Pontifex is the sequel to the deceptively small and simple-looking freeware game called Bridge Builder. In Bridge Builder your task was to design, using a wonderfully simple 2D CAD interface, a bridge capable of safely carrying a train across a valley. The prospective bridge designer had some constraints within which to work. Importantly, there was a fixed budget for each of the 15 levels in Bridge Builder. Each element of the bridge cost you $100 (regardless of its length for some reason). The building elements (members, struts, girders... call them what you will) also had certain physical properties, such as weight and tensile and compressive strength, which were dependant on length. The stresses applied to the bridge could be visualised in colour when the bridge was tested. As a train made its journey from left to right across the screen badly designed bridges would begin to glow red in stressed spots and, eventually, break.

Bridge Builder was a bit of a surprise success. How could a game which, even when installed, still fit on a floppy disk four times over, be so playable? People still go back and re-play those levels over and over again trying to shave off a few move dollars. Users also has the ability to create their own levels, using a couple of third party level editors. This meant that once the 15 levels included with the game were exhausted there were still more to be created, or simply downloaded.

Pontifex was released in October 2001. The drastic name change was due to another company (Pre-Engineering Software) owning the copyright for the 'Bridge Builder' name. Pontifex looks and feels like Bridge Builder, but adds several new features...

  1. Different building materials. Heavy steel, light steel and cables, each of which has different properties. Light steel girders are cheap, light and weak. Heavy steel girders are heavy, expensive and strong. Cables are cheap, unlimited in length, and strong only in tension. These new materials mean that different building styles are possible. Suspensions bridges, for example, were possible in Bride Builder but the one-weight-fits-all building material made them very difficult.
  2. A different colour to represent tension. In Bridge Builder both tension and compression were shown in red. In Pontifex compression is shown in red, tension in blue (although these defaults can be modified.)
  3. A better pricing model. Why should a short member cost the same as a longer one? Shorter elements are now cheaper (though also weaker).
  4. A 3D view. Both the Edit and Test views in Bridge Builder were viewed from a fixed angle. In Pontifex the scene can be rotated as well as zoomed. There is also the option to take the first-person, Train Driver view.
  5. In addition to the familiar, 'simple' editing mode, Pontifex adds a 'complex' editing mode, in which bridges can be edited in 3D.
In this age of bloatware, Pontifex remains unreasonably small. The installer for the full version of Pontifex less than 1 megabyte. Once installed it's about 3 megs. Downloadable levels are usually less than 10 kb each. All in all, Pontifex is a glorious example of compact playability.

Pontifex 2 is scheduled to be released on September 17 25, 2002, with a playable demo released around the same time. Unlike Chronic Logic's earlier games, Pontifex 2 will be ported both to Linux and Mac. Registered Pontifex customers qualify for a discount on Pontifex 2.

The new features of Pontifex 2 include a return to some of the best bits of Bridge Builder - including beams which are a single link (rather than complex composite structures in themselves) and joints which can rotate. Also, the graphical appearance of the game is set to greatly improve (increased detail, textured water, stencil buffered shadows etc).

I have pre-ordered Pontifex 2, and will provide updates when I know more

http://www.chroniclogic.com/ - The official Pontifex website. Go there to download the demo or pay $20 for the full game. The full game unlocks important features, such as the ability to create, load and save levels.

http://www.bridgebuilder-game.com - A great unofficial Bridge Builder & Pontifex fansite with a great FAQ and hints and tips section, as well as being the prime place to find other users' levels and bridges. This site also hosts regular competitions (registered members compete to build the cheapest - working - bridge for a new level). The winner is awarded the title "Pontifex Maximus".

http://firingsquad.gamers.com/games/pontifex/ - A very positive review. Pointifex scored 90% and won the Editor's Choice award.

Pontifex does indeed mean 'bridge builder', but the Pope did not gain the title because of any responsibility for bridge repairs. The title had previously been that of one of the highest-ranked priests in Rome. The Pontifex Maximus - 'greatest mediator' - was responsible for important aspects of the civic cult. (I'm not sure what aspects specifically - this is all from memory.) Julius Caesar was granted the title during his time as consul, and when his great-nephew and adopted son Octavian became the Emperor Augustus, the role was absorbed into that of Emperor, leaving the Flamen Dialis as the highest-ranked priest in the Roman cult.

Pon"ti*fex (?), n.; pl. Pontifices (#). [L.]

A high priest; a pontiff.


© Webster 1913.

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