We had a chance to view the latest build of Sega's forthcoming massively multiplayer collecting/strategy game Pocket Kingdom at a recent Nokia press event in San Francisco. The Pocket Kingdom team has made a great deal of progress toward the game's impending launch--especially in the area of multiplayer functionality, which is integral to the game's MMO dog-plunder-dog gameplay. In addition, Nokia revealed a few more details concerning Pocket Kingdom's system of collectible items; overall, it was a tantalizing look at a game that looks ready to deliver the kind of "fight anyone, anywhere" gameplay that Nokia has bet the N-Gage on.
We already knew that Pocket Kingdom was going to rely on a totally unprecedented usage of N-Gage Arena to pit players against one another in an enormous, persistent world; we didn't know, however, the extent to which these newly minted Pocket Kings and Queens would be able to communicate and interact with one another as they hunted for treasure. The newest version of Pocket Kingdom is equipped with a tailored version of Nokia's Arena Launcher application, meaning that players will be able to access Launcher's range of connectivity features (instant messaging, board access, rankings, and news) from inside the game. For instance, you might access Launcher from within Pocket Kingdom to send a buddy a challenge so that you can meet up at a particular location and throw down the gauntlet. When you encounter other kingdoms during the course of gameplay, however, you instead choose one of your castle's coterie of characters as an emissary and type out a message for him, her, or it to deliver to the foe. You can pick out a really powerful minion and try to intimidate your enemy, or you can downplay your strength by sending a wimpier creature as your errand boy.
There are more than a hundred of these characters to collect in Pocket Kingdom, meaning that the well of potential envoys is pretty deep, if not inexhaustible. The items that you equip your characters with are equally important--and Pocket Kingdom has been designed to generate a virtually unlimited selection of items to keep the virtual world's economy churning ahead and to feed the fires of conflict. The idea is to raid various locations for raw materials, which can be transmuted into useful equipment via alchemical and laboratory processes; according to lead producer Scott Foe, more than 50,000 unique permutations are possible, making Pocket Kingdom a veritable MMO cornucopia along the lines of EverQuest or Star Wars: Galaxies. More interestingly, Pocket Kingdom will also sport a global auction system, so clever profiteers can make "loot" (the official Pocket Kingdom currency) hand over fist by selling off their rarities. Do especially well for yourself, and you may even make it up on the "Looterboard," Pocket Kingdom's version of the Forbes list.
Another unique aspect of Pocket Kingdom is the centrality of its multiplayer mode to the game as a whole. Indeed, the single-player mode is actually a simulated version of the multiplayer experience; in a bit of self-referential levity, you still play as a Pocket Kingdom player trying to "Own the World," only three particularly nasty "griefers" (controlled now by the CPU) have been kicked out of the world net and onto your game. They'll give you your fill of trouble during off-network play. In any case, there's no real functional separation between single- and multiplayer modes--other than the obvious lack of online capabilities like IM, the auction, and interacting with other N-Gagers. For instance, you can customize your castle, find new items, and set up your minions' combat strategies (you might set up a fighter to drop washbasins on an attacking enemy, for instance) while you're offline and then take all of your decisions online when it's convenient to do so.
According to Foe, Pocket Kingdom is on course for release in late Q3/early Q4. We'll have the full review as soon as we get the keys to the kingdom.