Begin a sentence with the words “mobile gaming titan” and tradition dictates that the words “Angry” and “Birds” will follow shortly after.
As one of the first games to grace the infant App Store in 2009, it flourished into a worldwide success as over 2.5 billion people flocked to download the original title.
In the six years since launch, Rovio has released over 13 spin offs from that original idea of flinging furious feathers at pesky pigs.
Now, however, it’s decided that the time is right to pull the cloak off a brand new, separate instalment in the franchise: Angry Birds 2.
So what better time to catch up with the general manager of Rovio Stockholm, Oskar Burman, who heads up the studio behind this new chapter in Angry Birds’ history.
The bird is the word
“When we started this game, we went back to the roots of Angry Birds,” Burman says.
“We wanted to investigate what Angry Birds would look like if it was created in 2015 as opposed to 2009.”
The result is a game that keeps the original Angry Birds flavour, but borrows seasoning from the game mechanics that modern players have come to expect from their free-to-play games.
So there’s now a multiplayer arena where you can challenge your Facebook friends to high score battles, in-game currencies that can be used to purchase power-ups, rewarded video ads, and –perhaps controversially – a Candy Crush-esque energy mechanic.
“The market has changed quite a bit since the first Angry Birds game,” notes Burman.
“All Rovio games have been F2P, it’s not a new thing, but this game looks different from the other ones.”
When asked whether the energy mechanic might alienate some players, Burman was optimistic.
“The users liked this implementation in soft launch,” he said, referring to the Angry Birds: Under Pigstruction game released in Canada.
“Since we have such a massive audience, there’s always going to be people who don’t think it’s the game for them. But we’re going to keep supporting all the Angry Birds classics for years to come, so if you prefer our other games you can keep playing them instead.”
A long time coming
For over one and a half years, Burman and his team in Stockholm have been working to create Angry Birds 2 – and they were aware of the pressure.
“If you’re making a sequel to one of the most successful games ever, you want it to be good.
“What we also wanted to do was to deepen the backstory and create a big world for the player to explore. We wanted to build that into the game itself, so that even the players who only play the games understand the depth of this world.”
Burman is referring to the fact that next year will see the launch of the Angry Birds movie, meaning this release was key to laying the foundations for a richer universe with more complex characters – characters that can hold their own in Hollywood.
We wanted to investigate what Angry Birds would look like if it was created in 2015 as opposed to 2009.Oskar Burman
But what were some of the biggest challenges with revitalising one of the oldest franchises on mobile?
“There were plenty of challenges!” Burman laughs.
“Since we rebuilt the games from scratch we had to rebuild the core slingshot mechanic which was pretty tough! I think actually in the end it turned out that the pig had to be 2 metres tall or something, - we realised we’d had completely wrong measurements of these pigs and it was like ‘how big is this world??’”
“And then obviously there were a lot of challenges getting the performance up to par. You shouldn’t need to have the latest iPhone to play this game, so there was a lot of optimization going on to get these graphics working, and then getting the game under 100MB was extremely difficult.”
Best of both
Unlike the original game, Angry Birds 2 is being released on both iOS and Android – and this marks a big break for the franchise.
“All the Angry Birds spin offs have been built with the iPhone in mind, whereas this one is brand new. We wanted to be on both platforms because we wanted to maximise the most players in the game – maybe that means we’ll expand to other platforms in the future, who knows?
“In technical terms, obviously getting the game running on all sorts of Android devices is a challenge – we had to do a lot of QA.”
Angry Birds 2 was built using Unity, and Burman deliberately built a development team with experience in both the mobile and console spaces.
“At Rovio Stockholm we have mobile veterans working alongside developers who’ve worked at DICE on Battlefield and Avalanche on Just Cause. When we created the studio we wanted the best from both world, and I think you needed people from both.
Since we rebuilt the games from scratch we had to rebuild the core slingshot mechanic which was pretty tough!Oskar Burman
“Mobile is moving towards more complex gameplay and more complex visuals. More and more we’re going to see really advanced fantastic looking games coming out, and I want the studio to be prepared for that.”
Bringing AAA to mobile
In Angry Birds 2, this ethos has been translated into slick visuals and high-production values. Rain sluices across the screen in boss fights, rewards burst in a glitter cannonade, and the enemy piggies tremble in what Burman terms “artificial stupidity” when you line up a shot in their direction.
The original Angry Birds launched at the crest of the App Store boom and surfed the smartphone explosion. With timing being so key to its success, is there a reason Rovio is releasing its sequel now?
“We’ve had the game in soft launch for some time, and we’ve learned lots of things,” says Burman.
“It’s more about the team feeling that they’re ready for this first release, then we’re going to keep working on it for years and years. We’re already working on the first update to be released this Autumn, and it’s looking great.”
But six years on from when Angry Birds first hatched, the app stores are now bursting and competition is closing in.
How will Rovio stay relevant and recapture market share?
“We’re just trying to create the best game we can possibly do, and I think the players will appreciate that,” finishes Burman.
“That’s the only way to capture market share – all the successful games today are great games. You can’t compete with a bad product.
“You read so many things today with the title ‘X number of ways to make your game a hit.’ There are ways to make it rise higher, but it will never make it big unless it’s a good game. I have faith in my team, and I think we’ve made a good one here.”