El-Fish is a computer game, made by the Russian company AnimaTek, and published in the US by none other than Maxis in 1993. It's quite a strange piece of software. Like the Sim games, El-Fish was designed to be a "Software toy," with no goals and no way to "win". It let you catch, breed, and evolve fish, build a tank, and watch them swim. You could even trade fish with friends. There were a lot of things that made this a neat game.
  • The tanks were 3D
    When putting objects in your tank, you had a Z axis to play with, and the fish could swim back and forth towards you. This was pretty amazing to watch at the time.

  • Artificial Life
    The fish were not artificially intelligent, they swam randomly, but each fish had it's own genetic code, written into .roe files (Roe, get it?). Breeding fish would actually combine the genes of the two fish. According to the manual, they could breed even if they were different species, through a complex gene-splicing process. Also, You never got to find out the gender of your fish.

  • The manual
    The manual was just a good read, full of little bits of Maxis humor. My favorite part was the list of things to do while your fish animate (more on that later). Some of the best: Take up knitting, Start the Great American Novel, Alphabetize a bag of M&Ms, Ponder rutabagas, Find Carmen San Diego, Write a one-page essay that justifies high school, But whatever you do... DON'T PRESS THE RED BUTTON!
El-Fish had some cool features, yes, but honestly, it's not one of my favorite games. It ran pretty choppy on my computer, but I think it was a little smoother on the computers that were around when it came out (I had to use an emulator). It had a wide variety of tunes for you to listen to while you watched your fish swim, but it was also very choppy. Also, your fish could swim offscreen! I had to wait at least a minute before I saw one fish. The biggest problem, though, was the waiting for fish to animate. The program would use the "genetic" information in the .roe files to draw the 256 frames of animation for your fish, but this took a loooooooong time. For 4 or 5 fish, average wait on an average computer (in 1993) was 8 hours. A top-of-the-line computer got it down to about 1 hour. It took about 30 min on my emulator. All in all, I'd have to list this game as a disappointment, after such a long wait, you get a fish tank with maybe a few fish in it. You have very little interaction with them as well. El-Fish was an interesting concept, but not an interesting game.

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