Ouya Gaming Platform – First Impressions

Ouya Gaming Platform – First Impressions

I have invested in a few games on Kickstarter (see Is Kickstarter The New Way To Get Capital?). They include Ouya’s gaming system (Fig. 1) that showed up this week . Another is a role playing game called Project Ninja Panda Taco. I figured most readers would like to hear more about the Ouya platform (see Ouya Brings $99 Game Console Via Kickstarter).

Figure 1. Ouya is a gaming system based on NVidia’s quad core Tegra 3. It comes with one controller but supports up to four.

The system runs a quad core, Cortex A9 NVidia Tegra 3 that incorporates its own GPU. It supports 1080p HDMI output so you need a monitor or TV with an HDMI input. It has 1 Gbyte of RAM and 8 Gbytes of flash. It has Bluetoorh 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n support. There is a single USB port. It comes with its own power brick.

The small box holds a circuit board with a fan for the processor. It only runs when needed and it was relatively quiet. Opening the box is easy making it a natural platform for experimenters. The open nature of the free SDK (software development kit) has also made the system desirable for those who want to develop applications for the Android-based platform.

There is plenty of online documentation but none came with the system (or I missed it somewhere). It is not really needed for most people. The controller uses a pair of AA batteries. There is no USB connector as with other controllers like the PS3’s DualShock 3. This does mean changing batteries on a regular basis. It does work with rechargeables batteries but you have to swap them in and out. Getting access to the batteries is easy because they are held on using four magnets.

The first step was setting up the system. It comes with an HDMI cable. Plug in the power brick and add the supplied batteries to the controller. There is a single power button on top of the unit. It glows when the system is running.

The main menu (Fig. 2) is on the simple side but I expect updates. In fact, I had a system update the day after I got it. The Play menu item shows a list of applications you have downloaded and installed. The Discover menu takes you to the Ouya store. The game count in the Ouya store was 127 and growing. It is only a fraction of games in the works and many new ones are coming out each month.

Figure 2. Ouya’s menu system is very simple but functional. It is ripe for future enhancement.

The Make menu is where developers can go and access a list of applications including ones that are side loaded. The web browser is found under the Make menu. A USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse is handy if you are planning on typing a lot of URLs. The controller virtual keyboard is adequate but tedious to use.

The controller is similar to others in gaming console realm. It also has a touchpad on the center portion. It proved especially handy with some applications like the web browser. Unfortunately I never got it to recognize single or double taps. I had to use the normal keys on the controller. This is a software issue so it might be something that shows up in the future.

I downloaded half a dozen games and a couple of APK files that I side loaded. The latter includes the media center app, XBMC. It would have been nice if the side loaded applications showed up in the Play menu. There is also a web browser in the Make menu.

XBMC works well but it still lacks hardware acceleration needed for smooth 1080p playback. This media center application worked smoothly with DVD quality videos. XBMC works with my UPnP servers including PlayStation Media Server (PMS) and a MythTV server (see Playing With A DIY Multimedia Router). It works with my HDHomeRun from SiliconDust (see Hitting An HD HomeRun). It can also access files using a variety of sources including Windows or Linux Samba servers. I have a few of those here and was able to access videos using these protocols.

XBMC has a polished feel although it does have a couple of bugs. It did lock up usually when it is trying to play a video that it does not support. This program will eventually wind up in the Ouya store but it is in beta testing for now.

I also tried out Final Fantasy III. This program came out in 1990 but this version has a few improvements. The Final Fantasy XIV is the latest version on other platforms.

Final Fantasy III is a third-person, Dungeon and Dragon-style game (Fig. 3). It does not take full advantage of the graphics hardware but it still is a compelling game. I have not bought it, yet. It is on my wish list.

Figure 3. Final Fantasy III is over two decades old but it has been revamped for the Ouya.

All the games are either free or have a free trial version. For example, Final Fantasy III is the full game that stops after you win the first boss battle. It is more than enough time to get a feel for the game. Pricing varies. Some are on par with apps found on smart phones and tablets. Some are more expensive but typically less than the $50 range for games found on the Xbox or PS3.

I did run into instances where an app would crash and some need more polish. That was about what I expected since the retail release is still a month or two away. Improvements seem to be coming daily making the platform and applications better.

I know the platform can be stable and still push the video envelope. Flashout 3D is a racing game that is fast and the graphics were very good. I have not found a good first person shooter game yet. A lot of the games currently available are more 2D arcade-style. I think this is because they are the easiest to port.

The hardware platform provides support for more sophisticated. Just look at the games and apps available on other NVidia Tegra 3 platform like the Google Nexus tablet.

I have not had a chance to check out the SDK. Still, those familiar with Android applications development will be very comfortable with this platform. The system supports the Unity Game Engine that has been used for cross platform gaming solutions.

I am happy with my $99 investment. The platform does not do all the things I want yet so I will still be using my PS3 and PC for games. I like games like Borderlands 2 and Diablo III. If the Ouya gets a couple games of this caliber it will be major competition for the other hardware platforms.

Right now the platform has some rough edges but the hardware is solid. The platform is much more open compared to the other three major consoles. It remains to be seen whether the major game studios will bring any of the products to the Ouya platform. I hope they do.

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