It would have been easy for Sony to revive its EyeToy Play series, but the technological leap between PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation 3 has presented much greater opportunities for the developer behind the game. That's why Sony London has been allowed creative freedom to come up with something completely different, and after years of prototyping and testing, EyePet is the result. It harnesses the power of the PlayStation 3 to bring a virtual pet to life and then lets you interact with it using the PlayStation Eye camera.
The way that the game works is the PlayStation Eye camera watches your interactions in front of the TV and then relays that image onto your screen where the EyePet itself lives. This allows you to then interact with the pet as if it were scampering around the table or floor space in front of you. It sounds a little weird, but after a few seconds of play, it all becomes very natural.
"EyePet is all about blurring the real and the virtual world," said producer Nicolas Doucet, who explained the concept as he introduced us to the game in his London Soho studio. We watched as the little pet--a hybrid of a dog, cat, and a monkey--sprung into life on the screen. Doucet was able to stroke him, tap on the floor to make him follow, and dangle a lanyard to make him jump in the air. Stroked gently, the pet will fall asleep on the floor, dreaming of your previous interactions, which are actually video clips of your key moments together.
But EyePet is much more than a glorified, 21st-century Tamagotchi--there's some remarkable technology behind the game. At one point, Doucet got out a pen and paper and began drawing the components for an aeroplane. After drawing the body (complete with "GameSpot" emblazoned down the side), the wings, and a propeller, he held it up and showed it to the EyePet through the camera. The EyePet then stuck a pen in its mouth, replicated the drawing, and made the plane in 3D. He then jumped inside and took off for a flight, with Doucet controlling him via the DualShock 3 controller.
While that was the single most impressive moment of our demo, there were plenty of other impressive technology demos to behold. The game ships with a hand-sized card, which houses a symbol that the camera can isolate and turn into objects in the game. You can use the card as an X-Ray scanning tool, which is used to monitor your pet's health. You can also turn it into a trampoline and move it around to catch your pet when it falls to earth.
While Doucet fully admits that the market for the game is kids and families, he has still been keen to incorporate the latest technology. The pet's coat is extremely dynamic--over time, the fur becomes flat and clumpy, but you can shower it, shampoo it, and restore its natural shine. And while the pet essentially remains the same in terms of size and facial details, his fur is highly customizable. You can give it tiger stripes, for example, and grow its hair out to form a Mohawk.
The social aspect of EyePet seems guaranteed--not only in terms of people crowding around to play with the pet but also in terms of showing it off online. The game will allow you to upload 20-second video clips, with up to five per week, and then users can rate them to allow the best to float to the top. There will also be trophies to earn, although Doucet says most of them will be found by accident. He did let slip that you'll be rewarded for looking after your pet for 20 days, and while your pet will never die from neglect, it will start picking up fleas if you don't take care of it.
The best way to learn more about EyePet is to see it in action, so be sure to check out our exclusive hands-on session, which also contains an interview with Nicolas Doucet and art director Masami Kochi at the top of the page. The full game will be released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 before the end of the year.