By: John Gaudiosi
Chair Entertainment -- based in Salt Lake City, Utah -- has catapulted to the top of the mobile game development business thanks to the success of its Infinity Blade franchise. In a little more than a year’s time, they’ve spawned a full sequel, a new iPad prequel (Infinity Blade: Dungeons), a digital book from bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, a hit soundtrack and a stand-up arcade game (Infinity Blade FX). The mobile franchise has also generated more than $30 million for Chair and its parent company, Epic Games.
Epic Games -- based in Cary, N.C. -- is working with Chair on a brand-new prequel, Infinity Blade: Dungeons, which has been designed to take advantage of the new iPad. That game, just like Infinity Blade II at the iPhone 4S press conference, was featured during Apple’s recent new iPad launch event. Chair continues to expand its Infinity Blade II experience with new gameplay through regular updates. Donald Mustard, creative director and co-founder of Chair Entertainment, talks about the multiscreen future of gaming and how mobile, PC and console experiences will interconnect in this exclusive interview.
How has Infinity Blade evolved beyond just a gaming experience?
One of the unique things about tablets and mobile devices is that not only can they be with you on different screens, but they can be with you in different ways. The first step in what we’re thinking about: How can we make the Infinity Blade franchise more than just an interactive experience? Where you can literally be playing Infinity Blade and be experiencing the universe and the story, then you can shut the game application, open the digital book that’s written by Brandon Sanderson, start reading about the universe and continue the story on the same device, but in a totally different medium. Then you finish the book and start playing Infinity Blade II, and the story continues. It’s a way that we can start to have these more unified media experiences on one central device or multiple screens, but that it expands the story and the universe -- all in the palm of your hand.
How has Unreal Engine 3 technology opened the door for your cross-screen approach?
Using Unreal Engine 3 to develop this game is a huge advantage because of just that: the ability to have an engine that is not only super-cutting-edge, but also able to be cutting-edge on all the big platforms. It allows us to still create very cutting-edge gameplay that can translate across devices.
If you look at some of the people that license the Unreal Engine -- from BioWare with Mass Effect to Rocksteady Studios with Arkham City -- they’ve made these console games and have all these assets that now, if they choose to, could be pretty easily translated to other devices and experiences.
Infinity Blade II’s latest update, Clash Mobs, connects mobile devices to Facebook social networks. What are your thoughts on the future of multiscreen gaming?
This is something that we’re starting to think about a lot. I think Clash Mob is a good first step in showing that that’s what we’re starting to consider.
I’m very interested in the idea of being screen-agnostic. I want you to be able to experience Infinity Blade on different screens and to have them be shared experiences across multiple screens -- not limited to whatever screen you happen to be in front of at the moment. Infinity Blade can be with you wherever you are. Not just Infinity Blade, but games in general can be with you.
How have you seen the mobile gaming space evolve since the introduction of tablets?
This market is changing, evolving and growing at what seems like a crazily rapid rate. When I think back on the types of mobile games I was playing on my phone a year and a half ago when we first started thinking about Infinity Blade, I was playing games that I thought were amazing, but they were games like Angry Birds, Texas Hold’em, or simple tower defense games. Once these devices really started to get powerful and we were able to make a game like Infinity Blade, I think that it just skyrocketed. Since the first Infinity Blade came out in December 2010, we’ve had three very major hardware updates from Apple alone with the iPad 2, the iPhone 4S and the new iPad.
How are the regular releases of these more powerful devices impacting games?
Basically, each one of these Apple products almost doubled the graphical and processing capability of the previous device. Now with the new iPad, it’s just amazingly powerful, and that’s just allowed games to offer even bigger, more immersive and more entertaining experiences. It’s allowed us to make games like Infinity Blade, and even more recently Infinity Blade II, that really just set the new benchmark for what a mobile game can be.
How have you seen the audience for the Infinity Blade games evolve since launch?
What’s really exciting is that Infinity Blade is appealing to not just the more traditional gamers, but also to this new crop of gamers that maybe don’t identify themselves as gamers, but actually are because they’re playing all these games on their tablets. When I think of more traditional or hardcore gamers, they really like seeing a game like Infinity Blade, but it’s offering a different, unique experience on a touch-screen device that’s different from what they can get on their console or PC. I think that’s helping people see the potential of what these devices can be.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com . He is a frequent contributor to Digital Innovation Gazette .