Q&A: N-Gage producers Scott Foe and Shane Neville
Pocket Kingdom and Rifts: Promise of Power are both closer to release, and now clearer in our minds as the games' producers tell all.
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At the recent N-Gage event in Vancouver, two of Nokia's North American game producers, Scott Foe and Shane Neville, made themselves available to GameSpot to discuss their upcoming games, Pocket Kingdom and Rifts: Promise of Power.
The two titles are in radically different stages of development, but both look promising. Foe's Pocket Kingdom, a collaborative effort between Sega and Nokia that's due in October, is being billed as the first global, mobile massively multiplayer online game. Rifts: Promise of Power, which is being developed by Backbone Entertainment, is a tactical role-playing game based on Palladium Books' Rifts series of pen-and-paper RPGs, and it is being readied for release in the summer of 2005.
We first spoke with Pocket Kingdom producer Scott Foe:
GameSpot: Do you anticipate a need for an active brigade of moderators to control the MMO elements of PK?
Scott Foe: All communities need moderators, but the beauty of Pocket Kingdom is that griefing is actually part of the system. In fact, you are taught to grief when you first play the game, right off the bat! It's player-versus-player combat, so I don't think that much in-game moderation will be necessary--however, we'll be policing the boards and stuff. Our group has been doing this since the beginning of console gaming, so we're old hands.
GS: How difficult was it to integrate the various cultural disparities between the Japanese and US teams? Can you comment on Sega's expertise in the area of MMO games?
SF: Well, the game's story concept and that kind of dynamic comes from us, but the development was a joint project between the Japanese and US teams working together. It was actually a very smooth transition, because I worked for Sega when this project began. Sega's always been a leader in online gaming, actually. Remember the Dreamcast network? Nokia is the leader of mobile technology, so it only made sense that they worked together. The biggest challenge was the Japanese and Finnish teams fighting with me for phone conferences while I was based in San Francisco!
GS: Can you discuss some of the games that inspired Pocket Kingdom?
SF: Heroes of Might and Magic, Military Madness, Warsong, and Advance Wars are all sort of ancestors of Pocket Kingdom, but the great strategy communities that fans have built over the years are our greatest inspiration. I personally have a great love of online strategy games. In the late 90s, you had Mr. Fixit, where community interaction was a game in and of itself. The games may change, but the community aspect is always there, and I wanted to bring that into the game itself. Here's a question for you: Are you Gosu? Gosu is Korean slang for high-handed--a Gosu is basically the cream of the crop, he's a gamer that plays like a god. Our game will answer that question; Noob and Gosu are actual ranks in PK. The beauty of our game is that it's all one world. There are no regional servers. Every time you log on, you'll actually know who owns the world! In fact, you'll even get a trophy if you've owned the world.
Another of the things I really wanted to do in Pocket Kingdom was to tell an entirely new story; I'm sick of elves that live in trees, I'm tired of dragons that are old and wise. Instead, we have three amazing griefers who were Numbers One, Two, and Three in PK and then got kicked off N-Gage Arena when they got caught griefing, and now everyone's scrambling to reclaim their spots. All the characters know that they live in a video game, but that doesn't make what they're doing any less important. The game's trash-talking feature actually gives you a bonus on defense, so this self-referential aspect is really integral to the game. Also, we have some really cool plans for the community site, which will be extremely well integrated into the game.
GS: How long had the idea for Pocket Kingdom been kicking around Sega before Nokia decided to do something about it?
SF: Pocket Kingdom has been kicking around Sega for about two years. The idea was to wait for the mobile environment to mature to the point where we could really get it to work, and Nokia's there with the N-Gage. Keep in mind that Sega had a mobile division before almost anyone else, so we knew what to look for.
Next up was Rifts producer Shane Neville.
GameSpot: Can you detail the multiplayer features a little bit more? Are you anticipating downloadable content over Arena?
Shane Neville: Downloadable content probably won't be happening. There are going to be multiple online game modes, which haven't been announced at this stage. Rifts will, however, support one-on-one challenges over Arena.
GS: So, this Rifts game has a title. This suggests that it's not simply a game for the N-Gage, but also a franchise. Can you elaborate?
SN: We don't have any sequel plans right now, but internally there's a lot of excitement about this game, both at Nokia and at developer Backbone Entertainment. We definitely compose our contracts to have maximum flexibility. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if there was a sequel if the original's a success.
GS: How do you anticipate fans of the pen-and-paper will react to this game? How much effort have you put into making this game authentic, versus making it playable?
SN: When it comes to authenticity, there's certain things you have to change. The in-game art is much smaller, for instance, so there's a little less visual detail to the characters than there is in the book. No matter what, we always come back to the question, "Is this Rifts?" It's not necessarily going to be word for word, but I think the game really captures the RPG's flavor. Kevin [Siembieda, creator of Rifts] read our game document and was constantly saying, "Wow, this is a great idea! I'm going to use this in my next DM session!"
GS: Can you discuss the story at all at this juncture? Will you be fighting for or against the CSA, for instance? What about the Federation of Magic? The Xiticix?
SN: At this time, I can't comment.
GS: How much body modification is possible in Rifts?
SN: It depends on your character's class. If you're a magic user or psionic, you simply can't, because the rules would dictate that you would no longer be that class. Head Hunters and Cyborgs, obviously, can both use body modifications.
GS: What size of MMC will this game come on?
SN: Probably a 32MB cartridge.
GS: How many spells will you be able to access? Psi powers? Techno wizardry?
SN: Well, we started off with the full list, which is a lot! We're currently cutting it down. The game's got the same spell-learning system as the book; when you gain levels, you can learn new spells, although the studying component will be automated. Count on the big psi powers being present. Also, ley line dynamics will definitely play a role. No comment on techno-wizardry, other than the fact that it'll be in the game.
GS: Is the Battle Magus involved with the Federation of Magic?
SN: Yep, the Battle Magus class is actually from the Magic Kingdom, which is related to the evil Federation of Magic. Battle Magi don't have to be evil, though. You can choose any alignment you wish for your characters.
GS: What's the game's narrative layout going to be like? Will it be more directed or free form? Will you get to leave Earth, or go to Lone Star?
SN: The story itself is relatively nonlinear. There are going to be tons of side quests. The towns on the map won't be randomly generated--everything in the game is going to be predetermined. You'll get to interact with a lot of characters from the book. And, no, you'll be staying on Earth for this one. There are no plans to include Texas at this point.
GS: From what I've seen so far, the combat looks kind of like Final Fantasy Tactics. Can you name some other sources of inspiration for the game?
SN: Well, a lot of tactical RPGs were the inspiration for this game. Stuff like Laser Squad Nemesis, Disgaea, and La Pucelle all come to mind. But here's the thing: the story always sucks in those games. The difference in Rifts is that the story is a very important part of the game. In fact, we have a writer who's doing the story and all of the dialogue.
GS: Thanks, Scott. Thanks, Shane.