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Re-Dissecting the Ouya

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We are here, the moment has arrived, the hype machine open Android device for homes known as the Ouya was recently released to the masses. I haven’t heard much from the retail or consumer market yet, but it’s become abundantly clear that tech sites and gaming sites seem to have two different opinions when it comes to the palm-sized silver box. At $100 the promise of an HDMI compliant device on your television that plays games, this Kickstarter funded project has promise, but as far as practicality is concerned it’s far from impressive. The simple question is, “do I want it?” As a retro gamer (and a retro web site) Gaming History 101 is within that niche that can almost without a doubt say “yes,” but before you go running off to buy it, best you know what you’re actually getting first.

My thoughts on the design and innards of the Ouya have already been addressed on this site, so feel free to read about them and come back later. Nothing has changed; this console always was and continues to be an underperforming Android device that is further held back because of the tether to a controller. You cannot pick up the Ouya and download any Android app you want, they need to be reprogramed to support the controller, which the early software library reveals not many have jumped on board for. Furthermore the controller kinda sucks, but this opinion also has a mass split so feel free to try it out for yourself before trusting my judgement. Put it all together and you have nothing more than a lackluster console with a rubbish controller that only plays a handful of games (although some titles like TowerFall apparently help justify the potential). For the typical consumer, like my wife or mother, there’s no reason to get this – everything they want already plays on any Android device and no typical consumer is buying a $100 console for TowerFall.

Then there’s the caveat, the secret weapon, the compelling factor so necessary to the initial success of the Ouya that the creators casually make sure to mention it every time they are interviewed: it’s one hell of an emulation machine. My thoughts and feeling on emulation are quite clear, again feel free to read my detailed article and the more broad podcast on the subject for background, but when you deal with the expense of retro gaming $100 is a banger of a deal for a one-stop shop. In this regard, the underpowered Ouya rises above and emulates almost every video game from 1977-2000 with ease. Not only that, the openware apps that allow for emulation are provided, for free, in abundance, under the “retro” section of the Ouya’s menus. Additionally those unhappy with the controller can sync a Playstation 3 controller to the device with no modification (get the newest firmware) thanks to the bluetooth built into it. Couple that with emulators and you are ready to re-live your past with decent results on a dazzling big screen with a rock solid controller. There’s a flip side to this argument, and exactly why I won’t be picking it up, but for most people this is a great blast to the past on the cheap.

Now for the nerd stuff. Of course elitists in the retro gaming world will have their own opinions, I being one of them, that is a deal breaker. First of all, I feel that emulation was invented because gamers didn’t have a better option. There were times when finding retro consoles wasn’t easy, it was and still is very expensive, and many of the retro games we love never even came out here so fan translations are a must. That is where emulation is beneficial, that is why it’s promoted. By the very definition of what you will be playing (unreleased, rare, and non-English translated titles) you fall under the hardcore retro gamer category. That’s not what most Ouya buyers will want or use it for. Nope, they will download Super Mario 64, Sonic the Hedgehog, X-Men the Arcade Game, and Final Fantasy VII. The problem is that these games are already available in abundance and some people fought very hard to get them released on current platforms. These games are cheap, each one at or less than $10. As a result, using these games on Ouya is blatant piracy, enforceable by today’s laws because the companies that own them paid to get them converted to modern platforms. You aren’t finding a new way to enjoy your games, you’re too lazy to boot up your Wii and pay to download it. That’s a problem. If you were desperate to enjoy Mother, Policenauts, Sweet Home, or even unfinished demos of Resident Evil 1.5 then I’m totally on your side, but I have yet to see an Ouya video showing off these gems.

Then there’s the quirks of the emulation. I don’t particularly care for the framerate that most PCs and now the Ouya generate when trying to adapt to old school scrolling and resolution. Games look blurry, grainy, and have the stutter you see on games without v-sync or framerate locks on. You can literally watch Super Mario Bros. tear as you run from screen to screen. It’s just a reality of emulation, but one I can’t stand. Virtual Console and a few others have managed to remove this problem, but see the above paragraph as to why this isn’t going to be used by Ouya fans. I also see odd glitches, sounds, and the Playstation 3 controller, as nice as it is, is not an NES, SNES, or Genesis controller for those appropriate titles. For a nitpick like me, emulation is too frustrating to deal with (plus you should only play on a CRT, don’t you know people).

While the Ouya has some fascinating potential and tech fans may be keen on the emulation functions all wrapped into a $100 box, I find it to be a limited and niche product. Any PC built within the last 15 years is capable of the same emulation with no problem whatsoever so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. Furthermore the console has little to offer outside emulation and I have a personal issue with any company that’s willing to basically promote piracy in order to sell what is basically a limited all-in-one Android device. I wouldn’t take such issue with the salesmanship of emulation if the Ouya didn’t make it so damn obvious and user friendly to turn an everyday consumer into a rom-hungry pirate. On the other hand it was built for the tech junkies, hardcore gamers, hackers, and basically anyone who will sacrifice loads of time for miniscule dollars, to which I say have at it. For me it’s the opposite, I have almost no time and plenty of dollars so I’ll gladly pay for something that makes its worth obvious with unique software. At this point it belongs next to all those Hong Kong based devices that play illegal games for small prices you see on clearance at mall kiosks and flea markets. Still, this is a new device and it’s hopefully only a matter of time before a slew of justified personalized software hits and makes this more than the shiny piracy box.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

Posted in Blog

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Dissecting the Ouya or Rant and a Top 5!

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So everyone’s been buzzing about that new Ouya console that managed to raise its $1 million Kickstarter goal in only 8 hours!  At first glance this console looks way too good to be true especially with backed support from none other than former Xbox creator himself, Ed Fries (he also made Halo 2600 for you neo-retro fans).  Ouya promises to offer a full catalog of Android-based software, online capabilities (wired and wireless), a controller, recently announced OnLive support, free games, and at only $100.  All that’s missing is an “act now and you’ll save $5 off the price!”  Oh, but wait, that’s exactly what they did for the first 1,000 Kickstarter donators.  They even came back and said this would easily support old school gaming via emulators, opening up the possibility for even more games and essentially makes this the catch-all console for anyone not interested in contemporary console titles.  Obviously we here at Gaming History 101 were going to weigh in on this and I just want to forewarn you that after I get through all the smoke and mirrors you will not only know why all of this is possible but also what they’re really selling.  I may break some hearts here, but it’s all in an attempt to inform the consumer.

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Written by Fred Rojas

August 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm