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!

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!

#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.