Seaman for the Dreamcast is a game, in one sense, and a virtual existence sort of experiment in another. What you get from it will likely be what you put into it, and luckily we've just learned that it will be coming stateside, so you won't have to necessarily learn a new language to play with it. The game takes advantage of the Dreamcast's voice recognition system and puts you, as a parent or god-like figure (personal creation/evolution theories are pretty much irrelevant here) for the rearing of the main character--a fish man who will learn the words you say and develop a personality. Where is the game originating? Japan-based Vivarium. And the game's designer, Yutaka Saito, is the guy behind the Tower game.
Videogames.com's James Mielke scored an import version of Seaman and has been updating Gamespot News readers on his progress. Thus far, we've learned that, as we suspected, the Seaman is a uniquely bizarre process of hatching and rearing eponymous little creatures.
The Seaman Deluxe Starter Kit contains the Seaman game, a limited edition clear Seaman VMU, and a Seaman microphone that attaches to the second VMU slot on the Dreamcast controller. What do you start with? An empty fish tank. In Mielke's words, "A brief exploratory controller session follows, and these functions were discovered: The analog pad moves you around the screen, while the digital pad operates various functions like light settings, water temperature, and oxygen content. The Y-button zooms in on specific objects while the X-button grabs. Holding the Y and B buttons while moving the analog pad will let you zoom in and out of the screen. The left trigger button moves you to the egg/food screen, where your one Seaman egg awaits hatching. The right trigger button works in tandem with the grab button, executing the grab."
Once you understand what you need to do, you have to hatch your Seaman. You do this by grabbing an egg and dumping it in your aquarium. You have control of the water temperature, light settings, and the oxygen level in the tank.
If your settings are right, and even perhaps if they aren't, your 'mushroomers,' as they'e called, will eventually hatch into something more dynamic than a sluggish water-dweller navigating shells and rocks. As Mielke alerts, the hatching may take some prompting from you. But you'll have to figure that out.
"These little Seamen, who have transparent baby fish bodies, and Asian-looking cherubic human faces, were bizarrely adorable," said Mielke. "They would say over and over again, 'I suru kageki!' I had no idea what the translation was. I called a few Japanese-speaking people, who also had no idea what the Seamen were saying. The closest translation I could arrive at was either 'I am transparent!' or 'I am radical!' both of which basically apply here."
The VMU gives you directions as to when you can talk with your Seaman or multiple Seamen and there are various actions you can take, such as tickling it, lifting it out of the water and so forth.
And expect your Seaman environment to act as a real, living habitat. "Bizarrely, the spiderweb that had sprouted in the top-right corner of the tank is now gone. As is the spider," said Mielke, in his second diary entry. "I tapped on the window to make the moths fly around, in the hopes that one would get stuck on the web. When one did, it quickly disappeared, although I did not see it get wrapped in a spidery cocoon or nothin'. Regretfully, nothing came of the spider feast. No transformation or anything like that." One interesting aspect of the Seamen's lives is when they go through the process of 'naturalization.' This bizarre process could also be referred to as 'survival of the fittest.' What happens is this: When a Seaman is deemed too insignificant to remain integral to the community, another seaman will 'dock' onto him, much in the way jet fighters will dock onto an airborne refueling ship. This vampiric process takes place as one seaman attaches to another vertically by their proboscis. The stem sucks the life out of the prostrate 'victim,' while the other Seaman smiles away. After the "naturalization" is finished, the lifeless husk floats to the top, eventually to sink to the bottom, while the feeder swims merrily away.
You'll have a lot of control over your Seaman, which you should probably use wisely. You'll be able to, for example, get your Seaman to follow your movements as displayed through icons. On a more cerebral level, you'll be able to evolve your Seamen--not to be taken lightly, eh? And of course the most sophisticated form of development is in the voice training--stimulus/response style.
We'll have more on Project Seaman in the coming weeks. For now, look at the bizarro shots we've amassed.