The オトイズム or Otoizm, released by the video game company Konami in 2006 in Japan, is an electronic device in the virtual pet genre of toys, which includes Tamagotchi and Digimon brand Digivice toys (released beginning in 1996-1997 by the Japanese toy company Bandai) and Giga Pet (released by Tiger Electronics in the United States in 1997). The Otoizm is sized and shaped almost identically to a modern plastic yo-yo, and it comes in white, hot pink, or black. It has three large buttons used for interacting with the virtual pet, and it runs on a 3 volt CR2032 battery. The process for replacing the battery can potentially erase the virtual pet's data; although the instruction manual does give a technique for avoiding this problem, it requires that the user change the battery incredibly fast, and any fumbling or delay will still result in the data being erased.
The instruction manual characterises the pet in this manner:
OTOIZMs are little magical creatures spawned and shaped from music. From the moment your OTOIZM takes its first breath, it will feed on the music you provide to grow and transform.
Music is "fed" to the Otoizm by connecting its audio line-in cable to any 3.5 mm headphone jack while music is playing on the connected device. The opposite end of the Otoizm has a headphone jack for audio to pass through to the headphones of the user. One of the interactive buttons can be pressed in rhythm to the music being listened to. The Otoizm uses simplified sensor to discern where the beats of music fall, and the more accurate the button presses to the rhythm, the more animated and excited the virtual pet becomes on the screen, dancing and bouncing around. One of the menus displays a happiness meter to indicate how well the pet has been treated, and another displays a level indicator, which grants progress based on minutes of music listened to. When the virtual pet gains a level, it changes shape (much like the "digivolution" of Digimon, although digivolution is a less persistent condition, and is done in response to steps counted by an internal pedometer). There are progressive tiers of evolution, corresponding to different levels of maturity, and as of my latest count, there are at least thirty distinct forms it can take, only sixteen of which are named and described in the manual. Each form has its own appearance, movement patterns, dance style, and type of beeping sound it makes in reaction to buttons being pushed. Some of these forms have facial expressions suggesting stress or displeasure, as their default expression, and they appear to express relief or joy when the genre of music being "fed" to them is changed. Transformation and leveling happen much faster if a variety of music genres are played, rather than continuous playing of a single genre.
The Otoizm has several different interaction modes. It will jump up and down if the user rhythmically taps over the microphone while music is playing. If the user presses one of the buttons repeatedly in a variable rhythm, the Otoizm will emit a series of beeps from a tiny external speaker, varying the pitch high and low, as though inventing a tune based on the player's rhythm sequence. The beep sequence is based on a "Solo" created from "Melody Bits" which are generated each time the Otoizm changes shape. The more levels it has, the longer this solo is able to be, before it simply repeats the same pitch over and over. Only one solo may be saved at a time.
The Otoizm has an external audio sensor which can be used by speaking into it, to create a "Wordizm," a smaller pet to accompany the Otoizm while it dances and interacts with the player. Up to four Wordizms can be stored at one time. Three "Session Songs" may be saved, which are tunes generated by the Otoizm when interacting with its companion Wordizms. The date settings, which are programmed into the toy when it is first turned on, run from the years 2006 to 2018 before looping back to 2006, and the internal clock offers no way to account for Daylight Savings Time or other calendrical variances. The Otoizm has no internal pedometer. It has an infrared communication port which can be used to allow two Otoizms to "talk," "sing," and "dance" with each other, as well as exchanging Wordizms.
As of the time of this writeup, new Otoizms are still sometimes able to be found in online markets which sell unopened Japanese nostalgia goods from the 2000s, but Konami no longer manufactures Otoizms. As virtual pets go, the idea is charming and novel, and the interactivity is fairly high, without any of the onboard nuisance features found in some of the earliest virtual pets. For example, Otoizm does not beep (and potentially wake the user) when it grows "hungry." Instead, it will reverse its stages of transformation, back to a tofu-like wobbly square shape, if it goes more than about three days without being "fed." It still retains levels gained during this time, meaning its Solo does not grow any shorter from neglect.
The device uses both Japanese katakana and hiragana and the English alphabet for its displays and inputs, meaning that unless the player can read kana, they will need to retain the user manual to understand many parts of the user interface, especially the description displayed for what shape the Otoizm is currently taking. There are nineteen different kinds of "OTO-Source" music categories which the Otoizm will attempt to discern from the music "fed" to it, though its accuracy for genres are very hit and miss. These categories are as follows, with all descriptions taken from the user manual:
- Elegant - Found in beautiful, classic music
- Chill - Found in relaxed, urban songs
- R&B - Found in cool, mellow songs
- Hip-Hop - Found in songs with heavy, rhythmical beats
- Funky - Found in songs with funky beat and strong bass
- Jazzy - Found in moody, adult songs
- Folk - Found in rich, strong storytelling songs
- Dance - Found in danceable tunes with a good beat
- Guitar - Found in upbeat, breezy rock 'n roll songs
- Core - Found in rough, slightly aggressive tunes
- Techno - Found in songs rich with electronic tunes
- Tropical - Found in unrestrained tunes reminiscent of summer
- Pop - Found in popular, light-tempo tunes
- Ballad - Found in emotional, slow-tempo tunes
- Ska - Found in upbeat songs with unique Ska rhythm
- Hearing - Found in songs with clear phrases
- Cartoon - Found in catchy tunes like TV animations
- Game - Found in nostalgic, videogame "beep" tunes
- Enka - Found in nostalgic, Japanese traditional songs
Iron Noder 2021, 22/30