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The story behind Poker Solitaire on OUYA

The adventure of making an indie OUYA game from concept to launch.

Learn how I made design decisions on a classic game as well as founding a new team, working with the OUYA staff, translating the app and making its trailer.

Chuck Smith, Blogger

October 7, 2013

10 Min Read

The concept

Since the first day OUYA launched its Kickstarter, I've been excited about this console. Ever since I was 12 with my Super Nintendo at home, I've always dreamed of developing a console game for the TV, and finally it's possible. Having developed a little indie game Word Race for iOS, I learned about the whole process from start to finish of developing a game with just a developer and a graphic designer. Unfortunately that game didn't do nearly as well as I would've liked, but that project made me learn a lot.

So, I got my OUYA console and looked at the genres that most excited me: board and card games. I was shocked to only see a couple games, and it's been interesting to see that only a couple more games have been added to that genre since I last checked two months ago. I saw a market gap in the Card/Casino category and pushed to make the best game in the genre. Let's see how it does.

Quick summary timeline

July 18 - started 3D prototype
July 19 - 3D prototype worked on TV
July 25 - wrote game plan
July 25 - started 2D prototype
Aug 1 - Anna (musician) joined team
Aug 6 - started production project
Aug 6 - Marina (graphic designer) joined team
Aug 13 - moved leaderboard to version 1.0
Aug 15 - first build uploaded to TestFlight
Aug 22 - added In App Purchase
Aug 28 - menu system in place to switch scenes
Aug 30 - added localization with Esperanto translation
Sep 4 - Google Hangout with Tim Graupmann about TestFlight SDK
Sep 8 - all scenes in place (last scene was high scores)
Sep 8 - wrote Genny at OUYA for promotion support
Sep 13 - added French and German translations
Sep 24 - added Spanish translation
Oct 4 - made gameplay trailer
Oct 6 - submitted to OUYA
Oct 7 - approved by OUYA and launched! 

Prototype development

Having had a half year of experience with Unity, I obviously went this route. Plus, if the OUYA completely tanks, at least I'll be able to port my game to Android and iOS. So, I started making a 3D prototype of Poker Solitaire on July 18 and by the next day, I had it up on my TV! Even though this is a classic game, I thought there might be room for innovation on a console. Although I have a decent amount of experience in game design, no one should trust their own judgment entirely, so I made sure to always have a variety of testers who can give me feedback on all the design decisions I make.

First people complained that there was no game feedback when they made a hand like a pair. So, I made sure that even when someone got a pair, the score would go up immediately. Instant gratification. Also, I noticed no other Poker Solitaire game shows the points you get for each hand type, so I added that to the side and noticed it really changed the way players engage with the game, since they can now plan on what kinds of hands they want to get the highest score.

I also modified the old scoring systems to the classic game. I remember reading in an old book about video game design that you want to award enough points to make them meaningful, but not too much as to make changes meaningless. The best way to explain this is that if you are offered a sure $1 or a 50% chance at $5. Most people would take the coin flip. However, if you change this to $1 million or a 50% chance at $5 million, most would take the sure million. I decided to multiply all the scores by 100 to make the game feel more rewarding. Also, I wanted a Royal Flush to be worth more, so I increased its value by 25%.

As people played my game, some got incredibly frustrated when they would place a card badly. So, I added undo. Then, I realized that players could inevitably cheat if they could undo all their cards and restart a game. Since players tend to get annoyed at a badly placed card once per game, I decided to make this a feature that could be used only once each game. I also realized gamers would really want this feature, so I decided to make this something you get only after you pay for the game.

Looking at the controls, the (O) button would logically be place card, since (O) is typically used for the main game action. (A) would be back to main menu, since going back is the usual use case for the A button on the OUYA console. Then which buttons should be undo and new game? Well, (U) is the first letter of undo, so I went with this, leaving the (Y) button for a new game. Also, I originally called this "restart," but a few people thought that meant playing the game with the same cards again, so I changed it to "new game" in response.

Hiring the team

Two weeks later and after switching to 2D, I started working on the production version and needed professional help, namely a graphic designer. Amusingly enough, around this time, a friend told me she knew of a game musician. After realizing the impact that amazing music has on the game atmosphere in TowerFall, this seemed like a good way to go. I met Anna Eichenauer and she had some ideas of what music would work well in the game and I've been quite happy with the tracks she's provided me.

However, I didn't have such luck with a graphic designer. My former graphic designer now works for another company designing websites. So, I made a call out on facebook saying that I was looking for a part-time graphic designer, preferably a student or junior designer. Three people applied and I didn't know how to decide, so I gave them a task which was way too large for a screening. Anyway, Marina González Gómez was the only one who completed it, so we negotiated a price and she started working on the project.

Production development

Once again, I started a new project to make a clean, production version of the game. Repository: git. File sharing: Dropbox. UI package: NGUI. Sprite handler: 2D Toolkit. If you want to see my full development setup for OUYA, check out my blog post: Ideal OUYA Unity environment. We quickly integrated nice game graphics and then moved on to the menu system.

Once we could move between screens, I started trying to automate a testing pipeline. On iOS, I've used TestFlight and really liked how much easier it made things. So, I started using it for OUYA. Big mistake. My testers found it almost impossible to install my game with it, because it assumes you check your email on the device on which you're installing. Opening up your email on an OUYA is a huge pain. So, eventually I just switched to sending the apk (Android package) to all my testers and that worked reasonably well. Hopefully we'll have a nice system like TestFlight that runs smoothly for OUYA soon.

Support from OUYA

Once I contacted OUYA, they gave their support every step of the way. Tim Graupmann and I spent about 3 hours on Google Hangout trying to get the TestFlight SDK working on the project, but the process was so complicated and my testers were already discontent with it, so I unfortunately didn’t get around to implementing it.

I wrote Kellee on the OUYA team with my idea to organize a dev weekend in Berlin and she was really excited about it. However, after getting no interest from the dev community, I decided to turn the event into a game day. In the end, it turned into an OUYA lecture evening at the Computerspielemuseum coming up on Oct 17, which should also be quite interesting, also including a lecture from the developer of Clark, the second most popular game on the console.


Living in Europe, you see first-hand the importance of having content in multiple languages. Since I speak English natively, Esperanto fluently and live in Germany, it only makes sense to have those languages. My graphic designer is from Spain, so Spanish is covered too. Then, I just needed to find someone for French and fellow game developer Jérôme Morin-Drouin stepped up to the plate.

A professional translator criticized me for not hiring translators for this job, but I explained to her that a large majority of these consoles are in the USA and most games are only in English anyway. So, my translations are unlikely to bring me additional business in this market. If I had a game with more text content, I would, however, most likely hire translators for this task.

An amusing side-story related to Esperanto: the font my designer wanted in the game didn’t include Esperanto character support. So, I spent a day learning type design, installed and learned Type light and added the extra characters myself. Now, I’ve started reading Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, and type design might just become a new hobby.

Making the game trailer

Amusingly enough, one of the guys who tested my prototypes at Wooga is a filmmaker, so we discussed the idea of working together on a game trailer. In the end, I doubted that having an amazing trailer would have much more impact than just a simple gameplay trailer for such a small project. So, I bought a used Elgato Game Capture HD, wrote a script and made this 5-minute gameplay trailer.

Later I read OUYA's Video Upload Guidelines, which stated that videos should be between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. So, I made another video focusing solely on gameplay and got it down to a minute using iMovie and then Marina added a nice image to finish the game trailer. In the end, the result isn’t as professional as I’d like it to be, but I’m pretty satisfied with it. Also, I now have a game capture device to make trailers for future projects.


On Oct 6, we submitted our game to OUYA, which we were promised will be approved in two days max, and they approved it the very next day and now it's live on the store! All in all, it’s been a wild ride and now I’m excited about prospects of porting this to other platforms as well as working on a completely different game with a Kickstarter campaign and the Free the Games Fund. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I hope you will enjoy our game!

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