Unraveling the unending oink

Bad Piggies by Rovio

Published: August 11. 2012

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Unraveling the unending oink that is Rovio’s Bad Piggies with the studio’s Jaakko Haapasalo.

For those keeping track, Rovio's Angry Birds has spawned four sequels so far: Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Space and the recently-released Angry Birds Star Wars. While all used the proven “launch the birdie” gameplay mechanic of the original, Rovio’s own Bad Piggies represents a fresh perspective on the bigger-than-everything franchise. The game is now available for iOS, Android, Mac and PC, and will be coming to Windows phone and Windows 8 in the near future. The game topped the charts on Apple's App Store within 24 hours of its release.

Like Angry Birds, Bad Piggies uses a strong physics element to bring its gameplay to life. But counter to popular assumption, there’s nary a slingshot in sight (or bird, for that matter); rather, each level requires you to set a titular piggie in motion from the starting mark to the finish line, collecting stars along the way.

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In order to do so, you must build things along the way – lots of things, in fact, ranging from cars to fans to soda to umbrellas, not to mention flying vehicles with balloons (and some of the aforementioned items) in the When Pigs Fly section of the game. Bad Piggies requires more skill than its angry ancestors. Beyond unlocking the 90 levels in the Groundhog Day and When Pigs Fly sections, there are gobs of unlockable items to be used along the way, and in a third section, Sandbox, where you can create your own (rather enormous) vehicles and explore levels to your heart’s content.

So from where did the concept arise? “Our lead designer had had this idea for a long time, and was doodling on paper,” recalls Jaakko Haapasalo, Bad Piggies producer and Rovio’s head of studio. “He drew one picture with piggy contraptions, what they would do to build the eggs, and came up with this. A single sketch started it really -- our head of games saw it and loved it, and then we were in prototype.”

We decided to prototype the game using Unity, and went forward into production...

In order to bring Bad Piggies to life, Rovio turned to Unity. “We decided to prototype the game using Unity, and went forward into production,” says Haapasalo. “It’s been a good fit, because of the scriptability and extendibility of the tool chain.” Despite the relatively large size of the game and amount of content, the Bad Piggies team was kept small and agile. When asked what Unity tools were of particular use to the team, Haapasalo’s answer is to the point: “Everything,” he says, adding, “The animation tools especially were very useful.”

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In terms of process, the switch to Unity brought with it some workflow improvements as well. “I would say that we were able to get to a bit more of a ‘timeboxing’ mentality, and [were able] to have faster iterations on developing the core mechanics,” he says, bringing up the game’s gadget physics as an example. “We were able to iterate those in one-week segments.”

Of course, after the barnstorming, world-beating success of Angry Birds, expectations were extremely high for Rovio’s next project. “It’s new gameplay, so it presented new challenges for us,” says Haapasalo. “Doing physical gameplay that doesn’t get overly complex or overly random, and balancing between the two—that has been the biggest challenge.” He says it took some initial wrangling to get 2D in Unity functioning properly; a sprite atlassing system hadn’t yet been integrated into the software, and Rovio created its own. “So it took us a little bit of time on the editor side, but nothing major beyond that,” he says.

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Among other things, Bad Piggies proves that Rovio's notorious pigs can indeed carry a game on their own, and perhaps hints at their playing a larger role in the future of the franchise. Looking back, Haapasalo remembers a key turning point relatively early in Bad Piggies’ development cycle. “A lightbulb moment came when we figured out how to make a car in the game that could drive on the roof -- so we realized you could make pretty much anything. We just flew it to the roof and started driving it along. That was super cool.”

Beyond the Bird

“The games industry is changing very fast, and we’re keeping an eye on that, and how we can keep innovating to surprise and delight our fans with continuous new content,” says Jaakko Haapasalo, Bad Piggies producer and Rovio’s head of studio. “Our fans come first, and really that’s the only thing that’s staying constant.” The plan moving forward is for continued expansion, though there’s no telling exactly what form that will take. “We’re definitely going to grow our studio. We think we have something unique with our approach to games as brands and entertainment as industry, and that’s where we’re going to be putting most of our efforts.”

Read more about Bad Piggies and Rovio

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