"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.
Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.
Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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