EI09; EyePet Preview
With the likes of Project Natal and the motion controller making waves at E3 earlier this year, it seemed that EyePet took something of a back seat.
With all the smoke and mirrors that can be done with computers these days, it was with some trepidation that we recently sat down with the EyePet to see what the monkey-rat could really do when halfwits like us were in control.
Tamagotchi 2.0? The ultimate kid-friendly, odourless pet?
First of; this is a somewhat limited preview. With the game only in a beta stage, many of the features are yet to be finalised, let alone revealed. It is fair to say that the people behind this project are hugely proud of their work, and therefore very protective of products as unique as this.
The downside of that is they don’t want to show anything to the public that is not 100% working and in robust condition.
With these caveats in mind, let’s get started.
When the game was started up, we got the intro sequence we’ve all seen and loved. The creature then appeared, looking intently at the camera (and, therefore, striaght into our critical eyes).
Now, I’m about as cynical as they come. I think very little of most cutesy, twee games. But you only need to take one look at the little fuzzy creature that looks at you with those big eyes to feel something creeping in to your heart. Some weird, unfamiliar sensation. Oh yeah… warmth!
Seriously, this creature is very, very cute. I had to really make an effort to stay in the mentality of a twenty-something, and avoid reverting to the gormless age of innocence whenever the fur-ball tried to get my attention.
The things you could do have almost all been seen before – build a plane for the mischievous critter, feed him some weird cereal things, etc.
What was striking was the interaction of it all. If you looked at the guy’s hand as he was interacting with EyePet, it looked totally ridiculous. But as soon as you yourself went to interact, it was immediately obvious what you had to do.
We can only hope that the neighbours don’t look in when we’re playing this, as we may find ourselves being carted off to the psych ward before we can say “bath-time”…
It was great to see that the demonstration was very much user-led. When we were going through the aeroplane construction thing, for example, there was a handy tutorial showing what you had to do first. Then you could draw the plane yourself and hold it up.
When you did this, the screen changed slightly; green and red borders appeared around the image. You had to move the image so that all the borders were green for a period of time in order to let the camera ‘see’ the picture. Then EyePet grabs his magic crayon and draws what you have done (and pretty accurately too!), rips the page off and scampers away as the object takes shape.
What was of particular interest was that the plane could be made out of a number of materials. It was reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet in that sense, reinforced by the game’s immediacy and ease of use.
Sixaxis controls were made use of too. In the menu screen, the icons are displayed on a slide-out transparent screen. If you moved the controller, the menu device moved around as well. Not only that, the creature was distorted by the glassy surface of the menu as it moved in front of him.
In practise, it feels very much like the developers have focused on making the reality of it all as continuous as possible.
And it works.
Remember the outcries earlier in the year when it was announced that EyePet would be coming to us via physical means only, as opposed to being downloadable via the PSN? Well, we discovered that there are several reasons for that…
The game is very large, hence the need for a disc-based product. The reason the game is so large is because of what is going on behind the scenes. See, the fur that looks so much like a certain Monster(s Inc.) is rendered procedurally, meaning lots and lots of complex mathematics. This combined with the animation, emotion and rendering gubbins means that the game is just too big to have as a download-only item.
The augmented reality equations and calculations are scary-complex, too.
The card that you use to interact with the creature has been specifically designed to fit into the box alongside the game, too. Were this game available via the PSN, you would have then had to transfer an image of the card to your PC and print it off on a suitably strong piece of card. Which not everyone has access to.
Overall it’s just better to have a disc in a box with everything you need in one package. Besides, everyone likes having the nice shiny box, right?
That’s not to say that there will not be an element of PSN integration in the game. With the promise of DLC costumes and items, the PlaytStation Store has certainly not been left out of the equation.
During our time with the folks behind EyePet, we were shown some of the features which combine to form the mini-games. For example, we have already discussed the ‘drawing a plane and getting EyePet to ride on it’ aspect of the game. But something we had not seen previously was that you then have a game where the plane flies in circles while you control the altitude and try to burst balloons with the propeller on the aircraft.
This is actually more fun than it sounds, as your fuzzy passenger looks delighted when you pop each balloon, but gutted when you miss them. The results are then graded according to how well you did, from bronze to gold. It is worth noting that it looks like it could take quite a few attempts to get a gold in the balloon popping game alone.
The completionists out there – such as Danny_D, for example – are going to have a field day with this…
Of everything we saw at EI, EyePet was quite possibly the most impressive. The main reason for this came when we were given a virtual trampoline to entertain EyePet with. As we moved out hand to ensure that we always had the trampoline underneath the critter, our evil streak took over; we suddenly moved the trampoline and grinned as the furry munchkin hit nothing but solid earth, suddenly looking startled and upsets.
He didn’t seem to mind, as he jumped straight back on again and continued bounding away. However, after he had felt the bite of the ground a few times, he got a bit stroppy. He seemed to figure out that we were taking the proverbial, and refused to play anymore.
It is incredible that something so elementary had such a profound impact on us. We were not expecting to have any empathy for the EyePet, let alone actually want to make it up to him for being so mean in the first place.
We did so in the only way we knew how; food.
When we decided to feed him, he eagerly waited on us providing him with sustenance. There is a bowl you can give him, or – from what we saw – you can just shake the food over him. Either way, his reaction is delightful. If he gets hungry, he will pull out his bowl and look despairingly between you and it, sighing occasionally.
Something we saw for the first time at EI was the way in which you groom the creature and maintain his health; it is an education in itself, trying to make sure rat-boy isn’t scruffy or malnourished.
Happily, the cleaning method is hugely fun.
First up, you have to get the shower ready. Hold the card over a particular spot and the shower floor appears for EyePet to stand on, watching expectantly as you change the card to a shower-head. Gravity affects the flow from the shower, so you have to angle your hand to make sure you get every square inch of fuzz covered and rinsed.
Once he is soaked through, it is time to get lathered up! The card acts as the shampoo bottle, so you have to pour the gel onto the critter’s head, then rub him all over to get the foam really well worked in.
Finally, rinse out the bubbles – trying to stop him sitting facing the shower-head with his tongue out the whole time – and then give him a blow-dry with the hairdryer to make his fur shiny and soft. Because he’s worth it.
Once he is nice and clean, you don’t mind tickling and stroking him. Thankfully he responds to this in some incredible ways, from rolling over onto his back legs akimbo to nuzzling into where your fingers are moving and purring away.
In the same way as he reacts to affection, we saw examples where he reacted aggression. A sudden move with the hand when he was next to it resulted in a backwards tumble from the little fella. This was then followed by a scamper off-screen. We had to wait a while before he came back on screen, somewhat tentatively.
We hope that these effects are not long-lasting, but it will be interesting to see how the game changes according to the treatment EyePet receives.
Finally, a technical note: the light levels were pretty low – one main light was illuminating an large piece of white card sat on a table. The dev we spoke to was eager to point out that this was equivalent to average daylight levels in your common or garden living room.
We are curious to see how the game works – if at all – at lower light levels.
What else will be in the final product? Who knows… All we know for now is that we actually can’t wait for the release of this truly groundbreaking title.
Oh, and when I asked about the Motion Controller and it’s future in terms of EyePet, the people I was speaking to clammed up faster than an oyster on Valentine’s Day. And we all know what happened last time I got that response. In fact it was at EI last year…
What are your thoughts on the game? Will you be giving out the tickles come release date, or are you waiting to find out more about the game before you make a decision? Let us know in the comments.