I received and unboxed my Ouya last week. I was a Kickstarter backer and ordered the special-edition copper unit with an extra controller. Overall, I’m quite impressed with the hardware and build quality for an indie console. In their first go, the team behind Ouya seems to have pulled off a well-designed piece of kit. I’m looking forward to getting into making games for it using the Ouya ODK.
This article was written in July 2013. So, with the understanding that as early as August 2013, it may be out of date, here are my views on things.
Who is the Ouya for?
After playing some of the native Ouya games then quite a number of SNES and NES games on the natively-supported emulators, combined with the consideration of the openness and developability of the platform, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ouya, currently, is much closer to the Oculus Rift dev kit than a fully customer-facing console: it’s made for developers, not for gamers.
The console lacks a “killer app” or two, which is fine if you’re working on your own game but not if you’re hoping to play something awesome when you open the box.
Focusing on devs first is actually a very smart move. It’s a niche but passionate market. We’re a crew of builders and artists; Prosumers in every sense of the word. Quite a number of successful services and products are available to consumers today because of the initial developer-focused or prosumer market; The web, Minecraft, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube…
Once the platform has enough quality titles and moves past its rough, beginner stage, the Ouya will become much more palatable and intriguing to the consumer market. The only real risk here is that developers must grab hold of the platform and run with it. If they don’t, the Ouya won’t make it to version two.
What about the hardware?
First, I love the copper colour. I haven’t seen a silver unit in anything other than pictures, but I do prefer the copper colour. I love systems that offer many colour choices. Think Game Boy Color or Nintendo 64.
The controller is balanced and has a nice weight to it. The fact that the the two battery bays are split between the left and right portions of the controller ensures that it doesn’t feel weighted in one area more than others.
The buttons on the controller are another story. On both of my controllers there are a few buttons that are grindy and stick. It’s frustrating when dying in a twitch-based game like Super Crate Box because your character is locked in a jumping animation while you try to unstick the button on the controller.
Another fault is that in some games there is a very noticeable delay between when a button is pressed and the game reacts. On platformers like Super Mario World, this means it’s essentially unplayable. I’m not sure if this is a fault of the controller, software/drivers, lack of speedy hardware, or unoptimized emulators. The end result is the same, however.
Using the controller on a Windows 7 PC works great, so long as your batteries are juiced up. I ran into a situation where the controller would stop working every 30 seconds and I’d be forced to reconnect by holding the circular U button on the centre of the controller. It turns out that the batteries were dead. Having the LEDs on the controller turn red when the batteries are low would be a fantastic way to indicate this, especially if you’re going to use your Ouya controller on a trip so you can bring an extra set.
Using the on-controller touchpad to get around Steam games without having to reach for the keyboard and mouse is handy, though the touchpad is of fairly low quality. It won’t be a daily driver, but it works well to switch through games or to get you into Big Picture mode.
Though it’s unlikely this situation is common, my main television did not have HDMI inputs, leaving me to use an HDMI to DVI adapter to get it to work. Unfortunately, this meant that for the first while I was without sound as HDMI transmits sound as well as video. I had to borrow a TV from a friend in order to play Ouya with sound. A component cable option would be fantastic here.
Along the same lines, a stereo earphone jack would be fantastic as well. I’ve got a nice set of external speakers and a nice set of headphones that would be great to plug into the unit. I can see myself running an Amarok type of app to make the Ouya a modern day stereo, but without audio out, this is essentially a dream.
The internal hard drive space is quite limited at 8GB, which is fine if you can plug in an external hard drive. Unfortunately, after plugging in my 500GB USB drive, nothing happened. I was unable to access the drive or store games there. Very strange; I thought it would pick up straight away and offer to use the space to store games and such. Perhaps this feature is in the works?
What about the software?
The menus navigate well and are quick to respond. Downloading/installing and uninstalling games is a simple chore and works well. The store could provide a few more sorting options, but it’s not a game-breaker.
On my unit the networking was broken out of the box and I was forced to update first through an Ethernet cable before being able to use wifi. This is a common complaint with first-gen Ouyas and will very likely be fixed in the future, so I’m not too worried about this hiccup.
Text input allows for left-right rubber banding (where pressing the right joypad button on the rightmost input brings you around to the leftmost input) but not for up-down rubber banding. This was odd and I found myself missing it more than once.
I haven’t had much experience with developing on the platform, other than simply installing the Ouya ODK and getting everything set up. I’ll post something once I’ve got something.
Hopefully this gives you a decent snapshot into the current state of the Ouya, at least from my perspective. If you’re an amateur or indie programmer and want a cool platform to try building games on, I’d recommend it. It runs Android, so even if Ouya completely fails and by this time next year is just a memory (I doubt this, though, just a worst-case scenario), you’ll be able to put your games on phones and you’ll be none the worse for wear.