App Store icon
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3|
|Release date(s)||December 9, 2010|
Infinity Blade is a fighting game developed by Chair Entertainment and Epic Games and released through the Apple App Store on December 9, 2010. It is the first iOS video game to run on the Unreal Engine. In the game, the unnamed player character fights a series of one-on-one battles and journeys through a derelict castle in a fantasy world in order to fight the immortal God King. These battles have the player swipe the screen to attack and parry, as well as tap the screen to dodge and block enemy attacks. Upon the player's victory or defeat, they restart the game as the character's descendant with the same items and experience level. The game received four free expansions that added new equipment, endings, and game modes. The game was developed over five months by twelve people, and a playable demo was demonstrated after only two months of development. Infinity Blade was intended to demonstrate the new iOS version of the Unreal Engine, and to combine the swordplay of Karateka and Prince of Persia with the loneliness of Shadow of the Colossus.
Infinity Blade was the fastest-grossing app in the history of iOS upon its release. It made US$1.6 million in the first four days after release, and by the end of 2011 had made over US$23 million. It was well received by gaming critics. Reviews heavily praised the graphics, comparing the game favorably to console games, and also praised the swipe-based combat system, but opinions were split on the cyclical gameplay as to whether it was addictive or just repetitive. A version of the game was developed as an arcade game, titled Infinity Blade FX. Two iOS sequels, Infinity Blade II and Infinity Blade III, have been released, as well as two novellas written by best-selling author Brandon Sanderson set between the games, Infinity Blade: Awakening and Infinity Blade: Redemption.
The primary portion of Infinity Blade consists of one-on-one battles with oversized enemies as the player character travels through a ruined castle. The journey through the castle, which follows a largely linear path, is composed of specific locations where the player character stands and the player can pan the camera to view the fully three-dimensional area. The player taps specific highlighted locations onscreen either to trigger a short cutscene where the player character moves to the next location, or to engage an enemy in sword combat. During combat, the player controls the character's sword by swiping a finger across the screen. Players can touch icons at the bottom of the screen to dodge attacks by ducking right or left, or block attacks with a shield, which has a limited number of uses during a single battle. Players may also parry incoming attacks with an intercepting sword move that, for example, parries an attack from the left with a swipe to the left. Each of these three counters can leave the enemy vulnerable to counterattack for a short period, but incorrect counters result in damage to the player character, as reflected in the health bar. Enemies can perform certain attacks that cannot be parried or blocked, such as bashing the player's character with a shield, and must be dodged. If players fail in battle against any enemy other than the castle's last enemy, the game resets to just before that battle. Players can use two special abilities by tapping buttons located at the top of the screen. The Super Attack temporarily stuns the opponent, and magic heals or attacks as indicated by drawing a given symbol. Both require time to recharge after use. When attacking, the player can swipe in any direction, and can do specific attack combinations to deal extra damage.
In addition to combat, there is also a mild role-playing component. An experience point system levels up the player character and their equipment (weapons, armor, shields, helms, and magic rings). Equipment pieces have special properties and a predetermined amount of experience points required to master them. Mastering a piece of equipment increases its sale value but it decreases the experience the player receives by one-fifth. Players gain points when their experience level increases or a piece of equipment is mastered; these points can be spent to improve the character's health, attack, shield power, or magic. Each point can only be allocated once and is a permanent upgrade to the character. Players can purchase new equipment using in-game money found in sacks scattered throughout the castle, in treasure chests dotted around the map, in return from a defeated enemy, or in selling unused equipment. In-game money can also be purchased with real money within the game.
The game follows a cyclical narrative structure in which the player character explores a castle in a quest to battle the primary antagonist, the immortal God King. In the game's introduction, the player character has just finished this quest, but is slain by the God King. The player then assumes the role of the dead character's descendant as he starts his own journey at the beginning of the castle. This cycle, called a bloodline, continues after the player faces the God King and either dies, wins, or chooses to join the God King instead of fighting. Enemies increase in difficulty with each cycle. Another bloodline ending is unlocked after purchasing the Infinite Blade: the sword is placed into a pedestal in the castle's underground dungeons and three doors open. After then defeating each of the three "Deathless"—immortal beings like the God King—of increasing difficulty found within, a final fourth door opens and the player faces a mechanized warrior guarding a high-tech chamber where the God King is reborn whenever he is killed. After defeating the mechanized warrior, it is revealed to be controlled by an ancestor of the playable character, who chose to serve the God King. After fighting the ancestor, the player character is told that the Infinity Blade has the ability to prevent immortals like the God King from resurrecting after death. The player is then given the option of either starting the next bloodline as they do when defeated, or resetting the game and starting New Game+ mode, which removes all gold and items but maintains their experience level, letting the player remaster the items and level up even further.
Chair Entertainment released four expansions as free updates to the game. The first, released December 20, 2010, added a new enemy, equipment, microtransactions, and the ability to play MP3 music in the background. It also removed an experience level cap. The second update, titled Infinity Blade: The Deathless Kings, was released on March 2, 2011 and added a second branch to the game path via the dungeons. This expansion also added new equipment, enemies, and the second ending to the game where the player character defeats his ancestor. The third update, Infinity Blade: Arena, was released on May 19, 2011. It added the player vs. player "Arena Mode", a tiered combat game progression where one player fights as the hero and the other as a series of enemies from the game. The update also included new equipment and a single-player version of Arena Mode called "Survival Mode". On October 4, 2011, a fourth update added a new enemy, new equipment, and previews of the forthcoming sequel Infinity Blade II and the novella Infinity Blade: Awakening.
Infinity Blade was created by Chair Entertainment, a subsidiary company of Epic Games. In July 2010, Chair had both recently finished the Xbox Live Arcade game Shadow Complex and been acquired by Epic. Chair was brainstorming Kinect and Wii games, including an idea similar to Infinity Blade, and Epic was nearing completion of an iOS version of the Unreal Engine 3 graphics engine and in need of a "killer game" to show it off. Epic had previously sold the engine for use in numerous console and personal computer games. They asked Chair to develop a game for the engine in five months, with a playable demo for the Apple Special Event conference in two months. The team decided within a few days to work on the Infinity Blade concept, codenamed "Project Sword". In lieu of the normal initial game development where working prototypes test gameplay ideas, Chair spent the first week of development refining the gameplay concept on paper before beginning to code. Many of the core gameplay ideas were developed in their first few hours. Geremy Mustard, Chair's co-founder and technical director, estimates that the team cut two-third of that initial design due to lack of time. Refining the complex touch-based interface was complicated due to the Unreal Engine's incomplete status and the native iOS code library's lack of support for fast touch-based gameplay. The five-month development was completed by a team of twelve people from Chair, with assistance from Epic. In addition to the Mustard brothers, the team was composed of Simon Hurley as producer; Joshua Andersen and Scott K. Bowen as programmers; Adam Ford as art director; Orlando Barrowes, Bert Lewis, Mike Low, Scott Stoddard, and Nathan Trewartha as artists and animators; and Brandon Raul Campos as lead tester.
The game's swipe-based swordplay was based on Chair co-founder and creative director Donald Mustard's desire for an uncommon gameplay based on nuanced sword fighting and parrying. He described the game's influences as the combat of Karateka and Prince of Persia combined with the "lonely epicness" of Shadow of the Colossus. Chair sought to develop an experience that could be picked up and played for a minute (a single battle) or for half an hour (a bloodline). They felt that many other developers accustomed to consoles were wrong to make iOS games that required long playing experiences to feel meaningful, and so Chair developed the bloodline concept as a natural breakpoint. They also felt that mobile games like Infinity Blade with constant action elements went too long without giving the player time to relax and resulted in player exhaustion, and so Chair kept their individual battles short with brief cinematic pauses in longer battles. Chair showed their playable demo at the Apple conference on September 1, 2010 after weeks of rehearsal, and attracted a lot of attention to the game. It was released on December 9, 2010. While Chair itself spent little on marketing, Apple used the game extensively in advertisements for its devices.
The music for the game was composed by Josh Aker, who had written the music for previous Chair games. The soundtrack was intended by Aker to be "intense" during combat, but to vary between "serene" and "otherworldly" outside battle. It is a mixture of live and synthetic instrument performances. Cello and nyckelharpa were the primary instruments used. Aker wanted to have "avant-garde performances" for the recordings. The soundtrack was sold as a digital album, Infinity Blade: Original Soundtrack, through several online music retailers. Chair began to develop the game's first update before the initial game was released. They intended only to add new monsters and features, but added the ability to purchase gold due to customer requests. Chair did not rebalance the game to incentivize in-app purchases. Work on The Deathless Kings update began immediately afterwards. Chair felt that releasing several large, free updates to the game would increase their overall user base and result in more total sales due to word of mouth.
Infinity Blade was noted for its sales at launch, selling more than 270,000 copies and making over US$1.4 million in its first four days after release as the "fastest-grossing app" ever released for iOS at the time. By the end of 2011, it had made at least US$23 million in revenue. Chair noted in April 2011, around fourteen months after the initial release, that the game's sales were split half for the iPhone and half for the iPad and iPod. Epic Games noted in 2012 after the release of the sequel, Infinity Blade II, that the series was the most profitable that Epic had ever had, in terms of revenue versus man-hours spent developing the games.
Infinity Blade was reviewed by several major gaming sites in addition to those focused on mobile games. The graphics of the game were heavily praised; IGN reviewer Hilary Goldstein said that it was "an absolute stunner for any handheld device and ushers in a new era of possibility for high-end graphics." GamePro's Ryan Rigney called the game "downright gorgeous" and said that the graphics were almost at the level of a console game, which was echoed by John Meyer of Wired, who claimed that it had the best graphics of any iPad game. The reviewer for Edge further praised the art direction, especially with regards to the enemy and armor designs.
The gameplay was generally praised by reviewers, who typically found the combat engaging but were split on the repetitive aspects of the game. 1UP.com's Matt Clark said that the sword gameplay "just feels right", while Mark Brown of Eurogamer said that the combat had an excitement factor that pushed players to keep on going for one more battle. Tracy Erickson of Pocket Gamer described the swipe-based combat system as "easy to understand, though tough to master", and Nick Chester of Destructoid said that although the combat was not very complicated, it was fun to play. The role-playing game elements were praised—Destructoid's Chester called them "satisfying" and IGN's Goldstein said that they added to the game's difficulty. Brown's review for Eurogamer, however, said that while good they were not as engaging as the combat, and the Edge review dismissed them as minimal. Reviewers had mixed opinions on the effectiveness of the bloodline system's repetition: Destructoid's Chester described it as addictive and IGN's Goldstein agreed, but Erickson's review for Pocket Gamer said that the game had problems with repetition and Wired's Meyer dismissed it as "repetitive ... as the title suggests". J. Nicholas Geist, writing for Kill Screen, focused his entire review on the cyclical nature of the game, treating its nature of repetition with small changes between each bloodline as a metaphor for life. Most reviewers found themselves between the two extremes, with Brown of Eurogamer simultaneously describing it as "alarmingly repetitious" but still addictive and 1UP.com's Clark saying that enjoying the game required getting past the repetition, despite being "stellar".
Sequels and spin-offs
On October 28, 2011, Epic Games and Adrenaline Amusements released an arcade version of the game, Infinity Blade FX. The game is played on a 46-inch screen rigged with optical sensors so as to mimic a large iPhone or iPad screen. Each arcade stand contains up to three screens, and players can play against each other or in the single-player game. A sequel to the iOS game, Infinity Blade II, was announced on October 4, 2011 during the Apple iPhone 4S keynote presentation. It was released on December 1, 2011, and features enhanced graphics, a new storyline, and new fighting styles. A novella bridging the stories of the two games, Infinity Blade: Awakening, was written by best-selling author Brandon Sanderson and released as an e-book on October 4, 2011. A spinoff game titled Infinity Blade: Dungeons was under development for iOS by Epic Games subsidiary Impossible Games, but was cancelled in February 2013 when Impossible Games was shut down. A final game in the trilogy, Infinity Blade III, was released on September 18, 2013. As before, a novella by Brandon Sanderson set between Infinity Blade II and III, Infinity Blade: Redemption, was released on September 9, 2013.
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