Interview With the Angry Birds Transformers Team

Posted by Nadia Oxford on October 20th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Angry Birds Transformers recently transformed and rolled out worldwide. This run-and-gun title is a hit with young Transformers fans, but the ample references to classic Transformers fandom has also earned it a place in the hearts of long-time admirers of Optimus Prime. Nick Harper (Game Director for Exient Entertainment) and Mika Rahko (Executive Producer for Rovio) kindly took a few minutes to talk to 148Apps about the problems and inspirations that came to them while cross-breeding birds and robots.

148Apps: Did the development team have any input on those awesome '80s style Angry Birds Transformers trailers? They definitely seem like they were plucked from the memories of someone that cherished their Saturday morning cartoons.

Nick Harper - Exient
Nick Harper (NH): Many of the dev staff are, perhaps sadly, at the age where the original ‘80s Transformers cartoon really resonates. In fact, a lot of the team have G1 toys on their desks. There was a discussion between Rovio and the dev team about adopting an ‘80s look for the entire game and we were all really excited about that prospect as we felt it would look good, fit with what we were trying to make as a game, and appeal to all sorts of age groups. When we finally saw the trailer it blew us away - both in terms of how accurately it imitated the ‘80s Transformers cartoons but also with how the comedy was used throughout.

Mika Rahko (MR): I remember the meeting at Rovio very vividly where we came up with the idea to go 80s with the mash-up and how people’s eyes just lit up after it was mentioned. That was clearly one of the moments that defined the whole project from then on. It was so easy to get everyone excited both internally and externally about the project after that. The story for the trailers took a lot of inspiration from the early prototypes from the dev team but also from the Transformers and Angry Birds universes. We paid a lot of attention on bringing Angry Birds humor into the mix as well.

NH: What was really interesting was that the video took inspiration from the team’s vision for the game, but then the team took inspiration from Rovio’s vision. The video first introduced EggBots, which we ran with for the main enemy, and the transformation effect (that sort of lightning spark and flash of light) was carried over into the main VFX of the game whenever the player transforms part of the scenery for Energon. So it all worked out pretty nicely!

148Apps: Angry Birds has historically been about flinging things at other things. Why the decision to make Angry Birds Transformers a run-and-gun game?

Mika Rahko - Rovio
NH: The decision came about through iterative development. When we first started prototyping, we were using Angry Birds Go! as a framework. So we had robots running around a track and turning into cars and then driving. I realize that might sound cool on paper, but in fact it wasn’t that great at all!

Over the course of about three months we tweaked and prototyped different things, and we ditched what felt wrong and pursued what felt strong. The most fun we had in all the prototypes was when the robots were just shooting at targets, but in the early code this was all happening from a standard 3D camera behind the character, so all the player got to see was the back of the Transformer and it looked terrible.

One day we were playing around with the in-game camera and we shifted it to the side, and suddenly everything just felt and looked so much nicer. So suddenly we had a game where you were shooting things while we were still able to show off all the awesome animations, and the game suddenly started to feel right. It was then pretty natural to include Angry Birds-type towers that housed the threats to the player, so we could keep a link to the original games by having towers collapse with cool physics consequences.

MR: It is great to see both the birds and the pigs taken into new genres! The dev team did an amazing job with the game. The core gameplay feels familiar to players who have played our slingshot games with pigs and their shaky structures but offers a very different action-packed experience. It is very easy to learn but offers a lot of depth, too.


148Apps: How was each Autobird/Deceptihog's personality determined? Was there a conscious decision to stick to Hasbro's canon, or did Rovio (and/or Hasbro) purposefully brew up new personalities for the crew? For instance, I'm familiar with Heatwave from the Rescue Bots cartoon, where he tends to be a bit of a wisecracker. In Angry Birds Transformers, he's very stoic. Any specific reason for the difference?

MR: The original line-up and look of the characters were determined by Rovio together with Hasbro, but the personality descriptions came from the dev team. They were so well thought through that the approval process was extremely smooth both at Rovio and with Hasbro.

NH: We spent a week brainstorming all the personality traits of the Angry Birds characters and the Transformers characters so we understood about each variant. With that, we [found] a blend of Angry Birds and Transformers to suit the personality of the final Angry Birds Transformer. So taking your Heatwave example, we really love Terence as a character so we wanted to get his personality across in Heatwave - as they’re both stern, cranky and a little intimidating! We’re hoping over the following months to put more variety into all the characters as well, so the Transformers that share the same Angry Birds will start to feel even more different than they currently do.


148Apps: It's pretty fun to transform out of vehicle mode and shoot down enemies in one smooth motion. Did the team have any special challenges when coming up with ways to seamlessly incorporate transformations into the game? What did some of your earlier ideas include?

NH: Yeah we were pretty happy with that when we saw it. The animators did an awesome job!

So, stuff we tried and ditched - oh man the list is huge! Okay, so at one point we had the robot running near the front of the screen and when you turned into the car you leapt to the 'back' of the screen and would drive over hills and stuff. It was kind of cool, although the car looked quite small in comparison to the robot. To incentivize players to transform and lane switch, we would put these scary threats in the way of the robot, but when we tried it with players they just ran through them and didn’t understand why they were getting killed.

So then we had a conversation about auto-transforming, but that was soon killed - it’s not a true Transformers game if you don’t have control over your transformation! As mentioned earlier, early prototypes had the cars on a race track, but that didn’t feel like a transformers game either, really - more just like a racing game, so we scrapped that idea.

Technically we were pretty worried about transformation animations from day one, but again our animators just made it happen. The first time we saw a transformation we were amazed because it looked totally seamless.

MR: One important element of nailing the feel of transformations was its input mechanic, which is especially important on a touchscreen device. The dev team did several iterations and we supported with user experience reviews and usability tests to find the mechanic that felt most intuitive, easy, and fun to use.

Thanks so much to Nick Harper and Mika Rahko for their time. You can join in on the Autobird/Deceptihog war in Angry Birds Transformers now.

Angry Birds Transformers

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2014-10-15 :: Category: Game


iPhone Screenshots

(click to enlarge)

Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 1 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 2 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 3 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 4 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 5

iPad Screenshots

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Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 6 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 7 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 8 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 9 Angry Birds Transformers screenshot 10
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