I’ve mentioned Aquzone from time to time in this blog in few different contexts, but never to a large degree. The title is fascinating in its simplicity and function. Aquazone, in its essence, is a virtual fish tank. It’s subtitle Desktop Life says it all, and the title did find most success on Windows and MAC PCs.
While Aquzone may look like some late 1990’s screensaver, it was a bonafide simulator with caring aspects. You had to keep the fish alive and all that. You could even give the fish names and grow attached to them. You could change the backgrounds, put in statues and whatnot in there and so on. You had to take care of the lights and water purity as well. Pretty much everything you need to do with real fish tank. It’s a lot of fun, sort of.
In the above video is pretty much all you get it up front.
The very reason why Aquazone exists is due to people wanting to have fish, but either can’t pay the amount to own a fish tank, the fish and all the little things they require, or as it is the case in Japan, they simply don’t have any room for such contraptions.
Aquazone wasn’t a haphazardly put together title. The development team spent enormous amount of time observing and recording real life fish behaviour in order to replicate that within the title. This went as far as devs’ growing very attached to the fish they were taking care of, something that’s not exactly uncommon when taking care of pets. The team as far as including digital DNA, which determined the aforementioned behaviour and some of the aspects a fish could have. When two fish would mate (yes, you could watch hot fish-on-fish action in Aquazone), their offspring/s would inherit certain modifiers from the parent fish and would exhibit them to certain extent.
The title came and vanished sometime around 1998, though the original seemed to have hit the Mac sometime in 1993, with only few people mentioning it around. I have the vaguest of recollections of seeing this somewhere locally, but it may as well have been at a friend’s place or something. The game found success on the Saturn, because the Saturn was in a weird place when it came to software titles at the time, and saw all the Option Discs that were released for the PC platforms as well. These discs added more fish to the mix.
Aquzone most likely seems weird to most people nowadays. The few people who have talked about it have called it shovelware. Indeed, as a game Aquazone does seem rather lacklustre and missing what would make a good game. Of course, the gaming landscape has changed since the 1990’s, for the better or worse depending on issues, but it still has sequels to this day. I recommend the DS one, the 360 version is sadly region locked for whatever reason.
The term desktop game has pretty much died out with all the games run from PC desktops rather than via DOS. Well, now you’re more or less required to run a game through Steam, but we’ve gone through that few times already. These titles were small and offered wide variety of short but fun interactive games you could play during workday. Solitaire and Minesweeper fall into this same category. Aquazone is essentially one, something you could set up and take of from time to time when you had a coffee break or similar. The Saturn version was pretty much for enthusiasts who didn’t have access to a MAC or Windows PC, as the 1990’s was a freakish era for Japanese PC gaming and IBM standard steamrolling the living shit out of their own national machines like the PC-9801. There’s a writing subject when it comes to Japanese computer games, but that might be out of my scope without rather extensive research.
As a desktop game, Aquazone is a superb title. We could go a step forwards with this and question whether or not it is a game to begin with. With some flight simulators, like IL-2 Sturmovik, the software allows the user to drop the level of realism down to the point of it being essentially an arcade flyer. Flight sims certainly have elements of gameplay to them through missions and whatnot, but something like Farming Simulator series has none. The underlying assumption in all this is that the aim of a simulation is to offer, well, a simulation rather than game play. Kamov KA-50
This is not to say that a simulation couldn’t be an electronic game, but rather that a simulation doesn’t need or is not required to be allocated among games. A game like Final Fantasy Tactics could be described as fantasy war simulation RPG, for example, though something like Command & Conquer would fit the simulation bill better. Both of these titles evolved from strategy games played with tin soldiers. A flight simulator on the other hand evolved from the need to educate new pilots how to fly. First with mechanical rigs, which then evolved into a combination of software and hardware. Of course, with flight and plane enthusiasts wanting to make-belief fly their favourite planes, these companies would see a profitable niche and strike true.
It can’t be denied that early computers didn’t have the power to render realistic graphics or physics, which puts questioning simulators as games into question. That, and there are stupid amount of games that still have the sim title attached to them without aiming for any actual simulation. Then again, hardcore replication of reality rarely makes a good game. Even Grand Theft Auto, with its emphasize on photorealism in both visual s and design, takes freedom when it comes to accommodating gameplay elements, like player character actually dying when riddled with automatic weaponry.
The golden middle pathway might be the best idea to take once more and say that some simulators are games without a doubt, with some of them belonging to simulation software category. The strange obsession of calling any and all software that exists on a game console or similar as game is most evident with titles like Aquazone, but it’s also undeniable that without games like it we wouldn’t have Digimon or other pet raising titles.