The gaming world has been captivated by the new Ouya gaming console these past few weeks – and not just because of the daft name.
The new machine has received loads of investors on Kickstarter.com, making it the biggest success on the website by far, with over $4-million already raised.
Praised for its $99 price tag, powerful architecture (well, for its price range) and hackable nature, the Ouya hopes to make gaming and game development a simple and all-inclusive activity. But it won't be the first home console to try that...
The Indrema Endeavour
Back when I was about 13 or so, gaming magazines were still the go-to source for the latest information. So it stands to reason that I had acquired a lot of them.
But for a few months, I always came back to an April 2001 issue of the now-defunct Next-Generation magazine.
It was a multi-page spread that captured my imagination – featuring one of the most ambitious consoles ever, the sleek Indrema machine.
Powered by Linux, the Indrema promised to make game development an all-inclusive affair, with anyone able to make games at no cost. It's in sharp contrast to competitors at the time (and even now), charging tens of thousands of dollars for a development kit.
The Indrema's spec sheet was something special too, featuring 96MBs of RAM, a 600MHz processor, 10GB optical discs and 10GBs of storage space.
It compared extremely favourably to the most powerful console at the time, the Xbox. Microsoft's first console had 64MBs of RAM, an 8/10GB hard drive, 8GB discs and a 733MHz processor. But there was more to the Indrema than pure number-crunching.
Indrema CEO John Gildred claimed that the machine would also have video-recording functionality akin to today's PVR/DVR systems. Then there's the other killer feature – graphics card upgrades.
Yes, the console could be upgraded in a pseudo-PC way too, letting users stay on the cutting edge. Well, maybe not on the cutting-edge, but it would prolong the life of the console for sure.
Additionally, the machine was set to ship with USB ports, HDTV support, an internet browser and an Ethernet port.
Every console lives and dies by its games though, and the Linux-toting console had some decent wares, with 30 slated for the launch window. Prominent titles included snowboarding game Soul Ride, platform/puzzler Nanosaur, Tux Racer and Shogo: Mobile Armor Division.
With a solid launch library of titles, a spectacular list of specifications and some groundbreaking features, surely failure wasn't an option?
Well, fail it did, with the company declaring bankruptcy by April 2001.
So, what went wrong with the Indrema and more importantly, can the new Ouya console avoid a similar fate?
Where Indrema went wrong...
The biggest criticism of the Indrema is that the company spent more time hyping up the console than on bringing it to market.
Instead of seeing a real machine and hands-on demos, we saw the company harping on and on about its PVR/DVR functionality. Instead of seeing content partnerships being announced, we saw numerous concepts for the machine.
Then there was the open nature of the Indrema itself, leaving the console more vulnerable to piracy compared to its contemporary consoles.
Sure, an open machine doesn't necessarily lead to piracy (that's a whole debate for another time), but the company embraced the culture. In fact, one press release, listing reasons to get the machine, said that "some hacker will just make a PS2 emulator for Indrema anyway".
Asking developers to create games for a new machine is a risky proposition already, with time and resources being finite for many studios. Toss in support for emulation and unfettered homebrew and you'll have developers being more concerned about the security of their games.
The supposed launch of the Indrema was another sore point for the console, arriving just as the Xbox and GameCube were hitting the scene. Featuring titles like Halo, Luigi's Mansion, Oddworld and Wave Race, Nintendo and Microsoft's consoles blew the Indrema out of the water in terms of the all-important games. And we aren't even taking the mega-popular PS2 into account either.
But who cares about games if a console is a bargain buy, right? After all, everyone loves a deal. I know I can't pass up an Atari Jaguar for a few hundred rand. Not so with the Indrema, with a recommended retail price of $300. Why opt for an unproven console with no AAA games when you can get a console from one of the Big Three for the same price?
So it was with little fanfare that the Indrema was relegated to the dusty trashcan in the hallway of gaming history.
Page two: Avoiding the same fate.