One of the more popular criticisms of computers is that the technology takes us into a cold and heartless world where each person is an island. There is no personal interaction. There is no soul. In a lot of ways this perception is true. There are many things both warmer and fuzzier than your PC, but there are ways around the dismal, lonesome side of computing. Like virtual pets.
The market for virtual pets has exploded over the last couple years. I remember loading up Little Computer People on my C64 about a decade ago and being fascinated for weeks with the blocky little guy who moved into my computer. These days developers seem to have abandoned the "pet human" idea, and the world of virtual computer inhabitants is populated by a myriad of real and unreal creatures. Many of these programs are full-time jobs. You may as well get a real pet for all the feeding and cleaning up you're forced to do. So what do you do in real life when you want a pet that isn't too hard to take care of? Buy a fish. Why should it be any different on your computer?
PetFish is a new breed of virtual pet. Sure, we've seen plenty of aquarium programs and screensavers, but PetFish is different. The fish doesn't require any more of your time than you are willing to give it, which for a cold-hearted PC kind of guy like me is very nice. It needs food, but there is an autofeeder so you don't have to worry about it. Also, a pet care center is included in the package, so vacations are not a problem.
The fish responds to typed commands, whether they are typed into a program or just into the ether of the computer, such as its name, "here," "food," and any other keywords you would like to input. It also reacts to the movement of the cursor, so you can pet your fish or shoo it off. If you are typing quickly the fish knows to leave you alone, but is never more than a few keystrokes away.
The various species of PetFish, including guppies, mollies, angelfish, and pike, react in different ways. Some are aggressive, some are quite shy, and others fall somewhere in between. The differences in personality add to the personalization of the fish and fit in nicely with the customizable name and keywords.
PetFish is a product of the Cold War. The fish animation engine was developed by Russian rocket scientists, and is based on computerized models of actual fish skeletons. The data is collected from real world fish and translated into on-screen movement that is truly impressive. The textures and motion of the fish are impeccable and alluring, and add a realism that is far beyond any other realistic virtual pet.
The fish inhabit the Windows environment in a way that makes PetFish singular in its field. Windows, icons and cursors are all objects that the fish sees in its virtual tank. It is not restricted to any one window, or to the desktop. The fish swim over and under windows, and back and forth within the monitor. When your computer is idle some fish will make nests out of your desktop icons and others will rub off your open windows to reveal their seascape aquarium below.
What is really great about PetFish, aside from the interactivity and the graphics, is the sales method that PetFish Co. has implemented. On their website,www.petfish.com, they offer a "Catch of the Month" and samples of the other fish they have available. The Catch of the Month comes with a 30 day feeding supply, and the demos of the other fish are good for six days. At the end of the trial period you can visit the site again to download more food. In this way you can try out all of the fish until you find the one that is just right for you. A one-year food supply costs $5.95, which is an almost unheard of price in computer software.
It seemed absurd at first that the real product for sale is the food supply, but PetFish Co. is working that angle remarkably well. Upgrades and modifications are scheduled to be released via the food supply. Users can download food that will change their fish's mood or personality, allowing them to further customize the electronic creatures. I look forward to the food that will make my fish really hungry and give her the giggles.
Future plans for the fish also include a search capability. Improvements like that will make your fish a necessity rather than a luxury. As it is now, the fish are mainly for your personal enjoyment, but fairly useless. Sure, no more useless than most of the video games we play strictly for entertainment purposes, but it would be great to have a pet and an assistant on your PC. If the fish could find documents on the internet, or even just on my personal computer, I would be completely addicted to the program.
PetFish runs in the background, and is surprisingly easy on system resources. I never had a conflict, even when running multiple memory-intensive applications. Unfortunately the Windows refresh rate is not quite up to fish speed, and I found that whenever the fish passed under the cursor it left little fish parts behind. The program does have a refresh button it places on the toolbar that will clean up these bits when clicked, and the standard right-click-refresh takes care of the problem as well, but it's an extra little movement for us ultra-sedentary types. The refresh really wasn't a problem unless I was working in an application like Photoshop where whole windows would be actively thinking when the fish swam across, but PetFish is also easy enough to turn off when working in programs like these.
Overall, PetFish is the most practical and interesting virtual pet. The interactivity is great, but users also have the option of just letting the fish swim around. It isn't a program that you have to sit down in front of to play with your "pet." The purchase and demo options make it an easy product to try out, and I highly recommend that anybody with the slightest interest download one of the demos to check it out. The price is right, and you'll most likely find yourself heading back for more food when fishy gets hungry.