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The Nokia N-Gage

Started by NFG, October 27, 2003, 12:09:32 AM

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This is a mail I sent to a cellular phone mailing list:

There's a surprising amount of what I consider to be defensive reactions to the critical appraisals the N-Gage is receiving.  I thought it was universally despised.  As I've said in a previous post my background is in games, and living in Japan I've got a pretty good idea what the situation is like here for gaming phones... 

It's important to stress that Nokia has been marketing it as a gaming platform.  Last month's Edge magazine (A UK publication) has a large N-Gage brochure, and their website is very game-centric.   Nokia's trying to say it's a game machine first and foremost, but as a game system it is if not a dead horse, then at least a crippled one.  I'd like to offer the reasons I think the N-Gage is totally abysmal as a game platform. 

The points covered below are: the pad, carts, screen, price, network, size and library.

1. The d-pad is crap.  Nearly every gaming controller in the universe has a d-pad that has some play before and after making contact, they're relatively soft and there's only a mild resistance before 'click'-ing into place.  The N-Gage is more like a celphone controller, with a _very_ stiff resistance before contact.  While this will help prevent accidental pressing in a pocket it's just not suitable for any kind of action gaming.  Naturally you'll acclimatize, but out of the box it's very unfriendly.  It's not an action- game friendly pad.  It is, however, better than most PHONE pads.

2. We've all heard about the cartridge changing procedure, but it bears repeating: Remove phone cover (it's as big as the entire phone, it's not a mere battery cover.  This in itself is a bizarre choice), remove the battery, remove game.  Insert new game, insert battery, replace cover.  This is a five-step procedure, exactly three steps more than any portable console ever released.*  When I took the following picture at TGS the Ngage rep looked pretty resigned to his fate, but to his credit he didn't hesitate to let me take the pic.

3. The screen doesn't match up to the modern cellular phones or game systems.  It has a wonderful backlight but lower resolution than  screen is vertical, which is a design choice I have no problem with, but some do.  Historically more than 95% of games released in the arcade are Horizontal, and 100% of the home games are the same.  There are exactly zero games on portable systems that require or utilize a rotated screen.**

4. The hardware price is too high.  Pathetic sales have, if the rumours are to be believed, forced a 1/3 price reduction not three weeks after release.  That's a record.  Software pricing is about right for the game market, with prices about the same as GameBoy Advance software.

5. The wireless networking is a boon to gamers, this is Nokia's only game-friendly feature, IMHO.  It's not new though, SNK's NeoGeo Pocket had a wireless radio network module, as does the Korean GamePark 32 (though neither was well supported).  Not having to physically connect to your mates is a huge advantage, but the idea of playing anonymous strangers on your way to work, as has been bandied about in the press, is (again IMO) never going to happen.

6. Size: It's too big.  It's bigger than a GBA by 15%, and the GBA is already too large for many pockets.  My current phone is about one third the size when closed, but a little thicker.  The very idea of holding it against your head edgewise is bad.  Even if you get used to it you're only inviting riducule, though this is arguably a phase that will pass.  It speaks volumes however about Nokia's arrogance or idiocy  when they designed it.  Was this just to keep the screen from getting gummed up at trade shows?  Here's some comical pics of the device in use:

7. The game library is too limited.  No console in recent memory has launched with so few titles, and so few promised for the future.  The N-Gage is the first console in history to launch with zero original content.  It's never, ever happened before.***


Footnotes Nokia should have learned from:
* The Atari Lynx required you do open a flap before changing the cart, they learned their lesson for the model 2 Lynx.
** Bandai's WonderSwan could be rotated, but few games used it, it didn't sell well, and it's now out of production.
***  Maybe the Atari 5200 or 7800 had a library of ports, but it could be argued this was the final nail in Atari's coffin, and the straw that broke the game industry's back.


Without even reading your post I will say this:

1) It's got rubbish controls.
2) It's too big to be taken seriously as a phone and is too pricey.
3) All the decent games are ooooooooold.
4) It's badly designed all over the shop.
5) The screen's the wrong way round really, as while it would be nice I don't see anyone porting ESP Galuda to it.
6) Nokia, nobody cares. Seriously.

Now I will go and read and enjoy your post.