Epic’s Infinity Blade swiped its way onto iDevices last year after beginning life as a tech demo called Epic Citadel. That proved the Unreal Engine could work remarkably well on a mobile device and gamers were eager to see how the team of ChAIR Entertainment used this to make a game. The result was a very casual experience wrapped in a veil of hardcore ideas and a simple control scheme, taking only five months from start to finish. That includes concept and distribution. The team revealed their timeframe in a talk at GDC (via Joystiq) called: Infinity Blade: How We Made a Hit, What We Learned, and Why You Can Do it Too!
What they learned was to always have some ideas in mind for future projects. ChAIR’s employees pitched around 30 ideas a day with the stipulation that it had to built by the six people in the team in less than a year. When Epic Games bought ChAIR, they knew the kinds of games they wanted to make and already had a plan for them too.
After the honeymoon period between gamers and Infinity Blade was over, the backlash began with many claiming the game was repetitive and too easily controlled which limited what you could do with it. When you look at the internal rule set ChAIR implimented when developing Infinity Blade, their decisions make a whole lot of sense. They came up with the ‘Pocket Pillars’ which defined how to make a touchscreen experience with the number one point being it must be playable with one finger, finding ways to use that finger then remove it. Presumably this is so the player’s digits don’t obscure their view of the game like so many other smartphone titles we’ve complained about. The game also had to be “Super short” with meaningful and fun gameplay, progressing the player every two minutes and if it was something that worked great with a traditional controller, they were doing it wrong. Lastly, Infinity Blade had to be purely skilled based, easy to learn, hard to master.
All of these points are incredibly valid points into how great smartphone games are and should be made. They can be attributed to the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, two immensely popular mobile games with legions of fans between them. They all excel because of how they’re perfectly designed for the device in hand, not a compromised version of something else. The fact that Infinity Blade was criticised for offering a similar experience seems a bit harsh to me as it does cross the boundaries of both casual and hardcore quite nicely.
Donald Mustard of ChAIR said last December how Infinity Blade started life as a Kinect project and hinted if the game proved popular in over the holiday period it could be headed for the motion controller. With a little tweaking, the Pocket Pillars would equally work well when making a Kinect game, keeping it simple, fun, skill-based and specific for the device. For now, I’ll keep on levelling up my knight on my iPhone but am increasingly intrigued as to how it would work on Kinect.