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.
Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese on the Videogame PT Blog!