While we were at BIG Festival this past week, we had the opportunity to meet all kinds of industry heavyweights and discover the secrets of their success.
Tom Bernardes, Rovio’s senior character designer, hosted a talk in which he explained Rovio’s approach to character design, and what lessons game makers can learn.
Angry Birds is arguably the world’s most famous mobile gaming franchise, and the first that really captured the public attention, but it’s not just all about the addictive gameplay and simple loops, it’s the well defined and instantly recognisable characters which have helped make the franchise a multimedia phenomenon.
Tom Bernardes, Rovio’s senior character designer took to the stage to delve into the topic of character design, and how game makers can leverage great central characters to help their product stand out.
“There are two types of designers, or artists. One type is born with that talent, very acute perception, and they’re self taught and can improve their technique a lot. The second type of designer are “normal” people who have to study in order to develop their skills,” he informed the show's audience.
Bernardes identified key differences between character design in games compared to other fields, such as animation. While games have a more chaotic creative process, animation is more methodical and somewhat strict, with the characters being designed later in the development process.
Bernardes also revealed some concept art for a new Angry Birds character, showing the various possible designs based on different powers, each based on a different real-life bird. Although the character would eventually become the songbird Melody, a pelican character which would swallow and then spit up objects was considered. Through the talk, game makers gained an insight in the iteration process involved in taking a character from the concept to the screen, and with Angry Birds still producing memorable extensions years into the franchise's lifecycle, it's clear that Rovio still has plenty of eggs in its basket.
Learning from the masters
What can developers learn from Rovio’s approach to character design? Angry Birds has found success with immediately identifiable characters, each of whom is distinct while maintaining a consistent style. With this in mind, it’s clear that game makers can emulate Rovio’s success not by copying the style, but by focusing on designing unique characters in their own style.
One of the benefits of mobile gaming compared to other platforms are its strength with simpler narratives, which arguably means that the characters can fit easily into adaptations, spin-offs, and crossovers. Angry Birds’ success has seen it adapted into numerous other forms of media, seen a high-profile crossover with Star Wars, and spin-offs involving a racing title. It’s the immediately identifiable art style that lets each new title stand out.
As such, establishing an art style and creating distinct characters can not only help a game succeed, but open the door to seamless movement into new areas.