Ilkka Raiskinen on N-Gage, and more
Nokia's games supremo tells all
Optimal games device
Although perhaps not intentionally, Raiskinen's comments about the ease with which a company can build an "optimal games device" sounds like a comment about Sony's PlayStation Portable - a console which certainly sounds like it will fulfil the criteria of "big screen, big battery, big processor," and unlike the N-Gage will be sold, initially at least, on the basis of a per-unit loss. Given the advent of such a device on the horizon (and further competition from Nintendo's DS), doesn't Nokia feel serious pressure on its N-Gage plans?
"We have been feeling all the time that we are in a hurry," he admits. "That's why - some people have asked, why didn't you delay the launch of N-Gage until you had a better portfolio, and our thinking is that we needed to prepare, and work, and get feedback on the Arena, on GPRS performance, on wireless performance, on the various dynamics that you have in different markets - like, how do you manage the problems and challenges of combining games distribution and mobile phone distribution - all of those, we need to solve in order to be successful.
"We have had a sense of urgency, and you could ask if that was the right priority - the future will tell us. But definitely, we need to move forward, and we feel the pressure, and we feel the need to be faster and execute in a more efficient way."
Soft at Heart
For Nokia, then - keenly aware that its hardware offering will be overshadowed shortly by Sony and Nintendo's new handhelds - the true task as it sees it is to establish a unique identity for N-Gage, what Raiskinen calls "the unique N-Gage flavour", and the way to do so is through exclusive software and services offerings which utilise the mobile communications abilities of the platform.
To that end, the company continues to evolve the N-Gage Arena service and add new layers of functionality, and is focusing strongly on the development of multiplayer, and even massively multiplayer, mobile gaming titles. And although it's not the first time that Nokia has talked up the possibilities presented by online mobile gaming, this time a cursory glance at the N-Gage product pipeline shows that the firm's claims have rather more substance than previously.
Key in that pipeline are two games: Sega's Pocket Kingdoms - a massively multiplayer title in which players compete with each other all around the world over mobile data networks - and Nokia's own Pathway to Glory, a partially turn based strategy title which allows a number of players to duke it out online in large, persistent campaigns.
The company has promised a number of other important unveilings at E3, but for now, these two games best represent the type of title which Nokia is hoping will mark out the N-Gage as being unique even in the face of its forthcoming competitors. They're certainly both impressive titles, with far higher production values than you'd expect from a mobile game and core gameplay mechanics which take advantage of the communication possibilities of N-Gage. Interestingly, they're both also entirely 2D games, utterly eschewing the 3D capabilities of the platform.
"No - it's been kind of like a coincidence," says Raiskinen, when asked if this means that Nokia has in some way "got religion" on 2D games, which were conspicuously absent from its launch portfolio despite the obvious suitability of 2D graphics to the N-Gage display. "We also have Ashen, which is a 3D game, and Crash Nitro Kart - so it's a question of balance. We don't have an opinion on 2D versus 3D - we are not religious about that. We believe that there are good games that are excellent with 2D, and also 3D is something that there is a reason for."
"However, in the beginning, I think that we were more vocal about the 3D stuff, because that was happening for the first time in a mobile platform," he continues. "We were focusing on why the N-Gage is different and what the deltas are - and in some cases I think that our focus on that difference has kind of been implying that this is a mandatory feature. I've also read some articles saying that Nokia insists on having 3D games and doesn't want to publish 2D games at all. Of course that's never been the policy - it's always been about gameplay, always the total concept that has been crucial for deciding whether to move forward or not."
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