At this stage in his technology career, it's probably pretty difficult to impress Apple icon Steve Jobs.
But that's what Salt Lake City's Donald Mustard and his team of game developers at Chair Entertainment did last summer when they showed the chief executive of Apple their latest game for the iPhone, iPod and iPad.
When Mustard demonstrated an early incarnation of "Infinity Blade," Jobs was amazed at what he saw two knights sword fighting in front of a rustic medieval fortress with lush graphics that until then could only be accomplished on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
"He just said, 'I can't believe this is on one of our devices,' " Mustard recalled Jobs saying. After seeing the iPhone game, another Apple executive uttered, "This changes everything."
That's exactly what Chair Entertainment hopes to do with its latest title, a milestone in iPhone/iPod gaming that highlights the graphic prowess of mobile devices. "Infinity Blade" should be released through Apple's iTunes Store within the next few days. A price has not been set yet.
Apple was so impressed with the game's graphics, the company invited Mustard and Mike Capps, the president of Chair's parent company, Epic Games, to come onstage with Jobs last September to show off the game during an Apple press event, sharing the stage with Coldplay singer Chris Martin.
In advance of the stage demonstration, Mustard spent two weeks earlier at the Apple offices to rehearse. "Apple very much cares," said Mustard, the creative director and co-founder of Chair. "They're perfectionists from the position of your body onstage to what you're wearing. But I got to hang out with Steve Jobs and be onstage with Chris Martin. It was awesome."
"Infinity Blade" is an action/role-playing game in which the player assumes the role of a knight trying to take down the God King. As the descendant, the player then goes on a quest, killing a variety of enemies along the way. After the game's release, Chair will continue to support it with a series of free add-ons that will include new equipment for your character and a multiplayer mode.
Jobs wasn't the only one caught off guard by the game's leap in graphics when it was introduced to the world. Chair's product instantly became the talk of iPod/Apple fans.
"You could tell they had something really special," said Ben Kuchera, gaming editor for Ars Technica, the technology blog. "It looks like what you would expect from a very strong console game right now. It's one of the few games on the iPhone that if I were to get an e-mail tomorrow saying that it's available, I would stop everything I was doing, find my iPhone and buy it. That's the kind of hype it has."
The game has been in development for just four months, a mere fraction of the usual development time for a regular-console video game. To power its cutting-edge visuals, the game uses Unreal Engine 3, an Epic-developed video-game graphics engine that runs such blockbuster titles as "Gears of War" and "Mass Effect."
But Mustard acknowledges that beautiful graphics can only make half a game. So his team of 12 in their new downtown offices have been working to refine the gameplay for "Infinity Blade," figuring out the best way to control the game on a touchscreen.
"At the end of the day, whether it's ugly or beautiful, if it's not fun it won't be any good," he said.
Mustard and his brother Geremy, the team's technical director, are Brigham Young University graduates who formed Chair in 2005 in Provo. The Mustard brothers were fans of older classics, such as Nintendo's "Metroid" games, and decided to pursue a career in game development to tell fantastic stories in a new interactive medium.
"While we love film, it's not nearly as young or as fertile ground," Geremy Mustard said in an interview last year. "It was too amazing of an opportunity to pass up."
Chair, named after one of Plato's metaphysical theories, went on to make "Undertow" and last year's award-winning "Shadow Complex." Both games were developed for Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console, and both are based on the same graphics engine powering "Infinity Blade."
Epic, which is based in North Carolina, was so impressed with Chair's use of its Unreal Engine 3, it purchased the Utah company in 2008. Since then, Chair moved this month from Provo offices to the Salt Lake City Hardware Building.
Chair likes working in Utah, where video-game development remains healthy. Along the Wasatch Front, there are studios belonging to Electronic Art and Disney, as well as independent developers such as Ninja Bee, Smart Bomb Interactive, and Eat Sleep Play, which makes games for the Sony PlayStation.
"There's great talent in Utah in the development community, and we needed a more central location to hire up all these great developers," said Laura Mustard, Chair's director of public relations and Donald Mustard's wife. "We have a great tech base here in Utah, and it's affordable to develop products here."
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What sets apart 'Infinity Blade' graphics
Chair Entertainment's new iPhone/iPod/iPad game is powered by Unreal Engine 3, the same graphics engine that runs hit console games like "Gears of War," "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and the new "Medal of Honor." What makes this mobile game look like a more powerful console title?
Lighting • Unlike more generic iPhone games, "Infinity Blade" has subtle dynamic lighting and shadows on objects and characters, making it look more realistic.
Detail • The wireframe, above, for each character is made up of many more polygons than the average mobile game, creating smoother bodies and surfaces.
Recording movement • Motion-capture technology actors' movements recorded via computer was used to replicate lifelike movement.
Texture • Chair's digital artists were able to draw more elaborate textures for the characters, objects and buildings for stunning scenes, such as this medieval fortress.