[In this in-depth interview, Chair Entertainment heads Donald and Geremy Mustard discuss the inspiration and success of Infinity Blade, the team's first iOS title, what they've learned from it, and what it means for the future of their development process and even games at large.]
When Donald and Geremy Mustard formed Chair Entertainment, it was with high ideals (the company's official "about" page explains how its mission derives from Plato's concepts) and a deep and abiding love of classic games. Its Shadow Complex broke records on the Xbox Live Arcade service at launch.
The team hit even bigger with the iOS game Infinity Blade, which quickly became the platform's fastest-grossing app. The game was created both with a passion for gameplay -- as creative director Donald Mustard explains below -- and to show off parent company Unreal's UDK for iOS, according to technical director Geremy Mustard.
Judging from the response gamers have had to the title, it does both. In this interview, the Mustards (including Donald's wife Laura, who serves as the company's PR) and senior producer Simon Hurley talk about the creative impetus behind the game, why the team released a free content update, and what they learned from audience reaction, and lessons from the process of developing both Shadow Complex and Infinity Blade.
You recently put out a free update for Infinity Blade, right?
Donald Mustard: A bunch of new enemies, a new area to explore, new story elements, a lot of gameplay refinements. That was something we were experimenting with: what happens if we put out an update for free that literally doubles the size of the game and the amount of content?
The game's on sale for 50 percent off for the next couple of days, and we're back up number one on the iPad charts again... [Note: the interview was conducted shortly after the content update.]
Laura Mustard: And the sale is really a vehicle to promote the new content. We want to make sure everyone knows there's a ton of new content out.
DM: Also, it's just interesting for us, because we've never made a game for this marketplace before, and it's still emerging. We're still trying to see what works and what makes sense -- and hopefully start to figure out this space. But it's been really successful for us, so we're really happy.
When it came to Shadow Complex, you were really inspired by classic games. What inspired you with this game? What was the original genesis? Was it just to make an iOS game?
DM: No. Infinity Blade, in our mind, is a combination of Karateka, Jordan Mechner's kind of --
Simon Hurley: Apparently, we found out, it's "Kara-teka" (laughs)
DM: Kara-teka, right. I've been saying "Karate-ka" since I was little.
Yeah, me too.
LM: You guys are really right, but don't tell the others or they'll get really bummed about it.
DM: There's just something about the purity of the fight; that and the original Prince of Persia. Those are the two games I've ever played where it actually felt like I was actually sword fighting, where I was actually in this pitted battle, where it felt cinematic. It just felt different than any God of War or any of these other games.
And we took that feeling and that shorter loop, and combined it with what we were hoping to capture: some of the lonely epicness of Shadow of the Colossus. We thought if we take that, and then combine that with the more gestural sword fighting system we'd have something pretty unique and pretty cool. Yeah, we always look back at those classic games.
How do you find that people responded to the idea? "Lonely epicness" is not the phrase that I would associate with iOS gameplay. At least, not the epicness -- maybe the lonely.
DM: It's true. That's the thing we were trying to go for visually. It's too bad we don't have a lot more time because we could talk about this for a couple hours.
To me, when we started to analyze some of the games that were out there that were more successful, we found that a lot of the games require a little bit of input and then you watch some stuff that happens. You think of the core game of Angry Birds: I fire, and then I watch the results of my actions for awhile.
The games that didn't do that, that really required you to be like (anxious-sounding breaths) all the time, in our opinion, were not successful and got tiring really fast. What we wanted was this core loop of frenetic sword fighting, but we tried to pace it so that battles would last 30 seconds, to a minute and a half, to two minutes at most -- but then we wanted between the battles to have this cinematic breathe time where you're like (sigh of relief) and there's not a lot going on. There's a moment for me to not do anything but maybe click on a little gold or explore the inventory.
We thought we'd frame this fighting mechanic around this lonely, isolated place with these big titans that I have to fight. It would just feel more unique to the device and be something that'd be kind of cool, and it worked!
Geremy Mustard: We found that people do need those breather moments, even during battle. The reason why we added in those transitions where you beat the boss a third of the way down and then he plays a stumble animation or whatever he does, is that it gives you just enough time to be like (sigh of relief) and be ready to fight again.
DM: I get to reposition my fingers. We try to make these four-to-six second transitions two times in the battle so you can just take a moment.
SH: And it gives you a sense of progression.
GM: But, as far as the world goes, we didn't want to put that pressure on the player to feel like they have to progress. Having a lonely world makes it so there's time to look around and be like, "Oh, this is pretty scenery." Which is one of our goals, too; to show off the technology that we have.
Sure. Why would you have that goal? (Everyone laughs)