Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game
Developer: Chair Entertainment / Epic Games
Format: iOS (post iPhone 3GS)
Revealed at last year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the early buzz around Infinity Blade was huge. iOS games, while undeniably capable of intelligent, surprising and at times furiously addictive gameplay, were not known for their graphical fidelity. Here, however was a game built on a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3 that looked as good, if not better, than a significant amount of titles available on XBLA and PSN. This was a statement of intent, and one people listened to. When the Epic Citadel tech demo app was released last September, excitement hit fever pitch. All eyes were on Chair and Epic.
In true pulp-fantasy style reminiscent of the writings of Robert E. Howard, Infinity Blade is set in a melancholy world crushed beneath the iron rule of a scheming and hateful God-King. It’s up to one brave hero to assult the God-King’s castle, defeate his convieniently interspersed champions and rid the land of its oppressive ruler and the Infinty Blade he wields. Except he fails, so it’s really up to his son. Except he fails as well, so it’s really up to his son. Except…
As generations fall to the Infinity Blade, player stats increase, weapons and armour are traded up for better models and enemies grow faster, stronger and smarter. It’s a battle of attrition that tests both a player’s mettle and adaptability.
And finger-slashing skills. The expansive in-game combat burns slowly, and is difficult to master, but offers a wealth of abilities that upon revealing themselves make putting the game down again a difficult process.
Chair began business back in 2005, and was initially made up of a large part of the team behind the Majesco Xbox title Advent Rising, including founders Donald and Geremy Mustard and CEO Ryan Holmes.
Seeking to recreate the successes of that title, the firm licensed the literary rights to the Orson Scott Card’s Empire series of novels, the author having been behind the plot of Advent Rising.
Undertow, a lauded XBLA shooter, was released in 2007, and marked the beginning of a download cannon that would grow to include the hugely well received XBLA title Shadow Complex in 2009 and Infinity Blade itself late last year.
The company’s acquisition by Epic Games back in 2008 cemented Chair’s position as digital distribution powerhouse, and leaves the future looking very bright indeed for the firm.
Visually, Infinity Blade is a striking game. This would be true were it an XBLA or PSN title, but the fact that it is iOS acutely marks it out from its competition.
Playing the game on an iPad or iPhone leaves the impression of having played something years ahead of its time. Sunlight breaks into shafts through giant, imposing columns, shimmering back off of marble floors and highlighting the edge of the blade on your back and the teeth of the roaring level 21 cave troll up ahead. Infinity Blade is a pretty game.
The subtley expansive combat mechanics build on this impression, coming into their own as the game progresses and every individual fight demands a new plan, a change of tactics and a willingness to adapt quickly. It’s a gamer’s game on iOS, and rightly proud of it.
Make no mistake about it, Infinity Blade is infuriating. You will die. Many times over. You will see an opening, swing for a parry and realise too late that you took one chance too many.
Then you will use words to express your frustration that you didn’t realise you used. Herein lies the brilliantly inexplicable fun of Infinity Blade and gaming in general; the contrary joy of watching your character expire in a thousand pitiful ways always knowing that revenge will be had. You’re learning, and your time for payback is getting closer with every death-rattle.
Chair has fundamentally grasped the very thing that makes gaming its own worthy form of entertainment, and built a fantastic title around that core understanding.
Take one steep learning curve. Add an adaptable engine capable of top flight graphics regardless of the platform it is applied to. Create a compelling central mythos for your title, built around a fantasy realm, a sci-fi galaxy, a kitchin-sink drama, anything that takes your fancy.
Combine these elements around a strong level of gameplay that is easy to learn, near-impossible to master. Develop slowly for a year or two with some big gameplay reveals just before release and, presto. You’ve made a digital download classic.