EyePet Vs. Milo: The Unlikely New Console Mascots

Here's a YouTube comment on PlayStation 3 EyePet that caught my eye last week: "Both are useless this and milo both stupid." Hints of a 21st century version of Sonic Vs. Mario, starring a Microsoft boy and a Sony pet?

I was charmed by my brief interaction last week with Sony's PS3 camera-enabled EyePet. The fall-scheduled game/pet-simulator displays a video feed of the real world that's in front of your TV, but with a furry pet scampering through the world.

I left my demo of EyePet impressed. But it wasn't until I read the comments to the posts we ran — and those that appeared below the videos I hosted of the game on YouTube — that I realised that gamers would see EyePet as some sort of Sonic The Hedgehog smack back at the Mario that is Peter Molyneux's (pun intended) pet project at Microsoft's Lionhead Studios: Milo & Kate.

That's when I realised we may have come upon the Mario and Sonic for this generation.

More than a decade ago, Nintendo and Sega waged a console war with Mario and Sonic as the figures around which fans rallied. Neither was an expression of what a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis was technologically capable of. But they served as shorthand for their companies and their fans. Mario embodied a certain all-ages joyfulness and quality of game. Sonic represented attitude and a verve that his company would want you to think Nintendo didn't have.

The EyePet and Milo might prove to be better representations of what their host systems and corporate backers are capable of concocting. Better than Mario and Sonic ever were. So they're worth watching. They're worth debating. And the success of one or the other may yet prove whether it is Sony or Microsoft that has the better ability to harness horsepower, gadgetry and developer ingenuity.

"Natal is cool,pet is cool.Plus Natal and Pets these is very cool.But natal needed new xbox 360 idont like these part" — YouTube Commenter The Xbox 360's still-unscheduled Milo & Kate was demoed behind closed doors at E3. It is a long-incubated project that was recently channeled into the pipeline of projects being developed for Microsoft's controller-free interface, Project Natal. On a big TV, it rendered a virtual boy whose lifelike look was amplified by his uncanny ability to react to facial expressions, vocal tones and even the movement of my head. (Video of Molyneux showing it in action.)

I think I'm one of the only people to play EyePet and the Xbox 360 Milo demo and it hadn't crossed my mind to compare the two until I started reading feedback to our coverage. They are both ambitious and clever projects, primed with potential greatness yet still capable of tripping toward disappointment. But they're so different.

People are drawing comparisons because EyePet and Milo are both camera-supported convergences of software and video game hardware designed to simulate a lifelike being — and to do so with the minimal involvement of a game controller. EyePet does it with an already-released camera, the PlayStation Eye. Milo does it with Microsoft's Project Natal, an elaborate mechanism that has no price, no release date but is intended to work with the current Xbox 360. They are both demonstrations of what ambitious creators can wring out of video game technology.

"it made by studio london so there. wow, better than milo and natal, see there technology is way ahead of urs. plus i might get this, still hate casual games though. sony rules the gaming division. — YouTube Commenter"

I see the rush among fans to declare which is superior. Let me first explain, from my play time with both, how they differ.

I experienced the Milo demo in early June. It seemed to be a natural product of game designer Peter Molyneux's long-standing ambition to make an interactive technology seem intelligent. The man has spent his career creating simulation-based games or adding simulations to games as disparate as the adventures of a medieval hero or a Hollywood mogul. Somehow, some way, those passions converged to the intent of making a game about an unreal boy who would seem real.

Molyneux prefaced my experience with Milo, as detailed in my June write-up, as one filled with tricks. And it felt like a trick. A trick to believe in. Obviously Milo was no more alive than the lady who stands on a magician's stage is cut in two. But Milo got off his swing and walked up to me as if to notice me and convince me he was there. He talked to me. He waited on my words. He commented on the colour of my shirt.

The magic of the best parts of the Milo demo was that it felt as if he reached out to me.

The magic of the EyePet last week was my feeling that I could reach out to it.

I know less about the background of the development of the EyePet, but I'm familiar with the progression of the games made with Sony's cameras, the EyeToy on PlayStation 2 and now the PlayStation Eye. These games have long exhibited a Wii-like inclusiveness in their control schemes. Back when conventional controllers were just about the only option for console gaming, EyeToy provided players simple mini-games they could control with waves of their hands. PlayStation camera games seemed like efforts to find new ways for players to touch games.

Years ago, I interviewed Sony's chief developer behind the company's PlayStation cameras, Richard Marks. It was clear from our conversation that he was interested in augmented reality, the kind of camera tricks that can make virtual items and beings appear to be in the real world when seen through the viewfinder of a video screen attached to a camera. He told me about a PSP camera application that, based on what you'd see on you PSP screen, would make it seem like there were little men standing on your coffee table. Later, PS3 gamers got Eye of Judgment, which used that system's add-on camera to put little monsters on a playing mat. EyePet felt like the next step of that, with the novelty that the creature seemed almost touchable. It lept and ran across a coffee table in reaction to my hand movements.

Milo seems like a grander idea. It's trying to simulate a human being, after all. And it is not nearly as far along as EyePet. Sony's software is attempting to render as if alive a creature that doesn't exist, a make-believe animal for which we have no real-world expectations. That's a lower bar, but still a high one.

Milo could see the colour of my shirt but might seem like a slow-witted boy if, by the time he's released, he can't understand the tone of my voice.

EyePet can hop over my hand and sit for a good brushing, but I don't know if he'll ever express any care about me. As with a dog or even a cat, I think affection for him will be more of a one-way street.

"haha this is basicly what natal will do, but the eyetoy allready does it" — YouTube Commenter

So which is more impressive? It depends on what you're looking for, of course.

The YouTube debate — and comments here on Kotaku — got hung up on whether EyePet was proving that the PlayStation Eye could already do what Project Natal will do. From what I felt of both, that's not the case, simply because EyePet doesn't ask for as much from the system's camera or from the gamer.

EyePet wasn't looking for much input from my face and body. It was programmed to mostly react to the placement of a card that comes packaged with the game and serves as a base for a lot of the rendered gadgets the EyePet animal can play with. Waving this card in front of the PlayStation Eye or setting it on the table can turn it into an X-ray scanner, trampoline or other items. Simple waves of the hand can then interact with those items or the pet.

My interactions with the Xbox 360's Milo felt more complex. Milo was reacting to colours, vocal tones, head movements and more. I believe the PlayStation Eye can sense much of that, but EyePet is not the proof of that. Perhaps some other software will be.

One of these beings, the fake animal or the fake boy, could be a magical breakthrough for the company backing it. They could set a new standard. And one could trump the other. Except for misanthropes, I think we'd all be impressed if the fake boy feels real, moreso than we would the fake animal.

Still, these are two potential mascots worth watching. And, yes, these are too mascots eventually worth comparing.

I just don't think it's time to draw conclusions. Not yet.


Comments

    My only concern is, I don't think it would sound right trying to explain to the kind police folk who've just knocked on your door after the neighbours found out you like playing with little boys.
    I mean, make Milo a troll, a fish-maggot, an alien, anything else, but those choose to play with a little boy?? Do they expect guys to get excited about playing with a little boy? Its great tech, don't get me wrong, awesome for the fat kid with no friends at school or those lacking even the imagination for an imaginary friend but I think they've drawn themselves into a kind of e-pedo corner.

    Mind you, playing with a monkey (or whatever the funk it is) is not much better....

    Awesome tech in both camps, but I think they both need to create something older 'hardcore' gamers can 'play' with without causing jest and giggles from friends. Unless we become closet hardcorers much akin to the way The Sims has the ability to do.

    Cheers,
    Q

    They are both stupid. Motion controls and virtual pet/people are the complete opposite of why I got into gaming in the first place. But this is just my opinion - whatever floats your boat.

    I think only stupid people would complain about pedophiles and make a huge issue of it,(I'm not calling you an idiot, Qumulys). I highly doubt Milo would have any form of sexual nature added into his personality. Although it takes away realism, obviously it'd cause the biggest drama of the year. :P

    And DansDans, whilst motion control is quite different from the gaming that most of us are used to, it's still an amazing area and I think many people will be excited to delve deeper into this section of technology and see all the possibilities with it.

      But for how long will people be excited for it?

      Look at the Wii now. Its been almost 3 years and virtually nothing of interest on the machine - and the only games selling on it are the ones from 2 years ago

      It's a fad - and a dangerous (money wise) fad if Sony and Microsoft invest too much into it and it goes the way of the dodo. Nintendo will feel the wrath very soon when Wii sales dry up completely as people rush to offload their unused consoles for $100 because they got over the excitement of a $400 bowling machine.

      But, like I said, its just my opinion. The casual crowd brings in the instant money nowdays, and thats all these developers want (they dont care about me and the fact I have over 40 PS3 games/1 X360 game, 11 PSN games/4 XBLA games and a lot of DLC)

        I feel the same way. Nintendo completely dropped support the more hardcore gamers and bent on making games eaier jsut for more money. Although if they dind't then they'd probably start losing in the console war.

        Right now to me it does feel like a fad. With M$ and Sony joining the fray, it will probably last a few years longer until it inevitably dies out. But during that period, M$/Sony would've made a crapload of profit off it, much more that if they didn't take a risk in it.

        Regardless, short term it's a pot of gold so their going to blindly rush into it.

        Virtual pets are a fad and a popular fad as well. Anyone remember tamagotchi?

        Consumers love fads. Wii is a prime example of a fad generator - motion control and Wii Fit.

        I can see lots of people going out to buy an EyePet. I can't see many people going out to buy a boy. If I could customise Milo to be Jennifer Hawkins then I would consider it.

        Microsoft are probably investing more money since it's completely new tech for them whereas Sony is building off existing tech.

        So Microsoft is taking a bigger risk going down this path and could potentially throw away millions of dollars into this motion controlled hole. But, when did Microsoft ever care about throwing away money. haha

        As for the original article, I think it's a bit soon to start calling them the mascots of these consoles or this generation. I do recall a certain Masterchief who is pretty iconic for the Xbox platform.

    what do you mean dogs and cats dont express affection?

    YOU SUCK WITH ANIMALS LEARN TO LOVE i hate you

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