There's an unmistakable quality about the games that do well on Apple's App Store. There are some exceptions, of course, but many of the iOS platform's best games know that they are iOS platform games and, therefore, are extensively tailored toward those devices and their most prominent features: the touch screen and the ability to play in short bursts. The original Infinity Blade was one such game; it borrowed gameplay mechanics from Nintendo's popular Punch-Out boxing game and changed them to suit the touch screen and the context of the game. "What we wanted to do with the first game was hopefully make something that really took advantage of the uniqueness of touch-screen devices," says Donald Mustard, creative director at Chair Entertainment. "We were trying to create something with the gameplay that wouldn't be easy to do with a controller and take advantage of the device. We felt like we had a really good core system for sword fighting--the dodge, block, and parrying mechanic."
Because combat was such a popular element in the original game, Chair wants to make it even more dynamic in the sequel. While the obvious byproduct of this strategy might be to incorporate new weapons (which there are), there is a less obvious tactic in play that really changes things up for Infinity Blade II. And that comes from the introduction of new enemies. "There are a lot more enemies. When we shipped the first Infinity Blade, we had 10 different enemies in the game, and when we ship IBII, we'll have more than 30 in the game," Mustard says. "There are just a lot more enemies this time around; some new in addition to some returning from the first game." These enemies will range from the hulking creature you might have seen in the announcement trailer (which, Mustard notes, can actually pick you up in its mouth) to nimbler foes capable of inflicting damage in quick fashion.
While you'll still have the standard assortment of sword swipes, blocks, parries, and dodges at your disposal, the hero of Infinity Blade II also has new weapon types to select. In addition to the standard sword-and-shield combination, you can now dual-wield swords. "You're doing dual hits, so it allows you to get bigger attack windows and chain together massive combo chains that are different," Mustard explains. "It's a much more aggressive style where those who are good at dodging or those who excel at parrying will be absolute masters." It's also noteworthy that dual-wielders don't have a shield, so the block button has been replaced with another dodge option that lets you move underneath attacks.
The other new type is for those who like heavier, two-handed weapons. They may take longer to swing, but they'll ultimately inflict much more damage if they connect properly. "The cool thing about the heavy weapons is that because they're heavy, they swing a little slower," Mustard says. "But once you break an enemy, they do massive amounts of damage in shorter combo chains." While holding a heavy weapon, you can't dodge, but there's a trade-off that lets you block directionally. This means that you have to be really good at determining where attacks are coming from, and if done properly, the payoff is huge.
What gives all of these tactics and weapon combinations an extra layer of depth in Infinity Blade II is the introduction of customizable weapons. Each weapon has open slots that can be filled with a gem that possesses a special property. For example, one gem may increase your damage output, while another may cause damage to an enemy every time you block. These gems can be found throughout the world, either in chests or dropped by enemies. "Most of the items in the game have gem slots on them," Mustard added. "There are hundreds and thousands of different kinds of gems imbued with different properties--from damage stat boosts to different elemental attacks."
Of course, the goal is to become such a powerful warrior that nothing stands in your way. The original Infinity Blade used a bloodline mechanic where each death gave your progeny an opportunity to take up your former arms and have one more go at the God King. "We thought the overall bloodline loop to the God King was really fun. It didn't take too long…about half an hour or so to go from the start of the game to the God King and loop on that over and over again," Mustard says. "We thought, 'Why don't we take that same framework but apply it to a much larger gameplay experience?' We're still playing with that bloodline mechanic. The fights are still paced the same way even with the new mechanics on top of it, but now, we've laid that into a much bigger metagameplay and metaworld, and it gives a lot more depth and length to the overall game."
When pressed further about the extent of the changes Mustard is referring to, he would only say that instead of just one God King, you now have multiple God King-like characters that you can tackle in any order that you wish, which makes the sequel a little less linear. "Hopefully, that will strike the right balance where it will still be very satisfying in short sessions, but we'll start to get closer to some of the great stuff about the [console experience] where we can put in a little bit more story as you defeat one of these challenging enemies and then move onto a new branch. So there's more new, regular content being delivered to you."
The development team at Chair also plans to keep supplying users with content after Infinity Blade II's December 1 release (though, Mustard was quick to point out, it might not be as often as with the original game). But, what will likely keep people playing after they've defeated the solo challenges is IBII's ingenious take on multiplayer--also known as Clash Mobs, which will be available shortly after launch. "We're working on it now," Mustard explains. "The idea is to have people partner with each other from all around the world--hundreds of thousands and hopefully millions of gamers--to participate in these massively social challenges. For example, we'll have a Clash Mob where there's this huge beast. Let's say it has 10 million hit points and it's going to run away in 24 hours. So in 24 hours, you'll have once chance, one 30-second turn to do as much damage as you can to this one enemy."
"Let's say you're really good and you're able to do 20,000 points of damage to him before he eats you or stomps on your head," he added. "That damage is saved persistently to the cloud, and other gamers from around the world get their turn to take a shot at this guy. And if collectively--within 24 hours--everyone from around the world can defeat this guy, everyone will unlock some supercool rare sword, item, or gem."
Maybe you should just run away?
Needless to say, the Clash Mobs have us intrigued and serve as yet another example that Chair, perhaps more than any other developer, understands the nature of mobile development--its strengths, its weaknesses, and how it can change gaming for the better. But on a more basic level, it reveals the team's dedication to making a game that's simply just fun. "A lot of the success of Infinity Blade is due to those guidelines and observations we made about the [iOS] marketplace at the time, and I don't think those tenets have changed," Mustard says. "The marketplace is still largely the same, and the core thing that we keep going back to is that you'll have a meaningful, fun, and progressive gameplay experience every two minutes, meaning that everything that you're doing is accomplishing something and moving your character forward." We'll have much more on Infinity Blade II before its December 1 release on iOS devices.