TOKYO--It's fitting that Sega and developer Viviarium's follow-up to the unique Dreamcast virtual life sim, Seaman, should come out of nowhere and have little to do with the sassy virtual fish we all loved and hated. The mysterious minitheater that beckoned the curious to come check out the new game cultivated an air of "What in the heck is going on here?" mystique that nicely fit what was inside. Sega and Vivarium are again going with the pseudohistorical approach toward introducing players to this new virtual life sim, and it featured a looping video that explained the mysterious origins of the new star of the game and a wall that showed a timeline on its discovery and evolution. The faux video traced the origins to a secret kept by Russian scientists since the days of the Cold War, which had come to light following the fall of the Soviet Union. Industrious business folks decided to clone the critter and mass produce it. At the tail end of what becomes a pseudo sales video, you get a peek at what all the fuss is about: a 20cm Cro-Magnon humanoid. Viewers are encouraged to take one home, bond with it by speaking to it in its own language via a high-quality controller, and incorporate it into their lives for stress relief, consolation, companionship, and family activities. Why not, right?
We made our way into the minitheater, which held a playable version of the game, to see just how it all worked. Inside the theater, we had to wait in a smaller line that led to where the game actually was. While we waited, we checked out a skull and some teeth that were tagged and ostensibly from the experiment. When our turn finally came, we walked up and stood in front of a terrarium that mixed actual objects with a video image overlaid on it in suitably impressive holographic style. Near the most prominent tree stood the tiny creature we saw in the video, a prehistoric-looking figure wearing some artfully placed leaves. A placard near the custom PlayStation 2 controller hipped us to the best way to interact with it, and we engaged the microphone, just like the original Seaman, and said hello. He was standoffish at first, but once we tossed him a banana, he started to show more interest. After some banter back and forth, we did some more experimentation and eventually picked him up and held him aloft with a virtual hand...which didn't go down so well. One act of violence later, and the demo ended with us left wondering what in the heck just happened.
It's hard to say just what the game is going to look like. The holographic setup didn't do much to show the game visuals off besides the surly ape man, the virtual hand, and fruit. The bit of footage in the video that looked like gameplay was similar in appearance to the terrarium setting the demo was playing on. In talking with nearby Sega reps, we found out the game will share some similarities in structure to Seaman, in that you'll be tasked with the care and feeding of the little person who will apparently hatch out of an egg, Seaman style. You'll bond with your virtual pet by talking and interacting with him. As before, he won't be big on your native tongue initially but will eventually become familiar enough to respond to it and bond with you.
Representatives didn't offer much else beyond those tidbits, stating that there would be some surprises they just didn't want to spoil. Fair enough, we suppose--the original Seaman was an experience best had unspoiled, so we're very curious to see how this one shapes up. The only gripe we have so far is that this new virtual creature looks gross and isn't entirely pleasant to interact with, so we wonder if he'll wind up warming our hearts the way the original Seaman did. Still, we thought the first Seaman was a jerk the first time we met him, too, so maybe there's hope for this annoying new virtual critter.
We don't know what else to say about Seaman 2 other than that the game is guaranteed to be as bizarre as its predecessor. We're a bit bummed that the game doesn't appear to have any actual ties to the original talking fish, but maybe we'll get a cameo. The new virtual critter is a little off-putting, but so long as he only throws rocks, we expect most people will be fine with it. Other than that, we're curious to see what Vivarium does with this concept, and if anyone can do something interesting with it, it's the people who brought us Seaman. The game is slated to ship later this year in two versions, one with a custom controller and another with just the game for those who have the original Seaman controller for the PlayStation 2.