Anyone who has paid even half-hearted attention to the mobile phone
market over the past few years can tell you that gaming is going to be
huge on cel phones. Unfortunately, its not quite huge yet. There are
various reasons for this. Game companies have only really gotten into
the market over the past few years, but now companies like THQ are
bringing out an armload of original titles as well as ports of older
titles for systems ranging from Intellivision to NES. There are also
currently a couple of standards in use, and the variety of standards and
methods for obtaining software makes gaming an easy thing for many cel
phone users to ignore. Did your phone come with snake? Then youll
probably play snake until your contract is up.
there is more than enough hope for cel phone games. As the phones
themselves become more powerful and better suited to gaming with larger,
better-looking color screens, removable memory, and whatnot, the games
are improving. Several manufacturers are making phones with robust
gaming capabilities, but so far its only Nokia who has decided to go
all the way. Unveiled last February in London, and fresh from its US
coming out party, the Nokia N-Gage is a portable gaming console that
blends the worlds of mobile communication and handheld gaming.
is the largest cel phone maker in the world, and they are leveraging
that position to put them in charge of the cellular gaming world. They
have made partnerships with some of the most popular game publishers,
including Ubi Soft, Activision, and THQ, in order to bring a good number
of games to the N-Gage platform. On October 7, 2003, Nokia will release
the N-Gage with a supporting lineup of ten titles. They promise 20
titles by the end of the year. So far the software lineup looks
satisfying. The titles available next fall include Tony Hawks Pro
Skater, Pandemonium, Red Faction, Moto GP, Sonic N, Super Monkey Ball,
Tomb Raider, Virtua Tennis, and many more. Ubi Soft promises to deliver
Tom Clancys Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell as well. These are not
B-grade titles, and from what weve seen of the N-Gage so far, gamers
can expect these titles to deliver gaming experience comparable to the
what we saw at the various N-Gage events at E3, the games on the N-Gage
are going to look something like PSone titles. For example, the GBA does
a great job with the Tony Hawks Pro Skater titles, but the lack of a
true 3D processor in the GBA means that youre stuck with static camera
angles, which changes the game. On the N-Gage, THPS looks and plays
almost exactly like the original. The camera is dynamic and reliable,
just like those brilliant guys at Neversoft intended. Tomb Raider is
another example of a game that gives you déjà vu on the N-Gageit looks
almost exactly like the Tomb Raider were so familiar with from the
N-Gage screen is backlit and runs at a resolution of 176x208 pixels.
Thats a bit of a weird aspect ratioimagine a GBA screen turned on its
side. In a world of wide-screen 16:9 fetishism, its interesting that
Nokia has decided to go with a vertical rather than horizonal aspect. To
be honest, I thought it would be more of a problem than it was. The
games were natural to play, and the added height gives a bit more
overhead room to dedicate to score, time, etc.
basic gameplay and the software lineup is impressive. These are the
things that will make the N-Gage fly: good user experiences combined
with variety to suit all gaming tastes and styles. Certainly Nokia is
doing something right in the inter-business negotiations arena, but
theyre not just relying on others. Nokia will create a game called
Pathway to Glory which will be (yet another) WWII soldiering title.
Nokia plans to publish more games for the N-Gage, too.
the N-Gage is much more than a simple game deck. It is, obviously, a cel
phone. The unit is really designed to work with a headset, which is
fine, but it can be used as a phone without one. The speaker and mic are
located on the top of the unit, so, when you talk into it, you look
distinctly like youre holding a high-tech taco sideways to your head.
Youll also probably get lots of fingerprints on your screen.
addition to the phone capabilities, N-Gage is also an FM radio and an
MP3 player. You can store MP3s on up to 64MB MMC cards (although theres
a chance that the unit will support larger cards). That can equal about
60 minutes worth of music on a single card, which isnt such a bad deal.
Unfortunately, because the memory cards used for MP3s and games inhabit
the same slot, you cannot listen to your MP3s as you play a game. You
can, however, listen to the radio while playing, which means you can
keep up on your NPR broadcasts while blowing away fascist mine owners in
Red Faction, and that should be enough of a head trip to keep anyone
occupied on the commute home.
are so many really snazzy features of the N-Gage that theyre hard to
list in their entirety. For example, the N-Gage supports Bluetooth
multiplayer, which means that if there is an N-Gage in the vicinity
playing the game youre playing, then you can challenge the other guy to
a multiplayer round. This allows for vastly multiplayer gaming
supporting dozens of users. If the units become popular enough, then we
might see LAN bashing jump out of the dorm lounge and into the subway.
there isnt an N-Gage gamer near you, then you can still keep the
multiplayer challenges alive. Most games will allow you to record time
trials and high scores which can then be uploaded to ranking servers.
You can also email a screenshot or even a record file to your buddies
using the N-Gage MMS service. Then, your friend can try to beat your
time or record, and why theyre playing theyll see a ghost of your
time. This feature is common in racing games on console systems, but it
is the first time I know of that you can easily trade these ghost files
with friends. Its almost like youre actually competing against them.
top of all of these functions, the N-Gage is a robust cel phone platform
ripe for future development. It adheres to the GSM standards and runs
the Symbian OS with J2ME support. It also has a WAP enabled XHTML web
browser built in, making the N-Gage ready to deal with just about any
kind of mobile information connection. This also opens up a world of
existing software applications and services to the N-Gage, further
broadening its appeal to ultra tech-savvy cel phone users.
unit is really sweet, and we cant wait to get a hold of one to
ameliorate our own commutes, but its not all flowers. There are some
issues which probably wont doom the N-Gage, but will definitely keep us
looking forward to version 2.0. The biggest issue is the ease (or lack
thereof) with which you can replace the memory cards. To do so you must
pull off the back of the unit, remove the battery, and then slip the
card in. Games will be distributed on memory cards in order to allow for
larger games and better piracy prevention, but that also means that
every time you want to switch to a different game you must go through
the hassle of disassembling your unit. Its not a huge trial, but it
could be easier.
is also ironic that, while the N-Gage was obviously designed with an eye
toward the Game Boy Advance design, the GBA SP has reconfigured
Nintendos system into a clamshell device that looks much more like a
cel phone. As anyone who has owned a GBA knows, screen protection is
crucial, and it would have been nice if the N-Gage had been designed
with a convenient folding lid to keep that beautiful screen safely
biggest drawback to the N-Gage is the price. The unit is set to retail
for $299. Thats not a bad price for a cel phone of this caliber, but it
is incredibly overpriced for a game unit of this caliber. This is the
line that Nokia is walking: Theyve built a unit under the mantra of
"game console", but theyve priced the unit as a cel phone. If I
expected that it would actually, in practice, cost $299 to buy an
N-Gage, I would predict doom and gloom for Nokia. However, I believe
that carrier contracts could absorb most, if not all, of this cost in
exchange for a service agreement. After all, when was the last time
anyone paid full price for a new cel phone? Nokia was tight-lipped about
carrier agreements, and understandably so. All major carriers will most
likely offer the N-Gage, and I expect that many of them will subsidize
the price of the unit in exchange for a typical service contract. In
that case, the N-Gage could do very well.
Nokia N-Gage is small enough, slick enough, and strong enough to make it
work. With support from cellular service providers, this could be the
biggest tech toy this holiday season. Two things are for sure: The
N-Gage is very cool, and Nokia is very committed to making it work. I
think these will be enough to carry the newest handheld game console. So
many pieces have already fallen into place that I would be surprised if
the last few didnt find their niches. Start saving those pennies
because this fall the hippest cel phone gamers will N-Gage.