How we made Angry Birds

‘It needed enemies fast – so I just drew this pig thing I’ve been drawing since I was 10’

Angry Birds … ‘When we tried it out on people, they wouldn’t give it back’
Angry Birds … ‘When we tried it out on people, they wouldn’t give it back’

Jaakko Iisalo, designer

Rovio only had enough money to make one game. It was 2009 and, as the company’s sole designer, I had to start coming up with ideas. I’ve always been keen on drawing animals, so I sat at my computer and drew a bunch of birds, giving them beaks, a rounded shape – and angry eyebrows. I had this idea of an angry flock of birds, running around destroying things.

The first concept was very different to how Angry Birds turned out, though. There was a queue of birds and when you tapped the first one, it would just attack some simple colour-coded structures. By the time we got to a prototype, there was still no catapult: the birds would just jump at, say, a castle. When we tried it out on people, they’d no idea what they were supposed to do. We realised we needed a recognisable mechanism to launch the birds. I came up with the slingshot, but it seemed too obvious, too easy, so we tried different things for a while, even a swing. But with the slingshot, players just understood what they were meant to do immediately.

Jaakko Iisalo’s bird designs.
Jaakko Iisalo’s bird designs. Photograph: Alamy

We realised the game needed enemies, but the schedule was tight, so obviously I just drew an animal – a pig thing I’ve been drawing since I was 10, according to my mum. Everything had to be super simple, so I picked a prime colour for each bird. Since the main character is red, I chose green – the complementary colour – for the pigs, who have stolen the birds’ eggs and are sheltering in the structures.

Angry Birds was out for three months before we got featured by Apple. They gave us this tiny banner on the front page of the App Store – and suddenly the game went viral. People were coming into the office and saying there’d been a million downloads. Peter Vesterbacka, brought into Rovio as business development director, said his goal was to reach 100m sales. We shook our heads and thought: “This guy’s crazy.” Then we hit two billion.

Even now, I have a hard time understanding its success.Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer of Super Mario Bros, was asked what game he wished he’d made – and he said Angry Birds.

The bird launcher … ‘Players understood it immediately’
The bird launcher … ‘Players understood it immediately’ Photograph: PR Image

Tuomo Lehtinen, programmer

I was working on something that let you sling balls around, then I added some blocks for them to collide into. When we got the birds from Jaakko, things all started to come together. But the aiming mechanism wasn’t working: the birds didn’t fly where you expected them to, which wasn’t fun – players had to be able to figure out where they had failed.

Jaakko spent a lot of time tweaking the blocks, too, so that when there was a hit, things broke in a way that was satisfying: they couldn’t collapse too easily, couldn’t wobble too much. We initially had a castle much closer to the slingshot – you could see both on screen – but when we moved it further away, the extra flight time meant the anticipation and excitement grew.

Previously, whenever we’d shown our games to friends and family, they’d look and say “OK, well, it’s a phone game” and hand the mobile back. But with Angry Birds, they wouldn’t let go. We were all playing it at work too: we had a spreadsheet with all our scores.

We got to number one on the App Store in our home country, Finland, but the market was so small, we could have just told all our friends to download it and we’d have been number one. Then it took the top spot in Sweden because a famous downhill skier, Anja Pärson, told a newspaper that she played the game to relax before competitions. By April 2010, we were top of the US charts and then we had only one target: to be the biggest game in the App Store. That happened two months later when we passed Doodle Jump.

I remember us drinking champagne and celebrating when we reached one million and then 10 million downloads. Those were big numbers back then. And now there’s a movie coming out. Who’d have thought a mobile game could be this big? It’s awesome.

[Source:- The Gurdian]