SPECIAL REPORT: New Chinatown Wars feature sees mini-game feed into new DS title

Rockstar looks to link Flash games with Nintendo DS title

UK-based Rockstar Leeds and parent Rockstar Games plan to soon introduce new Flash-based mini-games that connect with its handheld title Chinatown Wars, Develop can confirm.

Following up on from a story originally broken by MTV‘s Multiplayer blog earlier today – see here – online technology firm GameSpy told us at GDC that the new games are a way to "add an extra dimension and new ways to connect with an already-established experience" using its tech.

Rockstar recently updated its Social Club website – which offers player data and statistics for GTA IV, Midnight Club: Los Angeles and recent release GTA: Chinatown Wars – to include mention of Mr Wong’s Laundromat for DS players.

This new part of the service builds on a previously explored aspect of the Social Club, unlocking content in the DS game.

But now Rockstar will be providing a ‘fuller’ game, played in the browser and Flash-based which lets players launder in-game money when not playing the Nintendo handheld and then transfer it to the character on their DS cart via the Social Club and a Wi-Fi connection.

Creatively, it’s a stroke of genius, with the Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North game finally realising concepts of cross-platform play long talked about but never fully, or at least regularly, executed (the nearest comparison would be Lionhead’s XBLA Pub Games which generate currency for Fable II – but that’s within one closed platform, the Xbox 360).

And from a technical point, it’s all thanks to GameSpy’ technology.

Talking to us at GDC about ways developers can explore new ways to offer gameplay with online components that isn’t necessarily player vs player, co-op, or even multiplayer at all, GameSpy’s senior product manager Sean Flinn said: "We are already doing that – and we totally want to help break the in-game/out-of-game barrier, and not just extend the experience a player is having, but broaden it also."

He added: "You could go to the web and view your progress in a game, or stats, and change them or do something that modifies them in a significant way, or one which differs from the gameplay within the game. There are already a number of ways you can add an extra dimension and new ways to connect with an already-established experience.

"A great example is Chinatown Wars on the DS. The core game is on the DS and it includes our stat-tracking tool – but if you go to the Rockstar Social Club website, the Chinatown Wars presence there will have a bunch of minigames including money laundering – and others planned, too. The idea is that the money made in the mini-game becomes accessible to your character in Chinatown Wars.

"That’s using our technology – we facilitated all of that for Rockstar to help them tell those bigger stories and offer new experiences."

It’s not yet known when Rockstar plans to launch the Flash games, but the tease on its Social Club would suggest an imminent arrival.

And, speculating further: as much of this activity is handled by GameSpy’s backend technology – which is the backbone for the Rockstar Social Club and many other online services, such as Nintendo’s Mario Kart Wii – it will be no jump to conclude that Rockstar might be tempted to replicate these Flash games on other platforms. Namely: iPhone and iPod Touch.

GameSpy at GDC and earlier this year talked up the various ways it was planning to support multiplayer and online-centric gaming on Apple’s platforms.

Added Flinn: "That’s exactly the kind of thing we think will be a perfect use for iPhone games – imagine having those kind of Flash games available on your phone for when you are killing time, and then getting home to your console to reap the rewards."

Plus, it’s possible that Nintendo and other firms which use GameSpy could also see the benefit, introducing Flash titles for fun or promotional purposes which ultimately provide in-game benefits back to users.

Rockstar may also be considering connecting the same or similar Flash games to its PS3 or Xbox 360 title GTA IV.

Flinn didn’t says if he knew examples like those were being considered, but he did say: "More people should and will try this – it makes complete sense in ways you can extend and spice up the experience a game can offer."

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