尽管这一切有部分原因要归功于在其之前诞生的无数类似物理Flash游戏，但Rovio空前的成功绝非仅仅源于在正确的时间进入苹果App Store。它的成功秘诀难以捉摸，但直观的控制方式，令人满意的弹力物理机制，以及远超同类竞争者的润色水准当然也是其中关键因素。在其所有的元素中，最大的贡献当属设计师Jaakko lisalo新颖的设计，它不但催活了整款游戏，而且还从小小的手机屏幕走向更大的空间（例如装饰便当盒等周边产品），甚至赢得了LucasArts的青睐。
The Making Of: Angry Birds
Angry Birds is a feathered phenomenon. Rovio’s series serves as an envoy for the game industry, an app that people who don’t play games will happily while away their commuting hours with, but one that has also found a home on the phones of thousands of console gamers.
While it must credit its core design to the countless similar physics-based Flash games that preceded it, Rovio’s unprecedented success was far from simply a case of being in the App Store at the right time. The secret to its success is hard to pin down, but intuitive controls, satisfyingly bouncy physics and a level of polish far beyond many of its peers certainly helped. Of all its ingredients, perhaps it owes most to designer Jaakko Iisalo’s crisp designs, which proved appealing enough not only to inspire an entire game, but also move beyond the small screen to the big one, adorn lunchboxes, and even earn the trust of the famously protective LucasArts.
“Yeah, Angry Birds Star Wars was a huge stepping stone,” says co-founder Niklas Hed, pausing just a beat before delivering his punchline, “for LucasFilm.” From any other company, a comment like that might seem a touch bullish, but the Angry Birds series has sold 1.7 billion copies across its lifetime, which earns Rovio the right to puff out its chest feathers now and again. When Iisalo sketched those first infuriated birds, however, Rovio was far from the success story that it is today.
In early 2009, the studio was still doing subcontracting work for other companies and had downsized from 50 people to just 12. Having spent more than a year on a big contract, only to have it cancelled through no fault of its own, Rovio was in desperate need of a hit. This was an opportunity, those remaining 12 reasoned, to create something all their own.
“For me, that time was sort of a hibernation,” says Hed. “We took only selected projects and aimed to learn from them. We did a lot of prototyping, such as using the electronic compass of phones in games. That time taught us how technology is combined with games in a natural way, and how it isn’t.”
Rovio co-founder Niklas Hed.
And with over 50 games already under its belt, the studio hardly lacked experience. But this time, the team decided to approach the creative process differently, aiming to create a brand that could span more than just a single game. It knew it wanted to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and to take advantage of the growing popularity of touchscreen-enabled smartphones, but exactly how wasn’t yet clear.
“We had already created several games, but because of the business and the environment back then, we really couldn’t see what we were able to do,” says Hed. “We’d been thinking about a ballistic tank game in the vein of Scorched Earth.”
Rovio had recognised the growing popularity of physics-based puzzlers in the casual space, but at the time decided military equipment didn’t have the mass appeal it was looking for.
“I started creating game concepts and pitching them to the management. Angry Birds was one of these concepts,” Iisalo says. “People didn’t really get the early game mechanics I suggested, but the character design was something that everybody liked: an angry flock of birds smashing through structures. After dozens of different ideas, we found the right style of game and started production. Of course, that’s when we realised the birds needed an opponent…”
Sickly green pigs wouldn’t have been an obvious choice to an outsider, but Iisalo had been sketching swine since childhood. And so through his own internal logic, the birds found their nemeses. Other elements of the game couldn’t get away with such abstraction, however. That intuitive catapult, for example, wasn’t always the mechanism through which the birds were granted flight: the initial version simply had players flick them in the direction they wanted to launch. It sounds simple enough, but the team quickly realised that the casual audience it was attempting to court didn’t share their natural gaming instincts. It needed something more.
One of Jaakko Iisalo’s Angry Birds sketches.
A catapult seemed intuitive, backed by the punchy physics that power the game. But while the physics has even inspired the likes of Wired to have a go at analysing the maths behind it, accurate modelling isn’t Rovio’s biggest concern. “There is basic maths behind it, and we couldn’t have ice breaking rock, because that wouldn’t make sense,” Tuomo Lehtinen, VP of games, tells us of a title that has flightless birds and green pigs, ”but the feel is the most important thing.” Angry Birds respects the laws of physics, then, if not the laws of nature.
“Angry Birds ended up being the pet project of the whole studio,” says Hed. “The core team was small, but everyone was working on it to a degree. We loved doing it. It really kicked our confidence to a whole new level – we loved playing the game ourselves, and there was a definite feeling of things being on a roll again and the beginning of a new era.”
But polishing that early prototype took a long time, and work was hampered by a lack of resources. The skeletal team was working on several projects at once, and so had to divide its attention across them all. “At certain points it was causing delays [to Angry Birds],” says Lehtinen. “It’s really hard for a designer to create levels when the programmer is too busy on another project to finish the engine!” And the initial budget that Rovio had set aside was rapidly depleted, almost causing the development to be cancelled.
“The early results weren’t quite what we wanted,” says Hed. “It was surprisingly challenging to make the game world feel real, make all the blocks feel like glass, stone, ice, and so forth – organic. The birds kept bouncing in an unnatural way and the materials just didn’t feel right.”
All the hold-ups proved beneficial, though, giving the team time to iterate its gameplay and the tech behind it.
“If you play something long enough you start to notice what irritates you,” Lehtinen explains. “I was iterating camera controls almost until the last day of production. That was something that had to be perfect; it had to feel really, really nice. And I think one of the big reasons the game has proved so popular is because it doesn’t annoy you at all. We were able to iron out all of the quirks.”
Well, almost all the quirks. Play Angry Birds today and the experience is markedly different to the one that first launched in 2009. The iterative process on which the game was built has continued throughout its lifetime, resulting in the few clunky elements that did manage to slip by being smoothed off via regular updates. The core of the gameplay, though, remains unchanged.
When that first version launched, though, Rovio was apprehensive. “When we published the game, frankly it felt like was it was just one game among many,” admits Hed. “I definitely felt that Angry Birds was the best game we had ever done, but there was this nagging feeling that it wasn’t enough. We had done some research half a year earlier, and it always seemed to come down to the marketing – or lack of it.
“We had been working through mobile operators without a direct contact to the consumers up until then, and now we were entering the App Store, where the competition was really hard. Getting the critical mass of fans was really difficult, and if you can’t manage to do that, it doesn’t matter how good the game is. But in the end, we managed to catch the wave and it became one of the reasons why you should get a smartphone.”
Over the years, Rovio has toyed with the format. Its first major deviation was Seasons, a release Rovio had been planning for a long time. Originally released as Angry Birds Halloween in October 2010, and closely followed by a selection of Christmas levels, Seasons now includes all manner of holiday-themed stages, even one based on the relatively obscure Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Such wide-reaching cultural references are demonstrative of the broad appeal of Rovio’s games, but underneath its inoffensive exterior lies a much harder game. It’s easy to dismiss Rovio as a kind of one-hit wonder, trading on multiple variations of the same game, but Seasons was a brand-new challenge presented in a familiar skin.
And Angry Birds Rio, which followed in March 2011, was further evidence of a company unwilling to rely on simply rehashing past successes. Being a tie-in with 20th Century Fox’s animated film about exotic bird smuggling helped the game introduce new enemies, animated backgrounds, new birds, an ally in the form of bulldog Luiz, and even boss fights. It featured a new physics engine as well and, according to Rovio’s figures, is unique among the series in having a large following who only play that version. As marketing for the film, it didn’t do badly either: exit polls in the US revealed that the majority of moviegoers heard about it through the game.
But it was Angry Birds Space that deviated furthest from that initial template, gifting the birds prolonged flying time as gravity was dialled down. And, just like the first game, it almost didn’t happen.
“We felt that the first prototype was way too hard, and decided not to continue with it,” admits Hed. “But Jaakko [Iisalo] kept polishing it, and I remember one session we saw the redesigned gameplay and all of a sudden it made sense.”
“It took a lot of time to make it as simple as we wanted,” explains Lehtinen. “At first, it felt really hardcore: space and sci-fi are dark themes, and the player could shoot essentially anywhere. It was the hardest game to make right.”
But that sci-fi excursion got the studio thinking: what if there was a tie-in opportunity to be found along the lines of Rio? Rovio approached a number of companies, including LucasArts, with its idea, trying to get a feel for what would be required to make it happen. LucasArts was interested – it lacked a high-profile mobile presence, and the concept sketches Rovio’s artists had put together made it clear that this tie-in would be far from a half-hearted parody. Rovio and the notoriously protective LucasArts found a mutual respect in the careful way each handled its creations.
“To be honest, I had my worries about how rigid [LucasArt’s] approval process and brand guidelines would be, but in the end everything went much smoother than expected,” says Angry Birds Star Wars producer Mikko Häkkinen. “We worked with some great people who understood how important the Angry Birds IP is for us, and were willing to respect our wishes and viewpoints.
“It ended up being more of a collaboration where they offered us guidance on lore and things, and came up with some great ideas for matching different characters and story points.”
And unlike the original game, Star Wars suffered from an excess of interest, with so many Star Wars fans in the company that almost everyone wanted to work on it – even in their spare time. “We ended up with such a vast amount of graphics assets that it was really hard to choose the best ones and settle on one style,” laughs Häkkinen.
It created new fans, too, both within Rovio and among its players, and just maybe convinced some of those last few hold-outs to give Angry Birds a go – after all, there are few things in life that can’t be made more appealing with the familiar scream of a TIE fighter’s engines. Yet Angry Birds Star Wars only scratches the surface of the licence’s potential and, Hed teases, how far that relationship gets taken is between Rovio and LucasArts. And likely subject to some tight non-disclosure agreements. But whatever happens next, the Angry Birds series has never been in ruder health – it’s already found its way to PC, social networks and even PS3/360, and looks to be in no danger of losing its momentum anytime soon, either. But could Rovio really ever top Star Wars when it comes to tie-ins?
“There is an old joke in Rovio of combining the birds and pigs with the He-Man universe,” Häkkinen teases. “You really don’t want to see the concept art [we] made for those muscular bird heroes in thongs, though.”（source：edge-online）