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marqmajere
10-24-03, 02:06 PM
Found this at Penny Arcade. Enjoy.

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Phantom Impressions

By Glaximus


The Presentation

A crowd of about 300 had gathered in one of Full Sail's larger classrooms for the monthly meeting of the Orlando chapter of the International Game Developers Association. Our guest speakers for the night were Infinium Labs, the company behind the oft-maligned and highly mysterious Phantom console. They were cautious with information, and while they did spill some details about the system, it's hardware, and their business model, they left a lot of critical questions unanswered. It was information about The Phantom, however, which until now had been almost non-existent.

The speaker for most of the presentation was Robert Shambro, one of two large Italian fellows who looked like they could moonlight as enforcement agents for various underground loan agencies. Rob spoke eagerly and seemed genuinely excited to present the Phantom and it's details to the crowd, but there was definitely a shiny coating of PR and spin covering the words of his oration. The other speaker was a third man, a generally non-descript laid back fellow by the name of Tim Roberts, who is the CEO of Infinium Labs. He answered a few questions but for the most part Rob did all the talking.

Yes, they did bring an actual Phantom "console" to the meeting. It looked exactly like the mock ups on the Infinium Labs website, and was about as big as a standard PC-- just picture your home desktop laying on it's side. Yes, it even had that glowing blue Phantom logo on the front. There were no visible controller ports, however there were some USB ports in the back, along with various outputs for S-Video, Component, A/V, a few USB ports and even a FireWire connection.

The Hardware

One of the first topics in the presentation was the Phantom's hardware. It was markedly different from what is listed on their website and in their promotional video, however Rob stressed that it was a beta box and that it may upgrade before release. They listed a 1.8Ghz Pentium 4 processor, 256mb of RAM (didn't mention what type) which could be upgraded to 512 or a full gig. An 80 gigabyte "storage device"-- no further specs than that were given. Rob also mentioned the system would be using "NVidia's NV36 graphics card." All the controllers and peripherals were made by Logitech, cord connected at first but wireless if you upgrade. He also said that currently the box was running on a standard ATX motherboard, which explained the console's size. Rob said he'd like it to be smaller but that's dependent on pricing issue, of course. He then went on to say that they had but five of these prototypes, which goes in direct contrast with previous statements from Tim Roberts that they "have several hundred prototype models here in the office." Well, perhaps those were earlier (Alpha?) prototypes.

As far as specs go, that's all we got. There are lots of little details missing-- RAM type, bus speeds, etc etc... technical as they are, they really make a difference in a high performance gaming machine. Again, Rob stressed that this was a Beta version of the hardware so things were subject to change.

Basically, the hardware is presented as a fair-to-middling PC. It even runs on a "specialized" Windows XP kernel. Now remember, consoles can get by with slower processor speeds and less RAM because they have very powerful hardware configurations made solely for pushing polygons around on screen. Also, most games run at a low resolution compared to your computer monitor. When questioned, Rob stated that the console is aimed for TV use.

Next topic was protection-- keeping the user out of the Phantom's hardware and software. He very quickly listed off lots of technologies and encryptions, nothing on the software end was out of the ordinary but some of the more interesting hardware ones were "Case Intrusion Detection" and "Epoxy Encapsulation of Critical ROMs." Yes, no going inside your own hardware for you, young gamer. Epoxy encapsulation-- covered in glue! All of this left our heads scratching as far as upgrades went, when Rob told us that the Phantom is not field serviceable! All hardware upgrades and improvments are done via shipping the console back to Infinium Labs, how that all works out is "yet undetermined." Indeed, the Phantom or any of it's software won't even be available in stores-- some stores will allow you to purchase a Phantom, but not leave with one: the machine will be shipped to your home.

All of this seems tied to a somewhat menacing tagline used in the beginning of the presentation: the first slide pictured a Phantom and underneath it read "The next generation in interactive gaming!" Ok, sure... but the line under that, in somewhat finer print, read "The Missing Link in Digital Rights Managment."

Content and Content Distribution

Here's where things get interesting. The Phantom has no actual input devices for physical media. No CD/DVD drives, no cartridge slots, not even a place for memory cards. All content is delivered online, via the mighty power of it's "always on" broadband connection. Games can be downloaded as trial demos, rented, or outright purchased. In the case of demos or rentals, you are required to be connected to the internet while you play. Rob certainly pitched the upside of this delivery model: no paying for packaging and no paying for shelf space at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Ok, cool. One attendee asked if these savings would pass down to the consumer-- considering the "3 to 5 dollars" per game packaging costs and the ten to twenty dollars spent paying the store would be saved, games could be offered to a user at a lower price. Well, no, says Rob. He says that they don't want to have games that "cannibalize each other", and there he may have a point. If the Phantom version of Crusher XTreme sells for 30 bucks, and the PS2/GCN/XBOX versions all sell for 50, why not go with the Phantom one? Publishers shouldn't mind so much because they can take the same cut from each version and they would still sell as many, if not more, copies, right? Well, those economics may be suspect but what is most likely going on is that Infinium realizes that gamers have long accepted fifty dollars as the price of a new console game and are acting accordingly.

As far as a release schedule went, Rob said that the console would enter beta production in November, be tested throughout December-January, and be ready, tentatively, for a Q1 2004 release-- about April or so. As for price point, Rob said he would like to launch at $299, and that they were almost there hardware wise. The monthly subscription (required to play games) will be set at $9.95. Rob did point out that although there was no way for the company to make money on hardware, they weren't going to sell it at a loss either.

Rob really talked up the developer angle at this point. He said that Infinium was willing to accept all sorts of independent games, the SDK would be provided for free, and that these indie companies wouldn't need to go through a publisher. That does greatly reduce the cost for a small developer and it's a great way to get your game into people's homes. Profits from these games would be split 40/60 towards Infinium, but the price point for these indie games was not mentioned.

A few questions about this topic came up also. People enquired about a quality control system for these games, to ensure that not any ol' hack could just upload their half baked junk on the Infinium servers. The details for that were sketchy, and Rob said the framework wasn't really in place. He did say that he had "thousands" of interested parties contacting him weekly with games and ideas. One other attendee asked how his game would be noticed among these "thousands", especially if he was a small indie developer. Rob dodged this question quite a few times, but eventually he bit the bullet and admitted that developers who wanted front page recognition would have to pay a higher "slotting fee" to receive it. This caused audible consternation in the room. It seems that there's no escaping paying money for shelf space, be it on an end cap at CompuGiant or in the virtual halls of Infinium's shopping sites.

When it came to actual game content and launch titles, there was again only limited information. The meat of the launch content was going to be PC ports, with 1000+ games in the works, and 4000 more games from recent history. Console games were barely mentioned, Rob said that there weren't any console ports in the works because currently it was just too expensive. As far as titles in the works, again, no names mentioned but oddly he had a penchant toward virtual reality. In his mind it was the next big thing, and he told us more than once that Phantom developers who created virtual reality games would certainly be given priority. While he never defined "virtual reality", we all assumed he meant the good ol' headset-and-remote style of VR that found brief popularity in the mid 90s.

So, no games or companies mentioned, no indication of what the launch titles would be, or if there was even any Phantom-exclusive original content planned. When asked directly just who Infinium had in their corner, Rob's reply was interesting: "I can tell you I can't tell you. I can tell you I'd like to tell you. I can tell you who we don't have. Do we have EA? No."

He explained for a while that many publishers weren't willing to go the all-digital route yet, because of piracy fears and because Infinium hadn't really earned the trust of the industry yet. He pointed out the large amount of software readily available for Phantom gamers, but again, they are all PC ports of somewhat recent games.

Jukin' and Jivin

After the power point presentation, Rob opened the floor to a Q and A session. It was, at times, rather ackward. While constantly pleasant, Rob dodged and danced around a number of questions, reiterating what he had covered in the power point when he could, quickly looking for a new question when he couldn't. That's a shame too, because by this point he really had the ear of the crowd, and even though the details in the presentation were sparse it seemed like everyone was willing to give him a fair shake. The questions were sometimes critical but given that this was the first open Q&A session for the console, this was expected. However, his answers were sometimes circular, sometimes all together off topic. Some questions were answered by Tim (the CEO) but it always seemed that when he got to the "good stuff" in the answers, Rob would cut him off or ask for the next question.

For example, one critical attendee asked him about release schedules and how they'd work for indie developers who didn't have to work via a publisher. He began with, "Publishers are notorious for shipping games early to get the cash in and force players to beta test."

Rob quickly answered that "We wouldn't stand for such a thing," but the questioner continued, and when he mentioned that games would be brought to the Phantom in a "publisher-less environment", Rob interrupted and said that "publishers can't be ignored, and we always have to work within the publisher's demands."

The Q&A session went on for about half an hour, and the mood of the audience began to dim. One of the last questions asked was rather direct and perhaps aimed a bit low. "So, I have all my consoles at home, and I have a very powerful PC that plays lots of games and can be upgraded simply by installing new hardware myself. Why would I want to buy a Phantom?"

Rob's answer? "Well then you aren't really part of the Phantom's core user base."

That got some chuckles from the crowd, sure. But it was Rob's next statement that had the real impact. "See, you people say you have enough consoles, and a powerful PC, but whenever a new console comes out, you people always buy it."

Finally, The Demo...

After the Q&A session... the meeting ended. Over. Without a demo of the Phantom, not even the operating system. For all we know, the box on display with the bright blue light could have been nothing more than casing and a bright blue bulb. Earlier in the session Rob mentioned that the system's UI was "under construction" and all they had at the time were placeholder .jpegs. To not show the OS in this condition is somewhat understandable, for no doubt as soon as the pixels hit the large projection screen in the front of the room the cameras would go a-snappin'. But to leave the meeting hall without so much as a Phantom boot-up screen?

Impressions

Even with the somewhat negative buzz about the Phantom and Infinium Labs floating around, a few of us hoped to be impressed, if not converted entirely. Sadly, it was difficult to be impressed by the show. The presentation was quality, but it was lean on specs and details, and there was never a moment when anyone in the crowd was blown away. Rob dodged a lot of questions, and the group left without a demonstration of the technology. The Phantom seems to be a cross between console and PC gaming, but just barely. There really is the impression that the Phantom is just a PC in a box you can't open or play with. Without further specs on the hardware the system actually looks slightly underpowered-- bigger numbers don't necessarily mean better or faster. Even the XBox, the first to receive "PC in a Box" status, still has specialized hardware devices just for the type of processing games need. None of that sort of technology was mentioned in the meeting. There is an opportunity here to make digital content delivery a reality, but the extra-heavy focus on anti-piracy measures and inability to so much as take your game to a friend's house to play makes this less system less of a console than perhaps they realize.

From the software side, they aren't looking so hot either. With six months scheduled until their launch, and not a single title or 3rd party company mentioned to back them up, there's very little enthusiasm. I can't imagine someone looking forward to the Phantom's software lineup, because chances are they already have it, or will be able to buy it for their PC-- and actually have a physical copy of it, something which is impossible via the Phantom.

Overall, however, there's the impression that these guys really have little knowledge of or respect for the gaming public. In all of a 90 minute presentation/Q&A session, not a single game was mentioned by name by anyone from Infinium. They seem to be of the opinion that gamers will just buy the console because it's "cool and new." They claim to support indie development but the impression is they'd rather just exploit it. There's an almost sinister air about their trademarked slogan, "By gamers for gamers," because there's really doesn't seem to be a gamer among them.

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Sounds pretty shaky to me.

-=DVS=-
10-24-03, 02:19 PM
......1.8Ghz Pentium 4 processor, 256mb of RAM (didn't mention what type) which could be upgraded to 512 or a full gig. An 80 gigabyte "storage device"-- no further specs than that were given. Rob also mentioned the system would be using "NVidia's NV36 graphics card..........

Its gonna be half a foot better then Xbox :rolleyes: ......don't see how its gonna make profit .

And its big as ATX case :eek: geezuz , you want a PC you buy a PC :rofl

mrsabidji
10-24-03, 04:03 PM
Hehe... remember the 3DO ? And it was a better concept. If things still go on that way, they're not gonna sell one single Phantom. I mean, there's not even one fricking game announced for this under-PC-in-a-sealed-ugly-looking-box, why on earth would anyone want to buy that ?

mrsabidji

Nephilim
10-24-03, 04:05 PM
Yeah, you know the CEO guy? He and his brother are rather famous in the business world for starting ventures that always fail, or ends up with one or both of them in court. After a record of 1 or 2 (at most) successes and 20-some-odd failures, I would be hard presseed to believe that the Phantom will ever even make it off the ground.

oldsk00l
10-24-03, 04:49 PM
After reading the article on [H] I am convinced it was just a scam.

NAZCA M12
10-24-03, 06:07 PM
Originally posted by Nephilim
I would be hard presseed to believe that the Phantom will ever even make it off the ground.

Don't be, it won't :p :p :p

GlowStick
10-24-03, 06:21 PM
Originally posted by -=DVS=-
Its gonna be half a foot better then Xbox :rolleyes: ......don't see how its gonna make profit .

And its big as ATX case :eek: geezuz , you want a PC you buy a PC :rofl If you want a broken pc buy a phantom : D

-=DVS=-
10-24-03, 06:50 PM
Originally posted by GlowStick
If you want a broken pc buy a phantom : D

Heh good one :D , they should just make a cool case i think maybe like Alienware and Flacon, voodoo PC and just sell prebuild PC....

You know those little CUBE PCs are lots more attractive then Phantom :rolleyes:

http://www.accessmicro.com/images/mini_cube_pc.jpg

http://209.67.175.142/xprodimg/SYSFICVL67CUBE_1.jpg

oldsk00l
10-24-03, 10:15 PM
ROFL!

Plus you can put something in with a little more oomph than a 5700/9600

That's a good one man.

Malfunction
10-24-03, 10:52 PM
Originally posted by Nephilim
Yeah, you know the CEO guy? He and his brother are rather famous in the business world for starting ventures that always fail, or ends up with one or both of them in court. After a record of 1 or 2 (at most) successes and 20-some-odd failures, I would be hard presseed to believe that the Phantom will ever even make it off the ground.

Well, they say 9 out of 10 businesses fail. If that saying holds true, then 2 out of 20 seems dead on...lol. Failing is not a bad thing either, look at Thomas Edison. Ofcourse, some of these quotes are inspirational and some seem fitting in a humorous way...

Thomas A. Edison Quotes:

Hell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something.

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.

There ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish something!

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (My fav...lol :p )

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.

Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

Peace,

:)

Nephilim
10-25-03, 02:19 AM
Originally posted by Malfunction
Well, they say 9 out of 10 businesses fail. If that saying holds true, then 2 out of 20 seems dead on...lol. Failing is not a bad thing either, look at Thomas Edison. Ofcourse, some of these quotes are inspirational and some seem fitting in a humorous way...

True, but reading the history of this guy and his brother makes me very, very, suspicius of this venture (as if we didn't have reason enough already).

It's a regular manual on how not to do business (legally or otherwise)

Zenikase
10-26-03, 05:15 PM
Oh man. This just gets worse and worse. I'm ashamed of living in the same state as these two dunderheads.

At least the Indrema, for lack of credibility, wasn't being paraded around as the greatest console of all time. And once the creators realized that the project would never get off the ground, they terminated it accordingly. These Phantom guys, on the other hand, just keep cranking up the hype and all they've given us over the past two years or so is a prototype model and some VERY sketchy concepts. Do they really expect to have this out by April next year? Besides, with such a hefty price tag, NO ONE will want to buy a castrated midrange PC when they can purchase a full fledged system for the same amount that plays the same games and much more.

mrsabidji
10-26-03, 06:27 PM
Yeah, it'd be like buying a MAC...

/me runs away.

mrsabidji

oldsk00l
10-26-03, 06:56 PM
The most appropriate stance in this case is that they are claiming to be gamers when they aren't.