Are you a cat person or a dog person? In the future that question will have a different meaning. When we've eaten all the fish in the sea, when all the cows have foot and mouth, when all the pigs have died of swine flu, we'll turn on Rover and Patch. "Cat or dog?" will be the new "Leg or breast?", and instead of turkey on Christmas day we'll have a German shepherd stuffed with kittens.
But we will always want pets. For it is human nature to forge bonds of mutual respect, affection and companionship with animals, at least the ones too fluffy to eat. In the future, when the phrase "doggy bag" will have a whole new meaning, EyePet could be a big hit.
It's being billed as "the virtual, magical pet in your living room", but a more accurate tagline would be "EyeToy meets Nintendogs". For the cost of a full-price PS3 title you'll get a copy of the game, a PlayStation Eye camera and a "magic card" - a bit of black cardboard small enough to fit inside the box. The EyePet disc and card will also be available separately for those who already own a camera.
On booting up the game you're presented with your pet. They all look basically the same - like what would happen if a monkey had a baby and wasn't sure whether the father was a cat or a mouse. (Now that would be a great episode of Jeremy Kyle.)
Skin tone and eye colour are randomly selected and you can't change them, nor can you alter the basic physical attributes of your pet such as tail length, ear size etc. However, there is a simplistic set of customisation tools you can use to make him or her look unique. (For the purposes of this preview we'll assume it's a "him" for the sake of brevity and simplicity, and because we hate women.)
Customisation mainly involves mucking about with your pet's fur. You can shave his whole body or just part of it, right down to individual hairs. Or you can make his fur longer, giving him a mohican for example. You can choose from a wide range of colours, from basic monkeycatmouse brown to vibrant pinks and purples. There are different patterns to choose from such as spots and stripes. It's a bit like the Play-Doh Mop Top Hair Shop except it doesn't smell of childhood.
There are also around 250 items of clothing with which to dress your pet up. You can put him in hoodies, playsuits, baseball caps and so on. Extra options will be available as downloadable content via an in-game store. There will be some free items such as seasonal costumes, but others will be paid for. Branded clothes could be on offer too as Sony is currently looking for licensing partners. So that's how they can afford to give the camera away for free. But what sort of price tags will be slapped on the clothes?
"The very desirable ones will be paid for, but as with the game, we want it to be affordable for families," says the chap from Sony who is conducting our demo [brilliant journalism right there - Ed]. "We're not talking about charging people large amounts for a small costume. It will be good value for money, that's something we identified very early on."
Once you're happy with your pet's look you can start properly interacting. Adjust the camera so your arm is visible on the screen and you can stroke, tickle and play with him. The pet is aware of your presence within the space - he'll jump if you slide your hand underneath him, for example, or start arching his back and purring when he's stroked. Keep stroking and the pet will roll over so you can tickle his tummy, then eventually go to sleep. To wake him up you clap your hands. It all works believably and consistently, and it's all undeniably cute.
Showing the magic card to the camera brings up a selection of toys to play with. Pick the trampoline and one will appear over the black card, and the pet will start jumping on it. Move the card and the trampoline will follow, and so will your pet. Move too quickly, however, and he'll fall on his hairy backside with a squeak.
Other toys include bowling equipment, tennis rackets, cards for playing Snap and a singing set you can use to teach your pet to copy melodies. Today, though, we only have time to see the bubble machine. It's shaped like a plastic monkey. Virtually pressing a button on the top causes it to spit out big transparent bubbles, which you can then wave around the screen. You can't pop them but the pet can, and he can also jump inside giant bubbles and float around.