Does Infinity Blade: Dungeons expand Epic’s iOS initiative?
When most gamers think of the iOS platform, they think of flinging perturbed fowl at scowling swine. But Epic challenged those perceptions with the 2010 release of Infinity Blade, an action-RPG that would’ve been at home on any console. Managing editor Andrew Fitch and contributing editor Steve Haske got their fingers on Infinity Blade: Dungeons at E3—will this continue to expand the iOS audience?
Andrew Fitch, managing editor: I know iOS gaming has a large following, but personally, I haven’t been entirely satisfied with the direction that game design’s taken on the platform (read: Angry Birds and the like). That’s why I was interested to try out Infinity Blade: Dungeons at E3, because it gives the platform a bit more of a hardcore bent. I didn’t play the original, and while I had a few issues in getting my burly warrior where he needed to go with the touch controls, I mostly just enjoyed the option to play a game like this on iOS—and that a developer with the pedigree of Epic is involved. What was your take, Steve?
Steve Haske, contributing editor: I, too, am not generally that big a fan of games on mobile devices, because there’s no getting around the fact that most games just work better with some kind of direct mapped control input. I did play the original Infinity Blade a bit; it’s interesting (if a little same-y) and impressive from a technical standpoint, yet it suffers from the same pitfalls of simplistic design associated with almost all iOS titles. Dungeons is simple, too, but since it’s a hack-and-slash action-RPG, it actually works, even if I bemoaned the lack of an option to use a digital D-pad to move around.
Andrew: Yeah, I really think that’s why I’ll never make the leap from something like a DS or 3DS to the iPad—I need a controller of some kind. For example, Final Fantasy III is available on the iPad, but I’d certainly rather play the DS version. What I found weird, though, was that the developers I spoke to at Epic were VERY careful to not describe this as being aimed at more traditional gamers–even though it clearly is. It was like they were afraid to possibly offend some Angry Birds player, which I didn’t get. I guess I was expecting them, since they’re Epic, to be very forthcoming and say, “Yes, we are NOT Angry Birds, and we want to show that there’s more to the iOS platform than that.” But they consciously went in the other direction.
Steve: Yeah, I asked our demo rep about the D-pad issue, and he was very adamant about telling me that Dungeons was a very touch-oriented experience, particularly since it was non-negotiable to keep the original Infinity Blade feel (though I doubt you have to, say, swipe the novel to read it). I guess I find it a little strange that that’s what Epic says makes Infinity Blade the game it is, though I have to say, for the most part, the minimalist touch controls work well with the blueprint of a dungeon crawler.
Andrew: See, I just feel like that attitude is just going to continuously segregate mobile/iOS gaming. The industry’s already fragmenting—as this E3 demonstrated more than ever—and here’s a type of game that has the opportunity to bridge some of those gaps. As someone who played the original Infinity Blade, then, did you notice any sort of differences in interface/controls, or for players who played the original, will it be more of the same?
Steve: Well, Infinity Blade proper utilizes the baffling design decision to only move from point to point on the map, so it’s not truly 3D. Basically, it’s like Punch-Out!! (or something) with medieval melee weaponry, so the complexity comes from parrying and other swordplay skills. Comparatively, Dungeons is a lot more simplistic in its control scheme, with slashes, charge attacks, and special moves all accomplished with just a few different swipes. The complexity—such as it is—comes from the loot-collection aspect, which you can use to create new weapons at the forge. It’s kind of like Infinity Blade meets Gauntlet with a touch of Diablo and access to a good smithy.
Andrew: Yeah, the smithing aspect was one of the centerpieces of the demo, really, since it allowed you to choose two different weapon paths—and, hence, two different special attacks. Again, this was one more time that I yearned for buttons, as I didn’t think the touch controls allowed for seamless attacks that I successfully pulled off each time I wanted. That was one reason I chose the ginormous hammer rather than the more traditional sword—I figured that, if I probably wouldn’t successfully trigger the special attacks each time, I at least wanted them to do the most damage possible when I did pull them off correctly. Did you have similar issues with the special attacks, or did you think they worked as well as they could’ve in the context of iOS touch controls?
Steve: As I mentioned before, that’s the problem with touch. Even on multitouch devices, the tech isn’t sophisticated enough yet to know how to accurately respond to the weird things people do with their fingers when frantically trying to pull off a touch action in a game, so it ends up coming off as unresponsive. I thought the specials worked without too much trouble, for the most part. That said, there’s always a certain margin of error you have to take in stride with touch games.
Andrew: Yeah, and that’s the reason I think there’s still that hardcore/casual divide—hardcore players want buttons that work to execute their actions every time. I mean, even when I’ve played Angry Birds, I think the touch controls aren’t really close to what they need to be. I realize that iOS gaming is, to some extent, an aspect of the future of videogames, but I’m still skeptical as to whether I’ll ever truly enjoy it.