You will read about how Ty began creating games on a TI-83, setting difficulty levels, how M. C. Escher played a part in development and more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of The Bridge.
I am the designer of The Bridge as well as the programmer (the only other team member is Mario Castaneda who did the artwork). I invented the concept in the game as I started grad school and worked on the majority of it there. I’ve been creating games in general since about the time I could talk (I always loved making puzzles) and I’ve been programming games since the start of high school. The Bridge is my first successful commercial game.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I first started making video games on the TI-83 calculator in high school. It was a great hobby to do while being bored in a study hall every day, and it was nice because I could make little games and share them with friends (as everyone was required to have one of these). It wasn’t long after that I started learning to program and started making video games for computers.
Where did the idea for The Bridge come from?
I originally knew I wanted to do something with gravity manipulation. I remember walking down an incredibly long straight hallway once thinking to myself how much easier it would be if I could just sit down on the floor and rotate gravity 45-degrees to slide down to get to the other side. In the end, the concept of gravity control probably came from that, but after nearly 3 years of development, the core concepts and mechanics have morphed quite a bit.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing The Bridge?
I’m not sure it would be classified as a failure, but a while back I made the classic mistake of overestimating the release date greatly. At IndieCade in October 2011 I was telling people that the game was nearly finish and would be out soon. Oops. As far as a success, I think that the game overall, just being a game that is really able to catch people’s attention based on the concept and visual aesthetic on its own, and then keep people engaged with the puzzles is definitely a success I’m proud of.
In its current form, how close is The Bridge to your initial vision?
Way different. I know starting out that I wanted to do something with gravity manipulation, and I was envisioning a first-person high-speed platformer (like Mirror’s Edge, for example) where you could rotate gravity at will. I then decided to make it in a 2D world, but still focused on skill based platforming. It wasn’t until a couple of months after development that I realized that there was a lot of Escher-style themes that I was using, so I decided to go in that route, and that mind-bending style made it an obvious choice to uproot the core mechanics of the game and make it a puzzle game.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for The Bridge and if you faced a similar challenge.
While I wouldn’t consider The Bridge to be an easy game as far as solving the puzzles is concerned, it used to be much more difficult. But this is what playtesting is for, and we did a lot of it to make sure that people had no trouble figuring out what was going on in the game so they could focus purely on puzzle solving. When designing the levels, I took the approach that every puzzle was a tutorial for later puzzles.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring The Bridge would run on the various PC system configurations?
A few, but luckily XNA takes care of most of that to be as universal as possible across Windows. The biggest problem I ran into was around multiple monitor support, but I’ve tested and fixed this on every kind of monitor configuration I could think of and gotten it working. We had dozens of testers on their own personal computers making sure that everything was working properly, and I’m happy that there are no known system-specific issues like this at launch.
Please talk about developing the art style, puzzle design and music for The Bridge.
I wanted the puzzle design and art to blend together nicely, and since the puzzle and environment design was based around M. C. Escher-style worlds, I wanted the artwork to match it, making players feel like they are in an M. C. Escher drawing that has come to life. We’ve created a rather peaceful yet surreal world, so we chose music to match that atmosphere.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
A combination of finding the drive to finish games and finding a well-rounded team to make the highest-quality game possible. I’ve made dozens of small prototypes in the past but I’ve never developed them into full games because I didn’t believe in the concepts enough to do so. The Bridge is one of the first concepts that I knew would turn out to be a winner. But once you have that concept and passion, to make it a high-quality game you need a well-rounded team. The Bridge wouldn’t be what it is today without Mario’s art, so he filled in that talent gap that I was lacking to make The Bridge have a professional quality visual aesthetic.
How did you go about funding The Bridge and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
The Bridge is entirely self-funded. I always feel a bit silly when discussing the “funding” of the game, because we didn’t actually pay for anything with money. The only thing we devoted to the project was our time, which is something that we would have done whether or not we were releasing it for money. Making games is something we both love doing, and it’s something that we wouldn’t stop doing even if we had no income. And as for the other question…yes, plenty of emotional support from friends and family. That’s definitely necessary when so much pressure is on you to finish the game while still making it perfect.
Please talk about your reaction to the critical reception The Bridge has gotten since PAX ‘10.
It feels like the attention that The Bridge has been getting has been pretty steady since IndieCade in 2011. It’s a good thing and a bad thing for me. Of course I love the fact that The Bridge is showing up on gaming websites and receiving praise. It’s a really rewarding feeling. But this also comes with a sense of stress and pressure to make it perfect. I sometimes find myself wishing nobody knew about it so that I could develop it without fear of failing, but ultimately now that it’s done and I haven’t failed, I’m quite happy with all of the reception that it has had.
Tell us about the process of submitting The Bridge to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Personally, I haven’t encountered too much resistance, but I think The Bridge is an exception due to the awards and recognitions it already had behind it when I first started talking to distributors. Some publishers, who only know how to look at dollars rather than game quality, turned away when they realized it wasn’t the kind of game that could support in-game purchases or add-ons, but these aren’t the types of people who I want to do business with anyway. I wanted to make a single, stand-alone gaming experience that was amazing and engaging without attempting to milk players for all of their money.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Yes and no. I’ve seen a trend recently that many games are launching at prices they think match the market. This is happening especially with mobile and tablets, which is unfortunate that the price floor is so low there, but even on Steam, I’ve seen games that are easily worth $15 sell themselves short for $10, likely because many other indie games are that price. I believe in pricing the game what it is worth. The Bridge is definitely worth $15, and I don’t care if every other game is selling for $10, it doesn’t change what The Bridge is worth.
Will we see a PC demo released for The Bridge?
I’m not entirely sure on this one. I haven’t given it much thought to be honest, but my guess would be no. To me, The Bridge is an experience that is best when you play all of it. I think limiting players to only a demo portion of a few puzzles would be a disservice to them, as they would miss out on too much of the game to get that sense of completion.
How important is it to get instant feedback about The Bridge from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
I love hearing player feedback, and I usually take action on it. This is one reason I got The Bridge to be in so many expos, it because I liked getting a large group of different people to give me their feedback, and this really helped shape the minor details of the game. This is going to be slightly different post-launch, as gameplay mechanics and puzzles won’t be able to be tweaked, but if I find bugs (even if not fatal ones) I’ll fix them right away, or if I find that one of my in-game hints for a puzzle isn’t clear enough for example, I might word it differently.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
I think it’s great that so many people are getting great independent games form Bundles. It’s probably the case that when someone buys a bundle, they most likely wouldn’t have purchased the games anyway, and so after they’re no longer new and interesting to people, they can still be played and enjoy nearly for free, by hundreds of thousands of people, which is very exciting.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
There’s no great solution for piracy. I hate the thought that someone will spend their hard-earned money on a game only to be able to play it in one place, or worse, lose it if something happens to their account. But at the same time, pirating a is so easy that people who normally would buy a game might not if they can get it in a torrent. I’m sure The Bridge will be pirated, but I just hope that people realize that when they buy The Bridge, they aren’t paying for champagne at a AAA studio’s launch party, they’re paying for the electricity required to power my computer so I can program my next video game.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of The Bridge?
It’s really interesting watching them, because they’re usually a person’s first time playing. One of my goals when designing the puzzles was to create “ah-ha!” moments in each one, when the solution to the problem becomes obvious. I love watching people have “ah-ha!” moments playing my game.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I feel like a lot of the time DLC is a ploy simply to get players to spend more on the game. It can be done right in certain situations of course (any time a player genuinely wants to spend more money), but I feel like most larger studios that make games with DLC or micro-transactions design it from the ground up simply to make money this way. I’d prefer to make money by selling players a great game, not giving them a mediocre game and making them pay to make it slightly better.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for The Bridge?
I love modding because it’s game design. I love that people are taking something they love and making it their own. I love that creative process. And while I think it’d be technically challenging to mod The Bridge, I would love to play any mods of it that ever get made.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Try to make something you love without being too ambitious or money-driven. I’ve seen a lot of people fail when they try to make massive projects, or when they start from the ground-up trying to make something just to make a few bucks. There are dozens of Minecraft clones, not because the developers truly loved making the Minecraft clone, but because they said to themselves “Minecraft did well, and therefore my game will too.” It’s best to come up with an original concept which can catch people’s attention on its own, and having an original idea will give you much more motivation to finish the project.
We would like to thank Ty for offering his thoughts and feelings about the PC gaming industry. You can pre-order The Bridge via Steam for 11.99 until February 22nd.