Angry Birds Journey interview: Timo Pietilä and Sandro Kvlividze dicuss the game's art style and balancing birds

Angry Birds Journey interview: Timo Pietilä and Sandro Kvlividze dicuss the game's art style and balancing birds

Today, Rovio has released the latest entry in their popular bird-flinging series. It's called Angry Birds Journey and promises a return to the slingshot style mechanics any long-time mobile gamer will be familiar with. We recently had a chance to chat with Game Lead Timo Pietilä and Lead Designer Sandro Kvlividze about the game. Together we discussed the more cutesy art style, future updates, and what makes Angry Birds Journey different from its predecessors.

Could you introduce yourself and your role on Angry Birds Journey for our readers, please?

TP: My name is Timo Pietilä and I’m the Game Lead for Angry Birds Journey. My journey on this project started when I teamed up with Sandro in the spring of 2019 to form the initial 2-person Rovio team around the concept of the game. From that point, we’ve grown into a core team of 30 people. My responsibility in the team is to ensure that we all work towards the same coherent vision both on the game and on the marketing front as well as making sure we have all the necessary roles in the team and the world-class talent to fill them.

SK: Hello, I’m Sandro Kvlividze, the lead designer for Angry Birds Journey. When I joined Rovio on my birthday in January 2019 I was asked to make a new “Angry Birds game which would have a slingshot in some form and be playable by anyone”. That’s all I had to work with. Rovio delivers exceptionally well on its motto of having autonomous teams, so I was given free rein and whatever resources I needed, whenever I needed them.

The job of a lead designer changes depending on the phase of the development - In the early days, my job was to create the game and the vision around it; I would even occasionally code (thankfully most of that code didn’t make it into the live version :D). Over time my focus shifted from the hands-on work to more directing the team and driving the creative vision.

Angry Birds Journey has a much more cutesy art style than other games in the series. Why did you decide to take this approach?

SK: Journey is for everyone, so we wanted to find an artstyle which would appeal to as wide a variety of players as possible. Another art goal we’ve had from early on was to make things big on the screen, so that the game would be easily legible and one wouldn’t need to zoom in and out manually - “Duplo over Lego” was the mantra I kept repeating to my team and they’ve done a stellar job delivering on that. So part of the reason it looks ‘cuter’ could be because characters and their expressions are more visible in general.

TP: I would say that the art style of the game reflects our aim to make the most approachable slingshot game in the world. This game has been made for the casual mobile audience of today like the original Angry Birds was made for the casual mobile audience of 2009 and those two audiences are quite different in terms of preferences and expectations. In the case of Angry Birds Journey, the target audience overlaps quite a lot with the casual puzzle audience so we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from that genre also.

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Do you have any post-release plans for the game? If so, could you tell us a little bit about them?

TP: There’s plenty of exciting new things coming to the game during this year. One key aspect of the game our audience really appreciates is the simplicity of the game experience and it is important to us that we maintain that casual feel and avoid unnecessary complexity with features and game systems.

The biggest focus has always been and continues to be on the core game and the level content. We have plenty of never before seen game mechanics and level goals in the game and we continue to introduce new ones regularly to keep the content updates fresh.

We will also continue to improve the core game experience and bring in new types of events around it to give the players new goals to complete and rewards to earn

SK: Timo said it well. One thing I could add is that we want to bring the social feature into the game. This would allow us to connect players more, where they can band together, help each other, collaborate, and compete.

Angry Birds Journey features the avian-slinging mechanics we're all familiar with. But does it include anything new that you can tell us about?

SK: If I were to point out the main new thing about Journey - it would be the way it plays. Slingshot games were always about fun destruction through physics, but in order to enjoy that, players needed to get good at aiming, timing the bird abilities mid-air, and factoring in which bird is effective (or not) against which material. We wanted to make a game that would continue the legacy of said destruction but would instead shift the focus from having to develop the technical skills, which can be a barrier for many, to strategizing. This allows us to open the beloved slingshot gameplay to an even wider audience while putting a new perspective on it.

TP: Previous slingshot games were about how well you could execute your desired shot. In Angry Birds Journey, the challenge comes more from picking the right shot. It’s about what you can do with this specific bird in this specific situation.

There are new characters to use in Angry Birds Journey. Can you talk us through the process of how you design a new bird? And are there any difficulties making sure they seem distinct from the others?

TP: There are some completely new side characters in the game but the actual playable birds are all familiar from previous Angry Birds titles. The biggest change from before is that we’ve reimagined their special abilities. We wanted all the playable birds in the game to work in a similar manner in that their ability would trigger on impact. Because of this, we’ve reworked all the bird's abilities while still keeping them true to their original concepts.

SK: The decision of how many birds to have and what their abilities would be was made early on, as the rest of the game hinges on it. Thanks to the rich character cast from previous games, we’ve had a lot of birds to work with, but there is a precarious balance between keeping the gameplay elegant and having enough presence from the Angry Birds universe. We could have only had three birds for example, which would make the task of coming up with distinct abilities all that much simpler as well as make the game easier to pick up, but we wanted Journey to be rich with characters and felt that three would be too few.

On the other hand, there are many more birds we could add but then the gameplay would become too heavy; from players’ perspective (too many abilities to understand and remember) and from ours (the bird abilities start to overlap with each other and become redundant). We felt 5 was the sweet spot that struck the right balance.

Angry Birds Journey is available now over on the App Store and Google Play. It is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases. 

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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.