Nokia pushes N-Gage-ing games

Nokia is continuing to gather partners for its N-Gage gaming platform, revealing that both Atari and Capcom USA will be make games available on the wireless gaming device.

In a smoke-filled room rife with red lights and video screens--we expected to see Wesley Snipes's Blade character strut through at any minute--Nokia revealed that Atari will bring its Civilization and DRIV3R franchises to the N-Gage. The media event came on the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week.

"There will 50-plus titles for the N-Gage by the end of the year," said Ilkka Raiskinen, Nokia's senior vice president of games.

Nokia also announced a second new partner, in addition to Atari: Capcom. But the companies didn't talk about any specific games that will appear on the N-Gage.

Nokia did talk about six other upcoming titles, however. These include FIFA 2005 and SSX Out of Bounds from Electronic Arts, which put soccer and snowboarding, respectively, on the handheld machine. Other items at the conference were the role-playing games Rifts, Xanadu Next, and Pocket Kingdom, plus an extensive look at the action war game Pathway to Glory.

"We want to bring existing franchises to the N-Gage and add unique features to them, but we also want to take risks and innovate," Raiskinen said.

Wireless Connectivity

Almost all of the new N-Gage Games take advantage of the handheld's connectivity, said Gerard Wiener, Nokia's director of network gaming services. While this may not mean that players will be able to play head-to-head in every game, it does involve Nokia's N-Gage Arena online community.

"With the N-Gage Arena we can add features to a game such as shadow racing, as we've already done, or bring in more players from around the globe," Raiskinen said.

"It's a mobile, global gaming community," Wiener noted.

Games such as Pocket Kingdom will let players from around the world interact in this vast multiplayer world online. "We want it to be a great, connected global experience," Wiener added.

The N-Gage's built-in Bluetooth capability offers more opportunity for real-time head-to-head play in games like the upcoming King of Fighters. Xanadu Next will permit four-player cooperative play via Bluetooth.

Hardware Problems

In April, Nokia launched the N-Gage QD, an updated version of the original N-Gage device. The new QD hardware fixes many flaws that beset the previous N-Gage (released a little more than six months prior), is smaller, and costs less. The QD will be available for US$99 to $199, depending on the telecommunications service contract the buyer signs up for--not bad for a combination phone, game machine, and wireless personal digital assistant.

During the question-and-answer session at the end of the press conference, some attendees questioned the difficulties Nokia has encountered in launching the N-Gage. Among the more pointed inquiries were, "Are you prepared for the same lackluster success met by the first N-Gage?" and "How many hardware versions will you come out with?" The Nokia executives took the questions in stride, replying that they have to be prepared for anything and that the company will update the device as many times as necessary.

"It's been a very interesting six months. There has been a lot of learning," said Anssi Vanjoki, head of Nokia world media. "But we are committed to connected, mobile multimedia."

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Joel Strauch

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