Hands On With The OUYA Open Source Gaming Console

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At the risk of losing some of my geek cred, I must admit that I’m not a big gamer. I love to code and, well, there’s just not enough hours in the day. Still, I couldn’t help but get excited about the possibility of a sleek, small, open-sourced gaming console that runs on Android when I saw OUYA on Kickstarter. My pre-retail OUYA arrived on Friday, just in time for a weekend of testing.

OUYA Console

A Console For The People

Starting at $99 for the system and one controller, OUYA promised many things:
– Open Source
– Sleek, user-guided console and controller design
– Lots of games
– Developer support
– Change the gaming industry

Before my console arrived, some of the delivery was obvious. The OUYA team dedicated time to answering questions and working on valuable partnerships. Additionally, the controller design was guided, in part, by suggestions from the community. While the console was being built, OUYA held a contest in which developers submitted game prototypes and the community voted on their favorites. Though they were just prototypes, my review of the submitted games was the first time by excitement for this new console ebbed. Most of the games were not console-worthy and only a few stood out as ones I thought showed some promise. I reminded myself that these were prototypes from indie developers who had a short time frame to develop in and bottled up some of my apprehension.

As a funder in the Kickstarter campaign, one of the perks was getting the console before it hits store shelves in June. The closer June got, the more I wondered if it would ever arrive. Of course, I was in the last batch to be shipped, but it eventually turned up on my doorstep.

Unboxing And Setup

The unboxing of my OUYA has been bitter-sweet. The recipe for the worlds first open source gaming console seems to consist of excitement, anticipation, caution, a bit of doubt, disappointment, and frustration. Below is the unboxing video which includes some game play.

After getting everything out of the box, I headed for the setup instructions. A few simple instructions covered the basic – and I mean BASIC – setup: Plug things in, turn on, follow on-screen instructions. Great. Easy peezy, I thought, but then I looked at the controller. I had two AA batteries per controller, but no obvious battery panel, no screws to unscrew, and mostly no instructions. I took a chance and lightly tried to pry the top cover off of a controller. Sure enough, the left side popped off and there was a battery slot – for one battery. A quick check revealed the right side hiding a battery compartment as well. Where everything else was designed to be so simple and intuitive, I wondered by the battery installation had to be a puzzle.

Once I had everything plugged in and booted up, getting connected to the internet was just awful. The first time I tried, it connected and even downloaded updates. Then it immediately dropped my wireless connection. After several attempts to reconnect, I looked to the support site for help where I found that many others were experiencing the same connection problems. After trying suggestions to remove the case, factory reset, reboot my router, etc., I finally gave in and dragged a monitor and my OUYA upstairs to the wireless router and plugged it directly in. With just a little more prodding, the wireless magically started working again and has been fine throughout the house. Waiting months to play with this thing only to have to battle another hour or two to get it to work is certainly not ideal.

Features And Game Play

Let’s talk a little more about the features. For starters, this is a $99 console. I think the last time I spent this little on a console was when I got my Nintendo. More diminutive than the price is the console, itself. OUYA stands at 3x3x3 inches and packs in a Tegra3 quad-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8GB of internal flash storage, ethernet and wifi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth LE 4.0. It connects to your TV via HDMI with up to 1080p support, and also has a USB 2.0 and micro-USB port (for development). The controller is wireless and includes the familiar four surface buttons, two analog sticks, one d-pad, and two left and two right trigger buttons. At the top center of the controller is a touch pad to control an on-screen cursor.

Game play feels good and the controller is comfortable. The OUYA console is equipped with an internal fan but can still warm up some when in use. OUYA carries about 135 games, but I’ve only tried a handful based on what was featured or a “Staff Pick”. If the four games I’ve spent time with thus far, Final Fantasy III was my least favorite. After all the bragging about bringing a recognized title to this console, the game left me bored. Conversely, Chrono Blade – whose developers can also brag about their work on Grand Theft Auto – has been a non-stop action game with smooth play and combo moves that take me back to the first time I played Street Fighter. Honorable mentions go out to Beast Boxing Turbo and Flashout 3D for providing engaging game play and notable quality.

While I’m on the topic of quality, even Chrono Blade’s graphics – while the most impressive I saw on OUYA – couldn’t stop me from wondering if this $99 console will ever show signs of the level of graphics found on an XBOX 360 or PS3. While open source means virtually no barrier to entry for developers, it also means that most of the games currently available lack the production quality found in other consoles. Hopefully time will cure this. In the meantime, the silver lining to this cloud is that OUYA embraces share-ware style gaming. You can download any game (or a demo in some cases) and if you like it, you can buy it right from your system. If you don’t like it, simply delete it and try the next one. While other consoles offer an option to get games online, OUYA’s games are all online.

Open Source And The ODK

The OUYA runs on Android, which makes it easy to fulfill one of its key goals, to be open source. Typically, a game developer would need to spend five or six figures to develop for a Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo console. The cost to get started developing an OUYA game is $0. This is a double-edged sword for developers. On one hand, it means a ton of games and no walls keeping creative new developers out. On the other hand, there will be a lot of junk games to sift through to find the good ones.

I’m no game developer, but I have been wanting to take a stab at some Android development. Even though OUYA is designed as a game console, it has the potential for a lot more with the ability to create all forms of apps for it. Sadly, I’ll have to wait until OUYA fixes their ODK (OUYA Developer Kit) link so I can download it.

Early Conclusions

It’s still a bit early to be sure, but I think OUYA has a promising future, providing they can work out the kinks. The wireless connection problems were especially concerning. I

Author: Joe Colburn

Joe Colburn is a software engineer specializing in PHP and a technology enthusiast. Always eager to dive into new and exciting things, Joe writes about anything technology related news and products that he thinks you will also be excited about. Find Joe Colburn on Google+ or by any of the links below.

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