Interview: Neo Chan and Eeva Aaltonen discuss Angry Birds 2's new character Melody

Interview: Neo Chan and Eeva Aaltonen discuss Angry Birds 2's new character Melody

Angry Birds 2 is set to receive a new character for the first time in seven years on November 24th. Her name is Melody and, as you might have guessed from her name, she is music-themed. A songbird, you could say. She's capable of sucking up various objects using her powerful lungs and firing them back out to topple towers and take out piggies.

We recently had the chance to speak with Neo Chan (Senior Game Designer for Angry Birds 2) and Eeva Aaltonen (Head of Brand Operations) about the newest member of the Angry Birds family. Together, we discuss Melody's strengths and weaknesses, alongside where the idea came from and if we can expect any new characters in the future.

This will be the first new character in the game in 7 years. Why did now seem like the right time to introduce a new bird?

Earlier this year, we introduced the “Pick Your Flock” feature across all gameplay, allowing players to choose their team with their favorite birds. We felt like the new feature lends itself to experimenting with new characters and abilities, and so this was the perfect time to introduce a new bird!

The brand-new ability we’re creating for Melody is unlike any existing bird in other Angry Birds franchises, and will spice up the competition and offer more diverse gameplay. There are characters from other Angry Birds franchises that we would love to integrate as well, so hopefully that’s something we can explore in the future!

Can you tell us about how Melody plays and what you consider to be the best ways to use her most effectively?

NC: In short, Melody can inhale the blocks and pigs automatically, at which point the player can trigger her ability to shoot out those as projectiles to destroy remaining pig towers.

It is a compelling ability. The first part of the ability is guaranteed destruction; it can quickly destroy the most difficult parts of the level. The second part allows the player to bypass lots of obstacles. Seeing how the player uses this ability to create an interesting trajectory is exciting for us as developers.

The blocks lying on the ground are not useless anymore. Melody would be the first bird that can pick those up and have the better use to take down the pig towers.

Melody is a musically-themed character capable of inhaling and shooting out piggy tower blocks. That sounds incredibly powerful and destructive. Are there any disadvantages to using Melody?

NC: The biggest challenge for Melody is that you need to see the level mechanics differently. For example, for the portals, you may expect the falling blocks would go through the portal and hit the other towers. Unlike the current birds hitting the tower and making it fall, Melody will bring those blocks along and continue flying, so it will take different strategic thinking.

It’s also worth noting, Melody won’t inhale the boss pig and just win the level. The boss level remains challenging, and Melody might not be the best bird against the boss.

Where did the inspiration for Melody's gameplay come from? Was it a case of thinking of an ability that another bird didn't already possess?

NC: Yes, we were looking to find something we don’t have in our current birds. For the concept, we thought, what would be a new trajectory other birds cannot achieve? And, what kinds of level design can another bird not solve?

Then, the idea popped up: the bird would absorb the surrounding blocks and continue flying until the player decided to trigger and shoot them out. It is a good idea to invest in because the player still needs to consider slingshot angle and power as the core gameplay of Angry Birds, and they have control to decide.

How long did it take to create Melody? Were there any particular challenges along the way you had to overcome?

NC: The discussion of the new bird has been on and off since the "Pick Your Flock” feature was released. The actual development period is around 3-4 months.

The one challenge we met is the current system structure needed to support adding more birds into the game. So, we needed a fundamental rework of many parts of the game.

We’re also bringing controls never seen in Angry Birds 2 before: the auto-trigger ability (inhaling) and the position of tapping matter (shooting direction). We want the new way of control introduced to our players to be very easy to understand and to feel rewarding. It was a long process to find that balance.

What are some of the design considerations you have to make when creating a new character?

NC: There are several factors in our designing process for the new birds. Firstly, the new ability should be skilful to provide new strategic thinking but also be casual enough for everyone to learn. Secondly, the new bird’s theme should fit in the Angry Birds universe. Thirdly, the gameplay should stick with the core and remain physics. Lastly, it should be balanced and not too powerful (or weak) compared to other birds.

How does this new character in Angry Birds fit into the series' long-term strategy?

EA: We’re introducing Melody as an integral part of the flock, and plan on constantly developing her character along with our brand narrative. We’re very happy to expand the flock with more diverse characters, and Melody is a big part of that!

Are there plans to add any more characters in the future?

NC: The Angry Birds 2 team constantly processes the feedback from the community, and searches for opportunities to expand and improve the game. We can not say today that there will be another bird before we see how players receive Melody, but bringing more characters to the game is one of the most interesting topics for us so it’s something we’d love to explore!

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Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.