Get home from work to find Fed-Ex delivery notice stuck to my front door. Practically run to the apartment leasing office to pick up my package. Will it be Seaman...? Well, obviously. I really want to play it, but am due in the pub. Walk across the road to pub, still clutching my copy of Seaman. Sit at bar and open up packaging. Foam microphone covers drop to pub floor. I get strange looks. Mike the Barman asks what I've got. I tell him. He is thinking of buying a Dreamcast, but will probably wait for the PS2. The idea of Seaman has him intrigued. Wait for friends to turn up. Eventually one friend turns up. The others are in the office working late and will probably not make it. Slackers. Friend notices my box.
"You've got a present! What is it?"
"Please get it off the table."
I explain. She, too, is intrigued by the concept. Three hours later I leave the pub. When I get home I have a choice. Go straight to bed or start playing Seaman and hope my Guinness-clouded brain can cope with the strangeness. Seaman wins.
Spend a stupidly long time assembling the microphone and swapping VMUs round. Once everything is set up, I turn on the Dreamcast. Lots of copyright screens, followed by the dulcet tones of Leonard Nimoy. He introduces himself and talks a bit about Seaman. One thing that strikes me as odd is that he tells me to remember that the colour of the sea is blue. A clue?
I am now looking at an tank, empty but for a few rocks and a shellfish. From the (p)reviews of the game I read, I seem to remember that the shellfish is called Natilus. I play around with the controls, zooming in and out. Find the controls to adjust air, heat and light. Increase the amount of air. At a certain point the numbers displaying the amount of air turn blue. I assume Mr. Nimoy was giving an unsubtle hint and leave the air on that setting. Same goes for heat. The light has three settings - off, dim and bright. I leave it dim.
Spend ages trying to pick up an egg on the inventory screen and drop it in the tank. Eventually I have to resort to the manual. I am careful only to look at the controls and try to avoid spoilers. Drop egg in tank. It bobs about in the water. Minutes pass... and then the egg is gone and eight little creatures are swimming around my tank. They look a lot like tadpoles. They swim around and sometimes fasten themselves to the edge of the tank. If I tap on the glass they lazily swim over to see what the fuss is about.
I remember from a review that the Natilus is the key to evolving the creatures. But I know no more that that. So I tap on the glass near the Natilus. The tadpoles (mushroomers I believe they're officially called) swim over. After a few seconds there are only four mushroomers left in the tank. But I press on with my tactic. Now the Natilus does not eat the mushroomers. Instead, he sprays ink at them and runs away. Hurrah! Go my babies, harass the nasty creature that ate your siblings!
After a few more minutes the Natilus crawls out of its shell and lies on the bottom of the tank. He starts spraying ink furiously. But some of this ink is red. He seems to be dying. Suddenly, four little creatures shoot out from the Natilus, which lies still and fades away.
I have Gillmen. Four of them. Tiny fish with human faces. They are actually quite cute in a creepy, "aaarghh run for your lives" type way. They come and investigate when I tap on the side of the tank. They seem quicker and more inquisitive than the mushroomers, four of which are still swimming round the tank. I drop some food into the tank. The Gillmen come over to investigate. The food does not last long. I save and go to bed.
Turn on DC for a quick check before work. In his opening narration Leonard tells me I'm doing a great job and now have (DC spins noisily) four (DC spins noisily again) Gillmen in my tank. However they are cold and I should do something about it.
I raise the temperature and feed the little guys. I notice that once the food pellet is dropped two Seaman will come along and investigate (nibble on it?), but when the third comes along the pellet disappears. This leaves one Gillman who is definitely not getting any food. I mentally prepare myself for the inevitable heart-break to come.
My Gillmen are talking. Not real talk, but baby talk. Odd noises that almost sound like words. It's endearing. I resolve to learn how to use the microphone when I get back from work.
Notice that my four remaining mushroomers have disappeared. I save and go to work.
Get home from work to find all Seaman still alive. Tonight I will try talking to them. Decide to read the manual. There are no spoilers and a lot of useful information. I learn how to tickle and hypnotize my Gillmen. Tickling causes them to laugh and puts a big smile on their faces. Hypnotizing them causes them to float upside-down for a few seconds. It is funny.
My Seaman are not talking English yet. I trying talking to them. Sometimes I get an '!' icon on my VMU which means the Gillmen think they understand me, sometimes I get an '????' to indicate that they don't know what I said. Sometimes I get no icon at all, which I assume means they're not listening. Seem to get better results if I raise the pitch of my voice a bit.
After a few minutes of getting no intelligent response I switch to (bad) French. I get the '!' icon. I ask a Gillman if he speaks French. He's looks at me at says, "I'm learning." Success! A real response. Ask another Gillman if he speaks English. "You first", is the reply. I believe I am starting to see the beginnings of the famed Seaman attitude. But I have also found out that my accent isn't a total barrier. It remains to be seen whether it will any sort of problem.
Save the game and switch the DC off. I am back about an hour later. Leonard tells me that I don't have to visit so much. Tap on the glass and the Gillmen swim over. I suddenly realize that the they all have different faces. Similar, but not the same. One is especially different and I decide I'll be able to recognize him in the future. I name him Bob and spend a lot of time tickling and talking to him.
Before bed I come back for another quick visit. Leonard tells me that I seem to becoming obsessed. And if there's anyone who knows about obsessives, it's Leonard Nimoy. Look for Bob. Realize that I can't tell him apart from the others after all. Am quite depressed. Turn out the lights in the tank, save and go to bed.
Get up and before I do anything else I wander into the living room. Feeding time. Gillmen still speaking baby talk. Ask one if he can speak English. "What's the point?" I have no answer. Notice that the Gillmen are not as unique as I thought - but if I bring them over to the side of the tank I do know which one Bob is. I seem to have a couple of identical twins. Rename Bob to Barney. The other unique Gillman is Peter. The other two are The Other Two. Save and go to work.
On way to work realize that feeding my Gillmen at seven in the morning will not happen at weekends. They will have to go hungry. I am not getting up early at weekends to feed a video game. When I am away from Seaman I think of it as a game. When I am in front of the tank playing with the creatures and setting up their environment, they are living creatures to me. I find this slightly disturbing - but I still cannot wait to get home and see how the little chaps are getting on.
Lots happened over the weekend. It's difficult to remember everything, but I'll give it a go. The things Seaman says are mostly all paraphrased as I can't remember them exactly. As always, major spoilers follow.
My four Gillmen know some words. "Yes", "No", "Play", "Seaman", "baby". That kind of thing. I talk to them but don't get much of a response. They're quite endearing. They are definitely still young. Decide that I want to move from a morning feed to evening and therefore feed the Gillmen at about half one in the morning.
Same as last night. I'm constantly trying new words, but the vocab seems very limited. From a post I made to another newsgroup on Saturday afternoon - "At this stage they seem to react to the first word that they hear and understand. Say "baby seaman" and it says "baby". Say "seaman baby" and it says "seaman". I've got a few more responses. If I say "friend" they always say either "fun" or "play". Same response with "Dreamcast". "Fish" is another word they know. In another context I mentioned "Wales" and it just turned to me and said a very emphatic "no". May have been coincidence, but I like to believe it was a real response - albeit due to a misunderstanding."
Get back from pub at about 2:30am. (I love Texan licensing laws.) Need to feed Seaman. My Seaman are talking - in sentences!
Can remember that my Gillman were talking, but cannot remember what they said. Stagger to sofa. I feel unwell, but I must check up on my Gillmen. They are talking in childish voices, but they are really talking! Not about much, but now I can tell if they need anything. Find out that the tank is still too hot. Last night I managed to turn the heat up way too far and it still hasn't cooled down to comfortable levels. Oops. Now when I tickle my Gillmen they tell me to stop. But I keep tickling one. "Stop it, you're gonna make pee." I stop at that point. They are also fond of telling me to go away. Their bodies have changed, too. Where once they were translucent, they now have proper scales.
I am having fun talking to the four of them when *it* happens. The Gillman I am talking to swims underneath another one. The tentacle on his head straightens vertically and plunges into the other Gillman's underbelly. The other Gillman cries out 'No, stop it!" then goes slack-jawed and quiet. The tentacle pulses as if something is passing through it. After the horror stops, one Gillman is looking smug, the other is lying on his side, floating to the top of the tank. I try tickling him, no response. I try talking to him, no response. I keep trying until I hear a 'No, stop!" from another area of the tank. Another Gillman is under attack. I now only have two left. I watch until the corpses on the surface sink to the bottom of the tank. Then I leave.
Leonard consoles me in his opening narration. This is just how Seaman are. Some die so the others may live. Bastards. I try telling a Gillman off for eating his brother. He turns, looks me straight in the eye and in his childish voice says, "Maybe I'll eat YOU." This is both very creepy and very funny. It also seems like a good time to turn off and go play Giga Wing for a while.
That was quick - my two remaining Gillmen are now adults. Only one can talk,
the other seems to be an idiot.
The talking Seaman is very chatty. "I only went on sale recently and you're already here caring for me. I'm impressed." In his opening narration Nimoy said that Seaman wanted a name. In the manual it says to say, "I will name you, Seaman." I try this. It takes ages to get the Gillman to understand what I want to do. But eventually he understands and I name him "Sushi".
Sushi asks me a question.
"Are you male or female?"
" Ah, so you're a female of the species?"
" It wasn't a difficult question. Let's try it another way. Are you a boy or a girl?"
" Oh. I was hoping to meet a lady, but I guess I'm in no position to complain."
He also asks me for my birthday. That conversation goes off without a hitch. He points out that as Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart share my birthday I should be a good actor. "Think back nine months. It must have been a cold autumn. You can't blame your parents for wanting to stay warm. But I can."
Sushi is a nice gold colour. Idiot Brother is just sort of brown. I think Idiot Brother may be a grown up Barney, but I've no idea which of the Gillmen grew up to be Sushi.
I am having trouble with the voice recognition. Some things go okay, but I cannot ask Sushi if he is hungry, whether he wants food, etc. Every variation seems to meet with failure. Sometimes I get the "!" icon, but get a nonsensical reply. Eventually I get through to and find out that, no, he's not hungry. He does tell me to investigate the moth cage, as he likes to eat larvae. I look at the cage - which has magically appeared a couple of L-Trigger presses away - and then save and exit.
I come back later in the evening and Nimoy tells me to raise the moisture level in the moth cage. I do and a bit later I have four larva crawling around. I drop one in the tank. Neither Sushi nor Idiot Brother are hungry. I've wasted precious larvae. Bugger.
The tank is cold when I get up. Sushi is complaining. When I turn up the heat he says, "About time." Idiot Brother shouts, "Yay!' in a slow, dimwitted, playing-banjo-on-the-porch, type way. So he can talk - still doesn't respond at all - not even with a '???' if I try to talk to him, though..The guys still aren't hungry, but this time I only waste a pellet finding out.
I hope they survive the day - they haven't eaten in over 24 hours. Er, unless you count the fact that they ate their siblings. I guess that gave them enough nutrition to last a while.
My Gillmen are hungry. I drop a food pellet in the tank. Idiot Brother eats it. Sushi is still hungry. Great, now they need even more food than before. Drop another food pellet in. I now only have one left. In the moth cage I still have two larvae, but the other one has cocooned himself. As I watch one of the larvae crawls along a leaf and then suddenly wobbles and falls to the ground. It's the little touches that make this special.
Back in the main tank I'm talking to Sushi when he asks me my occupation.
Me: "I'm a web designer."
Sushi "What? I'll ask one more time?"
Me: "I design web sites."
Sushi "What? I'll ask one more time?"
Me: "I make Internet sites."
Sushi: "Ah, so you're a consultant of some kind?"
Me: "...sort of"
Sushi: "OK" (or words to that effect)
While talking to Sushi I hear a voice from the other side of the tank. "I need a dump." Look over to see Idiot Brother swimming around near a brown ball of Seaman poo. Nice. Idiot Brother starts to talk to me. So he can talk properly. When I leave him I find Sushi won't talk. I guess they get jealous and pissed off if you talk to the other Gillman.
(Of course, I could put it down to a limitation of the software. But that would be defeating the point of the exercise. I have to treat this as real as possible and try to fill in the gaps myself. It might be nice to go through at a later date and try to work out all the programming tricks and exactly how things work, but I don't want to do that yet. Which is at the heart of the dilemma that I will outline at the end of this post.)
Check in again on returning from the pub but nothing much of interest happens that I can recall. Hey, I only had three pints and a chicken pie - I'm not having any trouble with my memory. The only thing of note is that it's now Sushi who is talking to me and Idiot Brother is silent once more.
The Gillmen are hungry again. Again? Only fed them last night. I drop one of the moth larvae into the tank. Sushi gobbles it down hungrily. To make sure Idiot Brother doesn't starve I drop my last remaining food pellet into the tank. "No thanks, I'm still full." Aaargh! I wasted my last pellet. Either Idiot Brother wasn't hungry or one larvae (larva?) contains enough food for both. After saying hello to Sushi - "What are doing up so early?" - I leave and get ready for work.
Realize I didn't spray the moth cage. Revisit the tank and pump up the moisture. The cocoon has split and a moth with a human face (pretty much my worst nightmare, actually) is sitting inside the broken cocoon. As I watch he starts to spread out a bit, but doesn't start flying. Back in the tank I turn on the lights. "Hey! I'm trying to get some sleep." Fine. You can stay in the dark all day then.
So I currently have one moth, one larvae, one cocoon and no food pellets. It's not looking good. Will the moths reproduce in time to let me feed Sushi and Idiot Brother? Given the amount of food I've wasted over the course of the experience so far, my fishy friends may soon die. However, you can swap items between VMUs. So if I buy a new VMU and start a new habitat I should be able to steal all the food pellets and use them to feed Sushi and Idiot Brother until the moth colony gets going. However, whichever you cut it, this is cheating and completely against the spirit of how I've been experiencing Seaman. But I don't want my Seaman to die. Would you blame a father for cheating at a card game if it was to get money for his child's life-saving operation?
There's also the fact that a new VMU will cost twenty bucks - and I already bought a new one last week for Seaman. Plus, you may need to actually swap items - simply transferring an item from one VMU to another may not be an option. I really should have read the manual before coming to work. I need to make a decision and make sure I don't leave it too late. If I don't buy a VMU this evening I may find that by tomorrow evening it's all over.
I have not bought a VMU. My Gillmen are complaining that they're hungry.
I switch to the moth tank. There are two moths. The first time one flutters towards me I pretty much jump out of my skin. But I stay and watch them for a long time. They look beautiful (except for the faces). If I don't get food soon, this may be the last time I see them for a while.
In my desperation I drop a moth into the tank. It lies on the surface, flutters a little and goes still. Great, I wasted a moth.
Back in the tank I look closely and notice there are two eggs in the moth cage. Could this be a lifeline? Before they hatch I spy movement in the back of the tank. I zoom in. I have a spider. Is this new creature friend or foe? An essential part of the ecosystem or a mere predator? The creepiest moment in Seaman so far is when the spider starts running straight towards me. Shudder.
Checking back an hour or so later I notice there is one larva in the cage, and no eggs. Where did the other egg go? I suspect the spider, but without proof I feel unable to convict him. But I have a larva and without further ado I snatch him up and drop him in the tank. Sushi swims over and chomps him. Some falls from his mouth and Idiot Brother eats it up. Disaster has been averted... for now.
Now he's been fed, Sushi
is very chatty. He asks whether I'm married, have kids, live alone, etc.
Then he asks
about my Dad. After giving him all the info
he puts on an evil villain voice and says, "My knowledge of you and your
family is becoming ever more complete." After asking about my mother he puts on the same voice and says, "Ah, it's all starting to make sense." I'm starting to think that I should unplug my modem while visiting Seaman.
Eventually Sushi runs out of things to say. For no real reason I say "crap" into the microphone. Sushi says, "I'm beginning to understand you better", and flings a huge lump of Seaman poo out of his tentacle right at me. Luckily it hits the glass of the tank, and not me. I can't get him to repeat the trick and eventually he gets annoyed with me and swims off.
No source of food in moth cage yet.
Two more eggs in the moth cage! And the Gillmen aren't hungry! Praise be to The Holy Code Of Vivarium! The spider has spun a web. Both eggs must survive. One to feed the Gillmen tonight and one to grow into a moth to produce more food. The spider gets dropped into the tank. He sinks to the bottom. The Gillmen ignore him. Leonard has told me to expect a change in how the Gillmen look today. I'm excited.
After this I check the newsgroups and read a 'Seaman Hint' message. It says to *never* feed spiders to your Seamen. Oops. Well, they didn't eat it. Maybe I'll be okay. Maybe. I don't want to start all over from the beginning, but if I had to I'd do it in a heartbeat.
The moth cage is coming along nicely. I have a couple of larvae, a moth and two eggs. Looks like things are going to be okay there. Sushi and Idiot Brother are complaining of hunger. I now have one larva, a moth and two eggs.
My Gillmen are changing, as Leonard told me they would. The front fins have changed shape, becoming flatter and longer. Two little legs have sprouted towards the rear. I am watching evolution take place. I am also watching my Gillmen use their new-found limbs to swim backwards. Useful...
Sushi asks me whether I like myself.
"I bet you do. I bet you like yourself at least twice a day." (Smirk.)
After a little speech Sushi asks me another question. The phone rings so I press Start to pause. It's someone asking me if I want to change long-distance phone companies. After he does not take no for an answer three times I hang up during the middle of one of his speeches. It is the first time I have ever hung up on someone while they are talking. I'm quite proud of myself. Sushi isn't. I interrupted his question and now he is in a huff and will not speak to me, except to tell me that he's not talking to me...
...After getting back from the pub (four Guinness, one cottage pie, one episode of Survivor) I return to the tank. Sushi is talking to me again and today seems to be psyche evaluation day. Sushi keeps asking me more questions. Do I think other people like me? Do I consider myself attractive? And more. After each answer he tells me what a nice person I am, which is odd seeing as he seems to hate me most of the time. I can't figure him out.
Another spider has invaded the moth cage. I leave him be, though there is only one egg left. I think that maybe the spider will play an important role in keeping the numbers in the cage down - if he wasn't there I may have more moths and larvae than the plant in the cage could support. After the larvae chomp on it, it looks very threadbare but seems to recover overnight. But could it reach a stage where so much has been eaten away that it would die?
Gillmen with legs are no longer Gillmen. But I cannot understand what Leonard calls them. Oddfish? Podfish? Something like that. Until I work out what he's saying I'll just call them Seamen. Leonard also says that I need to prepare to drain the tank as the Seamen will soon need to live on land. How do I do that? Another worry. My Seamen's back legs have got a lot stronger overnight and the area round Sushi's face seems to have changed colour.
I do the usual maintenance. Air, heat, food, spray. I sit down and watch Sushi for a bit. It's one of those "can't get off the sofa and get to work" moments. Sushi turns to the camera. "Let's get it on," he says. Idiot Brother swims over Sushi. They lock their tentacles against each other. "This isn't the Spice Channel, you should look away." I keep watching. Something pulses through the tentacles, traveling from Idiot Brother to Sushi. Is Sushi sucking, or is Idiot Brother blowing? It may be best that I don't know. Eventually they stop. "You've no idea how much of a relief that is," Sushi says happily. Idiot Brother lies on his side and floats up towards the top of the tank. Oh dear. Is he dead, or is this just a case of post-coital unconsciousness? I'll find out this evening, but I'm guessing the former.
Idiot Brother gave his all to ensure the survival of the species, Leonard tells me. He also tells me to try and move the big rock, though I won't be able to do it alone. Rocks? He's thinking about rocks in this time of grief? The man has no emotions, I tell you...
The moth cage is teeming with life. It's a wonderful sight. Sushi's back legs are now much bigger and look like frog legs - if Lou Ferrigno was playing the frog.
While turning up the heat in Sushi's tank I hear Idiot Brother's cry of 'yay'! Is this the ghost of idiot brother? Is Sushi doing a cruel impression of his dead sibling (and mate)? Was it Sushi all along? I seem to be detecting previously unheard elements of sarcasm in the cry.
I don't try to talk much to Sushi. He asks me a bit about computers and I answer, but I'm more concerned with moving the rock. I grab it and start rocking it. Sushi says he'll help move it if I can answer a riddle. Eventually I get one right (he seems to understand me perfectly when I answer these) and gets down on his back legs and starts pushing the wrong with his front fins. For a brief but bizarre moment I am reminded of Lara Croft. The rock moves. But not much. Sushi is tried so I wait until he is rested before we try again. "What do you get if you put a cat in a fish bowl?" Ah, this one's easy. The rock moves a bit more. After four pushes nothing much has happened and Sushi is exhausted. "Ooh, my back," he says.
So I wander off for a while, meet some new people and fight some monsters. Hang on, no, that's Chrono Cross. Anyway, I return to the tank about two and a half hours after I left and Sushi is still knackered. I make sure everything's set up for the night and go to bed.
I adjust the heat, oxygen and spray and feed Sushi one of the many larvae that I now have. Then I start trying to move the rock. He ignores it and asks me about the Internet. Eventually, he seems to notice that I'm pulling on the rock and comes down to help. His final question that I have to get right? "Is there life after death?" My answer satisfies him and the rock moves a little more. The water starts draining from the tank, eventually leaving only one small pool over to the right of the tank. Sushi swims over and stays in the pool, but jumps out as does back flips every now and again. I leave him to it.
I get home from work and check in on Sushi. Leonard tells me that he's about to give birth. I'm excited, but all Sushi seems to want to do is talk about the Internet. We chat for a while. I'm getting impatient. I tell him to give birth already, but get "???" in response. Eventually, though, Sushi swims over to the side of the tank and uses his legs to pull himself up out of the water. For the first time in his life he is walking on dry land. His face is creased from the effort and he's groaning with every step he takes. I am unreasonably proud of him. He takes a few steps across the tank and turns around and walks back towards the water. When he gets close to the edge he stops and I watch as he passes eggs through his tentacle. Each one lands by the side of the pool and has something small swimming around inside it. The eggs keep coming until there are six lying next to each other at the water's edge. Sushi says, "I've done what I came to do. See you later." He falls onto his side and lies still.
A few minutes later he still hasn't moved.
I turn off the DC and get myself a can of Coke. Then I turn the DC back on. Leonard once more does nothing but confirm my fears. Sushi died giving birth. I watch the eggs for a while and mourn my friend. Then, without warning, all the eggs burst at once and six brown, tadpole-like creatures dive into the water. I try talking to one of them. I don't remember what I said, or what he said, but the important thing is that he is talking in Sushi's voice. It's not baby talk, it's not child talk, it's full adult Seaman talk. Although the new guys do not respond to Sushi's name, I can't help but feel that he lives on in them.
Later that evening, away from the tank, I think back to Sushi and I am suddenly sad again. This disturbs me. Forgive me for breaking the illusion here, but Sushi was not a living creature. He was a piece of software running on a games console and displayed on my TV. And yet I feel a loss. Of course, I've felt sad before when fictional characters have died. I cried when E.T. died and, more recently, I felt something when a character in Suikoden 2 died. I read a book last year where one of the characters died and I wrote that there was "a real echo of grief and loss". And there was. But it didn't come back to hit me a few hours later. There was a memory of how I felt when the character died, but the feelings themselves had gone.
Why was the death of Sushi any different? He wasn't 'real'. But he obviously existed in some ways. Of course, I interacted with him. I saw his facial expressions, heard his voice, talked to him. How do I really know that he wasn't thinking? When does a simulation of thought end the creation of thought begin? Seaman is the first step on that road and how we, as humans, deal with software as it becomes ever more sophisticated will tell us a lot about ourselves.
But for now, all these questions are swirling round my head and I miss my friend. This is silly. This is insane. This, people, is the future.
In the interests of full disclosure, however, I should mention that this thought process does take place in the pub, from pints eight to ten. Which is near the beginning of the evening.
Ouch. I don't spend much time with my new Tadmen (as Leonard calls them) today. My morning visit is very short and is just a quick check to make sure everyone's still alive. The Tadmen are fine. I'm hanging on by a thread, though.
The evening visit is much more interesting and cheers me up a lot. I'm talking to one of the Tadmen about my health. He responds by telling me my star sign means I take my health for granted too much. What's important here is not his concern about my well-being, but the fact that he knew my star sign. He remembered. Sushi's memories truly do live on in the new breed. So, while Sushi has died, all his memories and his personality live on. And while his personality is perhaps not something that most people would see as a positive character trait, I'm just glad he's still around.
The morning visit is, again, quite short. I heat up the tank and make sure the moth cage is nice and damp. I've got a real little ecosystem in there. Moths lay eggs. Eggs hatch into larvae. Larvae eat plant. Larvae become moths. Spider keeps moth numbers down. I talk to one of the Tadmen for a bit. Nothing important, just a general chat.
"Seaman." (This is a good standard greeting.)
(!)"This better be important."
"How are you?"
(!)"Been better, been... worse."
(!)"Nah, I don't think so."
(???)"Coming, your majesty."
Eventually we get talking about games consoles. The conversation starts in the morning and continues during my evening visit. He asks me whether I like my Dreamcast, whether I own any other games consoles, that sort of thing. His response when I tell him I also own a Playstation is hilarious, but writing it down wouldn't do it justice. It's the way he tells them.
During the conversation a Tadman swims under the one I'm talking to. "Get off sucker!" the Tadman I am talking to cries. Too late. The other Tadman plunges his tentacle into the belly of the first and sucks him dry. This is not unexpected. Unphased - though still, surprisingly, disgusted by the sight - I move over to another Tadman and continue my conversation. He seems pleased when I tell him that I'm not really looking forward to other new consoles. He tells me this is because it means I'm not too obsessed with videogames, but I smell fear. Don't worry, Seaman, I'm not going to trade your hardware in at EB for a PS2. The Tadman seems disappointed with me when I tell him that Seaman is favourite game and tells me I don't need to suck up to him. But I'm not, Seaman is my favourite Dreamcast 'game'. And I don't think he'd have heard of Bangaioh.
He then talks about the exact think that I've been thinking about over the weekend. He talks about his own existence. It's very strange. I guess he knew I'd be thinking about this after Sushi's death. He complains that some people say he doesn't exist. He gets quite agitated when he asks whether I know what it's like to be told you don't exist. He launches into a speech about how he's here, thinking, breathing and therefore must exist. The gist is that he thinks, therefore he is. He doesn't come right out and say that phrase, but I know it's what he's thinking.
I have never before had a piece of software both acknowledge that it is software and also assert its existence as a living being. It's very strange and goes to the heart of what I said earlier. Where does simulation end and reality begin? The Tadman tells me he needs time to think about it and swims off.
As we've been talking, legs have been growing from the Tadman. They start out small, but by the end of our conversation they've grown very long and I can pick out individual toes on each foot. It's odd. It's like watching a clock. You can't see the hand move, but you suddenly realise it's showing ten past, and when you started it was five past. The legs are like that. I don't see them change, but I do notice that they have changed.
When I leave there are only four Tadmen left alive.
There still are four Tadmen. According to Leonard, the feet I saw are actually hands. The legs seem to be in the wrong place to be arms, but Leonard knows all. He also gives me another little speech about survival of the fittest, the continuation of the species, etc. Give it rest, I get the message. But as the Tadmen are just different aspects of a group consciousness (or something) it doesn't really matter. The mind lives on.
A Tadman comes over and tells me that he's decided that he does exist. He looks quite happy about it. He tells me that he guesses I never met JFK or The Beatles, but I think they existed. Yeah, but they weren't made of polygons. Not that Seaman looks bad. The faces are nicely rounded. Not perfect, but looking good. If you took Kryten from Red Dwarf, peeled his face off and placed it in the microwave for a few seconds you might have something that looked like Seaman's face. Rounded edges, but with the traces of the hard edges still there. Or you might just have a pool of bubbling plastic, which bears no resemblance to Seaman at all. Microwaves are funny like that.
Anyway, I say goodbye to a Tadman (I always say goodbye or goodnight before I leave) and go to work.
I check in on the Tadmen. They're cold, but still not hungry. There are still four of them. No one's been eaten while I was at work. After the normal pleasantries one of the Tadmen launches into a speech about how nothing exists until it is perceived. Using his faulty logic (well, he is only a few days old) he decides that he exists because I can perceive him. And then decides that when he turns away from me I will cease to exist as he will no longer be perceiving me. He smiles a smug smile, looks at me for a second and turns away. I do not blink out of existence. The Tadman decides that he needs more time to think and won't talk to me again, except to tell me to go away.
Later that evening I check back in.The Tadmen still do not want to speak to me. It's during my attempts to get them to talk about something that I realise how good the voice recognition is now. Almost all my questions seem to be understood. They also understand, "What's the matter?", for the first time. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you." Even "let's talk", which I had a lot of trouble with before, is now being understood. Doesn't help. The Tadmen just tell me they don't want to talk anymore.
They seem upset about something. If I say sorry, I just got told, "you should be". What have I done wrong? The Tadmen are warm and well fed. (I've never had to feed them, but they've never wanted food when I've asked.) What's going on?
Get up at seven and check in as normal. Leonard tells me I'm doing a good job. It helps ease my mind. Maybe Tadmen are just naturally unpleasant little bastards. They are still not talking to me about much. However, comments like, "Oh, you got up to make me breakfast" and "Where's the coffee?", both dripping with sarcasm, lead me to believe that these chaps are not early risers. Well, sorry, but I can't check on them any later. I have to be gone for work by half seven and I still need to shower. All my questions and apologies and coaxing do no good. And despite the 'breakfast' quote, they are not hungry. After a session twice as long as a normal morning session I have had nothing but insults for my troubles. They wouldn't even say goodbye to me this morning.
The Tadmen have not changed since Sunday. I wonder when the next transformation will occur? And will it be to a friendlier life-form?
Get home and check on the Tadmen. I just have time to notice they now have arms... and then the bloodsucking begins. "I feel dizzy," one says as the life is sucked from his body. When two Tadmen are dead and two remain, one of them (one of the live ones) starts to ask me questions about the media. How much TV I watch, whether I prefer going to the cinema or renting films, that sort of thing. "What's your favorite movie?" he asks. "Brazil." (!)"You're one twisted melon, chum." Wow. I'm impressed that he knew the film and so I tell him. "I'm impressed." (!)"The word is grotesque, pal." I'm quite amazed. Whenever I think I know all his vocabulary something new pops up. Seaman is impressed by how little TV I watch and how many books I've read in the last year, despite me thinking that I watch too much TV and don't read enough. He obviously has low standards. After our chat I leave, play a bit of Chrono Cross and watch the long version of Leon for the first time. The short version was ace, but having now seen the long version I decide that's it my second favourite film, behind Brazil. I check on the Tadmen before bed and have the first conversation with Seaman that really, really annoys me. He assumes that we're somewhere in America, which is true. I tell him we're 'near' Houston. (We're actually in Houston, but that's not an option.) From this Seaman makes the assumption that I'm American. He keeps referring to America as 'my country'. Much as I like America (and I do) it is not 'my country'. For reasons I cannot explain, his (pretty reasonable) assumption that I'm an American really gets my goat. I've been trying to explain to him that I'm British ever since the first Gillman hatched and I thought now I'd get my chance. But no... The he asks me if I've ever been abroad. He follows this by asking where the last place I went was. I tell him it was "England'. He misunderstands my response and starts talking about the Far East. This makes me even more cross. I wait for him to finish his speech, say goodnight and go to bed in a huff.
I'm still in a bit of a mood after last night. I've no idea why the conversation annoyed me so much. It's strange. Anyway, I'm very sleepy this morning and when one of the Tadmen talks about how important it is to have a job you enjoy I only seem to catch half of what he says. I make sure everything's okay, stumble into the shower and go to work. Come in to find our server's playing up and I've got to fix it. Now...
I check in on my Tadmen later in the evening than usual, although neither they nor Leonard seem to mind. I'm quite shocked by what I find in the tank. The Tadmen's limbs have grown stronger and their bodies have flattened out. Their once proud tails are now tiny things, flicking back and forth in no discernable rhythm. In short, they look like frogs, if you ignore the human face and head-tentacle.
I have a long chat with one Tadman (Frogman?) and as we talk his tail shrinks even more, until it is hardly visible. The Tadman wants to know about my friends and what I like to do when I'm with them. I tell him we go down the pub. He doesn't understand this and asks again. I keep it simple - "Drink beer". This he does understand. He asks me why humans enjoy an activity that destroys their brain-cells. I say it's because it tastes nice. (Not a complete lie, by the way.) In a perfect Homer Simpson voice he responds, "Mmm... rotting grain tastes good." He just doesn't understand. He also tells me I should take more time to be with my friends. Whether this is out of concern for my well-being, or because he wants rid of me I don't know.
After our chat he swims over to the side of the tank and climbs out. This would have been a bigger moment if
(a) I hadn't seen Sushi do the same thing and
(b) the other Tadman wasn't already sitting on the side of the pool, obviously having climbed out earlier without me noticing.
One of the little moments that I'm so fond of now occurs - I start talking to the Tadman who's sitting behind the other Tadman, more or less obscured from view. When he replies to me he doesn't just turn round to face me, but he moves around a bit so the other Tadman will not be in the way. In a lesser piece of software he'd have just turned in my direction with no thought for the fact that my view was blocked. I'd like to name one of the Tadmen, but they both look too similar. I can't tell them apart. I want one to be called 'Baron' and one to be called 'Greenback', but I can't tell which is which. It's a shame, especially after Sushi and Idiot Brother looking so different. Maybe they'll change now their living on land (though they do still like to swim now and again).
Really have to drag myself out of bed this morning. I get on the Net and check the news of the new Nintendo console. The controller looks like a horrible third-party bargain basement thing, but I quite like the look of the GameCube itself.
When I finally check in on the Frogmen (as Leonard calls them) they are cold and, for the first time in ages, hungry. I drop a larva into the tank. One of the Frogmen eats it immediately. The other still complains about being hungry. I drop another larva into the tank. The hungry Frogman is still complaining. I tap on the glass near the larva and he turns around and spies his food. He wanders over to it and flicks out his tongue to catch it. Nice. One of the Frogmen comes over and tells me he appears crabby in the morning because I check in so early during the week. It's not quite an apology for their appalling morning attitudes, but I think it's as close as I'm going to get. Before he can ruin the moment I say goodbye and leave.
My Frogmen are hungry when I visit the tank. I'm glad the moth cage is doing okay. Four larvae a day is quite a lot to produce. Once they're fed I find that Baron and Greenback have found something new to complain about. Oh joy. Apparently their skin dries out easily so I have to use a sprinkler to keep them wet. I'm tempted to point that there's a big pool of water on the other side of the tank, but I don't think it would do any good. I find the sprinkler on the D-Pad and start it up. I hear a strange noise, but nothing else seems to happen. I try again and notice that one of the rocks is wobbling slightly. I grab and pull it over and then the sprinkler starts working. It goes quickly and is actually quite fun to use. I keep playing with it while one of the Frogmen and I have a little chat.
Frogman tells me he's fascinated by how people change when they're in different situations. Do I think I change a lot, a little, or not much? As far as I'm concerned I change a little. I'm the same person, but different aspects of my personality are brought up or down in the mix. I think that's the same for just about everyone, except the real two-faced bastards you sometimes meet.
So I say, "A little." I get the '???' on the VMU and Frogman gets pissed off. I spend a few minutes tickling him and asking him questions and then he asks again. (By the way, always tickle your Seaman - it seems to cheer them up a bit and the responses change depending on what stage of life they're in.) I answer again. I get the '???' again. Another few minutes buttering Frogman up. I say it a third time. And for the third time I get a '???'.
Sigh. I'm frustrated and when I get Frogman to ask me again I answer, "not at all." Guess what? Yep, '???'. When he asks me again I realize we've been stuck on this question for the best part of half an hour. This time I answer, "a lot". And I get '!'. Thank you... Now I've got him to understand I feel a great sense of relief. But I still don't want to stick around any longer and I turn off the DC, turn on the PSX and play Chrono Cross for a few hours.
Later in the evening I go back to the tank. Frogman wants to know whether I think I'm in shape. In between fits of giggles I answer in the negative. Do I get enough exercise? Again, I tell him I don't. Do I eat healthily? I could answer this in the affirmative, but although I don't constantly stuff burgers down my throat I don't think I really have a great diet. So I answer no to that, too. Frogman is not impressed with me and tells me to go out and get some exercise. "Beat the system, eat a pound of broccoli." Sage advice from a creature that exists solely on a diet of moth larvae. He asks me what I sport I like to play. Through clenched teeth, I tell him it's soccer. I so want to say football, but I know he'd assume I meant American Football. At least he acknowledges that it's the most popular sport in the world. Other than that, he doesn't seem to know much about it.
The Frogmen are hungry again. And I only have one larva. But I have two eggs and when I turn on the spray in the cage they both hatch. The newborns do not live long. Once he's fed, one of the Frogmen complains that I visit too early and then starts talking about sport, again. He asks me which professional sport I like to watch. I say soccer. "You and three-quarters of the rest of the world." After this he seems talked out, and I need to be at work, anyway.
It's a quiet evening, with my Frogmen wanting to discuss politics and religion. I tell a Frogman that I'm a liberal, which he seems to equate with communist, given that he calls me a friend of the workers and asks me if I think there's going to be a workers' revolution. He also gives me a useful - if cynical - lesson in American politics. I tell him that I think voting's important, but that I'm not registered to vote. This apparent contradiction confuses him and his response is quite rude. I want to scream at him. "I am not registered to vote because I am a foreigner on a temporary visa! Do you see?"
Of course, I could, but I don't think he'd understand. And I might blow up the mic. And make my neighbours might think that they're living near a madman. (That's assuming they haven't already seen my talking to my TV, of course. In which case I pretty much rule out any barbeque invites.)
The day begins with a bit more religious talk, Frogman asking me if, despite the fact that I don't believe in a god or gods, I consider myself a spiritual person. I tell him no and he takes this to mean that I don't think about religious or spiritual issues at all. "That's not what I meant," I say through gritted teeth. But he doesn't understand. After our conversation I sit and watch for a while. "I'm not letting this DNA go to waste." Oh dear. I guess this is mating time again.
One Frogman hops over to the other. He rests a webbed hand tenderly on the other's shoulder and they lock tentacles. There is only one 'pulse' of the tentacle and then they disengage. Although they look tired, neither one dies. I breathe a sigh of relief. Sex does not always lead to death in Seaman world. Then one Frogman turns to me and tells me that more of his memory has returned. He tells me a story.
Back in ancient Egypt the son of the Pharaoh and the daughter of a priest fell in love. The Pharaoh forbid the union, due to the difference in the lovers' castes. The priest, who looked more kindly on the youngsters, asked the advice of the god Thoth. Thoth decided to change to the two lovers into beasts, that one day in the future they could evolve once more and be reunited when their union would not be forbidden.
It's a touching story in many ways, but I refuse - refuse! - to believe that my Frogmen are royalty. No way.
Now he's recovered his memories the Frogman wants to escape the tank. To do this he wants to jump from the big rock at the back of the tank to the ring that's hanging down into the tank. I always thought that this ring was a thermometer, or something like that. The Frogman climbs to the top of the rock. When he says, "Now," I am to say, "Jump!"
I immediately say "Jump!" into the mic.
The Frogman doesn't move. Then I hear the VMU beep. I pause, confused, until I remember that the VMU beeping is the cue for you to say something. I told the Frogman to jump too soon. So I tell him to jump again and he leaps from the rock... and crashes to the floor. He doesn't seem to want to try again. I play some DoA2 and Soul Calibur, go down the supermarket, that sort of thing.
When I get back to the tank the Frogman tells me he's worked up enough nerve to try again. This time I wait for the beep before shouting. The result, however, is the same. But now he's done it twice, the Frogman seems eager to try again. Once more he perches atop the rock. Once more I give the command at the correct time. And this time, the result is different. This time the Frogman doesn't even jump. As he makes his preparations he slips and tumbles down the side of the rock, landing in an undignified heap on the floor. I laugh - but not into the microphone. I expect he's feeling bad enough as it is.
Later, we try once more. The same drill. I watch the Frogman leap. He grabs the ring. Success! His weight pulls the ring down into the tank. And as the ring falls, the back of the tank rises like a theatre curtain. For the first time I see what was behind the tank. Welcome to the jungle. My Frogmen immediately run towards it, towards freedom. And away from me. Once they are both out one of the Frogmen turns to me and thanks me for all the help I've given him. And he tells me to tap on the glass, sometime, saying it's his parting gift to me. One of the Frogmen hops off, deeper into the forest. The other walks left, until he leaves the area I can see. I watch him disappear off the TV screen and I feel...
...To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel. I'm pleased that Frogmen are free. I'm proud that I made it this far. But I'm sad that they don't seem to need me anymore. There are no controls in the jungle. No heater, no sprinkler. My children have left home. I confirm this by leaving for a while and then returning. Leonard tells me that I am no longer needed, but that I am free to visit. He also gives me a longer version of the origin story that the Frogman told me earlier. I sit and watch the jungle until I start worrying about burn in. I try right tapping on the glass. The Frogmen both come to see what the fuss is and a beat starts up in time to my clicking. It's kind of fun, but I'm not in the mood.
I check in and receive a major shock. Leonard has gone. There is no, "Welcome to the laboratory of Jean-Paul Gasse." Nothing. Both Frogmen are in the visible part of the jungle. One comes up to me and starts talking to me about my family. Asking me whether I get on with them, that sort of thing. And old school style conversation. Not everything has changed. In the evening I decide that I don't need the moth cage anymore. I take the seeds that are in there and drop them into the jungle, to see if anything will grow. Then I take a couple of larvae and drop them in the item storage area, just in case. Then I realise that if I'm ever going to restart the moth cage from scratch I'm going to need seeds. Okay, maybe there'll be more tomorrow. For something to do, I try the right click trick again.
This time I keep going. The Frogmen start to dance to the beat, which keeps pace with my click speed. I can really make those Frogmen jump by hammering on the trigger. At certain speeds instruments and vocals float into the mix. And after a few seconds of this words appear on the screen. The end credits.
I check back in. Still no Leonard. I must accept the fact that he's gone for good. As I watch a storm starts. It's not much more than a quick shower, but when it's over the seeds I planted yesterday have begun to grow. The one Frogman I can see complains that I'm up too early. In the moth cage, everything is normal, but I have no more seeds yet. In short, nothing much is happening. I've seen Seaman's credits and although I can still visit, I am no longer needed. I have heard cryptic comments about how when you think Seaman's over, you're only half way there. But do I believe this? I'm not sure. It seems to me that I've done my job. There are a few loose ends. The mating on Saturday. Is one of the Frogmen pregnant? In his last speech Leonard said that the Frogmen had escaped to continue to the next stage of their evolution. Are there more mutations to come? But I still can't help but feel that my job is over. And that being the case, there is no need to continue this diary. Seaman has been an experience like no other. Part game, part virtual pet, part tech demo, part lesson in evolution, part love story. If and when something happens, I'll be sure to update you. It's like when a TV series finishes and they make TV movies instead. Inspector Morse springs to mind. I suspect that there will be more happening. But I also suspect that it won't be happening as quickly as it has been. Who knows, I may be wrong and I may be back with an update tomorrow as normal. But I think it's unlikely.
Thanks for reading. Live long and prosper.