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Creating Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

Tiger Style was founded in the United States in 2009 by game industry veterans David Kalina and Randy Smith. Kalina had formerly worked as a programmer with a few different studios, including Ion Storm and Midway Austin. He has credits on such famous series as Deus Ex, Thief, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. Smith had initially worked at Looking Glass Studios, where he did design work on the first two Thief games, among other projects. It was at Ion Storm where the two first crossed paths before moving on to different paths.

Tiger Style began with Randy Smith, who was looking to set up a studio and reached out to all kinds of contacts to see who would be interested in joining up. David Kalina signed on and was so enthusiastic that Smith invited him to co-own the company. Like many game development start-ups at the time, the new team was fascinated by the possibilities the iPhone had to offer. It didn’t hurt that it was relatively easy to become a developer on the platform, which was ideal for a new name looking to establish itself.

One of the core ideas behind Tiger Style’s design philosophy was to make games without guns. Or to put it another way, the team wanted to find different kinds of core gameplay mechanics than simply destroying things. If you take away destruction as a concept, the mind naturally goes towards certain other ideas: exploration, creation. Having settled on the iPhone as its platform of choice, the team started brainstorming ideas for games that could make full use of the hardware. After a lot of deliberation, a clear favorite emerged: a game where you would play as a spider. 

The first thing the team worked on was in getting the controls to feel right. The game initially made use of the accelerometer for movement, with swipes and taps performing moves like jumps and web-spinning. This proved a bit cumbersome, so the tilt controls were replaced with a simple touch-and-hold movement system. After many adjustments, the controls were nailed down. It was fun to move the little spider around. While this part of the process went rather smoothly, things slowed down once it was time to design the levels.

Randy Smith and David Kalina are admitted perfectionists, and as a result, the development team ended up making multiple revisions of each stage to find the right balance between the visual elements, narrative purpose, and gameplay functionality. The last major piece of puzzle is the titular mystery itself. Once they had nailed down the basic gameplay outline, it was, according to Smith, not that hard to add narrative to the experience. They deliberately chose to put the story in the background, allowing the player to seek it out if they want or leave it if they don’t.

For many gamers of the time, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor seemed to come out of nowhere. The game went through review at Apple quicker than the developers had anticipated, so they hadn’t really started to get the word out. It just kind of appeared all of a sudden in August of 2009, and many players gave it a suspicious eye at first. Those suspicions lasted approximately as long as it took for one person to give the game a try, and soon the word of mouth started to spread like a wildfire. Piles of excellent reviews began to come in, and the game would go on to win a number of awards including TouchArcade’s Game of the Year prize for 2009. 

A handful of months after the game’s successful release, Tiger Style released an update that turned the game into a director’s cut version. This update added 10 new levels, a ton of Game Center achievements, the hornet enemy/food, and some new music. The new levels added substantially to the gameplay content and also served to flesh out more of the mysterious story behind what happened at Bryce Manor. A few months later, Apple released the first iPad, and Tiger Style got hard to work again developing an HD version. Not content to simply bring the game over, they added in a new gameplay mode that allowed two players to play together. The HD version released in August of 2010, almost a full year after the iPhone version had launched. The iPhone version was updated at this time as well.

Tiger Style would go on to create other games on mobile platforms, including the sequel to Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor. After that the team moved on to other projects, leaving the future viability of its mobile releases up in the air. In 2019, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor was brought into the GameClub library, ensuring this unique adventure will stay alive for future generations to discover.


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