“In Alien Front, you can take on the role of an army tank commander to defend the Earth against invading aliens, or switch sides and take command of a futuristic 2-leg walker, a 4-leg spider walker, or an anti-gravity hovercraft vehicle. Alien Front also has a two-player deathmatch mode via Bluetooth wireless technology and the possibility to share game statistics with the world via the N-Gage Arena.”
As many other games planned for this phone-console hybrid, Alien Front was later cancelled. In 2019 a playable prototype was found and released online.
Lex Ferrum is a cancelled multiplayer hack n’ slash that was in development by YDreams and Nokia for the ill-fated N-Gage. The project was quite ambitious and original for its time, using actual geo-localization of players who communicated and competed locally via Bluetooth. The team behind the game was composed by Tiago Carita (game designer, 3D artist and animator), Pedro Lopes and António Lobo (both in charge of 2D art) and Antão Almada, Mário Franco, Hugo Abreu and Eurico Moita (programmers).
I’d like to thank Tiago Carita for the time he took to answer my questions about their lost game, and Ivan Barroso for getting us in contact. Also, special thanks to Nélio Códices who sent me all of the screenshots you can see in this article.
Lex Ferrum was in full development around 2003, green-lighted after a prototype made in two months for Nokia. The company was looking for a way to demonstrate the Bluetooth capabilities of their recently launched N-Gage, and YDreams was hired to create a new game that would use such features. Lex Ferrum would use Bluetooth to connect more than 100 players in the same area, an impressive feature that was tested during the Nokia Conference 2003 in Portugal.
Lex Ferrum told the story of a fierce battle between Moors, Nordic, and Iberian warriors for the control of Akio, a sacred realm taken by evil spirits. Players are invited to choose one of these clans, each one with three playable characters. After choosing your warrior you would immediately start fighting against near real-human players and deadly ghosts controlled by AI.
Each warrior could choose between different weapons, such as axes, swords and scimitars. During the Nokia Conference 2003 you could move around the place with your N-Gage, finding real-life Lex Ferrum Bluetooth shops decorated with weaponry and altars. When you got close to one of these shops, the game would immediately connect to them via Bluetooth and activate the corresponding place on the N-Gage screen. You could then buy new weapons, magic potions and spells, for extra help on the virtual battlefield. According to Carita, during the Nokia Conference 2003 around the venue you could also find “two medieval chapels with chanting priests, a witch with a steaming cauldron and a gunsmith doing his craft, one in each corner of the event. If you got close to one of those areas, your N-Gage Bluetooth would detect them and you could be resuscitated by the priest, buy scrolls from the witch or weapons and armour from the blacksmith.”
During battles even deaths were of extreme importance: dead characters became ghouls and to resurrect you had to take vital energy from enemies or find a real-life priest around the venue. In the end, only one name would be remembered: the last warrior remaining alive would be declared the heir to the throne of Akion, the leader of its people. With its 100-player multiplayer, Lex Ferrum was basically a local hack ‘n slash battle royal.
After each battle players would acquire gold and experience points, to be used to buy items in shops and level-up your character. If you didn’t have 100 real life friends you could also play Lex Ferrum by yourself, fighting opponents controlled by the game’s AI. This “single player mode” would have been quite useful, as technology at the time was not advanced enough for the game’s 100-player ambitions: “it was quite hard to connect more than 10 people in the same 50 m2 area using available bluetooth technology at the time. To connect 100 players would have been impossible. The team was in panic and despair when we found out our idea wasn’t technically feasible. Bluetooth could hardly see each other and it kept losing connection: it was hard to fight someone near you”.
In the end YDreams made some changes to Lex Ferrum’s code: “When there were too many N-Gages around you, Bluetooth could detect the IDs of each device, but it didn’t connect. We then used GPRS signal between cellphones and if there wasn’t any bandwidth the game would just launch an opponent controlled by AI. In this way, it looked like you were connected via BT to dozens of people”.
After the game’s presentation during the Nokia Conference 2003, YDreams in collaboration with Nokia tried to expand the game’s mechanics with more layers of combat, content, characters and missions, but unfortunately they realized it was not financially doable. The only playable version of Lex Ferrum was conceived to be used during Nokia events and with no more budget to invest into the project it had to be canned.
Thanks to Códices we can preserve some Lex Ferrum screenshots in this page: if any other concept or media shows up in the future, it will also be saved here.
Spirits is a cancelled MMORPG / collectible card game that was in development around 2005 by Jadestone Group for the ill-fated N-Gage portable console / mobile phone. By taking advantage of the device’s mobile network features you could have been able to play against people from all around the world, fighting them and collecting new cards / monsters to use in your team / deck. As we can read in the original website:
“A long time ago, peace ruled the Earth as mankind lived in harmony with nature and all the other inhabitants of the planet – those you could see and those you couldn’t. Spirit beings born out of the four elements were all around us, and some humans could even communicate with them.
The memory of those ancient times is buried somewhere in the collective consciousness of mankind, but there are still spirit beings here to this day. SPIRITS™ tells the story of people that have been involved with the spirits in different ways over the millenia. The epic saga, which began in the ancient past of humanity, now plays out in the streets of today’s metropolitan cities.
SPIRITS™ is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game with one main objective. You must fight the CUT – a doomsday sect trying to stop overpopulation by creating natural disasters to kill innocent people. You’ll have to hunt and collect spirits, test your skills in duels, perform rituals, and take on challenging missions that require tactical thinking and speedy reflexes.”
“Spirits aims to tap into the immensely addictive qualities of collectible card games, like Magic: the Gathering, to combine them with the massively multiplayer online capabilities of the N-Gage. It’s pretty clear that simply sticking a collectible card game, wholesale, into a video game doesn’t make for a great experience — and waves of mediocre Magic games have proven it — so Spirits is built upon a fairly complex backstory to provide the gameplay with some context.
The entire game will play out on N-Gage Arena, much like Pocket Kingdom does today. There are four basic gameplay elements in Spirits: collecting spirit cards, completing missions, dueling other players, and optimizing your “team” of spirits to keep it in fighting shape. To get new spirit cards, you’ll have to participate in a little minigame, called a “hunt,” where you actually catch spirits as they float around.
First, you assemble a team of six spirits that will comprise your troops. Your team and your opponent’s team are then placed on either end of a small isometric game board. Combat seemed to be really simple, at least at this point in development, so you select an attacking spirit, and then you choose an enemy spirit to target. The two collide, and damage is assigned. The gameplay’s turn-based, but both players make their decisions simultaneously, which adds a little more guesswork to the mix.”
Gekido is a series of beat ’em up games developed by Naps Team, released for the Playstation and GameBoy Advance, with a Gekido PSP and a Gekido GameBoy Color that were never finished for some reasons. It seems that they planned an N-Gage chapter too, as we can read in an old IGN article, but even this version was canned. The 2D sprites were really good and it could have been one of the best looking games for the N-Gage, but it possible that they had to stop the development because of the low sales of the Nokia console / phone.
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