Ouya: First impressions of the console, controller, and service

If a console is judged by its game, then we shouldn’t say much about Ouya, just yet. Many of the developers are actually waiting until closer to the official launch, coming some time in June. It has been pushed back to address larger than expected pre-orders, some minor production delays, etc… but all in all, the Ouya console hasn’t had a lot of problems getting out to their Kickstarter supporters! Upon opening the box for the first time, I was greeted with a giant red Thanks for Believing banner inside the box – a great gesture! Then I examined the console (with the names of the top level contributors etched in to it) and the controller. HDMI cable and power cable reside underneath the plastic inlay in the box. As well as a manual, which I have yet to crack open (although, admittedly, there may be an RTFM moment later in this post).

First, let’s talk about the build quality. I haven’t had this thing on for more than two solid hours at any given time so far, but thus far it seems to do a good job of cooling itself. There is a fan tucked in that tiny little case, which is amazing in itself. It has frozen up on me one time, but it hadn’t been online for very long, I believe there was just something strange happening when I tried to download a game and my WiFi wasn’t reliable – it would be nice if there was an ability to submit system logs or crash reports to the Ouya manufacturers. The console’s build quality is superb. Surprisingly, the controller itself feels a little cheaper in the hand – a bit disappointing since you’ll be holding this and this is how most people will “experience” the Ouya. Apart from admiring it from afar, most people will never pick up and feel the weight and solid build of the Ouya console. The controller’s brushed-metal looking face plates pop off to reveal battery compartments in the left and right grips. The battery goes on top of the small “strap” which will allow for easy removal of the battery in the future (I can already hear people asking what the little straps in the battery compartments are for).

When you turn on the console, you first Sync your new controller, then you connect to a WiFi network. This was my first moment of frustration with Ouya. Every time I would press the D-Pad or the analog stick to begin typing my WiFi password, the on screen keyboard would close itself. After pressing every button on the controller at least once, I heard a ‘popping sound’ which seemed to come from the right trigger, then I felt the right faceplate shift into place. Some button was sticking and causing my problem. Once everything ‘snapped in to place’ (literally), then I could enter my WiFi password and continue to download an update (which, surprisingly, has a few one-liners to help you pass the time). Once the system update is applied, you login with your Ouya account. I started to get excited, because I’ve talked with a few other Ouya owners and we expected to add each other to our friends lists… no such luck. Your account simply keeps track of your downloads, and allows you to keep your credit card information on file. That’s it. No friends lists. No messaging. No profiles. No pictures. Nothing to customize, nobody to talk to. It’s just you and your games.

Once I got over that, I used the game’s simple interface to look for games. Your only options at the main menu are PLAY, DISCOVER, MAKE, and MANAGE. Play is empty – the console ships with no games. Discover is where you go to find the games to download. Make allows you to access the built in web-browser and is where you can sideload your own android APK’s via a USB stick or download from the internet, as well as download the SDK for Ouya to start making your own games (also called the ODK Manage allows you to customize many of the Android Specific settings, switch wireless network, sync more controllers, etc… there is an area for your account, but you can only sign in and out of other Ouya accounts; again, there are no profiles to complete or friends lists to add your pals.

So then I checked out the games. Right now, all you need to know as that there is a game coming called Fist of Awesome and you’ll want to buy it. I played it, my 62 year old father watched me play it, and even he was cracking up while I was going through the demo (A Bit of Fist of Awesome). It was an extremely fun beat’em up (think: Final Fight), with throw back pixel graphics and tons of comedy. King of the Hill is a fun “Trials” like game where you try to get a top-heavy motorcyclist up a mountain. In addition to those titles, you can also check out Vector, which is like Canabalt (also available), but with better animation (and a little more predictability in the levels, for people quickly frustrated by Canabalt). Next: Flashout 3D. This was the first game I downloaded. Very simply, it’s similar to Wipeout, F-Zero, or Fatal Inertia. This was the first game I played on the Ouya and gave me my first big moment of disappointment in the “open-ness” of OUYA. Let me explain.

The biggest negative about Ouya is that the manufacturer just wants to be a piece of hardware. But without some design standards, the experience is going to get very messy. In the case of Flashout 3D, pressing the “OU” button in the center of the controller opens a menu on the screen. This is an in game menu for adjusting volume, etc… after several confusing minutes, I realized that in order to exit games in the Ouya, you had to DOUBLE TAP the “OU” button in the center of the controller. I started to think that this may have been explained in the manual, had I chosen to read it, but it seems that not every game is like this. With some games it’s a single tap. Others, yet, have an option on the main screen to exit the game back to the console’s main menu. This leads to my next complaint, which I hinted at above. The Ouya network doesn’t exist. Right now it’s a store. Every game has its own leaderboards, where you enter your name individually and rely on their servers. I had hoped to have my universal sign in used by every game, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t serve as a “back-end” for the games themselves the way PlayStation Network or Xbox Live does – at least not yet. But it’s going to be even harder to implement that later. The worst are the games that clearly had no intention of developing for Ouya, they just ported their game over. Maybe they will be updated as time goes on, but right now games like Critical Missions: Swat has some of the best graphics to be seen on the console so far. But the controller lag is in the measure of full seconds, making the game impossible to play, and the onscreen controls for touch screen Android devices are still showing.

If developers are putting out games on to the Ouya “Discover” store before they’re ready for prime time, it’s going to give Ouya a bad name. The console, as a theory, was great. Open to anyone and everyone. But, even before launch, we can already see how it might lead to some negative experiences for users who aren’t quite as understanding as their Kickstarter backers. It’s going to be an interesting few months as the content increases, and hopefully it’s more positive than negative. Only time will tell, but I do believe in what it has to offer and I’ll be along for the ride now that I’m here!

Some of the reasons I love using Windows 8

It’s easy to spot a “H8er.” There are people out there who will not give Windows 8 any credit, mostly because it’s a Microsoft product. Some just because they don’t like change. But the people who irk me are the ones who criticize it, but have never laid hands on it. And those people, the H8ers? They’re easy to spot. I called a few out in the comments of a recent BetaNews article. Here are some of the things I had to say.

First, with regards to not being a brand loyalist: “Maybe, and – I get that this could be an impossible stretch – but just MAYBE Brian Fagioli just isn’t a brand loyalist? Maybe he genuinely LIKES Google Music AND Windows 8???? Maybe he doesn’t think that because he likes a music service that means he must live his life on a Chromebook!?”

I continued: “I know… it’s a stretch that there might be people out there who use more than one brand of device.
If it makes you feel any better, those people must all also be swimming with STDs.” I was clearly joking about that last bit, of course, and the author of the post (Fagioli) responded, clarifying but in essence agreeing with what I described: not being locked in to any one “ecosystem”.

Addressing a few complaints based on theory from screenshots, I explained busted a few myths for the commenters: “You can pin any icon to the Start Screen, even if it’s not a Live tile – you don’t have to dig through the ‘all programs’ menu. “To launch the calculator on any Windows 8 computer, you simply type “calc” and press enter. No more bringing up the run menu, or clicking the start button – the start screen is a giant Run prompt.”

Further: “I’m a Windows 8 user who thinks the whole thing needs improved. The name “WINDOWS” indicates a multi-tasking ability that is sorely lacking from the Modern UI experience (and no, snapping apps to the left or right doesn’t count). But it’s easy to spot someone who doesn’t like it but hasn’t given it a fair shake. Windows 8 has a steep learning curve, but once you learn it, it feels like everything you do is just more productive.”

In closing on that thought: “It’s easy to laugh off Microsoft – but the jokes are old. It’s not 1997 anymore. Linux has gotten stale. Microsoft is innovating for the next several generations.”
When asked what benefits I found in Windows 8, I promptly devised a list:

1. Direct sky drive integration with multiple applications.
2. Live Tiles.
3. Push Notifications (no matter what your smartphone may have you thinking, no Windows desktop OS had these, prior).
4. (Windows Server 2012) the ability to perform a chkdsk on the C: drive without requiring a reboot.
5. “Universal design” – all apps can benefit from a similar experience, take advantage of features such as:
6. In app searching via the charms bar.
7. In app settings (again, in one location).
8. Touch not required, touch pad can be effectively used.
9. App Results (Start Screen as Run prompt).
10. Old familiar keyboard shortcuts stll work (Windows Key + E, Windows Key + R, for example).
11. A free mail app fully compatible with everything from Exchange server to GMail.
12. A free calendar app akin to those found on mobile devices, which allows syncing of appointments, meetings, and To-Dos.

In closing, I added this: “Again, at first I thought it was “change for change sake” – but the more I use Windows 8, the more I like it. Remember, when Windows 95 came out, nobody knew what a Start Menu WAS. We all asked Microsoft what was wrong with the Xerox/Apple/IBM/Windows 3.1 interface of folders on a desktop? Then we wondered if Microsoft BOB was going to take over the world with skeuomorphism. Then we joked about clicking on Start to Shut Down.”

“–then we just got used to it.”

Vectrex games on iPad and iPhone!

The Vectrex was a home console that was based on a vector display. Unlike the extreme majority of home consoles that have existed over time, the Vectrex included its own small vector-based display. If you’ve ever played the original Asteroids in the Arcade, you understand vector-based graphics. The brilliant light and fluid animation might not wow you in screenshots or videos on the internet, but seeing it in person is an entirely unique experience. The Vectrex took advantage of that wow factor and released a home console. Unfortunately, it was never wildly popular, and a majority of the games had to have a semi-transparent plastic card overlay on the screen to explain what it was you were doing in the game. Because of their limited run, Vectrex systems are becoming quite the collectors items.

Well, scrimp and save no more: an official Vectrex app has been released on iOS. It is free to download and try several of the games. It is being updated for great iCade compatibility, and a mere $7 in-app purchase will net you the majority of the Vectrex game catalog (if no the complete catalog, I’m not even certain!). Although it’s not the same as seeing it on a vector-based display, the games are still an enjoyable throw back, ad the app has seen a few improvements since its initial release, although nothing new since December. Still, the least you can do is enjoy the free demos!

Disable notifications for apps in Windows 8

Notifications are handy to let you know something like when you have a new email. But if you’re like me, you disable Facebook notifications because otherwise you’d get pop ups all the time (using the Facebook Touch app or others available). Same goes for Twitter. I don’t have just a few friends on my Twitter feed, I follow thousands, and several hundred people follow me! So I like to

From the Start Screen, bring up the Charms Bar by placing the mouse in the upper or lower right corner of the screen – on a touch device, swipe in from the right edge toward the center of the screen. Then click the Settings gear icon, then Change PC Settings at the bottom. Click on Notifications on the left, then toggle notifications on or off – altogether, or app-by-app.

Xbox One announcement in under two minutes

I don’t know why I find these things so funny… maybe it’s because marketing folks think that the average person can’t see the fact that we know what point they’re trying to drive home. But when someone makes a video calling them out on it? It’s always a good laugh. Here are the need to know points about this week’s Xbox Reveal, and Xbox One announcement.

Where is the Xbox One Damage Control?

Microsoft, you controlled the message so well, during your announcements. I was excited to hear about the offerings of the Xbox One. But the deluge of information that came out as soon as the press conference was over? And let me guess, now we’re going to have to wait until E3 to get any answers?? Even then, we probably won’t get the answers we’re hoping for. I don’t have any more official answers than anyone else, but let me take a crack at some of these rumors floating around.

Does Xbox One require an always on internet connection? No. As of right now, the console does not require a persistent internet connection. The rumor is that the console must check in with Xbox Live once every 24 hours. As long as your console has checked in in the last 24 hours, you’re good to go.

I’ve had people ask me about playing a NEW game that isn’t already registered, if your console hasn’t been connected to the internet in 24 hours? My first question is why not? Do you have a regular problem with returning from the store and finding your internet out? Maybe you should be more angry with your ISP than Microsoft. Now, if it’s not a bad internet connection, then what? Xbox Live has tens of millions of users. The users are active and online already, and nobody requires them to do so. Now that there’s a rumor that you might have to do it, suddenly you don’t want to? Where’s the logic behind the paranoia?

Installing games? Microsoft indicated, and developers have confirmed, that games will come with a one-time install code. What’s still unclear: is installation required? If you can play the game off the disc without installing it, then you’re trade in may be worth more at a Gamestop like store when you take it in. If you’ve already used your install code, you get less value, Gamestop can’t make as high a profit, and Microsoft and the developers charge you a fee (unannounced. $2? $10? $30? Does the price scale down over time?) to install the game on another console. In my opinion this is a bad move and it will actually drive the used-game market through the roof. What’s stopping me from buying a game brand new for $60 off the shelf, installing it to my console, then selling it to Gamestop for $30? I basically just got a brand new game on day one for $30. I’d do that every day, why would I buy a used copy at that point?

Is Kinect watching me while I sleep? Well, we know Google.com is. If you have Chrome installed, just go to Google.com and say “OK, Google.” It will await your instructions. So are most phones, computers, tablets, and cars these days. Even displays in grocery stores. You’re going to get used to this one or die in a tin-foil hat, unfortunately. The good news, is, although a Kinect connection is currently required for the Xbox One to work, there are settings in the console which allow you to turn off all of the features. Microsoft, at present, also suggests that all voice commands, etc… are parsed locally by the console, not sent back to Microsoft HQ for analysis or archiving of any kind.

Used Games? MajorNelson tried to clear this up a little bit, but as you can see from the 3,100+ salty comments below the blog post, it didn’t go well. The point he’s trying to get across, however, was actually pretty smart. NOTHING, NOTHING AT ALL IS SET IN STONE. And even the things that are “official” when the consoles start rolling off the assembly line this fall, could change with a simple firmware update between the time they’re manufactured and the time they hit store shelves. Anything can change at any time, that’s the beauty of our connected world. I’m not worried yet, because so very much can still change between now and the time the Xbox One actually hits store shelves. I just wish Microsoft would try to do a better job at calming the masses, some time BEFORE E3 next month.

Ouya's here!

Well… Ouya’s there. Because I suspected I may be in the midst of moving when the Ouya consoles were shipped, I had it addressed to my parents’ in Pennsylvania. I did not end up moving as I had thought. The console arrived the day immediately following my most recent trip home. I would not be returning home in two weeks. That day is upon is. This article publishes at 6 AM, Eastern Time here in the States. I’ll be at work around 7:30. If all goes according to plan, I should leave work around 4:30. Perhaps earlier if I’m lucky. Hopefully not much later if unlucky.

Then I drive for 3 hours, listening to fun music while I cross the state line and arrive at my parents’ home and treat myself to a nice 4 day weekend. Where I plan to immediately rip open the box containing the Ouya console, hook it up, and begin tinkering with this thing that I’ve been waiting for for such a long time! It’s been driving me crazy to know I could be toying with this thing, but I have to wait, wait, wait for my next planned trip to Pennsylvania. So close but so far away.

Hopefully I’ll get some good quality time with my Ouya and I’ll be able to write more about it in the coming days, weeks, and months!

Adobe Photoshop Express – Free for Windows 8

It’s true, Windows 8 is still lacking a little bit in the apps department. But when awesome apps that do what you need them to do come to Windows 8, and they’re free, they deserve a little attention. Now, I know, kiddies, it’s not Instagram, but Adobe Photoshop Express has been released for the Windows 8 Store. You can use great features to clean up your photos quckly, save them, and share them from within the app. It’s got a lot of built in filters, what this app calls Looks.

Lots of very responsive and simple to use sliders for adjusting brightness, contrast, color saturation, hue, and all of those usual photo-editing knobs you can twist and turn all day long. The picture above is a scanned in photo from the 80’s, it’s me at around age 3 or 4 – I applied one of hte Looks that it shows below and viola, I could put this bad boy on the internet and look just as hip as the cool kids.

Alright, so it’s not quite as fancy as you might like, but you’re getting top level software, the pieces you need, and you’re getting them for free. It’s simple to use and a great addition to the Windows 8 Store catalog. Go ahead and download Adobe Photoshop Express.

#XboxReveal – just a couple of details of the Xbox One

Here are some key points from today’s Microsoft announcement:

  • Name: Xbox One
  • Snap Mode (multi tasking)
  • App Switching
  • Live TV Integration
  • Gesture and Voice Controls (Kinect sensor included)
  • Skype on the Xbox
  • USB 3.0, Bluray, 8GB RAM, 500GB hard drive,
  • Kernel of Windows
  • Halo TV Series
  • NFL Partnership
  • Call of Duty Ghosts
  • Price unannounced
  • Release date unannounced (later this year)

Wired Magazine has a nice spread of press photos of the new console and controllers.

Will #XboxReveal mention Windows 8?

Tuesdays are my tech articles, and I admit I’m behind on a few articles over the last few days, but I had to pop in and remind people that the #XboxReveal is today. You’ll be able to watch it live at Xbox.com/Hub. I’m also interested to see what Microsoft does.

There will be a new console, but I’m almost wishing they would blow people’s minds and say no box! “Xbox” should become a service on the PC, comparable to Steam. And I don’t mean the “Xbox for Windows” games that we see in the Windows 8 Store, but really an environment that you load in to, much like the Games app, but from there it exists as its own platform, and any game available on the console, is available on the PC. Okay, I highly doubt that will happen, but there needs to be some kind of seamless integration among the Windows 8/RT, Windows Phone, and Xbox platforms – and I hope they give some great detail on that today. E3, next month, June 10th, will talk about the games. Today? I’m expecting some general media and entertainment information.

I plan on having some follow up comments on this later today or tonight, and I promise I’ll bring back some regular posts to the website, but I’ve had some hectic days, lately, and I don’t expect things to calm down – but I assure you, I’ll make time for you folks!