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

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.

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

Infinity 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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Latest comments (14)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 8 years ago
That's all very nice, how is Shadow Complex 2 coming along?
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Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team8 years ago
If we are going to speak of mobile games in the context of comparing it to console gaming, then mobile gaming's number one handicap is the touch screen - not the graphics. To pretend that graphics (or processing power) is all that is needed to 'threat' consoles is just plain ridiculous.

It doesn't matter if you can make a game look like Uncharted on mobile... gamers will still prefer the console version even if it has the graphics of a Nintendo 64. For most 'console' type game designs mobile isn't even on par with a NES, because the Nintendo Entertainment System had a gamepad and that's more important than a 64 bit processor.

An increasing amount of gamers are not caring much about graphical advances - it really doesn't matter that much anymore, and the truly hardcore graphics enthusiasts will never look at anything outside of the high-end PC market. Why does it supposedly matter so much for mobile? Some mobile game designs will obviously benefit from increasing power, but competitive and action/adrenaline thirsty gamers will not move away from their Nintendo's ,Xbox's and Playstation's no matter how many gigaflops you can pack into these phones or tablets.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Hmmm... Maybe Chair can make the rest of that that Advent Trilogy now. That first game left EVERYONE hanging who liked it and wanted to see more. Hell, even that PSP side-story would have been cool to play... Oh well...
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Show all comments (14)
Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 8 years ago
I've been working on I-devices for 6 years, and the main problem is that the mobile ecosystem (input and battery duration) does not favour console/hardcore gaming. Some genres can be adapted to touch screens without losing too much (driving games, for example), but most of the classic console genres suffer. Even worse, most of these genres are visually intensive and designed for long gameplay sessions, which collides with the poor battery most mobile devices have. Yeah, you can redesign these genres into something more fitting for the target platform, but still I doubt you will play them the same way you would play these at home or in a portable console

Infinity Blade is a benchmark game, and most users buy it to show off their devices. It is also being constantly promoted on keynotes, store front, etc. Other similar games don't have that luck. I'll only believe this mobile-to-console menace if Apple and Google start building up a friendlier ecosytem for high profile games. Controller support is just the first step. Pricing and value perception of these games must be improved, or users will just go for the newest F2P sensation, without caring on the hard work required to put these products on the store

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Oscar Escamilla Perez on 15th September 2013 9:41am

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Isn't this article suggesting that battery life and touch input won't be a problem, because once you can stream to your TV from your phone without too much lag, you can leave the phone plugged in (like a console) and use a wireless bluetooth control pad and then you have a tiny console that does all the same stuff as "last gen" consoles.
However, for it to work, I think Apple and Google need "premium" sections on their stores where you can buy full price games e.g. 30. The tiny expected price for mobile games will hold back publishers from bothering with games that take advantage of all this processing power on mobiles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Charles Rodmell on 15th September 2013 1:46pm

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Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team8 years ago
But Charles, who is going to buy bluetooth / wireless controllers to play on an iPad or iPhone on their Tvs, especially since there aren't games worth getting one for? Certainly not the people who want a console experience - for that they have consoles. I seriously doubt a critical mass would buy these controllers and very few developers (if any) are going to design a mobile game to work exclusively for these unless they become pretty standard.

The installed user base of i-devices with regular 'touch control' capabilities is in the billions. The installed user base of i-devices used as consoles with controllers is/will be... 0.1% of the user base? (Probably less). Which segment would you make a game for if you want to invest on mobile? I don't see any super complex high-definition gaming overcoming the Candy Crush's any time on mobile. Puzzle games and some genres can thrive on the platform. For the rest there is no threat against consoles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 15th September 2013 3:58pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
Doesn't leaving a battery device constantly plugged in and charging slowly knacker the battery? It seems to have on my laptop, but as I generally use it near a plug, it doesn't matter. My phone is another matter.

Also, when I have seen power intensive games run on phones, the handset seems to run hot after not much time at all. So after those 8 hour Skyrim sessions we are all guilty of once in a blue moon?
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
As far as iDevices go, I mainly see the phones/tablets as a threat to the portable consoles. Any home console threat would be AppleTV which would kick azz with a controller and an architecture like the A7.

As for game experiences, I really enjoy the challenge of how we scale the experience of games across console and mobile and also 'scale up' to more premium content on app stores as opposed to just focussing on the floods of cheaper games. Need both in there really...
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Saehoon Lee Founder & CEO, Pixellore8 years ago
Not that many companies can just think about their amazing things they can do with the device without worry about the outcome. The kind of outcome that can tilt the future of the company. Epic is one of them and yeah, it's good for them. We need games like that to bring up the standard the user expect from the mobile games so everyone has to invest that much more to compete.... yeah , yeah.. fun stuff.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 8 years ago
Speaking from personal experience, there is more than a "slight lag" in the Air Play feature between an iPad and an Apple TV device, but getting the tech worked out on console-esque equivalent for Apple is hardly the problem. Apple, as a company, is so devoid of the innovation people have come to expect from it at this point, creating a push toward the gaming space is hardly going to seem like the original idea the organization needs to get people's attention again.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
@ Carlos Bordeu
"mobile gaming's number one handicap is the touch screen"

I see this as one of the great advantages of touch screen gaming. The player has tactile input right into the game, instead of via an intermediary device like a gaming pad.
Obviously game design needs to be different. But that is down to the skills of the developers.
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Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team8 years ago
@ Bruce

You need to quote my entire sentence to counter my point and the whole line was:

"If we are going to speak of mobile games in the context of comparing it to console gaming, then mobile gaming's number one handicap is the touch screen."

I have no doubts that a touch screen can be used creatively for a multitude of genres and interesting game designs, but it is absolutely insufficient if you are going to try to design most of the complex game mechanics of console games.

...and just to add more to this point:

Can you name me a game that exists on mobile that couldn't be properly done on a PS4? (which supports touch on its controller). Or even Xbox One with Kinect...? You'll have a hard time coming up with an example. Invert the question to 'Can you think of a game design that exists on consoles that cannot be done on mobile?', and within seconds we've all already thought of dozens of examples. Every top grossing title of iOS could be perfectly emulated on upcoming console interfaces. None of the best selling console games can/will work well on mobile with touch controls only.

The input device IS a limitation. I never said you couldn't design interesting games with it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 16th September 2013 7:01pm

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Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team8 years ago
@ Adam

Selling controllers to owners of Apple TV would still be quite a challenge for them. In order to get a big installed base of people purchasing controllers you will need killer games that justify the purchase. It won't work if some people just buy gamepads to try them out and they end up gathering dust after trying out a few unimpressive titles. For the Apple TV to be a threat, the market would have to sustain gamers consistently playing games on it so that developers see a good install base worth developing for.

It doesn't matter how many Apple TVs are out there. It has to be how many Apple TVs with consistent / constant usage of the gamepads (which are an accessory). Only then will developers be tempted into developing console-type games for the platform.

I highly doubt the gamepad numbers for Apple TV would beat the full purchases of next gen consoles. Not unless Apple starts investing on software development and they get some killer apps out there.

So many people here doom the WiiU for lack of compelling software, but then many are suggesting Apple has a chance at threatening consoles just because of its hardware alone? It makes no sense.

***Again - this all in the context of Apple challenging consoles on their own turf.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 16th September 2013 7:25pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Hm... I think if Apple wanted to put out some sort of game-centric TV box of any size, it would have done so years ago. I keep hearing it'll happen eventually, but it hasn't. An I believe it won't at this point unless every lag issue is solved if it using Airplay and some sort of standard (proprietary) game controller option, there's a lot of key titles you don't see on anything else. The Infinity Blade series is a fine start, but genre-wise, what else would grab gamers outside of what they're already playing on their other devices?

As Carlos noted, if this is about pulling people away from consoles to Apple or even stepping up to "own the living room" as I've heard some Apple-heads speculate will happen if they make a "game console", it's not going to be as big as some expect. The first hurdle is convincing a bunch of people that that "system" is worth their money when they currently own multiple Apple devices that can play the same games on and yes, run not so perfectly on their TV's with Airplay.

Well, whatever comes up will be a better seller than the Pippin was by far, so maybe I'm wrong (but I kind of doubt it). Eh, we'll see. I have a few crow pies left in the freezer here, so I'll double up and eat two if I'm surprised by anything Apple does in the future regarding this subject.
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