Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 4, 2013
First there was the Ouya. It’s not vaporware – some local friends got their dev boxes last week, and have happily shared unboxing videos. One friend tells me that with a little bit of effort he’s gotten his game (written in Unity) working on it as well as on any other platform. So… it’s there. It works. It had a fantastic Kickstarter campaign, and they apparently struck a nerve. Technology has finally gotten to the point where it’s more a problem of the cost required to exploit its capabilities than the tech itself. And between the Wii and the rise of indie gaming, the “polygon wars” of the 1990s are pretty much over… the race no longer goes exclusively to the game with the most photorealistic graphics.
I get mine in March. I’m looking forward to it. But it won’t be the only game in town in 2013…
Then there’s Green Throttle Games. The idea here is even more scaled-down… turning your smartphone into a game console, with an adapter to let it receive input from console-style controllers, and output to televisions. As with the Ouya, they’ve got some experienced industry vets who can make it work. I confess I’m a tad more skeptical of this plan than the Ouya, if only because, to me, wiring something up to the TV feels like something more for a dedicated piece of hardware. Gaming on your phone is something you do in brief sessions, pausing if you get a phone call or something like that. You aren’t going to be dragging your controllers and the adapter with you when you go to a friends house most of the time. Yeah, it would be more portable than, say, an XBox, at least.
For me – and I confess I’m not much of a console gamer – the big advantage of the console is that it’s right there, already in your living room, already set up. I just push a button on the remote to turn on the TV, push a button on the controller to start up the system (these days I don’t even have to insert a disc half the time), and I’m there, gaming. It’s convenient. The Green Throttle system might not be THAT much more cumbersome than inserting a new disc into my console, but it could be issue. There’s also the question of compatibility / performance differences between different phones, but that’s hardly a new problem for developers. But in today’s world, when smartphones are used for just about everything – even more of a “magic wand” than the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver – I don’t see why a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable making it their TV-based game console, too.
Next up – the Game Stick. This seems to be occupying a little bit of a middle road between the Ouya and Green Throttle (in fact, it’s compatible with the Green Throttle controllers, and even has Green Throttle founder Charles Huang in their promotional video). The console itself makes the Ouya look like a giant. And it’s cheaper. It looks a little like an oversized USB memory stock that just plugs straight into an HDMI slot on an HD TV. They do have a controller of their own – in fact, it’s designed so that the console itself can fit INSIDE the controller for transport. So it’s slightly less cumbersome than the Green Throttle idea, but I would worry that the form factor might make it a little tricky to plug into some TVs based on how they are mounted or positioned. The Game Stick kinda… sticks out. Still, it’s a cool idea.
As a developer, my best response would be — support ‘em all! They are all Android based, so it shouldn’t be hard to do.
I will say this – when the PS3 and XBox 360 kicked off the last “next generation” of consoles, I had no freaking clue what would come next. Maybe it’s just that it’s been an extra-long console cycle, but between the Wii, Kinect, mobile gaming taking off, console gaming slowing down, direct game downloads rising in acceptability (at least THAT part I predicted!), indie games finally hitting the big time (I’d HOPED for that, but didn’t plan on it), and technology finally exceeding the “sweet spot” for visual capability (where the law of diminishing returns takes hold)… but things are looking pretty interesting. Rumor has it that 2013 will start bringing in the new consoles for the big players, too, which means the window of opportunity for these ‘indie consoles” might be closing soon. I wouldn’t want to be heading up any of these companies right now. But I can say that things look mighty fun as a gamer.
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