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The Phantom: Unmasked

Does anyone out there remember The Phantom? You know, the console that Infinium Labs was working on? Yeah, well, it's ok, neither did I until October 23rd. On that night it just so happened that the local chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) held their monthly meeting at the school I'm attending, and I had the chance to sit in on it. I had only found out about the event about a half hour before it started; rumor had it that Infinium Labs would be showing off The Phantom game console and I definitely didn't want to miss it.

My friends and I bolted out of the classroom as lecture came to a close and headed to the meeting. We made it in time and had to wait for a few minutes in a fairly sizable line that had amassed outside the door; apparently we weren't the only ones eager to check this console out. I was particularly interested because for months now it's been largely assumed that The Phantom console was just that, a phantom, vaporware; people thought the whole thing was a hoax. It wasn't the intention of the Infinium Labs crew to give a detailed demonstration with the machine on that night, but I think they were there to make a statement, "We're in this for real, and here's the proof."

Admittedly, going into this meeting, I was skeptical at best. However, when I got in the room there it was: The Phantom was sitting on a desk in front of the room, giving off a warm, blue glow; just like the pics you see on the 'net. I was immediately caught off guard; first by how cool the blue glow was, and secondly at just how large The Phantom was, this baby made the Xbox look like a lightweight. The model in the room was running on a full size ATX motherboard, which accounts for the size, but as I'd find out later, the beta build, which will be completed this November is a full fifty percent smaller easily putting the console in the same league size-wise as any of the current generation consoles.

As the meeting got underway, Rob Shambro from Infinium Labs took the mic and gave the audience an introduction to The Phantom. At first, it looked as though we were in for a long night; they were trying to show the promo video for the console and weren't having much luck getting it to run (the video, not the system). Eventually, the video ran without a hitch (you can download it at www.phantom.net) and from there, things progressed smoothly.

The video didn't really show a whole lot, but it did give some great insight as to how the GUI is going to look. Apparently the one shown in the video is fairly close to what the final version is supposed to look like, and let me tell you, it looked pretty darn slick. Other than that though, it was just a lot of flashy effects and cool music.

As Mr. Shambro spoke, he pointed out a lot of things that will make this console unique. For one, the business model really lends itself to the aspiring DIY developer. The machine has been built with the small, independent developer in mind. What does this mean for gamers? Well, we could see some highly original games coming to the platform that simply wouldn't have seen the light of day on any of the other "big 3." The console does away with the retail side of games; that is, all the games will be available through download only; no packaging, no discs. This may seem strange, but one must consider that the retail side of things is what kills smaller developers. Game companies generally have a very short window to sell their games at the local Best Buy until a brand-new title from a big publisher hits the shelves. At that point, their title is removed, and without shelf-space, it's pretty hard to sell games. The Phantom will allow small developers to sell more games, and receive a bigger cut of the profit for each game sold.

In addition to the games that people develop for the system, The Phantom will be able to play regular PC games, you'll be able to rent games online, and try new games before you buy them. Also, Infinium Labs have been talking with Nintendo, Atari, and other long-time industry vets to get the rights to emulate older games on the machine�legally.

The whole deal with the console is that it is almost solely online-based. The machine is a broadband device that allows you to download your games upon purchase. These titles are then available for offline play as well. Rental titles will only be playable online as the company must enforce the rental period. That is, when you rent a game for three days, it's their job to make sure that the game is no longer available after that time period.

Sadly, no gameplay footage was shown, but even so, the meeting changed my viewpoint on this machine. I had already written this console off as a failure, but now I'm singing a different tune. I still have my reservations, but make no mistake about it, this thing has the potential to floor the naysayers when it's released. The main problem with The Phantom is that it may be a bit ahead of it's time. Is the gaming market ready for a broadband exclusive console? Sure Microsoft went broadband only with Xbox Live, but that's only for online play, the Xbox is still a stand alone machine. The Phantom however, is solely dependent on users having a broadband connection; that immediately limits the machine's sales potential.

As far as hardware is concerned, The Phantom is in a league of it's own. The machine will feature an eighty gigabyte harddrive standard, come equipped with two USB ports, support for four controllers, and for a keyboard and mouse set up, wireless or corded, and it will be upgradealbe. Infinium Labs stated at the meeting that they are currently aiming for a $299 price point when the machine launches in quarter one 2004. Honestly, for everything you get hardware-wise, $299 is a steal. Overall, I was fairly impressed by the showing and I think that maybe people were a bit too quick when passing judgment on the system. We'll just have to wait until the release to find out for sure, but in the meantime you can view the system specs as given by Infinium Labs below:

Custom OS on Windows XPe kernel
Up to 3.0 GHz processor with 256 MB DDR RAM
High Performance nVidia video card
High Performance Intel motherboard
Support for Dolby Digital 7.1 Surround Sound
100+ Gigabyte internal storage device
On-board RF wireless modules
S-Video, RCA, or component video and PAL
10/100 base T Ethernet
one wireless controller
two USB ports
four controller ports

By Ryan Schaefer - 10/27/03

Screenshots for The Phantom: Unmasked

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