Don't you just love games that come out of left field that look not only newsworthy, but also look revolutionary? If so, you're sure to get a chuckle out of ONE, which Nokia announced at their fall press event in Vancouver--prefaced by absolutely none of the typical foreshadowing, intentional leaks, or other confabulation usually associated with huge game announcements. ONE is a full 3D fighting game that has been under development by Barcelona-based Digital Legends for the last four months, and it is targeted for release at E3 2005. The early version we played, which cannot even properly be deemed pre-alpha, impressed us so much that we would gladly play it over the majority of the N-Gage's original launch portfolio.
According to title marketing manager Vilhelm Sjostrom, ONE's premise is as singular as its name: beating the snot out of as many fighters as it takes to be "the one"--alternately known as the best fighter in the world. The fighting takes place in real urban locations captured from all over the globe, where you will be able to (hypothetically) take on millions of different martial artists in your quest for domination.
Millions might seem like a ludicrous number, but Digital Legends and Nokia have come up with a novel way to bring a virtually unlimited stream of new fighters to your N-Gage. It's called the ELO system, and it was originally an algorithm developed in the 1960s to rank Grandmaster Chess more accurately. This system's application in ONE is to create fantastically detailed player profiles, which can be used to situate ONE players in global, regional, national, and local hierarchies, as well as emulate their playing styles to a high degree of accuracy--in a manner not unlike Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution's Arcade Grandmasters feature. Of course, this system requires the heavy usage of connectivity to transfer these profiles back and forth to client N-Gages, so ONE has been built entirely around the use of N-Gage Arena, which will store and rank player profiles on a central server. This is an elegant solution to cellular networking's latency bottlenecks, which presently precludes real-time Arena multiplayer.
Much of ONE's gameplay will involve browsing through these lists of fighters by city, country, and many other denominations, and picking out opponents to challenge. This process is made a lot more interesting by ONE's high level of character customizability, which is somewhat akin to that seen in games like Tony Hawk's Underground. You can outfit your fighter in a myriad of costumes down to his or her underwear, and, more impressively, upload your own tattoos to make him or her even more distinctive. As you win battles, your fighter will earn prestige, moving up the ranks on Arena and garnering special awards and titles. To prevent cheating, Nokia is planning to implement a fighter-trustworthiness scale a la eBay. They will also hold special tournaments and the best fighters will purportedly receive "special treatment"--both online and in real life. In addition, ONE will milk Arena's community features for all they are worth, allowing ONE players to form clans, swear fealty to great warriors by becoming their fans, and even heckle opposing brawlers.
To complement its integral versus mode gameplay, ONE will offer several additional modes of play: an offline story mode; an arcade mode, which randomly downloads profiles to get you fighting; a survival mode; and a practice mode. Best of all is the Bluetooth challenge feature, which will automatically set up a bout between two ONE players who happen into Bluetooth range. The more you win the more new skills you acquire. Violence does indeed beget violence.
ONE's gameplay is nothing short of stunning, even in a nascent stage of development. We had an opportunity to play a single quick match with mocked-up characters, which was more than enough to get the point across: Quality 3D fighting is possible on the N-Gage. The characters all fight using various versions of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee's gracefully deadly martial art. They bounce from foot to foot and throw all sorts of acrobatic strikes, from jumping roundhouse kicks to open-hand chops. The creators of ONE have contracted Scottish martial arts expert Tommy Carruthers to provide authentic motion capture of the techniques, and he is currently in Spain expanding the game's repertoire of pain.
No level of technique can make up for a lack of gameplay speed in a fighting game, of course, and Digital Legends hasn't been remiss in this area. This early version of the game appeared to run in the mid-20s frames per second making it the smoothest 3D game we've seen for the N-Gage yet. Combined with the impressive level of graphical detail and character modeling--there is little pixelation or obvious blockiness in the characters, and the backgrounds feature advanced lighting effects, like light streaming through warehouse windows--ONE constitutes nothing short of a quantum leap for the N-Gage, graphically speaking.
With its novel online competition, amazing graphics, and hip underground marketing campaign (focused on "tagging" locations with a stencil of the ONE logo), ONE could be the game that gets everyone talking about the N-Gage. We'll bring you more information about this game as it becomes available.