Product Review of Bridge Constructor Portal
Bridge Constructor Portal is an engineering puzzle game available for PC, Mac, and Linux. It’s also available as an app for iOS and Android. Fans of Valve’s Portal series will instantly recognize the setting of Aperture Science Labs and the return of the sardonically humorous antagonist GLaDOS.
The object of the game is simple: Construct bridges with appropriate supports that allow at least one vehicle to make it to the finish (for an extra challenge, try to design your bridge so that it can support a convoy). The only three building materials are regular supports, roadway, and suspension cables. The cost of materials you use is calculated, but there’s no spending limit. Levels become increasingly challenging to solve, eventually involving aspects of the original Portal series: avoiding or knocking over turrets, a gel that changes the friction of the roadway, and of course, portals.
Bridge Constructor Portal isn’t a game designed for a typical educational setting, but it could be used early in a STEM unit on engineering; learners could get a feel for what kinds of bridges tend to be sturdier. Students will likely be highly engaged in the game, as it’s quite fun and visually appealing, which would make it a great hook for a unit. Try doing the first few levels as a class or in small groups and share out experiences and designs that proved to be successful. It’s important to note that after 15 or so levels the difficulty may become too frustrating for many younger learners. There are some levels with turrets that shoot bullets and cause explosions — nothing too gratuitous, though some educators may not be comfortable with it. Also be sure to play the first few levels to see how the game’s mocking humor sits with you.
Bridge Constructor Portal is a good game for the typical consumer but a tough fit for the classroom. It would have been better if the developers had provided a little more support for the player at the start of the game, taking advantage of GLaDOS’s condescending and funny delivery. Initial levels teach how to play, but they don’t offer much explanation for why it’s a good idea to build a certain way. There’s a Best Practices section with slides that do provide some of this information and give helpful ideas, but learners don’t necessarily know which context to use them in. It would be great if each of these best practices were broken apart and delivered in a scaffolded way. Most likely, learners will build and improve through trial and error — which can be a valuable learning experience if the teacher stops frequently to have learners discuss what’s working. With teacher support, learners would be able to transfer what they learn in the game to a more robust experience engineering bridges.
To be clear, Bridge Constructor Portal is a fun and worthwhile experience for what it sets out to do as a consumer product — it simply wasn’t designed with education in mind. Students and educators who play this will need to use some serious problem-solving skills to make it through the game’s 60 levels. Also, there’s no mode to design your own levels, which would greatly improve the educational value of the game in a classroom setting. Teachers could then assign different conditions and challenges for learners to meet, and have learners create their own for others to try.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Curriculum and Instruction
This would be a compelling way to begin an engineering unit, but educators will need to do some planning to facilitate learning. On its own, it has little available to guide learners toward intentional designs and lacks a free-build mode.
The game gives brief guidance initially, and a Best Practices section provides valuable information, but it’s up to learners to decide what information they need to use — if they do at all.