Ouya? Oh Yeah!
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
There was a time when someone mentioned “handheld” gaming, your first thought was some flavor of a Nintendo portable (GameBoy, DS, DS Lite, etc.) or a Sega portable (Game Gear). Since then, times have changed, with Sony entered the portable market as well with the PSP and now the Vita. The core concept behind handhelds was being able to play games on the go on systems that don’t require the same processing power as games played on a console.
Well, the mobile gaming space has evolved even more since the heady days of playing portable games on grey and black rectangles with rounded corners. These days, the proliferation of SmartPhones has decimated the devoted portable gaming market, with more and more “casual” gamers playing on iOS and Android devices. The games are simple to pick up and play and capitalize on Moore’s Law on steroids, as just about any device now blows the specifications of a GameBoy (for instance) out of the water. If the idea of playing less CPU intensive games on the go is appealing, then doesn’t it stand to reason that doing the same on a home console is as well? That’s what the folks behind Ouya are hoping and they’ve actually got a promising strategy.
The Ouya console was launched as a Kickstarter back in July 2012; so long ago that it was before even Angry Birds found that galaxy far, far away. The concept was to present a console running on a flavor of Jelly Bean that would be open source, $99 and give gamers the ability to develop if they chose. Oh, and play games.
Turns out, all four of the above were extremely appealing to Kickstarters, as the project reached $3.7 million in the first two days and eventually reached 904% of its funding goal. Clearly, people liked the concept behind it. Those backers will get to reap the benefits of their early faith, as the first wave of consoles will be shipping to them on March 28, a few months ahead of the mainstream rollout in June. It’s already been proven that support is there for the console from enthusiastic early adopters. The bigger question is whether or not the support is there from everyone else?
A cursory glance at the console reveals some information that techheads will find appealing. Ouya will sport a Tegra 3 SoC, running a 1.7 GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU. For comparison’s sake, the CPU runs on a similar architecture as the iPad 2 and the Vita, with the processor speed putting it at the top of its class and on par with Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and HTC One X+. While it may boast innards comparable to that of many mobile devices, the fact that they’re on the higher end suggest that this might be something you want to put in your living room. There’s also 8 GB of internal flash memory, 1 GB of RAM, HDMI, Wi-Fi (b/g/n), Bluetooth and an Ethernet port.
Looking at those specs, the console actually isn’t half bad. Sure, it’s not going to run an AAA title you would find on XBox 360 or PlayStation 3, but it can clearly handle anything you’d play on a portable and then some. It’s got a small form factor, so it’s not going to hog space or energy to run and it’s already looking to be working on an exciting catalog of games. Looking at the early list shows some really indie developers working on Ouya games, which is great for gamers and the industry alike. The fact that Square Enix, Tripwire and Double Fine are the biggest names on the list is quite exciting actually, in that it means there are a ton of other potentially awesome games that you wouldn’t really have the chance to play otherwise.
Although, the inclusion of Square Enix is even more exciting because the game listed is Final Fantasy III. Yes, you’ve probably already played and own about ten different versions of the game as each new portable console came out, but unless you’re playing on a PC or doing some crazy set-up, being able to play Final Fantasy III on your big screen required getting an SNES. ROMs have always found a home on portable consoles and if that translates over to the Ouya all the better.
Another feather in Ouya’s cap is the creative team. Founder Julie Uhrman has spent time at IGN, Gamefly and Vivendi Universal Games. Yves Béhar was one of the main proponents behind the OLPC initiative (among other things). And Muffi Ghadiali was brought on to oversee production of the console, drawing on his experience as an alumnus of Amazon’s internal Lab126, the team responsible for developing the Kindle. That’s three super-talented individuals who know how to make something like the Ouya work, being able to pool years of experience in all facets of the product.
Only time will tell whether or not the Ouya is a success (June to be more precise). The idea of playing what are essentially mobile games on a home console is one that seems to make perfect sense, but if it’s not executed correctly it could fail. The promise is there though that it won’t fail and will actually be able to carve out a place alongside the more established and powerful home consoles. If you got in on the Kickstarter you’ll know before everyone else whether or not the console can be revolutionary and if playing less intense games on your big screen is fun. In the meantime, you’ll just have to play Angry Birds on your iPhone 5 using AirPlay to stream to your AppleTV to see it on your big screen.