Not long ago, as he was developing Infinity Blade 3, Chair co-founder and creative director Donald Mustard kept throwing more and more at the iPhone 5S. The results defied belief.
The Infinity Blade developer recently got its hands on the new, high-end iPhone that Apple unveiled yesterday, and began to put it through its paces, trying to figure out what the device was capable of. He expected an upgrade, sure, but not the kind of year-over-year leap in power that he discovered.
"I'm not going to mince words here," Mustard told Polygon in a recent interview. He paused and chuckled. "It was very shocking to me."
Chair is part of Epic Games, creator of the Unreal Engine. Unreal Engine scales from PC and consoles with games like Gears of War and all the way down to mobile devices and tablets for games like Infinity Blade 3. As you might expect, many of the graphical flourishes and whiz-bang features of high-end systems just aren't possible on a mobile device. Chair has been making Infinity Blade games for three years now, always trying to do new things.
"That dragon had four times the polycount of any console character we've ever done."
"As we're developing these games, we're always looking forward," he said. "We're projecting and thinking about where these devices are going to be."
When he began using the iPhone 5S, he found much more than he expected.
"We turned on anti-aliasing — fullscreen anti-aliasing," he said. "It worked. It worked super-fast. Then we turned on bloom and we turned on depth of field and we turned on — we had that dragon flying in. It was blowing flames on the screen. That dragon had four times the polycount of any console character we've ever done in Gears of War or Shadow Complex or anything like that. It had four times the texture detail, the normal map detail, all on that dragon.
"And that dragon was blowing thousands of particles into the screen, which has this huge fill rate, right? It's very traffic [intensive] for the CPU and GPU. And then we were able to blur those particles. We were able to ... balloon those particles, and then add motion blur to them. And then add high-res shadows to the dragon, passing on itself - while doing fullscreen anti-aliasing. And then, on top of that, do a fullscreen color adjust and vignette pass, where it kind of adjusts the contrast and the color of the screen, and then also add distortion — the distortion of the flames and stuff."
The more he threw at the iPhone 5S, the more it could take.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said. "I'm holding this device they've handed us. I'm, like, looking for extra wires or something. I couldn't believe that it was real."
Mustard is obviously excited about this phone in particular because of all the firsts it affords Chair and Infinity Blade 3. Based on his experience with the phone, he agrees with Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller's statement that it the new 64-bit ARM A8 is roughly twice as fast as last year's iPhone 5. But his excitement is about more than just gaming. To him, the iPhone 5S is a preview of things to come.
"If you think back, it's only been five years since the iPhone was invented," he said. "What does that mean five years from now? What does that even mean 12 months from now?
"I really do think this is a sea change. It's a sea change from how much of a supercomputer this thing is that we're holding in our pockets."