Your computer can be a loving home for a pet Programs provide fun, need attention, feeding

Your computer

December 07, 1997|By Michael Himowitz

IF YOU'RE looking for a gift for your favorite computer user, there's plenty of silly stuff around this year to amuse children of all ages.

For starters, why not try a digital pet? I know, this sounds like an incredibly stupid concept, but it didn't take long to win me over. Like the real thing, digital pets provide hours of fun and amusement. They also require plenty of care, attention and feeding. But unlike real pets, they won't mess up the house -- all you'll have to clean up is your computer screen.

Catz II is one of two new entries in the popular Petz line from PF.magic, and it's absolutely delightful -- that is, if you're willing to put up with a couple of felines racing across your monitor, chasing mice, playing with balls of yarn, splashing in their water bowls and occasionally engaging in cat fights.

The $20 Windows 95 program requires a 75 MHz Pentium computer with 40 megabytes of free disk space. It installed without a hitch and deposited me in a "playpen" screen, where I had a chance to look over the menagerie and decide which cats I wanted to "adopt."

These creatures start out as kittens, and you can choose from five different breeds, each with its own distinct personality. I picked out a playful, adventurous calico that I named Killer and later added an orange shorthair named Rocky, who turned out to be a timid soul, terrified by mice and just about everything else -- including his housemate. Unlike earlier releases of the program, Catz II (and its companion Dogs II, for those who prefer the slobbering affection of canines) will allow you to have more than one active pet at a time. If your nerves can stand it.

Once you've chosen your pets, you can keep them cooped up in the playpen window or let them roam around your entire screen (they won't interfere with any program you're using, but if you click on the Windows desktop, they'll climb over everything). When the cats have your attention, the Windows cursor turns into a hand.

Click on the left mouse button and you can pet your cat, scratch him behind the ears, or smooth his fur with a hand brush. Click on the right button, and you can pick up the cat by the scruff of the neck, deposit him someplace where he won't get into trouble, or shoo him outside for a while through a trapdoor in a cabinet that holds all the goodies you'll need to take care of him.

In the cabinet, you'll find bowls of food and snack treats, a variety of cat toys and a spray bottle of water (you're supposed to give them a squirt or two for discipline when they get into mischief, although Killer soon regarded the bottle as just another toy).

The animation of these animals was nothing short of amazing. They look like cats, they move like cats, and they react like cats. One minute they're sitting quietly, licking their coats -- the next minute they're bouncing around the screen like fur-covered pinballs, spitting and clawing and knocking over everything in sight. Like most cats, they're independent. You can call them over by double-clicking on the desktop, but they'll take their tTC sweet time about getting there. And when you stroke their fur, they react with that wonderful feline stretching and purring.

Any time they're doing something particularly cute, you can click on a camera button and take a "snapshot" of your pet -- a Windows bitmap that you can use in any graphics program or send to other cat lovers as e-mail attachments. If you have the patience and three empty floppy disks, you can create an "adoption kit," essentially a demo version of the program with the kitten of your choice that you can give away. And if you log onto the Petz Web site, you'll find new breeds of kittens and puppies to adopt, new toys and links to other Web sites.

I was absolutely fascinated by Catz and spent hours playing with the animals or just watching them. This, of course, is a perfect example of using an expensive machine to waste time when I could be doing something useful.

While this release runs only under Windows 95, the original versions of Catz and Dogz are also available for the Mac. For information and a demonstration download, point your Web browser to http: //www.petz.com. Or call 800-482-3678.

By contrast, the new computer-based incarnation of the wildly popular, Japanese Tamagotchi virtual pets seems pale and lackluster. It's not surprising, considering that Bandai Digital Entertainment is starting with what amounts to a hand-held video game.

Tamagotchi is, however, a faithful rendition of the original virtual pet -- which starts life as an alien hatched from an egg and requires constant care, feeding, discipline and affection. Adjusted for American sensibilities, the computer-based Tamagotchi won't die if it isn't cared for properly, and when you can't be at your computer, you can send your pet to a day care center.

The childlike graphics are colorful and highly stylized but crude by computer standards, and compared with the wonderful animation and interactivity of programs such as Petz, Tamagotchi looks like an amateur effort. For information, point your Web browser to www.bdec.com or call 888-992-9000.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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