Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fish Tycoon - a really dumb review

(Originally posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 by Cathy)

I've been playing Fish Tycoon lately. The basic premise is that you've got an aquarium simulator and can breed the various fish to "discover" 400 fish species, including 7 magic fish. So far, I have discovered 66 fish species, including one of the magic ones. (I deserve no credit for the magic one, since it hatched from a starter egg.)

I was poking around looking for a discussion/FAQ of fish tycoon breeding, when I found this USA Today review. According to the reviewer, Jinny Gudmundsen, kids can learn about both genetics and fish breeding from this game.

Um, yeah, right.

Now, I'm no expert on fish genetics, but there's something pretty um... fishy here.

It's a minor quibble, but all Fish Tycoon fish are apparently simultaneous hermaphrodites. (Meaning they're both male and female at the same time.) Now, that's not totally crazy for fish, although sequential hermaphrodites are more common. (Meaning, the fish starts out male and switches later, or vice versa.) Anyway, as it works in Fish Tycoon, you can impregnate any fish with any other fish - fish gender is apparently unimportant. I guess I don't blame the game designers too much for making all of the fish simultaneous hermaphrodites, although I'm really not sure how I'd explain that to the kids the reviewer recommends this game for.

My larger complaint is that the genetics are totally botched. Each fish has two characteristics: the fin, and the body, with 20-ish choices for each. Ok, so far so good, two is simple, but that's enough. Here's where it gets weird. Fish Tycoon fish are apparently all homozygous, even where that's impossible. If you breed two different fish together, all of the offspring are identical to each other (and often radically different from either parent). That's ok if you suppose the parents were homozygous. (Example from humans: someone with two blue eye genes has kids with someone with two brown eye genes - all their kids have brown eyes, since all the kids get one blue and one brown gene, and brown's dominant.) BUT, if you take the identical-looking offspring of those different parents (which really -must- be heterozygous) and you breed THEM to each other, you get offspring that look exactly like their parents. That's just wrong. (Going back to the eye example, some of those humans' grandkids will have blue eyes and some will have brown.) There's no way I can pervert Mendelian genetics or even non-Mendelian genetics to make that one work, unless you get into some really bizarre (and mostly speculative) weirdness about killer genes.

While I'm picking on genetics, these nominal 400 different "species" of fish are all able to cross-breed, with fertile offspring. (Assuming the offspring survive. Realistically enough, some offspring don't survive.) The offspring of crosses between two fish with different bodies and fins are very different in appearance from either parent, with really no traits from either. That's pretty extreme, although it does make it easier to tell one set of pixels from another. But where things go wrong (again) is here. If fish species A and fish species B mate to produce fish species C, quite often fish species C and fish species A can mate to produce fish species B, and B and C produce A. I can't figure that one out.

So what do we have? A genetic system that doesn't resemble real genetics much at all, or if it does, only resembles the weirder bits of real genetics. This is not a game to teach kids genetics.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go check on my fish.

(this is Cathy posting - oops!)

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