Hardware of E3 2004 - Shawn's Views
I intentionally kept myself in the dark about Infinium Labs' upcoming Phantom console. I didn't read any articles in magazines or online. I didn't want to know anything about it until the fateful day at E3. After our pictures were taken of an Infinium girl, we stepped into the mysterious Infinium booth and saw a demonstration of a Phantom that was just beginning.
First, I noticed the look of it. The console was white, a very different color from the usual black of most game machines. I'm not a big fan of white electronics. Although, maybe their final version will be platinum, since platinum is the new black. I also noticed something odd: there was only one controller port. One controller port? How am I supposed to get my friends over to play games on this? Infinium Guy then switched out the controller for a mouse and keyboard. The keyboard was tilted upward so the mouse was comfortably underneath, seeming to give the player enough space to do their usual PC gaming thing. Infinium Guy had it placed on his lap, fully able to relax back in his chair. Ok, the keyboard looks nice and all but... wait... what? Oh, well that sucks.
I had just found out that the Phantom will only be using PC games for its library. That was very disappointing to me. Paul had already known, but since I wasn't keeping up with any Phantom news, I didn't know. I was thinking that Infinium would be licensing games from developers of consoles and use those as it's games. Nope. Just PC games. The only way I would be able to play multiplayer would be to go online, something I rarely do. I thought the Phantom was being touted as the next big console, not the system that puts your PC games on TV. Hell, I could just buy an ApeXtreme DISCover if I wanted to do that.
We got a chance to speak with Kent Johnson, Director of Business Development for Infinium Labs. He was very nice and answered a lot of our questions. The way a gamer buys a Phantom is different than the usual buy-in-the-store way. A gamer would go to a retailer that will carry the system and get the system for free after signing a contract. It's like getting a cell phone. A gamer would have to go through a credit check to get the Phantom and sign a two-year contract with a fee of $29.99 a month. That can get really expensive. At $29.99 a month, over the course of two years, you'll have spent $719.76, plus the cost of downloading or renting games. That sounds like a lot of money to me. If you play tons of PC games in one month it could actually be cheaper but, you really have to play a lot of PC games. Plus, I'm sure gamers that own certain PC games wouldn't want to buy them again in able play them on Phantom.
I can understand the reasoning for having to do the credit check to download and play all the games, but do you really want to go through that to get a game system? It's just not something I would want to do. Mr. Johnson assured us that deals were being worked out and most major retailers would be carrying the console. But that really just raises more questions. Would there be a separate Infinium booth in the store to perform the credit check or would it be included in the cell phone area where the employee already knows how to perform a credit check? You wouldn't want just any vested retail clerk to try to figure out how to do a credit check so you can get your game console.
So how does the Phantom work? After the excited gamer runs home and gets everything hooked-up they can then download games. Any games, well, any PC game that is. According to Johnson, publishers love the idea of gamers just obtaining games by download. It eliminates packaging costs, retailer costs and the like, making it cheaper for everybody. Cheaper games is very good indeed. However, I am one of those people that likes to have the actual physical product in my dirty little hands. I place my games on a shelf or in a case. They are displayed for everyone to browse and admire my impressive collection of games. If I downloaded a game I could always redownload if it was deleted, and it saves room in my sometimes confined quarters, but I still want the product itself. If you don't care about having the actual game then maybe the Phantom is for you.
How would the Phantom be covered in gaming mags? Would a magazine like PC Gaming talk about it since it plays PC games, or would a mag like EGM cover it since it's in the relative same place in the house as the other consoles. Wait and see I guess.
I think I'll be sticking to my current crop of gaming devices. I'm a console gamer for the most part, but there are a few PC titles I just can't be without. Overall, I like to have my stuff where I can see it.
First, I hate it when the word "Xtreme" or any of its iterations are added willy-nilly all over the place, especially when people think its cool. That said, I like Apex's ApeXtreme DISCover system. Similar, but not, to the Phantom, it lets you play PC games on the TV. The DISCover will take the hassle out of installing games on the PC and do everything itself, giving the player the optimal gaming experience the hardware can provide. The system will also play DVDs and have DVR functions, letting you record TV shows ala Tivo. The cost will be about $400-500 when it comes out. At that price it doesn't seem like you'll get top-of the-line components, well you won't, but they're still really good. If you are looking for the PC components to be top-of-the-line you can always wait to buy Alienware's version, but it'll cost you over $1000 more. I played Halo on the Apex machine at the show and can say that everything looked great and seemed to be fast and stable. The ApeXtreme may be a better answer for those that don't have a lot of PC games, but still want to play the games in a more comfortable setting, or for those that don't want to hassle with a contract.
Down in the lower depths of E3 we discovered this nifty little peripheral, the Pistolmouse FPS from Monstergeko. This thing is an optical mouse for the PC designed specifically for first person shooters. It's a black pistol with red trim and very eye-catching. This was also the only peripheral that really caught my eye and the only one I tried at the show.
I tried it out on whatever game they had playing. It was certainly different than holding a typical mouse. The player holds it like a pistol, but moves it along the surface like a mouse. Obviously, the trigger fires the chosen weapon. the secondary trigger can be programmed for whatever command the player wants, but it would most likely be used for secondary fire. There is also a scroll wheel with a button, both of which can be programmed. It's a nice idea, but while I was playing with it I constantly had to re-orientate my wrist. Since it's designed like a pistol, I felt as though I should be pointing it towards the screen.
Nokia N-Gage QD
We didn't bother to visit the Nokia booth. I mean really, there wasn't any reason.
The Gizmondo info book says, "The arrival of Gizmondo signifies a new era in mobile gaming." My ass it does. The Gizmondo will play games, do messaging, play MP3s, watch movies, use GPS positioning, and it has a digital camera. If it had a cell phone you could call this thing the next N-Gage. Giz, do you realize where you will stand in the mobile gaming world? You'll be competing with almighty Gameboy Advance, the new DS, Sony's PSP, and the ten people's money that actually bought an N-Gage. Sorry, little guy, but your days are already numbered.
As Paul and I were waiting in line to meet the infamous Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb, we met a friendly chap who called himself "Eric" from Zodiac Gamer. We were chatting about games and the show when he suddenly whipped it out. It was big and black. It was the Zodiac, a PDA / game system thing. The screen was big and easy to see from any angle, a big plus when it comes to portables. The Zodiac can play emulators such as ones for SNES and Genesis (sadly, no MAME yet). It could do a bunch of other things too, like MP3s and stuff, and of course had its own stylus for PDAing. The big drawback I can see for it is the price. $400 is a lot of money for a guy like me, though they do offer a cheaper version for around $300, but it has less memory than its brother. With the high price, though, I feel this is something that could have a very select audience and could possibly suffer the same fate as N-Gage. If you are looking to get a PDA and you'd love to have your emulators and ROMs on the go (which is pretty cool) then the Zodiac may be worth checking out.