EyePet brings augmented reality into the home

[From The Sunday Times; more information, including a video segment, is available in a post at GameSpot – an excerpt follows below]

From The Sunday Times October 18, 2009

EyePet brings augmented reality into the home

Alex Pell

Parents, pay attention and spare yourself serious aggravation this Christmas. Every year there is a must-have video game. The one for this festive season goes on sale next week so you have time to avoid that dreaded late-December mission where you scour empty shelves like a wild-eyed lunatic.

Why is it special? Well, prepare to cosy up with EyePet, the virtual pet. This long-awaited game from Sony enables you to see a live video feed of yourself and nearby family members on your TV screen alongside a slick-looking animated brown monkey. You can fuss over EyePet, style him to your liking, and play together in a variety of amusing ways. This is almost unbearably cute, unlike anything you have seen before, and, at £35 including webcam, fairly cheap – assuming, that is, you own a £250 PlayStation 3 (PS3).

The big innovation is that instead of you having to press buttons or use a motion-sensitive controller to play with EyePet, the game uses the webcam to recognise hand gestures. (If you already own Sony´s PlayStation Eye webcam, you can buy the game for £20.)

Even though you are, in reality, tinkering around on an empty floor in front of the TV, what you see on screen resembles a film that mixes live video footage with CGI-grade animation. Think of a cross between Mary Poppins, Toy Story and a Tamagotchi toy, the virtual-pet phenomenon of the 1990s.  Because you are constantly looking at your TV screen, the overall effect is deceptively good and, onthe whole, convincing.

Once you have set up the PlayStation Eye webcam in front of your TV at knee level, and checked that the room isn´t too light or too dark (it works best in daylight), you will soon be fooling about with your own simian companion. Waggle your fingers above EyePet´s head and he leaps towards them; throw a small object onto the floor within view of the webcam and the monkey scampers over to investigate. There is also a panoply of petting manoeuvres. This, though, barely scratches the surface of what EyePet can do. You are swiftly coaxed into a virtual pet-training programme. You must toss biscuits into your pet´s mouth, shampoo him and customise his appearance. Red dreadlocks and a guardsman´s tunic is a natty look.

What elevates EyePet from novelty status is the inclusion of what Sony calls “magic toys”. The game comes with a postcard-sized sheet of black plastic that you are prompted to hold within view of the webcam. On doing so, the PS3 creates a plaything, such as a small trampoline, that the monkey bounces on or reacts to with with glee. Even though you are holding only a piece of black plastic, you feel as if you are moving a trampoline around.

These challenges, of which there are 60, grow in sophistication and not all involve the plastic sheet. Soon, for example, you must draw a doodle, hold it up to the webcam and the monkey will attempt to copy it. Eventually, EyePet can transform the pictures you draw into 3-D objects, such as a small plane that he can fly about in.

This is a technical triumph and highly entertaining. There are, however, flies in the ointment. First, the instructions are often confusing. Another problem is that because you are moving in three dimensions objects that are represented on screen in only two, many actions are fiddly. In particular, if the plastic sheet is not face-on to the webcam, the virtual toy disappears. Despite the range of activities, there is little sense of your EyePet evolving as with, say, a Tamagotchi. Finally, though you can download extra elements from Sony´s online store (new clothes, for example) online gameplay is limited. Taken in combination, these factors may limit EyePet´s long-term appeal. Even so, it will keep most ankle-biters smitten until January at least, and Sony says EyePet will soon be let off the leash with online updates.

Nicolas Doucet, creative director of EyePet, says the company aims to add EyePet content and activities – some of which will be free – and also make it simpler to share pictures or video clips that players have created. “One day, it may even be possible to have pets playing together online, but we want to see what proves popular first,” he said.

So after years of watching Nintendo garner the plaudits for family-friendly gaming, Sony has a potentially huge hit that will entrance pre-teens and parents. Be warned, though. Once EyePet becomes the talk of the playground, you are unlikely to be able to find a copy for love nor monkey.

ANIMAL MAGIC

Tamagotchi
Hatched in 1996, a Tamagotchi is an egg-shaped electronic toy embodying a virtual pet. You must feed, clean and tend to it by pressing buttons regularly or it will “die”. Critics argue the pets prey on a child´s obsessiveness. Maybe, but it´s also an early glimpse of parenthood. More than 70m have been sold.

Nintendogs
Unleashed in 2005, Nintendogs challenges DS owners to care for a virtual puppy using the handheld console´s touchscreen and microphone. You feed your canine chum, play with a Frisbee, or order it, for example, to roll over. Nintendogs is the DS´s bestselling game, with more than 20m copies shifted.

Neopets
In this Second Life-style website, players scamper around as digital pets in the fictional world of Neopia. Adam Powell, a British student, conceived the idea in 1997. In 2005 MTV snapped up Neopets for a reported $160m. That´s hardly chicken feed.

**********

[From GameSpot (“The Go-To Source for All Things Video Games”)]

Sony London reveals new IP; Getaway 3, Eight Days ‘not abandoned’

By Thomas Cusseau, Gamekult.com & Alex Sassoon Coby, GameSpot UK

Posted Oct 6, 2009

While discussing EyePet, art director Nicolas Doucet mentions all-new project, says two presumed- canceled PS3 games are still alive, but “on hold.”

[snip]

GK: Why have you created “your” animal, rather than using existing creatures, such as cats or dogs?

ND: There were several concepts, not only involving animals. We wanted to pull players in, and it was also natural enough–when your see yourself with the camera–to have a companion next to you. The design of the creature itself has changed enormously. At the start, we wanted the creature to have the face of his master, to inject it with the player’s DNA somehow. But we soon realised that it ended up being a little scary. We failed to design a creature that looks like his master and is cute. We preferred the cute side.

[snip to end]

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