Fish-People With Attitude

Fish-People With Attitude

Peter Olafson

A disturbing game wants your attention–now!

The Gillmen in the Sega Dreamcast simulation Seaman do not seem to like me. I know that because they have told me so. “You make me mad,” said one that looked like Queen Victoria. Then it gave me a sidelong glance that could freeze lava, as it swam languorously through the virtual aquarium the Gillmen call home. Another Gillman, which looked like a soccer hooligan, was so incensed that it could only growl at me as it passed.

The Gillmen– fish with the gift of human speech, a biting sense of humor, and disturbingly human faces–are the stars of Seaman. This occasionally dark but wonderfully original simulation resembles an experiment in artificial intelligence, but Seaman is also an exercise in sustained maintenance. The player becomes the Gillmen’s custodian, their governess, and their fatherconfessor as they evolve into an airbreathing, land-based life-form.

I have to feed the Gillmen regularly from a finite supply of food pellets. I have to keep the tank clean by keeping up the flow of air. And I must encourage the Gillmen’s intellectual growth by speaking to them in simple phrases that the program can recognize. Symbols that appear on the screen of the Dreamcast’s Visual Memory Unit, a piece of hardware required to play the game, indicate whether the GiUmen understand what I am saying. When they do understand, they often respond sensibly. The adults use a voice that suggests a somewhat cranky Dr. Frasier Crane.

The odd creatures seem to have been assembled with an eye to horror movies. The hatchlings look like floating eyeballs. Watching the octopuslike creature that ingests the eyeballs, then dies convulsively as they mature into tiny Gillmen, it is hard not to think of the movie Alien.

At the outset of each Seaman session, narrator Leonard Nimoy brings the player up-to-date on events within the habitat, offers suggestions, and notes the frequency of your visits. (“You visit often,” Nimoy said one day. “If one didn’t know better, one might assume you’re quite obsessed –or have nothing better to do.”)

There are no intrinsically bad Seamen–just inattentive owners. The Gillman is largely a reflection of its environment and the level of care it receives. It is particularly bad tempered when it hasn’t been fed. (“Hey,” the soccer hooligan said. “Food. Here. Now.”)

That Gillman currently wants to know if I plan to have children. “Children can bring great joy,” it said, “if you don’t wring their necks first.”

Seaman, published by Sega of America for Sega Dreamcast; $49.95.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Scholastic, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group