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Derrick Samuels on the EnGeniux OTON Console

Interview

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the latest news coming out of Anniston, Alabama, Envizions Inc., the company responsible for the EVO 2 DX console that I had the pleasure of testing last year, has announced a whole host of changes for 2013.

Beginning with a name change of their own (EnGeniux Inc.), the company Derrick Samuels incorporated back in August of 2004 has recently announced development of the world’s first autonomous videogame system: The OTON.

The console, running a proprietary build of Ubuntu they call the Otonomous OS, will be capable of playing Linux, Android, and open-source games right out of the box (without the need of physical media) but it’s the custom game scene that EnGeniux is hoping to target. As amazing as it sounds, the OTON is designed with the capability of “building” user-made games on the fly using a menu-selection based interface.

Games, apps and utilities players develop on their OTON hardware can then be sold over the OTON network, given away as shareware, or even downloaded onto their mobile devices for use anytime, anywhere.

Following the successful formula OUYA pioneered in 2012, EnGeniux has taken the OTON hardware to crowd funding in the hopes of raising $1,000,000 from pledgers (for the record, OUYA, which was hoping to generate $950,000, ended up taking in close to $8.6 million by the time their campaign on Kickstarter concluded). Similar to the OUYA strategy, pledges of $99 and up reserve the OTOM hardware.

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I had a chance to sit down with Derrick once again to get the skinny straight from the source.

So Derrick, how long was OTON in development?

We hinted toward idea of OTON in our September, 2011 interview with our friends at Thunderbolt, actually at that point referring to it as the Genesis Project.

Around that time, behind the curtain, we were code naming it the “EVO Touch” because the primary motivation was to develop a system that would literally bring the Internet to life.

“I wanted to do something big”
Our focus was to move toward the type of hardware stuff you see in movies concerning technology of the future. We call this approach P.A.T. and that translates to Progressive Autonomous Technologies. I wanted to do something big! I didn’t want to build just another limited production alternative to other next generation consoles; I wanted technology that society wouldn’t expect to see for maybe 50 to 100 years in the future.

I mean technology that would be as mainstream as the telephone. Take this approach… if you went back to 1864 and told Abraham Lincoln about a modern smartphone, there’s a very good chance he would have a hard time processing the advancements that would follow between his time and now. It would be almost impossible to predict the early telegraph as a direct precursor to the device we all carry in our back pockets. Another way to say it would be that I wanted to see things that I may not get a chance to because I may be dead by the time someone invents it!

I was frustrated at the time because it was proving difficult to get the “EVO Touch” ready for launch alongside the EVO 2 that you guys tested last year. The OTON idea actually went back all the way to 2010. I was working on the patents, and buttoning up the ideas on how to bring this thing together. Everybody was saying, “Derrick, people are not ready for this!” So I didn’t devote to it so much as I worked on the idea in free time while the Envizions Corporation geared up to get the EVO 2 (and EVO 2 DX) ready for launch. You may remember from your experience with the system that its primary selling point was that it boasted Android compatibility for your television. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, OUYA was announced with great fanfare.

The dejection we faced as a small upstart trying to base a console on the exact same technologies was devastating. In a time when things were supposed to be exciting for me, for the fans and for our partners, we suddenly found ourselves in a position where it would look like we were trying to copy them. And here our designs dated back to 2008. Life as a small business trying to do battle against corporate giants is hard enough, suddenly our ace in the hole feature had been taken away from us in one fell swoop. To make a name in this industry, you have to do something groundbreaking; there simply isn’t room for hardware clones.

In a way I see OTON the way J. P Morgan/Thomas Edison must surely have felt about electricity and how its discovery was taking market share away from John D. Rockefeller’s kerosene business. In a very real sense the traditional console model is kerosene and its time has passed. These may sound like awfully optimistic boasts but OTON is like the discovery of electricity; we want to light the world!

Aside from indie PC gaming and the development of mobile apps, the videogame industry has been very set in its ways. The manufacturers have always governed content. This is the element we decided to turn on its proverbial head. The OTON is “self-dependent” and users will have more control than we, its manufacturer, do when it comes to the content running on the machine.

We will be there to help in the process, to provide assets as needed, but at the end of the day, the gamer is in control of OTON. The vision and idea is simple: a console with no restrictions, where literally anything you imagine can become a game.

I apologize for the rant but OTON is so rich in depth we could talk for days… there are simply so many layers and ideas we want to explore if we get this crowd sourced campaign funded.

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So it sounds like the OTON OS will do all the coding required to “make games”?

“We wanted something that has truly never been attempted”
Yes the idea was to base the OTON concept on its own operating system rather than just a hardware configuration. Anyone can build a computer for gaming, we wanted something that has truly never been attempted. The OS is named Otonomous (OTON for short) and is built upon Linux Ubuntu. We see the OTON OS not unlike Android; a light footprint that offers flexibility and is ready for deployment. The reason you may have heard OTON synonymous with artificial intelligence is that with the OTON OS, we created the world’s first “living” code; one that can adjust on the fly. The OTON idea comes from perhaps the simplest concept in coding: Programs that can create other programs.

As such we soon realized that we needed our own OS instead of Android. Android is awesome, make no mistake but for OTON to be able to do what we’re demanding of it, an entirely new operating system had to be developed to control design cycles and project flow.

Our secret is that certain parts of the coding will be purposely left open to accept coding from other sources. Games can be open ended, so that other users can create their own patches, their own characters, their own levels, backgrounds, whatever, all on the fly. No need to worry about being able to code, no need to even perform clicks and drags. You input what you want and the operating system makes it happen.

With this type of power and control, we can totally see the OTON OS being used for mobile, gaming, web, servers, TVs and tablets just to name a few. Why deploy static games on your mobile devices when you could be exploring new exclusive games every single time? With our model, there would be no need to wait for developers to release new games when you’re craving something new- that power would be at your fingertips.

But fears of getting an OTON and having to wait to play are in vain too. Not only will the system be capable of playing Linux games, Android games and our own EnGeniux first party software, content will originate from OTON first… This means that gamers who buy an OTON will get first-run content in our ecosystem even before it’s cycled to other formats like to cable providers or device partners.

And once users do start providing ideas and concepts, we’re here to help them improve and make their games easier, cheaper increase their distribution and they will always retain 100% of their profits. Imagine if the game you created on your OTON became a part of the package offered by a national cable provider. The possibilities are simply endless with this thing! Gamers can mod games, work with other teams, design their own apps from scratch or even co-develop with OTON.

How much responsibility do you credit the announcement of the OUYA (and its record breaking Kickstarter campaign) in the decision to move away from the Android console to something entirely unique?

This is a very tough question for me and the team. I want to say that OUYA really made the decision to go full development on OTON a no brainer. I respect any company that want to tackle the console challenge, this business is so much more competitive than most gamers realize.

When we go online and read that OUYA is going to be a game changing system and that it’s something that’s never been attempted before, there is a tendency to want to take it personal. Even worse is when we get people contacting us suggesting we are simply copying the OUYA with our hardware, it’s all too easy to get hot under the collar. I’m like we announced this same idea back in 2008, and we went a step further: we successfully released a run of our first open source console and it immediately sold out! We did something OUYA has not (yet)- we released the hardware, put it into people’s homes.

“It will speak for itself”
I find myself thinking why wasn’t our “EVO” mentioned as legit competition to the big three like the OUYA console seems to be. To me it comes off as puzzling as to why we aren’t mentioned within all of this hype.

We had raised around one-million-dollars our first go around by crowd sourcing long before there was a Kickstarter (in 2004) by pitching our open source console to family and friends! We literally did everything OUYA has done and make no mistake, I’m thankful for Thunderbolt and a few other sites that keep our ideas buzzing. With OTON we want to earn our respect. This is a console that will change the game. It will speak for itself.

The EVO, an idea I put everything into for ten-years of my life, literally perished after having done everything we ever expected of it. I had to tell my team that no matter how proud we were of what EVO accomplished, it was time to turn a new chapter. We didn’t want to be just an OUYA alternative in this generation. We needed a new company, a new name and an entirely new focus. We would earn our respect the hard way once again.

There is no limit to what I will do to give our fan base the best of my ideas and if we fail, I can rest knowing we did our best. There comes a time when a company simply can’t rely on having to toot its own horn. We need our fans to make OTON websites, forums, YouTube videos if we plan to succeed. It is proven time and time again that the viral nature of the internet can make or break a company. The OTON is revolutionary piece of equipment. I am confident it will dazzle any who encounter it.


So where do you think the console’s greatest competition will come from in the forthcoming generation?

I think Nintendo Wii U is a very interesting idea. I love Nintendo because the NES was my first true console in the 80s and the company has earned my respect in all they’ve attempted in the generations that followed. OTON is a different beast entirely if you attempt to compare it to other consoles. Again what makes the OTON concept so powerful is that retailers could literally all have different software packages to deploy with their OTON hardware by simply deploying a custom OTON asset package made just for them. Or they could develop their own series if they so choose to, make it an exclusive to buying the hardware from them. And guess what- the store would get 100% of the game profit in doing that. We don’t get a dime! We don’t charge licensing, we don’t want more for developer kits. The OTON is a starting point for its users. Where they take it from there is entirely up to them.

“Our greatest competition is ourselves”
OTON is capable of configuring and fine tuning game physics for new games at your command. What makes OTON different from any other system out now, or out in the foreseeable future is the Automation Game Engine: We can create different environments, events and levels and you will instantly have the ability to create your own worlds with new and bizarre creatures, challenges, missions and so on. Rumors abound that Microsoft and Sony are planning on releasing their next generation hardware this upcoming year so we know we have to bring the heat right now. It’s all or nothing for us!

Aside from this revolutionary OS, will the OTON bring anything else new to the table?

Absolutely, we are incorporating a rear laser projection lens to the hardware so as to project games on any surface! Imagine that, no TV required to play your games. Your bedroom wall could literally become your widescreen gaming surface. A front facing camera is included for voice and motion recognition. OTON can double as a low-cost presentation device. This alone opens up a whole slew of opportunities outside of gaming like medical, business, developers, schools and government employees. Our thinking is to go in an entirely new direction; to not just focus on hardware specs and graphical power.

Our greatest competition is ourselves. We are continually challenging ourselves, our design teams, our software developers. We’re hungry. We just need the love and blessing of the community to support us so that this vision can be shared with the masses. We dream of headlining E3 2013, we want magazine covers.

I appreciate Thunderbolt for reaching out and sharing our vision. I’m sorry for the rants in this interview but I’m absolutely passionate about what I do and there’s a lot to be excited about with this new system. We made mistakes in the past as anyone who truly knows me can attest, I make it my mission to make it right in the end. Again, thanks guys for giving me the podium.

Our pleasure Derrick and now perhaps the most important question of them all: Where can we send readers looking for more info on the OTON or to learn more about the crowd sourcing campaign?

Everything, including a video of how the OTON works, can be found in one place:

http://www.otonx.com/

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2011.

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