Chair Entertainment’s Donald Mustard Discusses the Future of Multiscreen Gaming

Chair Entertainment -- based in Salt Lake City, Utah -- has catapulted to the top of the mobile game development business thanks to the success of its Infinity Blade franchise. In a little more than a year’s time, they’ve spawned a full sequel, a new iPad prequel (Infinity Blade: Dungeons), a digital book from bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, a hit soundtrack and a stand-up arcade game (Infinity Blade FX). The mobile franchise has also generated more than $30 million for Chair and its parent company, Epic Games.

Epic Games -- based in Cary, N.C. -- is working with Chair on a brand-new prequel, Infinity Blade: Dungeons, which has been designed to take advantage of the new iPad. That game, just like Infinity Blade II at the iPhone 4S press conference, was featured during Apple’s recent new iPad launch event. Chair continues to expand its Infinity Blade II experience with new gameplay through regular updates. Donald Mustard, creative director and co-founder of Chair Entertainment, talks about the multiscreen future of gaming and how mobile, PC and console experiences will interconnect in this exclusive interview.

How has Infinity Blade evolved beyond just a gaming experience?

One of the unique things about tablets and mobile devices is that not only can they be with you on different screens, but they can be with you in different ways. The first step in what we’re thinking about: How can we make the Infinity Blade franchise more than just an interactive experience? Where you can literally be playing Infinity Blade and be experiencing the universe and the story, then you can shut the game application, open the digital book that’s written by Brandon Sanderson, start reading about the universe and continue the story on the same device, but in a totally different medium. Then you finish the book and start playing Infinity Blade II, and the story continues. It’s a way that we can start to have these more unified media experiences on one central device or multiple screens, but that it expands the story and the universe -- all in the palm of your hand.

How has Unreal Engine 3 technology opened the door for your cross-screen approach?

Using Unreal Engine 3 to develop this game is a huge advantage because of just that: the ability to have an engine that is not only super-cutting-edge, but also able to be cutting-edge on all the big platforms. It allows us to still create very cutting-edge gameplay that can translate across devices.

If you look at some of the people that license the Unreal Engine -- from BioWare with Mass Effect to Rocksteady Studios with Arkham City -- they’ve made these console games and have all these assets that now, if they choose to, could be pretty easily translated to other devices and experiences.

Infinity Blade II’s latest update, Clash Mobs, connects mobile devices to Facebook social networks. What are your thoughts on the future of multiscreen gaming?

This is something that we’re starting to think about a lot. I think Clash Mob is a good first step in showing that that’s what we’re starting to consider.

I’m very interested in the idea of being screen-agnostic. I want you to be able to experience Infinity Blade on different screens and to have them be shared experiences across multiple screens -- not limited to whatever screen you happen to be in front of at the moment. Infinity Blade can be with you wherever you are. Not just Infinity Blade, but games in general can be with you.

How have you seen the mobile gaming space evolve since the introduction of tablets?

This market is changing, evolving and growing at what seems like a crazily rapid rate. When I think back on the types of mobile games I was playing on my phone a year and a half ago when we first started thinking about Infinity Blade, I was playing games that I thought were amazing, but they were games like Angry Birds, Texas Hold’em, or simple tower defense games. Once these devices really started to get powerful and we were able to make a game like Infinity Blade, I think that it just skyrocketed. Since the first Infinity Blade came out in December 2010, we’ve had three very major hardware updates from Apple alone with the iPad 2, the iPhone 4S and the new iPad.

How are the regular releases of these more powerful devices impacting games?

Basically, each one of these Apple products almost doubled the graphical and processing capability of the previous device. Now with the new iPad, it’s just amazingly powerful, and that’s just allowed games to offer even bigger, more immersive and more entertaining experiences. It’s allowed us to make games like Infinity Blade, and even more recently Infinity Blade II, that really just set the new benchmark for what a mobile game can be.

How have you seen the audience for the Infinity Blade games evolve since launch?

What’s really exciting is that Infinity Blade is appealing to not just the more traditional gamers, but also to this new crop of gamers that maybe don’t identify themselves as gamers, but actually are because they’re playing all these games on their tablets. When I think of more traditional or hardcore gamers, they really like seeing a game like Infinity Blade, but it’s offering a different, unique experience on a touch-screen device that’s different from what they can get on their console or PC. I think that’s helping people see the potential of what these devices can be.

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Digital Music and Solid-state Drives: A Grand Match

When it comes to creating high-quality music on digital platforms, developers and digital artists need the latest platforms and the fastest technology. One of those tools, the Ivory II–American Concert D engine, has the ability to faithfully reproduce a renowned 1951 New York Steinway Model D concert grand piano, which has been played by some of classical music’s leading pianists, including the idiosyncratic Glenn Gould and the intellectual Rudolf Serkin.

Of course, in order to get a sound that’s close to these prolific pianists, digital musicians need powerful technology. While Ivory is great at recreating the sounds, the engine requires super-fast storage and is perfect for mobile computing platforms, such as an Ultrabook with a solid-state drive. Here, we give an overview of the software and how to optimize it for digital musicians.

Inside the Technology
At a recent trade show, Jerry Kovarsky, a 30-year music industry veteran and jazz pianist, was hired to demo American Concert D, the newest member of the Ivory II family of virtual pianos by Synthogy.

“Ivory uses a great many samples -- digital recordings -- to achieve a level of realism that’s never been achieved before,” says Kovarsky. “The library includes samples of everything from the initial strike of each hammer to the sound of each string decaying or fading out to full silence, with up to 18 velocity levels for each of the piano’s 88 keys,” he adds. “Ivory gives you all the nuance and tonal variation of a real piano.”

Ivory combines its extensive array of samples with advanced sample interpolation technology for ultra-smooth velocity and note-blending. For instance, velocity correlates to volume; the harder and faster you strike a key, the louder it sounds. Note-blending makes the transition between samples seamless.

Digital signal processing algorithms are used to simulate string resonance, half pedaling (the sound of the sustain pedal being partially depressed), and even pedal noise. The software instrument can run on its own or be installed as a plug-in to popular digital audio workstations.

“Ivory streams its samples off the storage in your computer,” says Kovarsky. “As you play, samples are loaded in RAM so that the moment you play a note or chord, it’s ready to sound.”

Optimizing the Engine and Going Mobile
The delays between when you strike a key and when you hear it -- called latency -- disrupt the creation experience. This means that fast storage is essential.

Even using a 64-bit operating system and loading your system with as much RAM as it will hold won’t deliver the kind of experience Kovarsky described. For that, you’ll need a system equipped with a solid-state drive, which acts as a large, fast data cache, such as one of the new Ultrabook devices from Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo or Toshiba.

While setting up for the tradeshow, Kovarsky discovered what a difference an SSD makes. “It was the first time I used Ivory on a computer with an SSD in it,” he says. “When you play a real acoustic piano, if you hold the sustain peddle down, each note that you play continues sounding after you’ve played it. To recreate that digitally, you need software that’s capable of sounding a great many notes simultaneously.”

“At home, when I play Ivory on my laptop with a core i7 processor, 4 gigs of RAM and a fast FireWire hard drive, I can play up to about 50 voices at once,” he says. “Pianos have 88 keys, so you might think 50 voices would be more than enough. But I like to ride the sustain pedal, so I find myself having to pay attention to how many notes I’m playing.” With an SSD, Kavorsky says he “was able to set the polyphony up to 700 voices! The technology was far outperforming what I was asking it to do. I could play a lot of notes. I could sit on the sustain pedal and leave chords ringing. It was incredibly liberating.”

Mobile computing platforms with solid-state drives, such as Ultrabooks, are perfect for running tools such as Ivory. But they also offer other advantages to both casual and professional musicians. Since they’re so portable, they’re easy to take on a gig or set up in the family room, hook a MIDI keyboard controller to the USB connector, and start playing. The platform also offers extended battery life and built-in security technology that can be used to disable the system remotely should it be lost or stolen.

What’s Hot for Video Game Artists in 2012: Limitless Possibilities

It’s the year 2012. It’s the year to unleash your creativity with speed and mobility in mind. With the technologies available in 2012, video game artists are no longer shackled to the desktop. You are able to take your work anywhere, without worrying about performance.

Game Development Goes Mobile

The best way to recreate reality for a video game is to get out into the real world. Take your work where your muse is, with no graphics limitations. The Ultrabook is thin, light and mobile, yet it doesn’t sacrifice performance. With multicore processors standard in every Ultrabook, this sleek, responsive platform merges the luxury of mobility with powerful performance to run the most complex graphics software on the go.

3D on the Go

Three-dimensional gaming is in full tilt with companies, like Dynamic Digital Depth, that bring hundreds of 3D-supported games to the market. Rendering 3D technology is a CPU-taxing process, but with the latest technology, even the smallest computers can quickly handle robust 3D graphics.

More Speed = More Productivity

Smaller and faster defines technology in 2012. Computers are not only small enough to travel with you wherever you go, but also more powerful than the most advanced computers of the early millennium. Today’s computers can maximize multitasking and encode graphically intensive files in the background while using CPU-taxing software to increase productivity and performance.

2012 is the year of mobility and speed. Video game artists are no longer bound by the limitations of technology; they are only limited by their own creativity.

What Lies Beneath the Sea: Shooting in Stereo 3D

Scott Cassell and Dave Faires are on a mission. Cassell is a wildlife filmmaker and underwater explorer. Faires is his director of photography. Together, they’re out to help marine researchers, educators, students and “citizen scientists” discover and safeguard what lies beneath the ocean. As Cassell puts it: “People are motivated to preserve and protect the things they understand and appreciate.”

To accomplish this, the duo has been documenting Cassell’s underwater adventures using cutting-edge digital video technology. So when Cassell attempted to break a world record by swimming underwater from Catalina Island to the California coast -- a dive of 30 miles -- they assembled a support crew and armed them with an array of 2D and S3D video cameras, which included Sony XDCAMs, Sony HXR-NX3D1Us, Panasonic AG-3DA1s, a Panasonic HDC-Z10000 and multiple GoPro 3D Hero rigs. In addition, they used Canon EOS 7D Digital SLRs to shoot both 2D still pictures and HD video. Their documentary, 30-Mile-Dive, is currently in production.

“We decided to complement traditional 2D video with stereoscopic 3D (S3D) footage because it has such a powerful effect on audiences,” says Faires. “We had cameras everywhere you looked. A Sony XDCAM caught the action above water from the deck of our boat. On the tow sled, we had 2D and S3D cameras covering Scott. The support divers used helmet cams.”

Underwater Shooting in S3D: The Challenges

files for digital projection in theaters with RealD S3D technology. “Our goal has always been to produce, shoot, edit and finish 30-Mile-Dive in 2D and S3D for broadcast and theatrical release using cameras and lenses characteristically not designed for the cinema,” says Faires.

“We feel we have a compelling documentary on the declining state of the ocean and how we need to pay attention to her,” he adds. “If her health goes away, so do we.”

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That’s Entertainment: 3D Leaps From Theater to Home

James Cameron propelled 3D entertainment into the mainstream by achieving extraordinary success on the big screen with Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time. Now he has his eye on a new frontier: home entertainment.

The next-generation technology propelling 3D films, television and video games is changing the landscape of entertainment from theater screen to laptop. One only needs to look at the global box office to see that 3D isn’t a fad like it was in the ’50s and ’70s.

Three-dimensional movies are on the exact trajectory that Cameron expected, as more 3D movie screens and more 3D movies are being released than ever before. In fact, of the 10 movies that have ever crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office, six are 3D films, and one is getting a 3D makeover. Cameron holds the No. 1 and 2 slots with Avatar ($2.8 billion) and Titanic ($1.8 billion), the latter of which will be released in 3D on April 6. The newest addition is Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which was filmed using CAMERON | PACE Group’s latest 3D camera setup and rigs.

“You’re not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube at this point; it’s just a matter of people realizing this,” says Cameron. “There are more 3D films in the market in parallel with each other, and theaters are having trouble keeping up.”

Cameron Continues to Shape 3D’s Future

Cameron is working on two Avatar sequels, which will hit theaters in December 2014 and December 2015, respectively. He’s also been busy working with longtime partner Vince Pace to help other filmmakers push 3D technology with their films. Cameron partnered with Pace in 2011 to form the CAMERON | PACE Group (CPG), the industry leader in 3D technologies and production services. The company leases the latest 3D equipment to filmmakers and broadcasters to bring 3D entertainment to the big screen and the home.

“The understanding of what constitutes 3D entertainment as opposed to

3D dimension is the difference filmmakers really need to understand to take advantage of the latest technology and tools that are out there,” says Pace.

“They have to be used properly, and I think there’s been a progression of understanding about what you need to do to create good 3D entertainment.”

Before Avatar came out, people didn’t think an audience would watch 3D for an extended period of time. But that’s not the case any longer.

“3D became a picture window into the world, and I think that both games and sports have to make that transition,” says Pace. “It becomes this viewing window for the public where these things -- whether it’s a movie, television show, sporting event, or video game -- are happening right there in front of you.”

3D Invades Homes

While much of the focus around 3D has been on the silver screen, both Cameron and Pace believe the future of 3D is in the home. According to Research and Markets, the global 3D TV market size is expected to exceed $100 billion by the end of 2014. A key driver of these sales is content, including video games for Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles such as Batman: Arkham City, Gears of War 3 and Resistance 3.

Hollywood is also offering more Blu-Ray 3D movies, such as Paramount Pictures’ Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Cars 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Toy Story 3 and Tron: Legacy. But 3D programming, including sports -- such as soccer, college football and basketball -- is going to be crucial for the growth of 3D entertainment.

“What excites me is we’re taking the bookends of what we understand

3D to be contained to -- a sci-fi film or a horror film -- and removing them,” says Cameron. “When done correctly, it brings out more emotion, more character and more athleticism than any other medium out there.”

Another key area of 3D growth is the PC. A growing number of laptops and desktops support 3D movie playback and video gaming. And tablets are expected to enter the market featuring glasses-free 3D entertainment, as well as smartphones and portable gaming systems such as Nintendo 3DS.

“We’re talking about a complete revolution of the way we interact with screens,” says Cameron.

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