interview - Game Dev - N-Gage
Nokia has just released its new games console phone after a build up which took it around the major games industry shows. Here we talk to Andrew Rothfusz, who's part of Nokia's game publishing team.
Mstation: You're looking for new titles for n-gage. What do you look for in new developers?
Andrew: We are looking for new titles, but we like to see some experience, so few of our development teams are entirely new. We look for a full team, from business to QA, coding to art. The deadlines are often short and tight, so a history of great games delivered on time scores bonus points with us (like any publisher). The teams delivering the launch titles have been amazing!
Obviously (or maybe not?) these need to be C++ developers, preferably with experience on Symbian and Series 60. ARM programmers do well too, but we actually require C++ for the bulk of game development. This gives us a level of abstraction that really helps in the early days of a new console.
How does the selection process work?
Game concepts come roaring in like a hurricane from a million directions at once. The official route for small teams without publishers is through Forum Nokia (www.forum.nokia.com/games). Teams with a track record get more direct access, either through our relationships with them personally or through our relationships with their previous publishers. Believe it or not, all the best submissions really do get evaluated in our monthly Concept Submission Meeting.
For this monthly meeting, the most games-industry experienced (many blooded with more than 10 years) and most market-savvy folks in Nokia Games Publishing, representing offices (and markets) across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, gather in a stuffy dark room (it could be anywhere in the world and somehow it always ends up dark and stuffy). They stare at slides (your brilliant idea will probably be boiled down to 4 slides) and listen to each other argue the merits of each concept. They get pretty passionate about them! They evaluate the global marketability of each title, its feasibility, schedules, costs, and try to create the best catalog they can.
Your readers might also be interested in the upcoming ConnectCoder contest with big prizes plus a chance to meet with the Nokia Games Publishing Management team and pitch their title!
When people come to you with a proposal, do you have particular ideas of how big the team should be?
It should be big enough to do all the work :-) Typically this means someone for game design, someone to manage, someone to do business and legal stuff, someone for marketing assets, a producer or two, people to write a user manual, folks to localize all the text (at least five languages are required), test monkeys (beautiful, wise, merciless test monkeys), multi-dimensional artists, and often programmers, though nobody in management is sure why. One really amazingly hardworking person can wear several hats, but we typically expect to see a team of twenty on a game, though not full time. Teams get significantly bigger during QA and localization cycles.
What sort of size dev teams are making n-gage games right now (as opposed to ports)?
Sadly the size of team doesn't get much smaller just because you're doing a port. All the elements of doing a new game are there -- its just slightly easier to estimate completion dates :-) So all our teams tend to be around 20 people total. The production core tends to be a game designer,three to four programmers, two to three artists and a producer.
How about genres? Does n-gage presently have preferences that way?
We look at our whole catalog and favor genres we don't already have. You can look at our announced titles and guess what our next preferences will be. We have a strongbias towards multiplayer games, both Bluetooth and GPRS,so that gives some genres an edge. We tend toreject multi-player-only titles, however.
I understand you like to see a previous finished title. Does this need to be a particular type?
Yes ... a commercial success :-) Well, actually, we look a little deeper than that, but that always gets a publisher's attention! We don't look for particular genres, but we do look for adult appeal (either through nostalgia or preferably through novelty). We look for depth of gameplay and replay value. Oh, and it helps if it is fun. Yeah, fun scores pretty big.
You mentioned an SDK when we talked earlier that was similar to the n-gage SDK, and good for practice . What was that again?
The Series 60 SDK, available from Forum Nokia (www.forum.nokia.com). The Series 60 is a platform specification that includes the N-Gage game deck as well as several advanced phones. If you prototype your game on a Series 60 phone, the N-Gage game deck can run it! This is a great way to get our attention.
Some console makers will say up front that their SDK's have a steep and long learning curve. What would you say about yours?
Naaaahh ... well, ok, maybe like Mt. Kilimanjaro. Not Everest. If you can code on a PC or Mac, you'll do fine on the N-Gage game deck. Try out the Series 60 SDK (its free, including compilers and emulators) and see what you think. Optimization and debugging are always long roads.
In developing for network games, does the SDK pretty much cover that aspect in detail or do you need to write a lot of special code.
Local network games on Bluetooth APIs are well-defined. For cellular network games, it is pretty much like writing for the internet (TCP/IP) and there is more flexibility. As we integrate more network libraries, more APIs will add more definition and require less custom code.
Is n-gage itself going to do all the publishing or are you going to open it up at some stage?
Nokia Games Publishing is currently co-publishing with most of the industry leaders. As the platform matures, the industry standard third-party publishing model will become available.
How many titles are there right now?
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can let the website answer that question :-) Take a look at www.n-gage.com for a list of all the announced games. I count 20 announced, but it seems like I'm working with a lot more ....
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