Genre: Virtual Pet, Simulation
Original Release: July 29, 1999
Developers: Sega, Vivarium Inc., Jellyvision
Publishers: Sega, Vivarium Inc., ASCII Corporation
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
I want to say that it was about two or three years ago that I really took to collecting video games in earnest. I don’t know what exactly started my launch into the habit, but I do remember reading about a game that was so weird that I had to find a copy and play it, no matter what.
That game was Seaman. I got lucky and found a complete boxed copy on ebay for only about $50. It had the microphone attachment, the disc, and the manual as well as the original box. Which is good because I wouldn’t be able to play it without the microphone and Seaman would have probably died within a few days if I hadn’t learned how to clean the tank and feed him.
So what exactly is Seaman? Well…it’s probably most accurate to call it a virtual pet sim, except in this case the pet can talk to you and it’s actually key to their growth to hold a conversation and tell them about yourself. Beyond that, it’s fairly simple: Keep the tank’s air fresh, keep the heat within a certain range, make sure the inhabitants are fed once a day, and they’ll take care of the rest.
Setting aside the fact that Seaman’s face is modeled after that of designer Yoot Saito, the whole game is simple, but strange. As Seaman grows, he will ask you more and more about yourself. Your religious beliefs, political ideals and so on. It’s done less to attempt to antagonize you, but more to get to know you as his custodian. In fact, Seaman’s approach to conversation makes you learn a little bit more about yourself in the process. At least it did for me, but I was also recording a playthrough for those curious about the game and felt the need to clarify my reasoning behind some of the yes or no answers I provided.
The game itself takes place entirely within the confines of a laboratory previously owned by a Dr. Jean Paul Gasse. Every time you start the game, you’re given advice about what to do next by the narrator. In the US release, the narrator is played by Leonard Nimoy (and let me tell you, it was always a delight to hear Leonard Nimoy say hello to me when the game started) and in Japan, they’re played by Toshiyuki Hosokawa.
The game itself can take anywhere from a month to roughly 47 days, where my run concluded, depending on how much time you spend with Seaman each day. It is possible for Seaman to die if the tank’s condition deteriorates too much, he isn’t fed, or if he gets sick from eating a spider and doesn’t recover. Should you manage to maintain the tank and Seaman’s health though, he’ll eventually mature, evolving from a gillman to a frogman as part of his life cycle.
The game ends shortly after Seaman fully matures into a frogman, but you can continue to come back and talk with him each day if you’d like to. I did for one day, but that was as far as I went.
Calling this game weird, or even a game, feels like I’m both underselling and overselling it at the same time. Voice recognition is a little dodgy, especially when you say you’re a geology major and for some reason Seaman thinks you said literature, but I’m willing to give this a pass since it came out just before the new millennium. I’m glad to have played it, and I feel a little weird, knowing that I had to think about what Seaman asked me for as long as I did, but I still feel good about experiencing something this iconic.
And you know what’s even better? There’s a Seaman 2. It was only ever released in Japan on the Playstation 2, but it is a sequel to Seaman. And if I can ever find the required custom gamepad, a Japanese PS2, and learn enough Japanese to actually understand what I’m doing as well as communicate with the game, I can guarantee you that I’ll cover it at some point.
UPDATE: I literally just published this and realized I forgot to link to my playthrough. Here you go! Not every episode is on YouTube at the time of writing, but there are twenty episodes total. Enjoy!