|Keiko Randolph is the CEO of PetFish Company, and the
driving force behind one of the most unique and technically impressive virtual pets out
there. Via the PetFish website, www.petfish.com, users can download a
huge variety of fishes for their enjoyment and companionship. But the product has an
interesting background and exciting future plans. Keiko chatted with us about the past,
present and future of PetFish.
GF!: Could you tell us about the history of PetFish?
Keiko: The PetFish Company is owned by Keis International, and I, personally, was working as a computer consultant doing intellectual property licensing, mainly working with European and Japanese companies developing computer software. Back in 1991 I was working with a company in Russia that was developing fish technology, and I was very impressed. Later on I tried to get the license.
GF!: What do you mean by "fish technology?"
Keiko: They wanted to create an artificial lifeform. They created a way to visualize fish motion, to create fish animation frames and put them in order in real time. In this way they created a fish engine.
GF!: And that's the animation engine that PetFish uses, right?
Keiko: Yes. See, before Perestroika they were rocket scientists, and they knew they would be fired by the government because they were working on mostly military projects. They got together and they gathered fish data and analyzed common fish bone structures, and they made tools to create fish animation frames based on real fish bone structure. That's why the fish move so realistically.
GF!: So aside from the realistic movement, what makes PetFish different from other virtual pets?
Keiko: Yes, the movement based on realistic fish data is one thing that separates PetFish from other virtual pets. Also, PetFish uses two engines: the fish animation engine and the PetFish engine. What the PetFish engine does is work with the Windows environment so that the fish can be free from the windows. So the fish can swim around windows, in front and behind, and all over the desktop. It lives outside of any particular window. It is not tied to a window or the desktop, and I think that is a major difference between PetFish and other virtual pets. Other pets work in a window, and they have a screensaver mode where they are tied to the desktop. PetFish lives outside windows, but within the Windows operating system. PetFish detects windows, application windows, icons and cursors, as objects in its virtual tank.
GF!: What does the future hold for PetFish?
Keiko: We are developing more fish, and because of the structure of the fish we are able to develop different kinds of food for new and existing fish. With the food you can change the fish personality or mood. It is like giving your fish vitamins or tranquilizers. We are also very close to releasing on the website a Fish-O-Gram. What it does is allow you to create an online aquarium. You can pick out your own fish and design your aquarium, then send it to a friend. We are also working on AdFish, so you can download a fish with an advertisement on it.
GF!: I've heard talk of adding search capabilities to the fish. Are there plans for that?
Keiko: We are working on that. We want to make the fish as smart as possible, and we are hoping to give the fish search capability.
GF!: How are the fish doing so far?
Keiko: The website is very popular, and there have been 150,000 downloads since January.
GF!: I noticed you lowered the price on the fish to $5.95. Prices like that are almost unheard of in computer software. Why did you do it?
Keiko: Many people want to collect multiple fish, not just one fish, and we think that price is appropriate. We are also working with Winfiles.com, a shareware site, so that you can download a package, which includes six fish, for $29.95.
GF!: I've noticed that some people are skeptical about PetFish when I mention it, but almost everyone I've shown it to has been fairly impressed. Do you get this reaction often?
Keiko: Some people get in touch with technical problems because they do not have that much computer experience and there are several files to download. Or they may download multiple fish, and install them to different directories so that the pointer is not pointing to the right directory anymore. But they want the fish swimming on their computer. We run a technical support, but sometimes the people get frustrated and they say, "Oh, well I'm not going to play with this anymore!" But a week later they will email us and write that they thought they could do without the fish, but after playing with the fish for so long they can't live without it! So they write us again asking to please help them.
GF!: That's a strong reaction.
Keiko: Yes, it's a very subtle program; it doesn't give you direct entertainment, but it does keep you company and it gives you some feeling. You don't know it, but you'll probably feel lonely if you get rid of the fish completely.