On September 1st, 2010, Epic Games released its Citadel tech demo in the Apple App Store. It was a boring thing to actually play — you simply walked around a medieval town in first-person perspective, taking in the sights with no objectives — but this calm debut marked a big moment for iOS, the App Store, and Epic Games. It proved that developers could fit gigantic, richly detailed set pieces running on a smartphone and do it while utilizing Unreal Engine 3, the same engine that powered some of the most popular games in the Xbox 360 and PS3 era of consoles.
The devices of choice, if you wanted to get access to mobile games with impressive graphics, were suddenly just the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The Citadel demo didn’t come to Android until almost two and a half years later in 2013.
The Citadel demo was groundbreaking at the time, and it possibly helped to kickstart the trend of bringing console-like experiences to the nascent mobile gaming platform. When I first saw it, I remember feeling like I immediately needed to throw my HTC Droid Eris out the window and buy an iPhone instead.
These graphics looked just as sharp, if not more, than what the PS3 and Xbox 360 were capable of at the time. Image: Epic
I eventually got to try it out on an iPad at the gadget store where I was employed at the time, and it was stunning to see high-fidelity textures that had dimension and lighting that dynamically shifted when you walked into a building. There were even reflections at a certain point. I had played better-looking games on PC at that point, but something about the experience of being packed into a tiny device made for a magical proof of concept that left an impact on me, even as the fun of walking around Citadel lost its appeal.
Ten years later, things are very different. Right now, Epic Games and Apple are in the midst of a high-profile legal battle that will likely have a serious impact on their relationship moving forward. Actually, it already has: Apple removed Epic Games’ developer account last week, disabling any and all iOS and iPad users from redownloading Epic’s titles moving forward.
It’s a… strange birthday
We’ve covered this case extensively so far, but the quick and dirty timeline is that Epic wanted to side-step Apple’s in-app purchase rule that takes 30 percent of each purchase. Apple has controversially whitelisted only a few apps from having to pay this tax, one being Amazon. Epic isn’t one of them, so it tried to whitelist itself from the tax by directly selling V-Bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency, through the game on the iPhone without Apple’s permission — and for a discount, no less.
Fortnite running on an iPhone, which is something you currently can’t do. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales
Fortnite vs. Apple and Google: everything you need to know about Epic’s mobile app stores fight
This violation of Apple’s App Store guidelines spurred Apple to remove Fortnite from the App Store. Epic followed by suing Apple, and the case is currently in court and likely will be for some time. The latest news is that Fortnite’s highly anticipated new season, which incorporates Marvel’s universe of characters into the game, isn’t available to iOS or macOS users. Players on Android can still sideload the game onto their devices by downloading files directly from Epic, but even those who had the game installed on their iOS devices can’t install the update.
So, here we are, 10 years later. It’s a strange birthday for Epic Citadel, a demo that directly paved the way for the iOS-exclusive Infinity Blade series (though the game was originally conceived as an Xbox Kinect game). More indirectly, it opened the door for a vast amount of games running Unreal Engine, including plenty of ports from console and PC games, like BioShock and PUBG, to come to iOS that otherwise might never have. Citadel marked a turning point in the perception of phones as a gaming platform.
If you didn’t download Citadel or any of the Infinity Blade games, you can no longer get them on the App Store. They’re lost to time, unfortunately — at least, through official means. Oddly enough, Epic Citadel is still available on the Amazon App Store for Fire tablets. If you don’t have one of those, bask in the demo’s 2010 glory in the video above.