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I'm Not Quite Sure What To Make Of 'Oton', A Console That Promises To 'Self-Create' Games

The Ouya is happily ticking along, with $US8.5 million in the kitty and development kits going out this month. It’s hard not to be inspired by the interest — and dollars — the project has drawn; we shouldn’t be surprised by others trying to get in on its success. Enter EnGeniux with its “Oton” console that will apparently create its own games. Yeah, I’m having trouble buying it too.

Is Oton just another Phantom, or is there something tangible to its claims? All we have to go on is the top video (but all that gives us is a sales pitch, some concept images and clips from currently-released games) and a press release, which shares details on the unit’s planned hardware, software and capabilities.

The press release states that EnGeniux has been working on the “Oton technology” for three years, with a custom version of Ubuntu, called “Otonomous X”, providing the operating system.

On the hardware side, the company says we should expect a rear projection camera on the back so images can be thrown up on walls, cutting off the need for a TV (this is, admittedly, a cool idea). Inside, a quad-core Cortex A9, 2GB RAM and 16GB of flash are promised, along with bevy of input / output ports including USB, ethernet and S/PDIF. Three “HD” models will be available, with prices of $US279, $US379 and $US579, though what the added cash buys you is not specified.

I had to raise another eyebrow when I tried to visit the company’s website and ended up nowhere. Maybe it’s not set up yet or is temporarily down, but you’d hope it would be on top of this sort of thing.

As of writing, the project has one backer, who has supplied $US49 of the $US1 million EnGeniux apparently requires to get things going. At this rate it’s going to struggle to get funding, but I’m honestly not surprised. If EnGeniux has been working on the tech for three years, surely it can muster up more than a video showing off the games of others? Yes, we get to see some code, but it’s presented without context and we don’t get to see the compiled end product.

The video claims the software can create both simple 2D games and complex 3D ones, but seeing it mention the concept of levels and other basic building blocks does not bode well for the “complex” side of things. Games aren’t just about levels any more; it’s going to take a lot more sophisticated logic to sculpt anything beyond a Mario-style platformer.

What seems to be missing are the elements of story and depth — I’m sure creating a Doom clone might be possible, but it would be a hollow, artificial experience compared to the real thing. Unless EnGeniux has a world-class procedural narrative engine bubbling away in its programming cauldron, I wouldn’t expect much beyond jumping, shooting and collecting power-ups.

There is talk of actual developers and players themselves creating games for the console, a la Ouya, but this is mostly a footnote compared to the ambitious claims of the device’s game-building abilities. Procedural generation is hard enough as it is when creating content within an already established framework. Crafting everything from nothing, though?

It’s a mighty huge claim and if these guys are for real, I wish them the best. But any programmer worth their salt knows how large a project this would be and beyond building very simple games, Oton is going to have to do some pretty amazing things to deliver on its promises.

OTON [Official site]