Nokia's Next Generation gaming platform, the future of N-Gage

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The Nokia Next Gen gaming platform, successor to the N-Gage gaming smartphone, will launch in the first half of 2007 across a range of Nokia's Symbian S60 devices. What will it be like?


We've kept this article here for archive purposes, but if you want to find out all the latest information about the Next Generation of N-Gage, please visit our dedicated N-Gage site All About N-Gage, which has all the latest news and information about Next Gen N-Gage games and the phones that are compatible with the platform .


Nokia's Next Generation of Gaming

With official announcements about Nokia's Next Generation gaming platform expected soon, this article will take a look at what we might hear based on what has already been revealed to the public.

We're not completely sure it'll use the N-Gage name, but it seems possible as Nokia just sponsored the BAFTA Games Awards which had the N-Gage logo plastered all over the event. Because of this uncertainty, this article will refer to the next generation replacement for the current N-Gage as "the Next Gen platform".

What's happening to the current N-Gage and N-Gage QD? What's happening to Arena? Will my current generation games still work on the Next Generation?

The original "classic" N-Gage launched in 2003 and was discontinued in 2004 when the redesigned but same generation N-Gage QD model replaced it. The QD has itself just been discontinued in 2006, and there are no first generation N-Gage games in development any more. The last release for the first generation was Payload, which was released this month as a download in the N-Gage Game Shop along with other First Party games. The first generation of N-Gage is being wound up in preparation for the Next Gen platform appearing some time in the first half of 2007. You will still be able to buy first generation N-Gage games made by Nokia as downloads from the Game Shop however.

The hardware used by the original N-Gage is evolving, not disappearing. Despite what Nokia's marketing department may have told you, the N-Gage and N-Gage QD were not games consoles, they were standard Nokia Symbian S60 1st Edition smartphones inside horizontal casings. There was no specialist gaming hardware whatsoever used in the N-Gage or QD, and their games were technically speaking Symbian S60 smartphone games (that's why pirated N-Gage games could run on other S60 smartphones from the same period such as the Nokia 3650). The Next Gen platform will consist of a range of Nokia S60 3rd Edition smartphones, using the latest software and hardware. The processors will be three or four times faster than the N-Gage, they will have far more RAM, and some or all of them may have 3D graphics chips. For more details see the section below on Next Gen hardware.

N-Gage Arena will continue on the Next Generation and expand as the Next Gen makes lots of new features available.

Current generation games will probably not work on the Next Gen. New smartphones no longer have MMC-sized memory card slots, they use much smaller miniSD and microSD cards so current gen N-Gage gamecards simply won't fit in the new phones' slots. Downloads won't work either because Nokia's latest smartphones run on Symbian S60 3rd Edition whereas the N-Gage and N-Gage QD run on Symbian S60 1st Edition. For various technical reasons S60 3rd Edition isn't backwards compatible with 1st Edition, so the games written for N-Gage and QD won't work on 3rd Edition smartphones.

What is the Next Generation Gaming Platform?

Screenshot from Nokia's E3 promotional film about the Next Gen platformThe Next Gen gaming platform is a software application that will come pre-installed on an as-yet-unknown number of the latest Nokia Symbian S60 3rd Edition smartphones, and there will also be some kind of PC Suite application to complement it. The software will allow people to buy Next Gen games as downloads directly onto their smartphone through 3G or wi-fi, or they can buy the games as downloads onto their PC and then transfer them to the phone, similar to the way that people buy music on their PC and transfer it to their iPods. The application will also allow downloads of free demos, and probably rentals of games as cheap time-limited downloads. The games can be paid for using phone credit, through the user's phone bill, or with a credit or debit card. There are also indications that download vouchers similar to those used for buying phone credit will be available at game and phone shops, so people could also buy Next Gen games with cash.

Screenshot of the Next Gen N-Gage ArenaMoving away from the downloads, the Next Gen application also has extensive community facilities, allowing users to send messages to friends, view message boards, leave and read reviews of games, challenge people to online game matches, and see which games other people have so they know who to challenge.

The original generation of N-Gage back in 2003 launched the first ever mobile online gaming community, N-Gage Arena, which is very similar to the Xbox Live service and offers a similar range of options such as online gameplay, message boards, chat rooms, demo downloads, playing tips etc. At the core of Arena is an online gaming network called SNAP which Nokia purchased from Sega. This network allows many different kinds of devices to play games together, and has in the past been used to power PS2 online games as well as N-Gage ones. The SNAP network and N-Gage Arena will continue to be used on the Next Gen platform.

(CONFUSION ALERT! PLEASE READ! - The SNAP network should not be confused with Snap Mobile, a range of multiplayer Java games being published by Nokia. The Java games use the SNAP network too, but they have no other connection to N-Gage, Arena or the Next Gen platform. The similar names have caused some confusion, and Nokia should have probably used a different name for their Java range, but there you go...)

Next Generation devices

A Nokia N93 running Snakes connected to a television through the TV Out socketThe Next Gen platform will be spread over a number of different S60 3rd Edition smartphones, although we don't know which ones yet. The Next Gen software will be very much a feature of the devices rather than a main brand, most people buying these smartphones will be buying them for the phone first and the games second. That may sound strange, but smartphones outsell consoles worldwide by a considerable margin, and the userbase for games on smartphones is potentially bigger than that for any console. It's also similar to the way the computer games industry started in the first place on the desktop.

The exact details of the devices that will support the Next Gen platform are unclear. No announcement has ever been made by Nokia about exactly which devices will support the Next Gen platform, except that they will be Symbian S60 smartphones.

The original N-Gage and N-Gage QD were completely standard Symbian S60 1st Edition smartphones, and despite their marketing image they possessed no gaming-specific hardware except for their horizontal casing, so it was assumed that the Next Gen platform would follow a similar formula but have advanced graphics purely due to the much faster processors and larger amounts of RAM that the latest S60 phones possess. However, it now appears that at least some of the phones that will support the Next Gen platform might possess gaming hardware, as some of Nokia's latest smartphones are equipped with 3D graphics acceleration chips, which allow faster and smoother 3D than the phone's main processor alone.

If these 3D chips are intended for use with the Next Gen platform, then we can make an intelligent guess about two of the phone models that might support the Next Gen: the Nokia N93 and the Nokia N95. Supporting this theory is the fact that the N93 comes pre-loaded with a demo of one of the next generation games, a sci-fi racer called System Rush Evolution which clearly makes good use of the 3D chip (the demo can be installed on other S60 3rd Edition phones without 3D chips but it runs unplayably slowly on them).

Interestingly, the N93 and N95 also contain TV Out sockets which can be used to play games (or surf the web, or any other function of the phone) on television sets, with the phone itself acting as the joypad and games system rolled into one. Perhaps this might become another standard feature of the Next Gen platform? In the past this wasn't really an option because phones had such low screen resolutions, but the latest models are good enough to display on a TV and getting better all the time.

From the screenshots it seems that most of the Next Gen games have been written with a vertical screen in mind as this is what most smartphone models are built around, but it's worth noting that S60 3rd Edition has support for many kinds of screen sizes and shapes. Some 3rd Edition models have a vertical screen, some have a horizontal screen and others have a square screen, but all three types are capable of running programs written for S60 3rd Edition. The reason they can do this is that 3rd Edition games and applications can be written in such a way that they adapt themselves to whatever screen size and shape the phone they're running on has available. For example Snakes for S60 3rd Edition does this, running on vertical, horizontal and square screens at various resolutions.

It's possible that Nokia might implement this adaptability on the Next Gen platform, so that everyone can get the most out of their particular smartphone. The N93 and N95 can be used vertically like normal phones, but also have an optional horizontal screen mode which would particularly suit gaming. At least one Next Gen game, One Who's Next, was shown at E3 by Nokia using a horizontal mode as well as a vertical mode, so it could suit whatever model of smartphone it's running on.


Rafe holding a Nokia N95



Confirmed Next Gen Games

So far Nokia has only announced first party Next Gen games that it is publishing itself, but there have also been official announcements from Gameloft and EA that they are both committed to publishing third party games for the Next Gen platform.

Here are the new first party games announced by Nokia so far. These screenshots aren't final, they were first displayed at E3 in May 2006, so the finished products will probably look a lot better, and have a much higher resolution. Some of them seem to have been designed from scratch to make use of the Next Gen hardware, while others seem originally intended for the first generation N-Gage and QD and may receive some graphical upgrades before they're released on the Next Gen:

Creatures Of The Deep screenshotCreatures Of The Deep

A fishing simulator with rather excellent 3D graphics. There's an official website for the game and an official forum. Creatures Of The Deep will feature online fishing tournaments through the N-Gage Arena, and uses the phone's vibration pack to simulate getting a bite on your lure.






Habbo Islands screenshotHabbo Islands

A collaboration between Nokia and fellow Finns Sulake, this game is based on their extremely popular Habbo Hotel online community. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it's a stylised Lego-like electronic world where literally millions of people around the world hang out, chat, dance, play games or decorate their rooms). Habbo Islands is one-player but you can communicate with Habbo Hotel users from inside the game.

Habbo Islands seems to be a real departure for Nokia from their usual action-oriented game lineup, and the official blurb and trailer give the impression that it's a blend of Animal Crossing, The Sims and Populous.



Mile High Pinball Next Gen screenshotMile High Pinball

This title was already released for the current generation N-gage, however judging from the size of the screenshots the Next Gen version is going to receive a new lick of paint with upgraded higher resolution graphics. MHP is more of an arcade game than a pinball game, and rather a good one too. The aim is to climb from one tall thin board to the next, rising from ground level right into space. There's an online high score table, and you can design your own boards as challenges for other people to download.









One Whos Next screenshotOne: Who's Next

The sequel to the N-Gage game One, this was used by Nokia to demonstrate the graphical abilities of Next Gen games at the E3 2006 games expo. It was running on an N93, more evidence that both 3D chips and the N93 itself will be part of the Next Gen platform.

In case you don't know, One is a 3D martial arts simulator which features motion captured moves taken from a genuine champion, Tommy Carruthers. The demonstration version at E3 also featured a landscape as well as portrait mode for the game, so phones with horizontal screens may form a part of Next Gen as well.



Pocket Aces Texas Hold Em screenshotPocket Aces: Texas Hold 'em

It's online poker, basically. You can play against anyone else on the Next Gen platform through the N-Gage Arena (there's an offline mode as well where you play against the phone). The big novelty for this game is the avatar feature, which lets you customise how the animated 3D character that represents you looks. You can use the virtual money you win in the game to buy extra customisation options for your avatar.





Pro Series Golf screenshotPro Series Golf

A 3D golf simulator, it includes support for online multiplayer games through the Arena. Although this is a brand new golf game franchise, there is some licensing in the shape of real world players included as characters: Sergio Garcia, KJ Choi, Retief Goosen, Annika Sorenstam, Colin Montgomerie and Casey Wittenberg.






Shadow Born screenshotShadow-Born

From the official description Shadow-Born may be one of the strangest and most
phone-based games ever released. It's a gothic RPG where you have to "bind" supernatural creatures to you and train them, which sounds fairly standard. However, the game will reach beyond itself and utilise the non-game features of your phone, including text messages, the To Do list and the calendar. Presumably one of the goblins you train will start sending you texts when you forget his birthday, or something like that.





Space Impact screenshotSpace Impact

After reinventing their classic phone game Snake as Snakes,  Nokia now reinvent their other classic Space Impact as a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. This kind of game had long been mooted as ideal for the screenshape of a phone, and similar Symbian S60 games like Sky Force have proved very popular.






System Rush Evolution screenshotSystem Rush: Evolution

The sequel to the N-Gage game System Rush, this is a Wipeout/F-Zero style futuristic combat racing game where you have to drive and fly through a Tron-like computer network. It's made by Ideaworks3D, a company which produced a stream of brilliant game conversions on the current N-Gage  (Tony Hawk, Colin Mcrae, Tomb Raider, Pandemonium) and seems to understand better than anyone else how to squeeze the best possible graphics and gameplay from S60 hardware. System Rush was their first ever totally original game, and they seem to have come of age on the N-Gage. Hopefully we'll see lots more from them in the future.

A demo of System Rush Evolution is pre-installed on the N93, and can be downloaded from the N93 software page. This demo will work on other S60 3rd Editions, but it will probably be unplayably slow as so far only the N93 and N95 have the 3D chip the game relies on.


What About The Back Catalogue?

There have been no official announcements about this at all, but judging by the screenshots of the Next Gen user interface it seems that Nokia are also planning to re-release at least some games from the current gen N-Gage's back catalogue on the Next Gen platform. This has already happened to some extent with the re-release of Snakes (originally written for S60 1st Edition to promote the N-Gage) on all S60 3rd Edition smartphones. If Nokia cherry pick the best releases from their 56 title back catalogue, this would immediately give the platform a couple of dozen really great games that received review scores above 80% or 90%.


Possible Other Next Gen Games

Other new Next Gen first party games as well as new third party Next Gen games from Gameloft, EA and others are still waiting in the wings, and haven't been announced yet. However, we can make some intelligent guesses as to what they might be.

Just to stress again, I have NO hard evidence that any of these games WILL appear, but there is some circumstantial evidence for each of them to suggest that they MIGHT appear:


Asphalt Urban GT 3?

-What it would be: A 3D arcade racing game similar to Asphalt 1 and 2, similar in tone to Burnout or Need For Speed.

-Why it might appear: The original N-Gage received both Asphalt 1 and Asphalt 2 before any other system, and their publisher Gameloft has already stated that it will be making games for the Next Gen platform, so if there is an Asphalt 3 it should make an appearance on the platform. Gameloft have already released a game called Asphalt 3, however it's a simple 2D Java game rather than a complex 3D title, so a release of Asphalt 3 on the Next Gen would be completely different.

Elder Scrolls Shadowkey 2?

-What it would be: A freeform first person 3D fantasy RPG set in a massive game world with lots of quests and sub-plots.

-Why it might appear: The developers of the Elder Scrolls Shadowkey RPG on the original N-Gage stated on their own message board shortly after its release that they were working on a sequel as Nokia had ordered one from them. Nothing more was heard after that, but if such work was going on it might well have been bumped up to being a Next Gen game. This would make sense as the developers also said they were having difficulties fitting the game world onto the N-Gage and QD hardware without slowing the game down.

Glimmerati 2?

-What it would be: A 3D arcade racing game with strong plot elements featuring deliberately cheesy characters.

-Why it might appear: A well-reviewed first party title from Nokia, Glimmerati was a racing game with a glamorous European setting. Several members of the development team have continued to post to the N-Gage Arena message boards on a regular basis long after the game was released, and one of them said in the Arena chat room that the development tools they spent a long time constructing for the first Glimmerati could very easily be used to create a sequel in a matter of weeks or months. He couldn't say any more than that though. Could Glimmerati 2 be on the way?

Pathway To Glory 3?

-What it would be: A World War Two strategy game, possibly isometric, possibly turn-based.

-Why it might appear: Announced before the original N-Gage even launched, the game Pathway To Glory was preceived by most people as the jewel in the crown of the first generation N-Gage. This WW2 strategy game received seemingly universal praise in the press, and it's difficult if not impossible to find anything but positive reviews. PTG had unprecedented production values for a mobile game, it featured levels based on thousands of photos of real battlefields, a specially composed orchestral score, and motion captured troop movements using 160 real soldiers from the Finnish army. The gameplay itself contained innovations such as mobile internet multiplayer that works anywhere the phone does, a semi-turn-based system where you could react to attacks while they occured, and a field radio which allowed you to send other online players voice messages.

PTG was extremely popular with N-Gagers and gave the N-Gage much-needed positive coverage in the games media, as did its sequel PTG: Ikusa Islands, and as did another Nokia/RedLynx strategy game High Seize. Pathway To Glory is by far the strongest brand in Nokia's first party games portfolio, and it seems inconceivable that we wouldn't see another PTG game make an appearance on the Next Gen platform. It would be like an Xbox without Halo or a Nintendo without Mario.

Pocket Kingdom 2?

-What it would be: An almost indescribable anime/hacker massively multiplayer online battle game with a mixture of collecting, customising and automatic battles.

-Why it might appear: If Pathway To Glory was the most acclaimed first party game on the first generation N-Gage, the most acclaimed third party game would have to be Pocket Kingdom: Own The World from Sega. It was a very weird mixture of Japanese anime and Western hacker culture, revolving around extremely customisable creatures and objects housed in giant floating castles that wandered an imaginary world. It was the first ever massively multiplayer online game, and thanks to a very savvy marketing campaign in 2004, PK garnered the most positive attention the N-Gage had ever received.

Nokia has said on several occasions that it has been in negotiations with Sega for a sequel. The outcome or status of these negotiations is unknown, but it would make sense for PK2 to appear on the Next Gen platform.

Requiem Of Hell 2?

-What it would be: An isometric action RPG set in a gory gothic fantasy world, possibly featuring a hilarious engrish translation.

-Why it might appear: Requiem Of Hell was a first party N-Gage game developed for Nokia by Digital Red, a Chinese developer. It was used as the star game of the N-Gage's line-up when it launched in China, with an elaborate launch party featuring actors dressed as characters from the game. China is one of the fastest-growing markets for both gaming and phones, so perhaps Nokia would continue to want Chinese-made games on their Next Gen platform. RoH 2 would be the most obvious way of doing this.

Rifts 2?

-What it would be: A 3D RPG set in the Rifts world, where magic and technology mix on a post-apocalypse Earth.

-Why it might appear: One of Nokia's gaming coups was obtaining the licence to make the first ever video game based on the cult pen and paper RPG Rifts. The game's creator had received offers from video game companies before and turned them down, but something about Nokia's terms persuaded him to give them the green light. Rifts on N-Gage received very good reviews, and the developer that made the first Rifts game, Backbone Entertainment, is already making at least one Next Gen game (Shadow-Born).

Snakes 2?

-What it would be: A fast-moving simple-to-learn-difficult-to-master arcade game with a retro-style neon vector 3D game world.

-Why it might appear: Snakes received excellent reviews and generated positive attention for the N-Gage, so it seems possible that a sequel is in the works which might debut on the Next Gen platform. One of the producers of the first Snakes mentioned something about a sequel, although nothing has been heard since.