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01 Jan 2010

No more accidents on the carpet and hefty vet bills! Imagine a future where household pets are virtual entities that exist within your home. Actually, it’s beginning to happen already, and Sony is leading the way with EyePet, its revolutionary pet simulation game.Forget Tamagotchies and Nintendogs; EyePet is the next generation in the evolution of the virtual pet genre, and it’s certainly an indication of what we can expect in the future. So with that in mind, let’s get to the nitty gritty. The reason EyePet is so special and is drumming up so much attention overseas is because it creates a mixed reality between the real world and the computer-generated pet (the fancy term for this is ‘Augmented Reality’). You see, the EyePet lives in an onscreen image of your home as captured in real time by the Playstation Eye Camera. So, wherever your console is set up (and the camera points) is where the pet lives on screen, be it the lounge or your bedroom floor. The wee critter is fully aware of its environment and interacts directly with you and any objects in the camera’s range. For example, if you wriggle your fingers in the camera’s range, your pet will pounce on them. He’ll even jump over your shoe when he scampers around the room. Kids will get a real kick out of seeing themselves on the TV playing with their pet.So what kind of animal is the EyePet? Um, I’m not quite sure, but it appears to be a cross between a Gremlin and a monkey. It starts its journey with you as an egg that needs to be coaxed to hatch (by shaking it with your hand for instance) and then reared. Whatever breed it is, it’s darn cute. After naming him (I called mine ‘Bruce’), the objective of the game is to care for your little friend in a parental fashion by feeding, dressing, showering, teaching and playing with him. Additionally, players can compete in daily challenges to make their EyePet more intelligent and agile. These are mini games, such as using your pet as a bowling ball to knock down pins, and playing snap. Challenges earn rewards such as clothes and accessories.A really cool aspect of the game is the ability to teach your wee pal to sing songs and even draw pictures. He does this by mimicking your actions, so get ready to put pen to paper and to stretch your vocal cords. The game comes packaged with a plastic EyePet ‘magic’ card which, when moved in front of the camera, allows you to use tools such as a feeding bowl or a hairdryer to fix up your pet’s hair after his shower. You even monitor your pet’s health using this card as a diagnostic scanner to run over his body. Speaking of which, unlike a Tamagotchi, you can’t kill your pet. This is kind of a shame really, because keeping it alive would give the game real purpose, and unfortunately that’s something it’s lacking. Maybe we’re just over-stimulated, but caring for Bruce was only interesting for so long…Which is why EyePet falls into the family-friendly category, since it will appeal to children far more than adults. They’ll delight in the interactivity of the game and its magical nature, and will certainly have fun with the vast array of customisation options for the EyePet’s appearance (outfits, hair length and colour, accessories). So is this game really any good? It certainly is, though I wouldn’t class it as sheer brilliance. The technology is undoubtedly remarkable, but it isn’t always reliable. For instance, in low light, accuracy of movement is diminished, which can make small tasks like soothing your pet to sleep by stroking his fur, and getting him to eat his dinner, rather enraging. Or perhaps these are just the trials of parenting, be it a human baby or an EyePet?

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