ClockStone and Headup Games’ Bridge Constructor series has a very particular style of gameplay, one that emphasizes physics, ragdolls animations, and puzzles. But this series also isn’t a stranger to attempting crossovers with properties you wouldn’t expect. Following a Portal mashup, its next crossover is Bridge Constructor: The Walking Dead– which is exactly what it sounds like, with players being tasked to do what Bridge Constructor wants you to do, but against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse in the TWD universe with additional bells and whistles and refinements thrown in.
Not long before the game’s recent launch, we had the chance to send some of our questions about it and its development to the people behind it. Below, you can read our conversation with Matthias Hilke, Project Manager at ClockStone, and Mark Aldrup, chief technology officer at Headup.
NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the game’s launch.
"The unique concept of this game is that players don’t use guns and axes to kill walkers – at least not principally – but that they devise lethal traps made of environment objects and unorthodox constructions."
Bridge Constructor is an established property, of course, with multiple games, and it’s also had the experience of integrating and collaborating with another property in the past, with Bridge Constructor Portal. How different of a challenge has it been to do something similar, but with a property that’s so entirely different?
Matthias Hilke (Project Manager, ClockStone Software): It was quite a different challenge in some areas. One is the different relatedness of the IPs. Portal was not only a game property but actually a physics puzzle game. So, we already had a big overlap there. TWD on the other hand is all story, and opinions are divided about whether and how much story a bridge builder game needs. So, it took some time and thought to find the right amount and type of narration.
Another big difference was in the level design: the test chambers from the Portal games were the perfect playground to fool around with weird technical devices combined with crazy constructions. No need to explain why there was something like a cube dispenser up there and a deadly laser grid down here: there was always the simple and perfect answer – for science! Whereas defining appropriate locations for missions in BC TWD was definitely much more of a challenge because each place had to make some sort of sense in the “real” world and also in the course of the story.
Funnily enough, bridges have been a pretty big talking point in The Walking Dead from time to time, especially in the early episodes of season 9. Was that at all a factor in deciding that a Bridge Constructor game based on The Walking Dead could actually work?
Hilke: That was actually more of a coincidence, as the idea for Bridge Constructor: The Walking Dead already existed some time before season 9 was aired on TV.
How much of a crossover with the TV show can fans of the property expect to see, in terms of story, characters, Easter eggs, and the like?
Hilke: The unique concept of this game is that players don’t use guns and axes to kill walkers – at least not principally – but that they devise lethal traps made of environment objects and unorthodox constructions. If felt odd to imprint this kind of behavior on a group of original TWD characters, so we decided to create new ones and tell their little story.
However, we also wanted original characters from the show in the game because people strongly connect with them. We worked through a list of all characters in order to find perfect matches. Of course, we wanted popular ones, but they should not just pop up and say: “Here I am because everybody loves me.” They should make for an interesting addition to the gameplay, and we eventually chose Eugene, Daryl, and Michonne.
Eugene being the technical nerd totally matches the game’s key elements “engineering” and “contraptions”. In the game he actually turns a speaking doll into a noise bait to lure walkers into traps. He is also kind of funny, which makes him an apt choice for the light-footed Bridge Constructor universe. We wanted Daryl in the game mainly for some nice crossbow action, not only to take down walkers but also to set objects into motion or trigger explosions with a perfectly aimed shot. Michonne seemed an attractive addition as soon as we knew we would have close-range fights between hostile pedestrian units. Wielding her katana, she is the superior character for this kind of situation, and she can veritably plow through enemy lines with her sword.
"There are a number of unique features in this Bridge Constructor game. It might not be that they have only been made possible by the license, but it was cool and made perfect sense to have them in combination with it."
I imagine dealing with hordes of zombies while you’re constructing bridges will be a crucial part of the experience- can you talk to us a bit more about that side of the experience? How does it work alongside the construction aspects? Can players expect some sort of interplay between the two?
Hilke: Yes, the interplay between both is the main concept of this game and can be described as “devise a construction to deal with the walkers”, with a broad range of scenarios revolving around it. In some missions, you build bridges that are stable enough for the fleeing survivors but are supposed to collapse with the pursuing walkers. In other missions, you need constructions to deflect the trajectory of your grenades to transport them in the middle of an undead mob because you cannot throw it there directly. Other scenarios involve constructing ramps for vehicles or giant cable spools to crash down onto or roll over a group of walkers. Some of these scenarios can get quite challenging because they require a succession of events similar to a Rube Goldberg machine, e.g. a barrel needs to roll against a container so it topples and falls down onto an explosive tank to blow up a horde of walkers.
Are there any major improvements or changes that you’re making over previous Bridge Constructor games that have only been made possible because of working with The Walking Dead license?
Hilke: There are a number of unique features in this Bridge Constructor game. It might not be that they have only been made possible by the license, but it was cool and made perfect sense to have them in combination with it.
First thing is that the characters appearing in the game not only show up in dialogues or cutscenes but also in the missions as pedestrian units with different abilities. In the TV show, survivors often explore areas on foot, e.g. buildings where they hope to find supplies. So, in addition to vehicle-based missions we designed a number of scenarios where pedestrian hero units run around and can perform special actions, like shooting, throwing grenades or using ladders to switch between floors in buildings swarming with walkers. The game features a new mode, the Command Mode, for the players to control the execution of these special actions. There, they also define the direction of shots and the trajectories of grenades to achieve maximum carnage amid the undead.
Second thing was that we also wanted these hero actions to have an effect on the environment, so we implemented new types of objects: Movable, destroyable and explosive objects all react to the impact of shots, explosions or collisions with other objects. Often, players have to find out about a certain succession of events to solve the mission, the Rube Goldberg machines we mentioned before.
Another novelty is the possibility to connect constructions to movable objects in the scene. So, constructions are often put to a much more dynamic use than in previous games: Swivel-type ramps that are pivoted into position for a vehicle jump, constructions that are used to pull heavy containers from upper floors to crash down onto a group of walkers, constructions that lift objects out of the way to create free passage for the survivors’ vehicles, etc. Yet sometimes, the challenge is the other way round: players have to build something to stabilize movable objects because a bridge is connected to them.
Last but certainly not least, coming along with the pedestrian hero units, the game features ragdoll physics. Walkers and heroes alike can get caught by the impact of explosions or collisions with flying containers or racing vehicles, which makes for a lot of hilarious situations.
What’s the range and scope of options players are going to have at their disposal in terms of what they want to build and how they want to build it?
Hilke: For a start, players can use all materials without cost limits to be free in how and what they want to build. This gives everybody the freedom to follow their own ideas in how to solve a mission. However, we also know that players like to be challenged by limitations. That is why each mission offers a Resources Badge to be earned if players manage to stay under a given cost limit.
In levels, where killing walkers is one of the mission goals, players can often choose how they want to proceed. They can try to come up with constructions that collapse under the walkers’ weight just at the right time. Or they can make use of movable environment objects that can be pushed, pulled or toppled to crash down onto them.
In many of the levels, there are walkers that can be optionally killed, in addition to achieving the mission goals. Players can decide if they want to try to kill these optional walkers in order to raise their overall enemy kill count in the game. Often, they have to build differently or more to achieve that.
"On the one hand, it is certainly one of the most casual games out there that takes place in the Walking Dead universe. But as it is a Bridge Constructor game, the balance has always been more towards the light-footed and fun style that is typical for the series."
The Walking Dead, by definition, tends to have a pretty grim tone, but it doesn’t look like that’s the style this game is going for, based on not just its reveal trailer from back in August, but the plain and simple fact that games focusing on ragdoll physics are usually a riot. What’s the balance you’re looking to strike between those two styles?
Hilke: On the one hand, it is certainly one of the most casual games out there that takes place in the Walking Dead universe. But as it is a Bridge Constructor game, the balance has always been more towards the light-footed and fun style that is typical for the series. However, we also think that The Walking Dead is not totally without humor. For example, Eugene’s weird-funny way of expressing himself in the game strongly reflects the way he talks in the TV show.
On the other hand, the game is definitely the most “adult” Bridge Constructor out there, since the topic of death is much more present and explicit as in all other titles of the series. Players need to eliminate walkers and also hostile humans in some of the missions. And even if the game’s graphics are not realistic, there is blood and gore when hostile units are hit by shots or slashed up by Michonne’s katana or when they fly all over the place headless after the explosion of a grenade. That’s quite explicit for a game series where the other titles have an average age rating of 3+.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of Bridge Constructor: The Walking Dead be?
Hilke: I’d estimate it 6-8 hours for players who are already familiar with bridge building games to play through all 40 missions; plus additional time if they want to get the Resources Badge for every level and kill all optional walkers in the game. However, like in BC Portal, many missions in BC TWD are puzzles that need an analysis of the whole scenario first and the right idea how everything can come together successfully. For these missions, playtime can vary a lot from player to player because everyone has a different way of thinking and approaching the problem.
Players who are new to the bridge building genre, will definitely enjoy this game a little longer. For them, I want to mention that the game has a Constructor’s Guide to the Apocalypse, a collection of construction tips and helpful information about all the different gameplay elements in the game. Even if the post-apocalypse is not for wimps, it’s always good to have something you can build on!
Since the reveal of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s specs, a lot of comparisons have been made between the GPU speeds of the two consoles’ GPUs, with the PS5 at 10.28 TFLOPS and the Xbox Series X at 12 TFLOPS- but how much of an impact on development do you think that difference will have?
Mark Aldrup (CTO, Headup Games): For us and most other indie developers this is not going to make any big difference. For AAA development studios this might result in a slightly higher performance, but this is also very dependent on other factors than only the theoretical TFLOPS. I don’t think that we’re going to see games on Xbox Series X that look significantly better than their PS5 counterparts.
There is a difference in Zen 2 CPUs of both consoles. The Xbox Series X features 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz, whereas the PS5 features 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz. Your thoughts on this difference?
Aldrup: Same as for the GPUs, this doesn’t make a significant difference for us as Indie developer.
"I don’t think that we’re going to see games on Xbox Series X that look significantly better than their PS5 counterparts."
The Xbox Series S features lesser hardware compared to Xbox Series and Microsoft is pushing it as a 1440p/60 FPS console. Do you think it will be hold up for the graphically intensive next-gen games?
Aldrup: Many releases in the next 1-2 years are probably going to target last-gen anyway so for these titles it doesn’t make any difference as older systems need to be supported anyway. For next-gen exclusives we don’t think that this will actually hold up graphically intensive games, most developers have very good techniques to quite easily cut some of the performance-heavy effects. If they are lazy they can probably also simply go for 1080p at 30 FPS on Series S instead of 4K at 60 FPS on Series X quite easily.
What resolution and frame rate will the game run on PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S?
Aldrup: 4K at 60 FPS on PS5 and Xbox Series X, and 1440p at 60 FPS on Xbox Series S.