Resolution Games' Tommy Palm shares the origins of the first virtual reality entry in the hit mobile series.
Skyrim is a great fit for virtual reality. Ace Combat, also ideal. In fact, it seems almost anything that is experienced from the first-person perspective -- be it a shooter, racer or dogfighting action game -- inherently lends itself to the immersive technology.
Angry Birds, not so much.
And yet, that is what Rovio has launched today -- Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs, the first virtual reality entry in a series primarily played on your smartphone. Interestingly, the game hasn't even been released for mobile headsets, which are more likely to be in the hands of veteran bird-flingers, but have instead gone for the higher end of the VR spectrum on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
The game has been developed and published by Resolution Games, a Swedish studio that has dedicated itself to AR and VR products. But, as CEO Tommy Palm tells us, the project didn't actually start out as a virtual reality title.
"Rovio first approached us to collaborate on an AR game for Magic Leap, but we didn't yet have a Magic Leap headset, so we had to simulate the AR environment in VR," he explains. "As soon as we had a playable build ready, we knew that the IP and gameplay were perfect for VR. Since then, we've been focused on making this come to life in VR."
So how do you take a 2D game series, historically restricting you to catapulting birds from left to right, and bring it to the full 3D environment and six degrees of freedom afforded by virtual reality? Resolution looked at the core tenets of the Angry Birds formula and thought about how they could be expanded in three dimensions. The key, Palm says, was "exploring the levels from different angles, expanding the physics elements and being able to shoot from far more vantage points".
Much like other VR titles, Angry Birds enables players to warp between different teleportation points around each level, placing the pigs' fortress at the centre. Players are also able to move around in the small area at each teleportation point, opening up more possible angles for firing their birds. The result is much more intricate puzzles, but ones that potentially offer more replay value than their mobile forebears.
Another significant difference between Isle of Pigs and all previous Angry Birds games is the session length. Like many mobile titles, Angry Birds was built around bite-size sessions that enabled players to tackle a level or two while waiting for a bus or marathon through more in the comfort of their homes.
The comparatively more cumbersome setup of virtual reality means once users are immersed in that title, they don't want to dip in and out, instead settling down for a dedicated gaming session. This has had an impact on the way the puzzles are designed, and the structure of the game, with Palm saying bouts of Isle of Pigs are "intended to be longer than mobile".
"In many of the tests we have done, people tend to play for longer sessions than we have seen with past titles," he says. "And that's what we're hoping for. It's very fun to play and we also see people wanting to go back and repeat levels to get three stars or see if they can find the tricks to knock down the structures in one hit."
Virtual reality thrives on giving you a sense of place, of immersing you in another world -- not something Rovio has had to contend with when presenting the Angry Birds on a two-dimensional plane. But working with Resolution, the firm has attempted to infuse that comic personality of the mobile games into something that surrounds the player.
The devil, as they say, is also in the details. Angry Birds has gone to great lengths over the past 20 years to infuse its characters with more personality -- most notably with the movie, which has informed the birds' design in many of the recent games, Isle of Pigs included. To accomplish this in VR, Resolution has added little touches, like the birds waving and saluting at you as they wait to be catapulted. Similarly, the pigs will laugh at you when you miss, taunt you, and cower when you actually fire birds at them.
"It was incredibly important to us to build a stunning environment, as it's a setting that players are familiar with, so that was one of our major focuses as we were developing for VR," says Palm.
Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs has launched with 50 levels, but Resolution and Rovio hope to double this in future, as well as bring the title to more platforms. While the mobile series has increasingly shifted towards free-to-play, this is a $14.99 affair.
Of course, the success of Angry Birds has been as much down to the ubiquity of smart devices as it has the low price of entry. With virtual reality, Rovio faces a completely different challenge: not only convincing players to fork out $15, but also hoping they've invested the hundreds of dollars needed to set up a high-end PC and VR headset.
Neverthless, Resolution remains confident that Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs will be a hit worthy of the mobile titles that came before it.
"We're really excited about the possibilities," Palm concludes. "From what we are seeing in the industry there have never been more players interested in VR. Sure, there's still much more room for improvement, but platform and hardware companies are evolving like crazy and we're getting closer and closer to consumer-accessibility and cost.
"And more lessons are being learned and shared, which is resulting in an increasingly larger amount of quality content emerging on the scene. Our hope is that bringing an iconic brand like Angry Birds to VR will only help draw in more VR players."