|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
"You're a journalist, are you? I hope you do a nice story about me. A lot of humans find me interesting, so you should take advantage of that as soon as possible."
If you've ever had a virtual pet, you know you should do whatever you can to keep it happy. So at its request, here is my review of Seaman, a Sega Dreamcast game from Sega and developed by Vivarium.
Seaman is a fish-like creature with a human face. Players must feed Seaman and ensure its tank is warm and clean each day. But that's where the similarities with Tamagotchi or Pokemon end.
The player's most intriguing responsibility is to talk to Seaman. The game comes with a microphone that plugs into the controller's VMU port, allowing Seaman and its caretaker to talk. As Seaman evolves, it understands more words and becomes chattier. Some of its questions are a bit personal, and its commentary and observations can be as rude as they are insightful.
As Seaman learns more about his caretaker, its questions become more serious. The topics of discussion are not always appropriate for younger players. Add events such as natural selection and mating, and the game's rating of Teen is well-deserved. People who are uncomfortable discussing their personal lives and thoughts with a man-faced fish may prefer a less communicative virtual pet.
Seaman's speech recognition is sophisticated, and it'll respond to a variety of topics. You must speak clearly, but if that's a problem, Seaman will try his best to understand you. Even articulate gamers may encounter glitches: when I first told Seaman I'm a writer, it replied, "Oh, so you're a hairdresser?"
Aside from Seaman's inquiries, players will also hear the narration of Leonard Nimoy. Everyone's favorite half-Vulcan will open each gaming session with a recap of the last session, and highlights for today's game. This monologue offers helpful tips to gamers who may not know how best to encourage Seaman's evolution.
Thanks to the Dreamcast's internal clock, Seaman evolves at a set rate – assuming he's taken care of. This means that whether you play with Seaman for ten minutes or ten hours each day, it's not going to speed its growth. Only ten minutes a day for a month is required for Seaman to realize its potential, though leaving the TV on can be an easy alternative to a real fish tank.
(The Dreamcast's clock can be set forward, making Seaman think a few minutes was a full day — but that'd be cheating.)
This pace may not be suited to gamers who prefer go-at-your-own-pace strategy and role-playing games, or people with itchy trigger fingers. On the other hand, players who like to see their daily work cumulate in Seaman's progressive evolution will be pleased by this virtual pet.
Seaman is not so much a game as it is a continuing project, and a unique experience. It doesn't require much thought and only minimal puzzle-solving skills, but the novelty of having a discussion with a virtual pet is fantastic. The opportunity to have an honest discussion with a simulated intelligence presents a surprising opportunity to have fun and to learn about yourself.
This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 28-Aug-00