System Rush Interview: The Business of Games

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Every wondered about the business behind a game? Ewan takes time out from playing System Rush to ask Rob Hendry, of Ideaworks 3D, some of the nitty gritty details of working with Nokia's flagship gaming platform.

System RushSystem Rush is fast approaching the N-Gage platform. And lets be honest - it’s fast. Wipeout fast. I caught up with Rob Hendry, from Ideaworks 3D to find out more about this futuristic racing game.

"It’s a fast paced, futuristic, arcade-style racing game set in the world of underground hackers and unethical corporates," explains Rob. "The player is pitched against rival hackers inside hostile virtual 'race' networks in an attempt to capture back code that was stolen from them. The key concept is to hack into and survive within a number of corporate networks and avoid its defences while racing against hostile AI and Boss characters. Once you've hacked into the network the objective of a successful race is to steal back a piece of your stolen code that is being used to frame you for a global cybercrime. Ultimately, to compete the game you must race to win back all of your code across each of the five networks and then bring down the networks with a code bomb in the final phases of the game."

Or, to put it in a few words, it’s a racing game, in the future that throws you around the courses as fast as possible. Ideaworks have done a fair number of N-Gage titles (witness Tony Hawks and Colin McRae) so I thought I’d take this chance to find a bit about how the business of making games work. Firstly, how did Ideaworks get involved in games development?

We’ve built on significant research and develop in our proprietary technology including a core game engine and wireless multiplier gaming platform. This technology has enabled us to bring games such as Tony Hawks ProSkater and Colin McRae Rally 2005, which you mentioned, but also Tomb Raider and The Sims Busting Out to the N-Gage. System Rush is a departure for Ideaworks in that it's our first original idea we’ve taken forward and is an area we intend to grow so that we can map our creative talents onto our established technology development and expertise.

System RushHow did the ideas and plots for the games arise? Is it one person's vision, a team effort, or a huge number of meetings? "Well, let’s take a look at System Rush. The main concept was to deliver a fast paced, high performance, action packed experience. The premise that the racing took part in a virtual network also gave the team the scope to play with ideas and produce a game that had a highly visual theme in terms of the track environments. It was key that we produced a game that was suited to the platform as a mobile device, so we focussed on a game design and structure that would allow players quick access to races when they had the opportunity but each time a race was completed it was part of a bigger game story which kept the player interested in progressing through the game."

Once you have that idea, what happens next and who makes the move? Is it Nokia with a big briefcase of money, or Ideaworks with a glut of evidence of a "killer game?"

In the case of System Rush, Ideaworks initially contacted Nokia with a vehicle based game concept. From that point the design then went through a number of iterations and a process of refinement before we began full development. The game we have now is a very different creature to the original concept.

How does the design and coding process work for N-Gage games? Do you have fixed points where Nokia and you discuss the game (alpha, beta, final, etc) or is it a constant go between until the boxed MMC is released?

System Rush"The coding process is almost exactly the same as for other platforms such as PC and console. From a design perspective, the main point of departure is that the N-Gage is a communications device as well as a gaming device. That means making sure that not only can the game run and operate alongside the phone operations, we look to integrate design features that utilise the connected capabilities of the phone and Nokia's Arena platform. As a handheld portable device we've tried to focus on designing a game that allows the player to jump in and grab a few minutes of game time when on the move. Also having game controls that are easy to use and allow the player to get into the game quickly are key design parameters."

How much input does Nokia have at the design stage and throughout coding? Do you get involved with the marketing images, mini-websites and the decision on whether to supply a 'free demo' that end-users can download?

System Rush"There's a lot of communication at the concept and design stage initially which also includes planning and agreeing milestones and deliverables during the project life-cycle. Once the design has been mapped out the emphasis is on us as a developer to make it happen and produce a game that delivers on the design, technical and quality goals we set out to achieve. Once in development we worked with a number of Nokia Game Publishing groups including the Arena, testing and marketing teams and worked particularly closely on providing input and assets for marketing including the development of the game microsites and demos."

And of course, everyone who comments in the mainstream press seems to think the N-Gage is a dead end market and will go nowhere (surprisingly, we here think a little differently). But as a business, do you expect to be rewarded financially for your titles? Perhaps are you using this to get a foothold in the gaming market or to gain experience for more Java-based mainstream games?

"I would not say that everyone that writes for the mainstream has written off the N-Gage. In fact Nokia's latest games have been getting some of their best reviews yet. While I can't comment on any financial rewards that we may get from this arrangement, I can say that we do not plan to starve anytime soon. Nokia is the largest producer of mobile phones, and they have a long-term vision of mobile games. That vision includes the N-Gage and as you mentioned more Java-based mainstream games (SNAP Mobile). By working with them now when we are both getting our feet wet, we hope to be with them when the larger vision comes to fruition."

Rob, thanks for your time.


Links of Interest

System Rush in the All About N-Gage games database.

Nokia's System Rush Mini site.