Huel Fuchsberger joined Rovio in 2017, relocating from Germany to join Rovio’s Puzzle Studio in Espoo, Finland. Working as a senior level designer and team lead on Angry Birds Match, and now Angry Birds Dream Blast, Huel has embraced the challenge of creating games for a wide audience. He now leads a team of five designers creating new levels for Angry Birds Dream Blast.
We recently had a chance to chat with Huel about playing games, making games, and how Helsnki’s Linnanmäki amusement park may have been the reason he made the move to Finland to work at Rovio.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you first get into games?
For me, games were always digital. We didn’t really have board game nights in my house growing up. So for me, my first experience was more with the early consoles, but what really shaped me was when I got a Playstation. All of the games I played there really shaped my taste. I think I’m one of the few designers that isn’t really nostalgic for old Nintendo games. For me it was more the Hideo Kojima stuff that was much more influential for me, and then the early Bungee things like Halo, and strategy games like the Warcraft series that really shaped my taste in games.
Do you think there is any common thread that runs through those games that attracted you to those kinds of titles?
I think maybe as a pubescent boy, I was attracted to these hyper masculine games where manly men doing manly things. But as I got older, I recognized that gaming doesn’t have to be just that, and the idea of making games for someone other than myself I now find very interesting. For example, working on puzzle games early in my career, I learned that our players were predominantly middle aged women from the American midwest. It’s funny to think how different the players are to me, but then trying to get into their heads and making something that they think is entertaining I find it to be an interesting challenge. Instead of creating everything by myself and releasing games for a niche audience, I really enjoy making games that have a broad appeal. I want to make games that are accessible to as many people as possible, and mobile games are as “mass media” as it gets.
trying to get into [the players’] heads and making something that they find entertaining I find it to be an interesting challenge.
Having an appreciation for games from early in your life, did you study to be a game designer from the beginning?
Not quite from the beginning. When I first got out of school, I had the idea that I should get a “real” job. I started out in a program called Information Communication Management, which was basically a computer science and an economics degree combined, so as real as it gets. I only stayed in that program for one year though. The first part of the program took place in the Czech Republic, and because the country is so small and it’s easy to get around, most students would leave campus on the weekends and go home. That means the dorms were pretty dead, except for the international students.
However, we had access to an internet backbone, which means we had ridiculous internet speeds, and also there was a file server where everyone was putting music, movies, and games as well. I realized that whenever I have free time, I will always gravitate toward playing games. So why not just commit to this and make this my career? So left that study program, moved to Berlin, and started getting into making games with a specific Game Design bachelor’s degree.
whenever I have free time, I will always gravitate toward playing games. So why not just commit to this and make this my career?
Were you working in gaming companies throughout your studies?
One of our professors in the Game Design program was from Wooga actually, and he was supervising one of our projects. I kind of stood out because most of the other students wanted to do one specialized thing, “I want to do coding, I want to do art, I want to do design,” but I was more into the project management side of things, making sure that everyone does their part and everyone knows what to do and does what is best for the game. He saw that I did a good job and he offered me a working student position at Wooga. That’s how I ended up with my first job in the industry, mainly doing a mix of QA and product management, helping with whatever was needed, and doing a little design work here and there.
What was your first exposure to Rovio?
Well, obviously Angry Birds, but I don’t think I actually played the first game. At the time I didn’t have a smartphone so when I got an iPhone later, I think the first Rovio game I played was Angry Birds Space. Space was the first one I really got into, and then I learned that Rovio was the company behind it. I was more into the puzzle genre at the time so I think another time I noticed Rovio was when Fruit Nibblers came out. That one was in the puzzle genre and it had some really interesting ideas, so that one caught my attention when it was released.
How did you decide to come work at Rovio?
How I actually ended up at Rovio is kind of fun. I was always aware of Rovio, but it’s in Finland. At the time I was thinking I want to work in the US or Canada, but Finland is up in the north. Why would I want to go there? It’s cold. It’s dark. But at some point in Wooga, I had the feeling that it was time for a change. I had already finished school and I had worked for a while full time, and I thought that was the time to work somewhere outside the country where I grew up.
I visited Helsinki for the first time to go to one of Supercell’s Games First events, and I remember coming from the airport on the train, I saw an amusement park (Linnanmäki) in the city. I’ve only seen that in Copenhagen before. It seems like a really nordic thing because Stockholm has it too. Berlin had one, but it’s now abandoned so the nearest amusement park is a couple hundred kilometers away. So after seeing Linnanmäki on the way into Helsinki,I immediately wanted to go there. I had a great time visiting Helsinki for the first time just going around and around on the roller coasters on a Monday afternoon when most people were working. On that trip, I experienced some of the Finnish culture as well, eating reindeer and appreciating the introverted spirit of the Finnish people, knowing that people appreciate not bothering anyone and not being bothered. It’s a mutual understanding.
After that visit, I started to think Helsinki was a place I could see myself living so I started reaching out to companies there. I ended up getting two offers, one from Rovio, and one from a smaller, younger game company. I had already experienced what it was like to work at a growing startup so I thought it would be interesting to work for a company that was already established. Rovio also had a brand unit, and The Angry Birds Movie had just come out so there were exciting things happening with the Angry Birds brand as well. So I made the decision, Espoo it is! It was funny, everyone was asking me “why would you move from Berlin to Espoo?” because I also made the conscious decision that no, I do not want to live in Helsinki. I want the Espoo life. I like the suburban vibes.
Did you find anything surprising about working at Rovio that you didn’t expect?
Yes! I chose Rovio because I wanted to work somewhere a bit more corporate, not full-on corporate, but not a startup either. I came to find out that Rovio is not as corporate as I expected it to be. Coming from a German company, they’re very process driven with clear rules and documentation on how to do everything. At Rovio, it’s true for some things, but for others, it’s a bit more loose. I didn’t expect that, but I think this also gave me an opportunity for me to grow as fast as I did, moving up and getting more and more responsibilities.
Now that you’re here, what does a typical day look like for you as a Senior Level Designer and Team Lead on Angry Birds Dream Blast?
Since I have some managerial responsibilities, first I try to make sure if there is anything I need to do for someone else. So checking my mails, checking Slack, seeing what’s going on. Communicating. I’m doing a lot of communicating at this point, but I also try to carve out my time to work on levels myself. I’m trying to put myself in the trenches as much as possible because I think it’s important that the people I work with know that I understand the challenges of the work. By that I mean doing work on levels, making levels, balancing levels, giving feedback on mechanics prototypes that the developers have done, making tutorial levels, reviewing levels, and these types of things. Looking at data. But then also working on big picture things like working with the data analyst, looking at what is the next thing we need to work on. Is the difficulty the way it should be? What A/B tests do we want to run? Now I also get involved in more studio level things like what are the things we need to address on the studio level, career wise for level designers, where do we want to get the craft to make it attractive for people to join us here in Finland?
Outside of Rovio and your work, how do you like to spend your time?
Right now, the situation with COVID has affected many of my hobbies, so at the moment I’m doing a lot of sitting at home and playing World of Warcraft. Other than that, I started cycling to work a while back and really enjoyed that. Now that I’m working remotely, I just cycle for fun and to do some sort of exercise. I used to do martial arts like MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Krav Maga self defense, but that’s also off the table right now because of the pandemic so I’m trying to stay active however I can. Rovio has a basketball team, the Rovio Red Birds, and I’ve also been playing with them for a while, just some casual pickup games. We might not be as fast as the thirsty youths out there, but I think we can hold our ground.
You can see the hard work of Huel and his team in action in Angry Birds Dream Blast, available from the App Store and Google Play.