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GDC 2011: Chair's Donald Mustard on the 100 day limitation that made Infinity Blade great

#gdc11 Be focused. Be unique

GDC 2011: Chair's Donald Mustard on the 100 day limitation that made Infinity Blade great
"People don't want a cheap version of their favourite retail title. They want a unique game experience."

That was the first rule from Donald Mustard, creative director of Chair Entertainment in his talk at the GDC Smartphone Summit.

Entitled 'Infinity Blade: How we made a hit, what we learned, and why you can do it', Mustard said while it might seem cool to have Gears of War on a smartphone, for many reasons - budget, experience, controls - it just doesn't make sense.

"Find out what a small game can do that a big budget retail game won't do," he commented. "Identify or create a hole in the market and fill it."

Know your limits

Still, the spark for Infinity Blade was a call from its parent company Epic, saying it had Unreal Engine 3 working for iOS, and did Chair want to make a game using the technology - in five months.

The first discussion the team had concerned where people were playing iOS games - in front of the TV, shopping and on the toilet.

Basically, these were all situations where you couldn't rely on the undivided attention of the player for a period of time. Another key issue was that you couldn't assume people would be playing the game with sound.

The team also looked at genres that were already popular on the App Store - physics puzzlers, tower defence, card and board games - and looked to do something different.

The result was what Mustard called Pocket Pillars.

This meant its game would: only be played with one finger; would involve super short sessions of around two minutes of core gameplay; have original, unique and device-specific design; and would be skill-based - easy to grasp but hard to master.

Cut your cloth

"Games always come down to how many people and how long you have," Mustard said. Infinity Blade was developed over 100 work days by a core of 12 people.

Taking Epic's call on a Friday, by the following Monday Chair knew it wanted to make a sword-fighting game: one of 30 previously fleshed out concepts it had sitting in its design vault.

Hence the first few weeks of production were spent focusing on the sword fighting dynamic in terms of gesture-based parry gameplay. Within 10 days, it was clear this core mechanic was fun.

Attention grabber

Mustard also spoke about the hook - a feature that would make someone look twice at your game.

"Our hook was graphics so we knew we had to invest a lot of resources in this," he said. "We approached Infinity Blade characters in the same way we produced them for Gears of War."

Obviously, this meant the number of in-game characters would be limited, and it also heavily influenced the game's progression in terms of looping plot, item collection, character update and camera placement.

This is something Mustard called creating a "fully integrated experience" so that every feature in the game reinforces the overall concept.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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