It's exceedingly difficult to give Seaman a score. That's because Seaman isn't a game. Seaman is a virtual pet, and Seaman is completely unlike anything that has come before. At times he seems like little more than a surly, abusive Tamagotchi. Other times, he creates the illusion of actually being alive. Seaman, above all else, is weird.

 When Seamen attack!
A Seaman facial shot.

   Your first clue that Seaman is strange comes before the game proper even begins. Your narrator and guide through the strange world of Seaman introduces himself as Leonard Nimoy. The world of Seaman begins in a nearly Biblical void of emptiness. As the creator, it is up to you to introduce air, heat, and light. Once the tank is set to optimum living conditions, you drop in your solitary egg. The egg soon hatches into bizarre sperm-like creatures called Mushroomers. Mushroomers don't talk, don't listen--they don't do much of anything, actually, except get eaten by a strange, ink-spewing mollusk called the Nautilus. Nothing happens. You turn off the Dreamcast and come back the next day. Still, nothing happens. Nothing happens quite often in the world of Seaman, and much of the "gameplay" consists of sitting around waiting for things to happen.

   Eventually, the Mushroommers will become Gillmen: tiny versions of the full grown Seaman. Gillmen have a child's face, a fish's body, and speak only in pre-verbal baby talk. Nothing happens for several days. Your Gillmen may speak a word or two. "Good," "night night," "Seaman," and "stupid" are all popular words that Gillmen use to express themselves. Then, one morning, about a week after this whole journey began, you'll power up your Dreamcast only to hear fully verbalized whining: "It's cold in here!" And so the game begins.

Be thankful for small favors
We could joke about this guy having Seaman on his hand, but we won't.

   The bulk of Seaman's "gameplay" comes from interacting with your personal pet. This means keeping the tank at comfortable levels, tickling it when it's good and scolding it when it's bad, and talking to it. Seaman comes with a special microphone adapter that plugs into your Dreamcast controller. Your virtual pet is a born conversationalist, with thousands of lines of dialogue and hundreds of words and phrases it can recognize. Seaman will ask you about your gender, your age, your birthday, your occupation, your hobbies, your significant other. He files this information away to bring up later and use against you. Seaman is a hateful, spiteful, surly, ungrateful little pet. Creator Yoot Saito said in an interview that his goal was for the gamer to hate Seaman (he felt this was preferable to indifference). He succeeded in his goal quite admirably: most gamers will hate Seaman a lot.

   But you'll have a great time raising him. The process of nurturing a Seaman from egg to its ultimate evolutionary form is, in its way, rewarding. The crew at Jellyvision has done a great job of localizing Seaman into English, giving him dozens of appropriate and scathing barbs for every occasion -- you won't be able to help but laugh, even at your own expense. As your Seaman amasses a wealth of knowledge about yourself, you can't help but feel like you're actually witnessing history; that Seaman may actually be alive inside your Dreamcast. Raising him is hard work, but watching him evolve and change is a reward in and of itself. Like any good parent, you'll dedicate yourself completely to the happiness of your Seaman--even if he's ungrateful in return.

   Then, one morning, you wake up to find that the magic is gone. You realize that you've been rearranging your schedule to take care of a virtual pet two to three times a day. You realize that neither Seaman nor your Dreamcast is actually thinking, but just following carefully crafted, exceedingly detailed conversation trees. You realize that you're not talking with Seaman, but nine times out of ten just saying "Yes" and "No" to prefabricated questions. You realize that Seaman gets hot at 20.1 degrees and gets cold at 14.9 degrees, but is absolutely perfect anywhere in between. You realize that the rapidly clouding tank and perpeptually falling heater are just artificial roadblocks tossed in to make you feel like you're doing something when you visit the tank.

   But you probably had a good time for those few weeks when you were raising him, and Seaman gave you an experience completely unlike what any other game could give you. Seaman is not a game; Seaman is a pet. If you're willing to pay $50 for a gaming experience like no other which uses innovative gameplay technology, Seaman is worth it. If the idea of spending a week learning to move a rock with your Seaman is off-putting, stay away. If you're curious, rent Seaman and constantly reset the Dreamcast clock. It's worth spending even fleeting, accelerated moments with Seaman, if only to understand what it's like to have a love/hate relationship with a non-existent creature.

Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
Developer Vivarium
Publisher Sega of America
Genre Simulation
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Dreamcast
Release Date  07.29.99
15 E3 screenshots
The stages of Seaman life
Christmas Seaman / Seaman Dreamcast / Japanese packaging