Sunday, December 20, 2009

EyePet - Technical Flare and Frustration

Love them or hate them, virtual pets certainly hold their benefits over the real thing. A single, one off investment that doesn’t include an array of accessories that you’d rather not own. There’s also an absence of defecation across a carpet when you arrive back home for the evening. Perhaps even the ability to make your pet fight with your other friend’s pet and have it not be illegal.

Nintendo has easily had the greatest and most successful market share in the virtual pet genre, with games such as Nintendogs soaring high in sales charts for surprising lengths of time. Despite this, it’s nice to see other consoles try and provide some competition; EyePet is Sony’s answer.

EyePet is made different from other pet simulations through its use of ‘augmented reality’, whereby the user creates interactive 3D objects on-screen through the manoeuvrings of objects in the real world, all recognized by the Playstation Eye. EyePet makes full use of a plastic card with a paw print as its object of interaction. On screen however, it’s not simply a card, it’s a drinks bottle, it’s a showerhead and it’s even a trampoline.

Despite showcasing this new interactive technology, the software has a really nice focus on the characters presented, of which there are two. The EyePet, and a by-the-book stereotypical white lab coat Professor, aptly known as ‘The Professor’.

Unfortunately the same praise cannot be said for the initial setup of the equipment, where endless time was spent adjusting the Playstation Eye, clearing space in the room, and fiddling with the lights to achieve optimum settings.

The real game opens as the Professor guides you through the game’s tutorial stages and challenges. Here you’ll be introduced to EyePet through a Jurassic Park-esque sequence involving a hatching egg, if albeit without the onslaught of prehistoric beasts.

Once up and running you’ll finally start to look after you’re EyePet. This would be too boring though, so instead a ‘Pet Plan’ has been put together to keep both parties interested. The plan consists of a sizeable series of challenges timetabled out over fifteen days, all based around the main interactive controls of the game, which then develop in order to showcase the ‘augmented reality’ technology further.

The game encourages players to interact with their EyePet in as many ways as possible, with activities such as drawing and even singing. Tasks as mundane as cleaning and feeding also become very involved, hands-on experiences.

The technicalities of the game are both the strongest and weakest points of the experience though. When successful, I genuinely found some of the different ways I was asked to interact and play with my EyePet entertaining and rewarding. The amount of activities, and subsequent mileage, you’ll get out of the game is undoubtedly impressive for a simple pet simulation. This is also seemingly the game’s Achilles’ heel though, as some of the technicalities simply don’t hold up when put into practice.

Once through the basics, every mechanic introduced had me battle with its workings for a time long enough for a child to get frustrated and walk away. These issues could well have been to do with the tough lighting and floor space situation in my room, and the fact that I’m not the size of a six year-old, but if honest this seems like poor planning in development. It’s unrealistic to assume everyone is going to have the ample floor space and supply of suitable lighting to play this game.

The devil’s advocate would note that ‘tough luck your game fails to play the way it should when using it in the wrong conditions’, however this brings out the paramount frustration with the software. The provision of instruction when attempting challenges is essentially absent. When working, the software will happily guide players through the necessary motions. When not working, the software remains utterly silent and I find myself flailing around my floor, fiddling with lighting conditions, and being removed from the experience.

Apart from once playing a demo of Creatures 2, and also once owning a Digimon, this reviewer has to admit ignorance in this genre of games. Then again this could almost certainly be seen as the same mindset of a parent looking for a form of interactive ‘edutainment’ for their child. The interactivity that comes from the Playstation Eye, mixed with the cute face of the game’s protagonist on the box, are almost certainly the game’s strongest selling points. Promise of further interactivity from other games that use the Playstation Eye make the thirty-five pound investment (bundled with Playstation Eye and Magic Card) a great deal, and certainly a notably cheaper one than brand new A-list titles seeing release this season.

As the optimum play conditions were absent from this particular EyePet experience, it’s hard to determine how seamlessly flowing and accessible the title truly is. When it was working, the time invested was rewarding. It was honestly, surprising easy to forget that the objects on screen weren’t really near you. Almost an impressive technical showcase, and if purchasing for young children, definitely expect them to ask for your assistance during a few of the technically quirky tasks.

Original review posting at Nidzumi found here:

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