Game Description: The latest—and undoubtedly strangest—in a line of virtual-pet games, Seaman will have you mothering (or fathering) the most surreal creature yet to grace the Dreamcast: a fish, known as Seaman, with a human face. Drop some Seaman eggs into your virtual aquarium and watch them hatch into larvae, then baby Seamen (no giggling please), and eventually into adults. In order to raise happy, fulfilled Seamen, you'll need to do more than just feed them and regulate their water temperature and oxygen levels—like most pets, they need your regular attention. You interact with the little guys as a disembodied hand that can tap on the glass of their aquarium, tickle them (they love that), and drop things into their tank. Seaman also comes with a microphone; you can talk to your critters. Voice-recognition software built into the game will enable your tiny mermen to learn your voice and, in time, hold conversations with you. In fact, these Seamen are notoriously moody and may even make fun of you at times. If you neglect them, they will definitely let you know!
"It's thinking" was the slogan used by Sega in its earliest Dreamcast ad campaigns as if 2001: A Space Odyssey's lively super computer gone bad, HAL, had become a household reality. Sega wanted the public to believe the Dreamcast was smart enough to kick your butt and entertain your mind in the process. As with most advertising, those early proclamations of sentient intelligence was more hyperbole than truth, but with the recent release of Seaman, the Dreamcast may actually start to live up to the initial hype.
Seaman isn't a game in the traditional "command and conquer" sense. Seaman is a somewhat passive experience best described as part digital pet and part conversational simulator, but 100 percent strangeness. Seamen are mysterious creatures that basically start off looking like fish with human faces. Players are charged with the task of being the caretaker of the independent thinking Seaman from birth to maturity and beyond. Graphically, the game is presented in a sparse 3-D environment, and there are no extraneous sounds beyond what nature had intended. Direct control over the Seamen is impossible, but players can manipulate a hand-shaped cursor to perform several different interactions with the creatures through the aquarium-like interface. While not the most intuitive control system, tapping, tickling, flicking, feeding, grabbing are all the physical possibilities that are manageable.
But perhaps the most unique twist to this already twisted game is that players are able to verbally interact with Seaman through a microphone attached to the Dreamcast controller (note: microphone is included with game). Once the Seamen develop the ability of speech, they will snappishly respond to most of your remarks and will also inquisitively delve into the details of your life. As with most new technology, the two-way voice recognition is far from perfect as Seaman will struggle to recognize a few select words. Yet the conversations that take place between Seaman and the player are still unprecedented for a console game and probably still far more lively, diverse and convincing then anyone would have imagined.
There isn't much else I can say about it. Seaman is a game of observation, discovery and the miracles of nature replicated in a digital environment. Unsuspectingly, Seaman is also a game of socialization, self-introspection and can often behave like a digital therapist. For me elaborate any further would essentially spoil the experience. All I will say is that I found raising Seaman to be an engaging and often enlightening experience. The game is not without flaws, but the technological feats that the game accomplishes and the emotional depths that the game explores still constantly surprised me and made the experience worthwhile. My last comment may sound greatly exaggerated given the premise of the game is allusively about feeding a digital fish! But trust me when I say that Seaman is a gaming experience like no other, and I feel better for having played it. I don't know all gamers will share in a similar experience as I did. I can only hope that readers will take the chance (regret is optional) and open their minds to Seaman so that Sega, Vivarium and other developers will continue to produce imaginative and innovative titles like this one. HAL has arrived and his new name is Seaman.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Comic Mischief, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
Seaman is obviously not for the traditional gamer, who feel the need for clear structure, goals and rewards. For gamers who like different, quirky and innovative games that beat to the rhythm of their own drum, Seaman is a worthwhile, one-of-a-kind experience that is imaginative and wondrous. For gamers who do choose to experience Seaman, I do have a couple of warnings that should be heeded. First of all, Seaman is at times aesthetically unappealing. His freakish look grew on me over an extended time, but some gamers may be put off or outright disturbed by his appearance. Seaman will also require a bit of dedication on the part of the caretaker. It's not a terribly demanding task, but like raising any pet, close to daily attention is necessary, and long-term neglect and mistreatment can be unforgiving and result in deadly repercussions (thankfully, an appropriately cast narrator of the game, Leonard Nimoy, does offer scant, but useful tips and guidance at the beginning of each session).
This aspect of the game may also make it more attractive for parents who wish to teach their children about responsibility. The level of commitment required to care for Seaman can be a good practice for children who desire to own a real-life pet. Although Seaman's disturbing look, mature demeanor and often dark humor may be unsuitable for younger audiences.
Seaman is a tough game to review. Since the overwhelming majority of titles released these days are rehashes of games that have been done time and time again, a rare gem brimming with originality is something to be cherished. Overall I found it to be a very worthwhile and interesting experience that has never really been done before. On the other hand, Seaman isn't really a "game," so I'm sure that a title like this isn't going to be to everyone's liking.
Graphically, the game is nothing special whatsoever. While I do like the design of Seaman himself and find him to be a very memorable character, the environments are simple to the extreme and fairly boring. It's not exciting to look at, and you have nearly no control over the environment whatsoever. Call me crazy, but I would have loved to put a little plastic castle or mermaid in the tank to make things just a hair more thrilling. Despite the flat black backgrounds and empty aquarium, there are still some clipping and collision problems as well (though nothing major).
Graphical issues aside, the real reason people would play Seaman is for the conversation and interaction with the weird fish-thing. Here is where the meat of the game is, yet it's might not quite enough to satisfy. After Seaman gains the ability to speak there are some very interesting, possibly risque things he has to say, but the limitations of the game's structure are fairly obvious. He'll ask you some questions and based on your replies, he will go off on various tangents. However, you can't really make him talk about anything in particular. He talks about what he feels like and your answers are limited to one or two word responses. This is fairly entertaining in itself, but the voice recognition software is pretty spotty when you try to talk about something "off-topic" from what Seaman is interested in at the time. Also, when he asks you questions, I'd estimate the game can recognize about 80 percent or better of the possible responses, yet the few times it it failed to understand my answers were fairly frustrating.
The last thing I had a problem with was the extremely slow nature of the game. As Chi mentioned, this is more of a digital pet than traditional game, and along with that comes a higher level of patience necessary. Once Seaman is mature, he tends to only want to talk once or twice a day, so for the other 23 hours and 45 minutes there's nothing going on in the tank. Coupled with the sparse pace of conversations, the game is designed to be played over the course of a month. Unless you cheat the Dreamcast internal clock (as I did) , there's no way to make things go any faster or to speed up the process. Hence, if you are buying Seaman as something to keep you busy for hours at a time, it won't be very fulfilling. Seaman is something best played for 10 minutes at a time during breaks from other games.
If the negatives I've mentioned haven't turned you off by now, then you are probably the type of person who will find Seaman to be a very enjoyable and original experience (as I did). If I had to score Seaman on it's concept and freshness alone, it would easily earn a perfect 10. However, as I already stated, it's not really a "game," so I think it's pretty important to have an open mind before purchasing. If you're looking for something new and fresh, this is it. I definitely give Sega the highest respect possible for taking a risk with a game like Seaman, and I hope they do it again in the future.