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Nokia N-Gage alive and kicking

Nokia's keeping the N-Gage alive, promising to support the game deck through to the end of 2006. It also plans to introduce N-Gage functionality in future Series 60 phones.

Nokia's keeping the N-Gage alive, promising to support the game deck through to the end of 2006. It also plans to introduce N-Gage functionality in future Series 60 phones.

Two years after it raised eyebrows by launching its N-Gage mobile console at an extravagantly upbeat E3 gala, Finnish mobile giant Nokia has become much more circumspect about forays into the games industry -- but that doesn't mean it's about to prove the naysayers right. In fact, Nokia announced several initiatives to bolster the struggling platform at its press conference today at E3.

First and foremost, Nokia guaranteed unequivocal support for the N-Gage QD game deck through the end of 2006. This promise from Nokia, combined with the announcement of special accessories intended for "loyal N-Gage owners", may act to quell the fears of jittery N-Gagers who were anticipating the console's imminent collapse.

In a recent telephone interview, Nokia's Games Business Unit director Gerard Wiener elaborated on what to expect. New accessories will include a redesigned stereo headset, an expansion pack that will allow the N-Gage QD to hold an extra game card, and a limited-edition QD with a silver faceplate.

And while he pledged continued solidarity with the QD device, Wiener also outlined Nokia's plan to spread the N-Gage platform across a broader range of Nokia products.

Because the N-Gage is essentially a specialised smart phone belonging to Nokia's Series 60 product family, it's relatively simple for the company to tweak some of these designs to accept and play N-Gage games, at least in theory.

"We expect to sell about 25 million Series 60 smart phones in 2005 worldwide," explained Wiener. "We're creating a platform for everyone. This will reach a range of phones, not just a single N-Gage device."

According to Wiener, Nokia will be building N-Gage compatibility into its mobile phones on a going-forward basis, so present owners of Series 60 phones will be out of luck -- there won't be an upgrade. Additionally, the N-Gage game lineup won't work for all Series 60 phones, due to the obvious issue of button layouts and ergonomics. It remains to be seen if Nokia intends to produce more mobile phones along the N-Gage's gamepad design.

Finally, Nokia announced eight new N-Gage games--including sequels to Pathway to Glory and X-Men Legends--as well as new functionality for N-Gage Arena.

The next generation of N-Gage Arena will support clans and user-created tournaments and will include an improved game invite system over Arena's embedded instant-messenger application.

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