The art of Angry Birds Go! - exclusive interview
My name is Rich Jones and I am the Lead Artist on Angry Birds Go!. I am responsible for Art direction and Art team Management on the project.
How did you help to make the finished game?
I have been on the project right from the very start; In fact I'm the longest standing member of the Angry Birds Go! team. I produced the very first concept images that helped pitch the game in the first place. They lead to our early prototypes and then onto the game as you see it today.
We have a very talented and experienced art team on the project and my role is to oversee that team and everything being produced for the game. This includes giving direction on concept art, reviewing the production of the tracks and liaising with Rovio. I was also involved in the design of the Telepods figures that you can scan into the game.
What were the challenges involved in bringing the birds from 2D into 3D?
Bringing the birds into 3D was one of our biggest challenges. Fans of Angry Birds had always seen their favourite characters represented in 2D and this was going to be a big change for them.
There are a lot of things you can do in 2D that simply aren't possible in 3D. The main thing here are the extreme character expressions. Technically our characters are essentially spheres with faces on, so extreme expressions are where most of the personality comes from.
This is especially difficult in 3D with the limitations of the platforms the game is running on. We have limited polygon counts for the characters and a very tight bone count restriction for animating them, so getting some of the more extreme facial expressions to work was a big challenge.
Also, the classic catapult game is always shown from a side view perspective. This allows you to clearly see the birds in a front three quarter view. In a racing game you predominantly see the soapbox car and the characters from behind, so seeing the reactions and the facial expressions during the race isn't an easy thing to do. Yet we still wanted to show off each of the characters' personalities during game play and not just in the front end or the race intros. We solved this by having the birds and pigs react to other racers around them. For example, if you overtake another driver you'll see your bird jump out of his seat, spin round and pull a face at the racer behind them, meaning you get to see the birds face on.
In the other Angry Birds games, each of the birds has a distinct personality. How did you work these into the Go! Versions of the characters and their karts?
In Angry Birds Go! we wanted to show off the personalities of the birds a lot more, in the same way that happens in the Toons episodes. We worked very closely with Rovio animation studio to make sure that this shone through in our game. For example Red is very focused, serious and concentrates on the job in hand, whereas King Pig is just a big baby who cries when he loses.
We also transferred their personality onto their soapbox cars by using elements that reflected the birds' and pigs' personalities and interests. The Blue Birds' cars are full of lots of playful items as they are the children of the group, King Pig's car is his throne on wheels and Chuck was always going to get the fastest cart with huge rockets!
The last thing we did was make sure that the special abilities that you use during the race were as unique and reflective of each of the characters as possible.
How did the visual direction for the courses come about?
We wanted to create something that was familiar to the players of classic Angry Birds. The game was already different enough in the fact that it was a racing game and the first 3D Angry Birds title. We didn't want to distance ourselves even further by creating a whole new Angry Birds world. For this reason we set the tracks within familiar locations on Piggy Island.
In the first release of the game we have four different locations and each of these has its own unique race style too. Seedway is your typical race track, Rocky Roads gives you more of an off road sensation, Air lets you take flight for parts of the race and takes you up into the clouds above Piggy Island. Then you have our Stunt levels which are a pure adrenalin fuelled roller-coaster ride.
We took palette reference from classic Angry Birds levels and created early concept paintings to get a feel for each of the episodes. We also concepted a series of prop objects for use in each of the themes. These gave the environment more of an identity and sense of purpose.
Once we had our track ribbons signed off we would create paint-overs of several areas of the track or key track features to make sure that each one felt unique.
With each episode we move further away from the classic Angry Birds style and start introducing new and exciting visuals to the game. There was such a great feeling within the team after producing the first Air track. Not only did it play so differently than anything we'd already got in the game but the visual treatment felt so different too. Way up in the clouds with massive airships, floating platforms and air thermals to contend with. We really didn't think we could beat the feeling that the air tracks gave us - not until we started work on Stunt!
The Stunt levels are completely unique in their visual treatment of the game. The look for the stunt tracks came about after watching the Toons episode 'Crash test Piggies' The episode shows a rocket test zone where the Pigs are using makeshift rockets to try and steal the eggs. We thought that this would make an ideal backdrop for our rollercoaster stunt levels racing through a desert full of crashed rockets while driving upside down through a loop the loop track.
And finally on to our new levels, which will be with you shortly. These again have their own unique look and feel to them and include our very first night time race.
Peter Willington 17 March 2014