Review by Shaun Langevin, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2018

Bridge Constructor Portal

Engineering game is a blast to play, needs extensive teacher guidance

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3–12
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Pros: Entertaining way to experience a few basic engineering concepts.

Cons: Little is done to teach engineering principles or explain why some bridge designs are superior.

Bottom Line: It's a solid game not designed for education, but in the right hands it could be a great hook for an engineering unit.

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; students 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 students. There are some levels with turrets that shoot bullets and cause explosions -- nothing too gratuitous, though some teachers 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.

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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 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 students 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, students will build and improve through trial and error -- which can be a valuable learning experience if the teacher stops frequently to have students discuss what's working. With teacher support, students 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 teachers 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 students to meet, and have students create their own for others to try.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The game has great audiovisuals and well-designed gameplay that students will look forward to playing. Levels will eventually get too challenging for most younger students.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

This would be a compelling way to begin an engineering unit, but teachers will need to do some planning to facilitate learning. On its own, it has little available to guide students toward intentional designs and lacks a free-build mode. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The game gives brief guidance initially, and a Best Practices section provides valuable information, but it's up to students to decide what information they need to use -- if they do at all. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Shaun Langevin Technology coordinator

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