Artificially intelligent or just plain dumb?
Call me a cynic, but the person who invented virtual pets should win an award for the most inane idea ever to earn a billion dollars. Perhaps I'm just missing the boat here (yes, I thought Cabbage Patch Kids and Rubik's Cubes were silly also), but who has time for this sort of thing? With this prejudice firmly in mind, I warily approached Fin Fin, the "autonomous living interactive virtual entity." If you haven't heard, Fin Fin is the next stage in virtual pets; or, in other words, Fin Fin is the half-dolphin/half-bird powered by Fujitsu Interactive's "proprietary Artificial-Life technology." Still don't get it? OK. Fin Fin is a Win 95 desktop pet that you can watch and feed and (get this) talk to!
That's right -- the Fin Fin CD-ROM comes with a microphone that plugs into your PC. What's more, the little critter loves it not only when you talk or sing to him, but he is also programmed to respond to a whistle (included). If that weren't enough, you can even lay out some more cash for a device that allows Fin Fin to see you moving about in the room. Sounds pretty neat, huh? Well unfortunately "sounds" is as far as it goes.
Even if the software wasn't bug-ridden (it crashes), difficult to use (the menu structure is confusing), ridiculously slow (it takes forever to load), and too large (that's not including the .BMP screenshots it creates), you'd still be hard pressed to enjoy yourself. Does cooing sweetly to your computer for hours in the hopes of triggering some special behavior sound like fun? Well take my word, it isn't. Especially when nothing happens.
Now obviously, this software is meant for children, but I can't imagine any self-respecting 5 to 12 year-old with even the semblance of a life getting much enjoyment out of Fin Fin. The basic problem with this pet is that despite the fact you can talk to him, he doesn't do squat. Sure he sings, sure he flies around, sure he scratches, sure he'll even eat. But all this happens regardless of what you do. I was expecting some voice recognition technology like "Sing Fin Fin," "Fly Fin Fin," "Roll over Fin Fin," but no! The only thing the "AI" seems to respond to is loud sounds (scare Fin Fin) and soft sounds (calm Fin Fin).
If you're in the market for a Virtual Pet for the PC, the Virtal Petz games (Catz and Dogz) are much better. Not only are these critters cuter, but they offer real interaction. Choosing different icons lets you pet, scold, play catch, and feed your dog and cat, and it's entertaining enough to engage kids and some adults. If you own Catz and Dogz your pets will even play with each other. To top it off, the Virtual Petz titles usually sell for less than the truly disappointing Fin Fin.
I'll admit that Fin Fin is cute. But cute doesn't cut it. You can't expect to entertain adults or even young kids with a program that offers almost no interaction. I'd venture a guess that the amazing "artificial intelligence" this program advertises took about two hours to program (the first hour and a half was a wasted effort since the programmers discovered the mic was turned off). It's quite clear that Fujitsu spent much more time on the fancy box and accessories (you can also buy a Fin Fin storybook and a Fin Fin stuffed animal) and not enough time on the program. Fin Fin just ain't no fun.