Unboxing the OUYA

July 1st, 2013 - No Comments

I didn’t fund the OUYA Kickstarter, being a little dubious of the process. However, once the console was fully funded I started taking a little bit of interest in the hundred-pound console, and decided it was worth the punt. I mean it wasn’t like I was going to be made redundant any time soon and maybe work could focus on branching out into Android development.

So now, two weeks into my redundancy, my OUYA arrives. Hey. It’s already paid for.

The box is a sleek little black package, and considering that they’re aiming for retail releases, it’s a professional appearance. The inside of the box chooses to believe it’s own hype, attaching an acetate red “Revolution” banner to hang in your car windscreen or window or over your TV – otherwise the contents are the minimum you need to get going – the console itself, a single controller, a short HDMI cable, a localised power adapter and a single page of instructions (and forty of warrenty information)

Contents of the OUYA System

Tiny box full of tiny components

The console itself has technical specs that would have sounded unreal ten years ago, but now sound akin to what you expect out of a tablet device or a modern portable console – and put in that way it is comparable to, indeed likely better than, a PSVita or any Tegra 3 powered Android tablet for power. While most people at the current time are expecting this from the OUYA, with the immenent release of the new XBox and Playstation, and with the still current WiiU floating around, it is in no way likely to capture the imagination of the standard consumer. The console is also smaller than a coffee cup – it’s almost smaller than it’s own power adapter.

Size comparison to a small cup of coffee

Smaller than a three-quid coffee cup

The controller has been much maligned. Comparing it to an XBox 360 controller, it is heavier, and the trigger-shoulder pads are less reachable, and uncomfortably springier. The battery slots are hidden under a facade held on by rare earth magnets, which is ingenious, but unexplained and had me flummoxed until I went to search for instructions on Google. The built in touchpad in the middle of the controller has somewhat come in handy on the text entry screens, but not so much yet when it’s come to gaming. Some sites have explained that a PS3 controller can be synced up as a replacement, but for now I’ll weather through using just the provided hardware.

Ouya Controller and it's removable faceplate

Held in place by pure magic, assembled out of old school chairs

Upon turning on the OUYA for the first time, there are mandatory downloads for system updates, and a mandatory requirement of entering Credit Card information to set up an account. It might end up being a road block that some consumers will rage about, but is advertised on the console’s packaging, and is an inherently logical thing for a console that’s entire raison-d’etre is exclusively downloadable try-before-you-buy software. Once account creation is handled, you are greeted with a blazing red screen with a design that can’t even be called minimalist for fear of accidentally describing too many elements.

The Ouya Dashboard

Least I’ll spot the dead red pixels on my TV now…

Elements of the Android platform it runs on are evident in the Advanced Settings screen (some options of which appear to have been left in by accident), but for the most part the OUYA has a completely bespoke interface that favours bold, unambigious text over fancy¬†skeuomorphism or gradients. The game library is already burgeoning with games both familiar and exclusive, and is easier to navigate than it’s contemporary in the XBox360 Arcade. With subcategories, trending lists, and contributor submitted lists all displayed as a huge table filling as many games on the screen as your HDMI can allow, the store looks like it may avoid the problem that comes with standing out on an App Store. With so much space devoted to as many different games as possible it may well be that the OUYA can be a platform where a new developer will not have to completely worry about being buried by thousands of competing products – the chances are that there’ll be a screen somewhere with them in clear and equal view to other, similar products.

Discover Screen on the OUYA

My god, it’s full of games…

For my first experience I chose indie mainstay Canabalt (since it’s single-button gameplay would mean I didn’t have to feel burgeoned to slate the controller even before I started properly enjoying/panning the console). Downloading from the store is a painless process, having previously set up the OUYA to work with my WiFi. So far, the infrastructure holds together without issue.

After resetting my television’s aspect ratio, I sat down to play some Canabalt (which has been through some upgrades since I last looked… guessing Adam has branched a little away from his Flixel framework). After a few runs through I decided to pay Adam for his many hours of entertainment and try out the in-app purchase features to unlock the full game. With the credit card details pre-saved, the entire process is single button stroke – a prompt to confirm payment, and a purchase is made (and a receipt sent to my email address). While a PIN number can be set up in the Parental Controls section of the Settings section of the OUYA console, it may well be a security concern to those who haven’t set up their Parental Controls in a fashion to stop their children purchasing piles of Smurfberries, further tying OUYA into a demographic of “people who know what they’re doing”. Personally, I have no complaints about the process, but realise this may be something of a storm that may brew in someone’s teacups, particularily given modern backlashes against the overuse of in-app purchases on iOS games aimed directly at children.

In App Purchase Dialog Confirmation

Once you fund, you just can’t… erm… what rhymes with fund?

While Canabalt downloaded I picked up demos of Shadowgun (a game showcasing Unity’s modern powerhouse features) and Organ Trail (which is still doing the rounds as the current darling of the Zombie oeuvre). Shadowgun runs at what was once considered a respectable framerate, but now appears the same quality as an end-of-PS2 era game. For free, this is still something remarkable (and Shadowgun remains a polished Cover Based Shooter), but again it’s something that sets the OUYA as something that really will only be for a small subset of gamers willing to tolerate production values lower than what is currently available, and certainly lower than what is promised by the imminent XBoxOne and the PS4.

All in all, I’m happy with my purchase as a bleeding elite consumer, and it will sit next to my XBox and PS2 very happily. But it’s hard for me to issue a clear recommendation – indie developers may be what the console is aimed for, but whether there’ll be a large enough target willing to buy a new console (as opposed to, say, downloading similar games on their more powerful PCs or equivalently powered smartphones) remains to be seen.

OUYA alongside a PS2 and XBox360

I’ll see what hardships I have as a developer in a later rant.

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