Chair’s Donald Mustard on the Apple console threat


Infinity Blade III developer excited for iDevices’ living room potential, addresses increasing time and cost of mobile development

Donald Mustard

Three years ago, Donald Mustard and his team at Chair Entertainment first started working with the iPhone. And, as a lot of people did around that time, they began to speculate about its potential impact on the gaming world.

The consensus from the team was that within five years, Apple could have a device that was a viable threat to console systems. It was a throwaway guess – the sort of thing you make and tend to forget about. When he got his hands on the iPhone 5S three or four weeks ago, though, Mustard thought back to that discussion – and realized it could have been right on target.

“We know there’s going to be a future chip and it’s just leapfrogging so fast,” he told GamesIndustry International this week. “When streaming or wireless HDMI or whatever cuts down lag just a little bit between the device and the television… that’s going to be an interesting situation for our industry.”

“When streaming or wireless HDMI or whatever cuts down lag just a little bit between the device and the television… that’s going to be an interesting situation…”

Donald Mustard

The A7 processor in the latest incarnation of the smartphone features a 64-bit processor, something no other manufacturer has used before. According to Apple, that makes the 5S 40 times faster than the original iPhone and twice as powerful as the former flagship iPhone 5. It will also result in a significant boost to the graphics potential of the platform. Developers we spoke with after the event said they’d need to see benchmarks on the chip, but the A7 could potentially produce graphics that are on par with the Xbox 360 – something that’s notable given Apple’s already-announced support for third-party controllers.

Right now, says Mustard, there’s a slight lag with Air Play, but he expects Apple to eliminate that in the near future. And when combined with future advances in iDevice hardware, it could be a significant threat to not just handhelds, but traditional consoles.

“When that 700 million strong install base [of Apple products] becomes 1 billion or 1.2 billion – and combine that with the millions of Android devices out here – if only a small slice of that audience has a controller, that’s still going to be more controllers in hands than any console has ever had,” he says.

The advanced capabilities of the iPhone (and, presumably, the next iPad) are taking a toll on development time. While the first Infinity Blade was made in four months, says Mustard, and the second in six months, Infinity Blade III has been in development for roughly a year.

1Infinity Blade games take more time and money to make each time out.

“We wanted to increase the scope substantially and see how far we could push not only the devices, but find out how much game you could create in a mobile device,” he says.

Costs have increased also, though not as greatly as you might expect. The first Infinity Blade cost about $2 million to create. While Mustard declined to discuss the development costs of Infinity Blade III, he noted the expenses were “a little more … but not that much.”

“Making an Infinity Blade game isn’t as expensive as making a console game, but it isn’t cheap.”

Donald Mustard

“We enjoy very high margins,” he adds. “We’re doing just fine. Yeah, making an Infinity Blade game isn’t as expensive as making a console game, but it isn’t cheap.”

Because Apple so carefully guards its products, though, the majority of testing for Infinity Blade III was done on older models of Apple phones. This, says Mustard, allowed the team to create a game that will still push the graphical limits of those systems, while it shines on the iPhone 5S.

“I’m just in shock at how it looks on the 5S,” he says. “Usually we’ve been able to turn on maybe one or two of the high-end effects, and usually not at the same time. But with the A7, we turned on everything simultaneously and it was working.”

Infinity Blade III isn’t just using graphics – or the game’s legacy – to woo players, of course. On Thursday, Chair announced the game would ship with an exclusive, original single from Imagine Dragons.

Mustard says he and his team have been fans of the band since they were playing locally. When the two parties finally met, Imagine Dragons mentioned they were big fans of Infinity Blade – and the two began looking for a way to work together. Then the band saw its popularity explode.

“We thought that might complicate things,” chuckles Mustard.

When work started on Infinity Blade III, though, the developer reached out to the band.

“We had this crazy idea how we wanted this big climatic moment in the game and we thought it’d be perfect to have them write a new custom song to play through that moment,” he says. “They loved the idea.”

The band’s integration went one step further, in fact. Sharp-eyed fans might notice Imagine Dragons cover art in the game. Those who click on that will receive an exclusive dragon axe – which plays the song whenever the player uses it.

While Infinity Blade III offers a strong case that app games can be as graphically impressive as those on a console, the hard truth is that it’s typically titles that spend much less on art that catch on with mobile gamers. Mustard doesn’t let that phase him.

“There are certainly games in the app store that invest significantly less money than it costs to make an Infinity Blade-production value game that enjoy even greater monetary success than we do,” he acknowledges. “But to us, it’s not all about that. We’re trying to create what we think is the ultimate expression of what these amazing computers we carry in our pockets can do.”

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