Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Booyah – The Ouya! A Quick Take

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 20, 2013

OuyaBrownI received my Ouya just before having to leave town. I’m doing that a lot lately, have you noticed? Anyway… I haven’t had much of a chance to play with it (as expected), but I’ve been able to put a couple of hours into it. But as usual, the console itself is not really the point. It’s about the games. While the console manufacturer can do a lot to encourage or discourage games, the bottom line is that the games make the console. So – more on this in a minute.

The System

I got a special edition console, so it’s a cool brown color, along with two brown controllers. The console itself is pretty small – a little larger than the size of a soup can. This would be a problem if it was a “wired” console, as there’s just not a lot of bulk and weight there to hold cables in place. But it’s a pretty wireless device, so this isn’t a problem. It has a gig of main memory, which is pretty decent for a $100 console, and 8 gigs of secondary storage – which isn’t so great. But it also has a USB slot which I assume can be used for more storage.  For wireless connectivity, it has 802.11 b/g/n and bluetooth. It also has an ethernet port if you really do need a wired connection. To hook up to a TV, it has up to 1080p output on an HDMI (only). Don’t bother getting it if you still aren’t running on a modern high-def TV with HDMI input.

The controllers are big and beefy, for western hands. I don’t know if the ones intended for Asia are smaller. One concern I might have is that the controllers are a little too slick and streamlined – if you get sweaty palms while playing, you might have trouble holding on to the controller. The top shoulder buttons aren’t as comfortable to reach as I’d prefer, and the touchpad on the controllers is (on my brown controllers) hard to tell that it’s there. But… these are quibbles. The controllers really are pretty cool. I heard that initially, there was some lag on the controller inputs. In theory, that’s been fixed – if it’s still there, I haven’t noticed it.

The Ouya allows up to four controllers at a time, for what could be some pretty wild four-player gaming action. I only have the two, but I plugged in a wired Xbox controller into the USB port for a three-player game of You Don’t Know Jack. The Xbox controller worked fine for that game, but I don’t know if all games would work as well. I’m not sure how hard it would take to get a wireless controller working for the box, but I was pretty pleased with this discovery.

Using the touchpad causes an arrow-shaped cursor to appear on the screen.  I’m not sure how consistent this is, or how much control games have over this functionality. I can imagine it might be useful for those games that really want to be played by the touchpad. So far I’ve only played one game (Saturday Morning RPG) that uses it at all.

Graphically – I’m really not sure about the power of the console. Most games currently available for it really don’t seem to be pushing it – or maybe they are. I’ve seen some possible slowdown in games / situations, but I’m not sure if I was imagining it, or if not, what might have caused it. Sloppy coding? Some other rendering issues? I don’t know. We may be a while before we find out.

Aside from the 1080p resolution (which is a pretty big deal, admittedly), I’d guess that the graphical powers of the box are somewhere along the lines of the generation of consoles that included the original Xbox, Playstation 2, GameCube, and Sega Dreamcast. Yeah, those boxes are over a decade old, and so that’s not exactly a major compliment. But at this point, I really am just guessing.  Still, memory in those boxes was measured in megs, not gigs, and we sure as hell weren’t talking 1080p.

So don’t expect the console to be running full-on Gears of War clones anytime soon. At least not at that quality and framerate. But for making a kick-butt 2D game with lush visuals and particles, or an RPG along the style / quality of Persona 4? Technology will not be a major barrier here for indie developers.

As far as making your own games for it – I haven’t tried. It’s got a micro USB port and a USB port, and from what I’ve heard you can just side-load your game (or anyone else’s, for that matter) like an app on any other Android.

The Front End

It ran an update as soon as I set it up, which was somewhat of an amusing experience on its own. While the progress bar filled up, little amusing messages appeared on-screen. This reflects attitude. This attitude permeates the console, and I like it. It’s indie. While it does try to be slick and polished, it doesn’t forget its roots. I like this.

The front end is subject to change, so there’s no guarantee that anything is going to stay the same beyond – well, beyond the last time I played it. But as of right now, the main menu consists of four options: “Play” – to play the games you’ve already downloaded and installed; “Discover” – to browse for new games to download; “Make” – to play and test games that you’ve uploaded to the console; and “Manage” – to configure the system, manage your account, etc.

Right off the bat, you need to hook into your wireless (or wired, I guess) network to get an Internet connection, and set up your account (or log into it, if you’ve already created an account at Ouya.tv).  I’m not sure about the difference, but it seemed harder and clunkier to use the artificial keyboard on the Ouya than on my Xbox 360.  It would be nice to get some indication of whether or not you are connected to your wireless connection before you jump into the “Discover” menu option and time out, too.  I’ve found that I’ve got a “dead spot” in my wireless in my house, right where I like to place my Ouya. I only have to move it a few inches to pick up the reception, but it’d be nice to have some kind of indicator to let me know when I’ve nailed it.

The “Discover” option takes you to a menu of different games you can download. I don’t know what it will look like when the Ouya library is home to thousands of games, and I’m sure they’ll change things around eventually. Right now, there are some categories you can pick from with scrolling lists of games. There are “featured” games – basically (I think) the “staff picks” from the Ouya team. There’s a category for the Ouya exclusives, for the currently “trending” top games, and a special menu to let you choose games by genre. There’s also one for the early backers of the box – the ones that chose the dev option for the Kickstarter, which promised them a year of assistance promoting their games on the platform. As of right now, Brian Fargo of InXile has a special category for his picks… I imagine this will be a regularly changing “celebrity pick” area.

And then there’s the Sandbox. The sandbox is, I think, an area for games that haven’t yet been promoted by upvotes to the ‘regular’ areas. All games start in the sandbox, and then may get themselves promoted to the curated area by earning a high-enough “O-Rank” – which consists of values from a proprietary metrics system by Ouya to measure player engagement. They won’t explain the specifics so they can reduce how much developers try to game the system. Anyway – it seems that in every way, the Sandbox is still part of their regular store, with completed, sellable games… but games there are in the “cheap seats” and will probably be ignored by many players until they’ve “passed muster” by stalwart gamers willing to risk playing a few bad games.

Right now, the sandbox is small. As it grows, I’d like to see some better discoverability options for the sandbox – like being able to look at just the RPGs, for example, or to sort by the games with the highest O-Rank, or the newest games, or whatever.  But for now, it’s not too unmanageable.

I would like to be able to see the price of a game before I try to buy it. Right now, the price for the full version comes up only on the final pop-up asking me to confirm my purchase. This is a little annoying, but maybe this was done to preserve flexibility in how “free to play” is implemented by the developer. After all, many games won’t have any concept of purchasing a “full version” – they may use in-app purchases, subscriptions, or donations. I don’t know how it all works, I just know I like to know how much a game is going to cost me up-front.

Overall, the “operating system” for the Ouya seems pretty clean and elegant. It’s clear that the focus here is on gaming – you don’t find a bunch of options for playing music or videos or whatnot. And I have to admit – for a console, being able to just jump on and play something totally new that I just learned about is kinda cool. Because all of the games have a “free to play” component, they’ve integrated the store with your own library so well that (to me) it feels like my gaming library is literally every game released on the system. This was probably a pretty smart approach.

Rolling Your Own

I haven’t actually tried to export anything to the Ouya, yet. However, every Ouya is a “dev kit.” It’s designed as an open platform for game makers. There’s already support for Unity out there, and you can get the SDK and anything else you need to know at the Ouya Development Page. This is really, really cool.

The Games

I’ve played a handful of games for the Ouya, including Final Fantasy III (the 3D remake for mobile devices), Dub WarsYou Don’t Know Jack, Radiant, Flashout 3D, Deep Dungeons of Doom, Puddle, Organ Trail: The Director’s Cut, and a couple others. A couple of high-profile games I haven’t played on the Ouya yet include The Ball and The Bard’s Tale (the 2005 ‘reboot’ / comical reinvisioning).

Most of these games – in fact, I think all but Dub Wars – are ports from other systems (notably mobile devices). Because they are ports, they aren’t necessarily taking the best advantage of the controller or the hardware capabilities – they’ve been designed to work on the lowest common denominator of systems, without much enhancement as they’ve moved to the Ouya.

There are some Ouya-exclusives on the list, which is interesting. I’m not sure how I’d feel about releasing an exclusive on the platform, but under different circumstances I’d probably be able to be talked into doing a limited-time exclusive (or a “console / mobile exclusive”, where computers are also a launch platform). I think one of the things that might hurt them is that with the exception of those *very* early adopters who paid the $700+ for the “developer’s special” (all 842 of them), people haven’t been able to reliably get their hands on the box ahead of the retail launch. This is unfortunate, and the launch coming up in a week may suffer from this. But… there are still over 150 games available, and some of ’em are pretty good.

The Ouya is likely to struggle for the lack of a “killer app.” Maybe one will appear between now and the Christmas season. As I said, game consoles are generally defined by their games, and the Ouya needs some hit games that are fresh and unique.  There’s definitely something to be said for being able to play some of these games with a controller instead of tapping on the screen, but there must be more than that.


I really don’t know if the Ouya will succeed in the long run or not, and it’s coming out of the gate with a couple of marks against it. The fact that this is the year of major console releases probably doesn’t help much, either. But if it finds its niche, I think it could do well.

What’s the niche? What role could it play to the average consumer? I’m not sure. It’s cheap, the games are cheap, after initial setup it’s easy-to-use and easy to find & play new games. It’s small, friendly, easy on the wallet. With other consoles either ignoring indies or relegating them to a hard-to-find, hard-to-use ghetto, the Ouya stands out as the machine with the strongest support of independent games (we’ll see if the PS4 decides to change that!). It’s not as portable as mobile devices (duh!), but for $100 it’s a lot cheaper than comparable tablets, plus you can play on a wide-screen TV.

I think it has tons of potential, but I don’t know if it has an audience. I can see it becoming a popular “secondary” console, or even a primary console for non-hardcore gamers (or hardcore indie game enthusiasts, like me!).  Will it find an audience? 60,000 people decided they were its audience a year ago, and that certainly sounds like a good start. Will the indies be able to take advantage of a truly self-publishing console platform and create some new industry legends with the Ouya at the forefront?

I guess we’ll see. All I can say is that I like it, I think it has a ton of potential, and I’d really like to see it succeed.

Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Albert1 said,

    I wonder how hard is to use C++ on Android based Ouya.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I haven’t done any android development *yet*, so I don’t know. Shouldn’t be too hard to find out.

  • Anon said,

    “So don’t expect the console to be running full-on Gears of War clones anytime soon. At least not at that quality and framerate.”

    Look up “nova 3” on youtube to see what similarly equipped smartphones can handle nowadays and what I think can be done on the Ouya.
    Here’s the Galaxy Note 2 running it, for example, which is pretty much PS2 quality but in HD:

    Yes, there are restrictions (small levels, not many different enemy types) but I question how optimized this software really is as people had years of programming experience on successful consoles like the PS2 to wring out the maximum of details & features.

    The question remains if the Ouya (and Android in general) will see similar support.

  • Happy Ouya Day said,

    […] to launch” wasn’t a big window. I’ve put some additional playtime since my quick take on the Ouya last week, and I really don’t have much more to add. I’m still playing around with […]