Friday, December 03, 2004

Byte: Vapourware

There's nothing an IT worker likes more than a project management disaster story. It reassures humble code monkeys like myself that it's not just YOUR manager that's useless. (Actually, at the moment, I'm really lucky in that my manager at the moment is absolutely great. It's just the users who are utterly inept. But that's to be expected... we don't call the "lusers" for nothing.)

The phrase "Vapourware" derives from the industry terms "freeware" and "shareware", only that rather than being free or on a short-term trial licence, Vapourware refers to pieces of software (or hardware) that are never likely to ever turn up. In the recent annals of videogames development, there has been one outstanding piece of Vapourware - Duke Nukem Forever.

After six years of development, and as many 3D engine changes (so it's said by those in the know) DNF is still steadfastly refusing to budge from its "Done when it's done" status. There haven't even been any new screenshots for about two years - it's only the rumour mill touting 3D Realms' acquisition of a Meqon Physics engine licence that's keeping the whole sorry story going. It's a become a bit of an industry joke - Hell will freeze over before DNF hits the shelves, because DNF stands for Did Not Finish in motor-racing parlance - rather apt, if now rather cliché.

DNF, however, now has a rival for the 2004 Vapourware awards. The Infinium Phantom. When word first came out about this a year or two back, I was sceptical - the infrastructure just isn't there for an on-demand gaming console running PC games. When HardOCP ran an exposé pointing out the flaws in Infinium's business plan and the somewhat shady past of its management team, Infinium declined to show them around their production facilities or invite them to an interview to set the record straight - they threatened to sue them instead. HardOCP then preemptively sued, and Infinium finally decided that they did want to take legal action after all, and countersued. All this costing them huge amounts of money in legal fees, whilst Infinium admitted last week that it needed at least another $12 million in investment to even be able to launch the console at all, and only has about $20,000 left in the bank.

The problem with the Phantom is that it's essentially a PC in a flashy case you can stick under your TV. If you want to play PC games, you're already going to have a PC. So why would you want a console? Especially one without optical drives, and where you have to wait for the games to download before you can play them? With average PC game installs taking up 3GB or more of disk space, who's going to want to wait around downloading that much data to a console? What's the point in renting a game for an evening if it takes 6 hours to download?

So it can't really be much of a surprise that one of the investment banks helping fund the console's development has lost patience and decided to sue, possibly putting the final nails in the Phantom's coffin. Even so, it'll probably still come out before Duke Nukem Forever does...
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