GDC11: Short Dev Time, Graphics Axed Infinity Blade’s Bow and Arrow

ChAIR had lots of big ideas for what could have gone into Infinity Blade. Like fighting a dragon with a bow and arrow, or throwing a grappling hook and climbing up a wall, all with touchscreen controls that would be unique to the iPhone and iPad.

But none of them made it into the final game.

Speaking at GDC 2011 during the Mobile Games Summit, ChAIR Creative Director Donald Mustard explained why those features, which he described as mini-games in between the game’s big touchscreen sword-fighting battles, didn’t make it into the final versions of the iPhone and iPad game.

To put it very simply: Graphics slew the dragon and axed the bow and arrow.

“We realized if we wanted the kind of graphic fidelity we did, we had to cut out a lot of content,” Mustard said. “We were going to have all these mini-games between fights that would use the controls uniquely. You’d shoot an arrow at a dragon, or you’d use a grappling hook to climb a wall. But we started to look at it and were like, ‘Do you need to fire a bow and arrow? Nope. Do you need to climb a wall? No.’”

Infinity Blade was the first iPhone game to use Unreal Engine 3, and the great, platform-defining graphics were the game’s “hook,” Mustard said — the thing that would get players to look twice at Infinity Blade. Its sword-fighting mechanic, which uses touchscreen swipes and timing to fight off huge enemies in one-on-one battles, made up the game’s core fun aspect.

“The parry is the funnest part of the game,” Mustard said. “Everything supports that.”

Graphics were always key to Infinity Blade, right from the development of the concept at the beginning — which started with a call from Epic Games, asking ChAIR if the developer wanted to make an iOS game using a mobile version of Unreal Engine 3 that Epic had been secretly developing for months. ChAIR said yes, and set to work figuring out what the game would be.

Mustard said the company hit on what it considered to be the game’s core fun, the sword-fighting mechanic, very early in the development process: around 10 days in. That was very important, seeing as Epic wanted Infinity Blade to hit the App Store by the end of the year, leaving ChAIR only about five months to turn the game around.

That meant lots of ideas fell to the wayside as money and time were invested in making Infinity Blade the best looking iPhone game in the App Store. The game got reduced to its core concepts, building on the sword-fighting and streamlining the experience to just that one focus.

Part of what made it a success, on top of being a beautiful game with a simple but fun mechanic, was the fact that players could become better at Infinity Blade over time, which is the key to finishing the game’s final fight with the uber-powerful Godking.

“Lots of games, you don’t actually get better at playing them,” Mustard said. “…We kind of trick the player into thinking they’re getting better loot over time, but really you’re leveling up as a player — you’re gaining more skill. You could beat the Godking the first time out. There’s nothing stopping you.”

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