Forge TV on top of Ouya

Thoughts on the Razer ForgeTV

Quite a while back (in tech years) I invested in an Ouya and joined the Free The Games Fund. Now, the Ouya is gone, and it’s replacement is the Forge TV. I thought I’d write down my thoughts on the new Razer Forge TV and it’s controller. It should be noted that I’m still a part of the Free The Games Fund, now handled by Razer rather than Ouya – and I’m pretty thankful for that, since there was no requirement that they honor the Free The Games Fund. ¬†I’ve still got a game in development for it. ūüôā

Forge TV Hardware

Forge TV on top of Ouya
You can see the Forge TV with an Ouya sitting on top of it. Gives you a good scale.

Compared to the OUYA, the Forge TV is a slim little unit. ¬†It actually looks a great deal more like an AppleTV than a successor to the Ouya – it’s a simple little low-profile box, with very little decoration to it, and one green light on the bottom edge to show when it’s turned on. ¬†I’ve grown to like simplicity in devices (hey, I’m a Mac user, I like aesthetically simple devices that pack a lot of power in them under the hood. ¬†Also usually means it’s something I don’t have to repair very often ūüėČ ) ¬†The Ouya wasn’t bad looking – but, I’ll admit, I like the appearance of the Forge TV a lot better. ¬†Though, neither one of them scream “console game machine” – but they don’t need to.

Under the hood, it’s got more power than the older Ouya did. ¬†Quad Core Krait 450 2.5 Ghz -vs- the Ouya’s Quad Core Cortex-A7 running at 1.7. ¬†OK, so, that’s actually kind of meaningless – one problem with Android, iOS, and mobile devices in general is finding good benchmarks for some of the various processors and GPU’s isn’t an easy thing. ¬†In fact, even the ones that exist are even more useless than a lot of PC benchmarks.

It does have more RAM and more storage – 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage (plus, a USB 3.0 plug on the back, so you could easily hang about as much storage as you wanted to off of it.)

So, does the Forge TV feel faster than the Ouya? ¬†Well… yeah. ¬†Faster boot times, and a little smoother gameplay for a couple of games. ¬†Thing is, it’s running Android games that are typically written for fairly low-power devices, so it’s really, really hard to get a bead on it’s speed.

Forge TV Controller (the Serval Bluetooth Controller for Android)

Want something that REALLY sets the Forge TV apart from the Ouya?  Sure, may be faster, but the controller is FAR superior.

Forget TV -vs- Ouya Controllers
Controllers side by side, Forge in black.

The Forge TV controller (which is a Serval Bluetooth controller for any Android device – in the box I got, it came complete with a holder for an Android phone) is something I expected was going to be really good. ¬†Let’s face it – it’s Razer, and one thing they’ve done really well with is controllers (I almost opted for a Razer mechanical key keyboard before I opted for the Unicomp – I take my keyboards very seriously, and the fact Razer was even in the running for me says something about them.)

Size wise, they’re pretty close to the same size. ¬† The “hand feel” of the Serval¬†is better, though – a little bit of extra curve where there needs to be, less straight edges, and a better “grip” to the feel.

When it comes to actual play, it makes the old Ouya controller feel lame. ¬†The buttons on the Ouya controller were fine, but the analog inputs were mushy. ¬†The Serval, on the other hand, has nearly the perfect amount of stiffness in the analog controls. ¬†And, while I said the buttons on the Ouya controller were OK, the Razer’s buttons are better – there’s less travel distance to make ’em click when firing (this is a good thing.) ¬†If there’s a complaint on my part, it’s that there’s almost too little travel for them – ¬†I’m used to my controllers for the X-Box 360, which had travel that was somewhere in between the two.

In the center of the Ouya controller was a touch pad surface. ¬†That’s gone, and I’m sort of glad. ¬†There were a few games ported to Ouya from Android phones that really never felt fully ported – they relied on that touch pad surface, and it never felt right. Instead, you’ve got a couple extra buttons (power being one of them).

One other thing is the D-Pad:  the Ouya uses a single piece of plastic for the D-Pad, while the Serval uses four independent buttons.

Overall, it’s a huge change. ¬†One of the things that “makes” a game console is the controller – the history of home game consoles is littered with machines that had really bad controller designs. ¬†The Ouya’s controller was far from horrible, but Razer has trumped them in pretty much every possible way. ¬†A lot of that falls down to experience, I think – this is Razer’s territory. ¬†Making a game console was neither company’s territory, but making a controller? ¬†Razer had done that a lot already, and understands the intricacies of user input in general.

Forge TV Software

Back of the Forge TV and Ouya consoles
The back of the Forge TV (bottom) and the Ouya – similar, though the Forge TV has a USB 3.0 rather than 2.0, and lacks a Micro-USB input (no big loss)

With the Ouya, you had pretty much nothing but the Ouya marketplace for software. ¬†It worked fairly well, though I always felt it needed some work for discovery (keep in mind, I’m a developer, so I always want to see my products easy to find.) ¬†Unfortunately, it was a bit laggy at times, particularly if you had a download going on.

But, it felt restrictive – there wasn’t any access to the Google Play store, for instance, so sideloading was required for anything that you wanted that wasn’t already in the Ouya store. ¬†Being a developer, that’s no big deal for me, of course, but for a new user, that could be a problem.

The Forge TV is almost exactly the opposite.  Heck, it may have been too far the opposite direct.

The old Ouya marketplace has been brought to the Razer as part of Razer’s purchase of Ouya. ¬†There’s been a little cosmetic work done, but it feels the same – and it works. ¬†Honestly, I think that may have been Ouya’s strongest point (even if it had some flaws), and a it’s less laggy on the new hardware. ¬†It’s good, and it’s now called Cortex.

But, unlike the Ouya, you aren’t restricted to Cortex. ¬†Google Play is on there, including music and movies. ¬†Not bad! ¬†I really like that improvement.

It’s running Android 5.0 (instead of 4.1), so there’s some improvement there, but I really would have liked to see it be Marshmallow (6.0) rather than Lollipop. ¬† Yeah, I’ll admit – being an OS X and iOS user for most of my development, I used to being on current revs of everything. ¬†On the other hand – with a console, having a development platform that doesn’t move often, and doesn’t break things.

Loading games from Cortex loads them onto the home screen, the same as loading from Google Play, making it more convenient than having to fire up another menu option.  It works well.

Now, for one down side, which reduces the utility value of the Forge TV for me: ¬†no Netflix. ¬†Typically, I have a show running on one of my monitors (drowns out the world), and throwing it up on the Razer while I’m working on projects would be nice. ¬†Netflix isn’t available in the Cortext store, nor in Google Play on this device. ¬†That’s pretty unfortunate for a game console & media device – one downside I really hope they fix. ¬†Other than that, really, it’s a pretty solid platform.

What games does it have? ¬†Well, everything that had been in the Ouya store, and everything on Google Play. ¬†So, there’s quite a bit available, though I have no idea if there’s any compatibility problems with using the controller on games from the Google Play store – I tested a few, but I have no idea what it’s like overall.

There’s also an app for Android and iOS devices – I’ll get to that in a moment.

Forge TV Experience

Forge TV controller comparison
On top is the Forge TV controller, on bottom the Ouya controller. You can see the size difference, and very important, the difference in curvature of the controllers. The Forge TV controller fells right.

Firing it up for the first time, it had a smoother experience than the Ouya did. ¬†Though, there was one odd thing – the controller wasn’t how I set it up. ¬†I used my iPhone. ¬†On the upside, that means I get a chance to use a key entry rather than a controller for text entry, like email address, etc. ¬†It works well enough, and having using an AppleTV for a while, it was second nature ūüôā

But, let’s talk about the important part – getting games, and playing games.

I expected Cortext to be what showed up when I booted. ¬†It wasn’t. ¬†I was thrown to the home screen, and poked around for a bit to see what was there. ¬†Then fired up Corext eventually. ¬†It’s a very “anti-console” sort of experience. ¬†I’m undecided if that’s good or bad. ¬† It doesn’t detract from the experience really, but it just isn’t what I expected out of a console. ¬†It doesn’t take long to get used to, and doesn’t hurt anything overall.

Finding games a cinch, as with downloading them. ¬†As it should be. ūüôā

One of them I made sure to play was Asphalt 8: Airborne – 3D graphics, and fairly processor intensive. ¬†Running it in 1080 on a 42 inch screen, it looked great, and played smooth (with the exception of a lot of download and loading screens – that’s not a problem with the console, that’s a game issue.) ¬†In fact, everything I played worked well – there were a few games that I had seen minor frame rate drops on the Ouya that worked fine on the Forge TV, so the extra horsepower was worth it.

And, if you want my pick for the first game you need to play? ¬†Sky Force 2014. ¬†I played through it on iOS, but seeing it on a 42″ HDTV? ¬†It looks FANTASTIC. ¬†A combination of top down classic shooter with about the best possible graphics for it. ¬†It’s beautiful. ¬†Seriously.

The Development Experience

What I can’t tell you about yet is the development experience, really. ¬†I haven’t ported Jumpman Forever over to it (in theory, it should run just fine, particularly since the SDK used for Forge TV is related to the Ouya SDK), and Crucible isn’t ready for play testing on it. ¬†But, it’s an Android based device with an extra SDK thrown in the mix. ¬†Developing for Android isn’t much of a problem (particularly using a cross-platform engine setup like I do), so I really don’t expect any surprises here – which I find to be a very positive thing. ¬†The more work I have to do for platform support, the less like I’d use the platform.

Other Toys

Something I haven’t had a chance to check out is one of the other toys – the Razer Turret is a keyboard and mouse setup and some sort of streaming system. ¬†Basically, stream from your PC to the Forge TV, and have a good mouse and keyboard (the Turret) so you can play them on the big screen. ¬†I wouldn’t mind giving it a whirl when it comes out – that could make it a pretty worthwhile hub device.

Is it worth it?

The Forge TV weighs in at $150 for the console and the controller (you can buy them separately, but just get the package). ¬†So, it’s not horribly expensive. ¬†When the Ouya came out, there wasn’t much to play on there. ¬†Even after some time, it was slow coming to get good games that didn’t feel like small games put on a big screen. ¬†Now, mobile games have grown up considerably – even without accounting for a real controller (rather than playing on glass screens), they’ve gained a lot of depth and are dealing with (while small form factor) fairly high resolution screens. ¬†The games now scale up fairly well – for some games. ¬†Now it’s worth looking at modern mobile games on a TV screen – all developers have to do is add controller support. ¬†Sky Force 2014 shows how well it can really work (Asphalt 8, on the other hand, shows where it can go wrong, with lengthy loading screens that really made me just want to quit before I got to my third race.)

Both the Forge TV and Apple’s iOS equivalent (AppleTV) are becoming worthwhile as small game consoles without the big prices – let’s face it, the games are tons cheaper on Cortext and the App Store, compared to the price of an X Box One or PS 4 game. ¬†And, slowly, the games are getting to be the same size (some of them are the same game) – Bard’s Tale, for instance, isn’t exactly small. ¬† I’m hoping Razer manages to pull off what Ouya couldn’t – an Indie friendly console for a low entry price. ¬†Having played with it a bit, I think it’s quite possible they might succeed – it’s a solid offering, and buying one now wouldn’t be a mistake. ¬†If they keep polishing it, it would be downright awesome.

 

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