aka: Elfish, SimFish
DOS Specs [ all ]
Buy on DOS

Description official description

A fish and aquarium simulator, El-Fish lets your catch, breed, evolve, and even mutate tropical fish, then render them and let them loose in an aquarium that you design.

Except for a few pre-canned graphics and animations, all fish, plants, and even backdrops and floor gravel in El-Fish are generated by the user using genetic algorithms that simulate real life in both appearance and movement. Even the music you want to play in the background can be generated with one of eight musical styles.

Groups +


Credits (DOS version)

45 People · View all

Original Concept
Macintosh programming
Development Director
Population Genetics
Simulation Solid Geometry
Video Support
Aquarium Interior
Graphics Library
[ full credits ]



Average score: 68% (based on 5 ratings)


Average score: 3.1 out of 5 (based on 11 ratings with 3 reviews)

Pretty fish, boring, but pretty fish

The Good
This game truly was a graphical marvel in it's day, and it still looks pretty incredible. The fish really do perform very life like, and swim realistically. It's fun to create aquariums with diving men and bubbling treasure chests. The math and programming that make this program work is pretty amazing. It is a really neat idea.

The Bad
There is not much to do here. It really isn't a game. It's not a design flaw, if you accept the program for what it is, a fish simulater, you will enjoy it much more. Another problem is some of the tools that they give you to import your own graphics, have many limitations and are clumsy to use. The last problem is that if you have a old machine (486) it take a bit to render a fish. If you don't have a math co-processor it will take a few hours.

The Bottom Line
Picture a truly beautiful fish tank simulator, that you can mate, mutate and catch fish for. You can decorate the tank, feed the fish, and develop background music. It's like a really nice screensaver, except you can't use it as one.

DOS · by Andrew Grasmeder (221) · 2000

Brilliant and Beautiful

The Good
This game— toy, really— entranced me like nothing else before or since. Designing tanks was fun, breeding and mutating fish was fun. Many other aquarium simulators have been developed since, but none have come even close to the depth offered by El Fish.

The Bad
I first played this on a 386 and spent hours and hours animating fish (usually overnight).

The Bottom Line
If you're the kind of person who can visit the same public aquarium more than once, this software toy was meant for you.

DOS · by John Coppersmith (1) · 2010

Interesting. Beautiful. Magical.

The Good
The graphics and animations are outstanding. Most games limits customizing to awkward mix&match body parts, but not El-Fish. Smooth movement and phong-based rendering makes these fish outstanding, even by todays standards.

The Bad
Some trouble getting it to run, but not more than I can handle.

Waiting for fish to render isn't as bad as it used to be, five to ten minutes on a P300.

The Bottom Line
All gamers have one special game they love. This is mine. Most will not get its inner beauty, but I did. And it charmed me off my feet.

DOS · by spamspamdude (2) · 2002



El-Fish is truly a child of Perestroika: a joint effort between American technology and Russian science. Here's what Maxis had to say about El-Fish when it was published in 1993:

El-Fish would have been impossible a very few years ago, when Russian scientists were denied access to the powerful desktop computers commonly taken for granted in most of Europe and the United States.

It has been noted by some in the computer industry that many of the best programmers are hackers who learned on small, cheap computers. They had to understand their machines inside and out and develop ingenious, efficient code to get results from their low-powered computers. In contrast, many university- and business-sponsored mathematicians and scientists had access to powerful workstations or even supercomputers, and, while they excelled in their fields, because of the computing power at their disposal, they didn’t need to optimize their code. They didn’t have to squeeze every bit of performance out of their computers.

Russia seems to have produced the best of both worlds: highly trained scientists and mathematicians with the hacker mentality. Because of the limitations of their pre-perestroika desktop computers, even the best scientists had to strive for the cleanest, most efficient computer code to carry out their research. Then suddenly, trade and technology barriers were removed, and powerful lBM-compatible and Macintosh computers became readily available. Russian programmers found themselves feeling like kids in a candy shop. El-Fish is one of the first offspring from the marriage of American technology and the Russian brain.

The idea of El-Fish was conceived in 1988 by Vladimir Pokhilko, Ph.D. (psychologist and software designer at Moscow University) and Alexey Pajitnov (mathematician from the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Science, and author of a number of computer games including Tetris® and Weltris®). They started a company called INTEC (Intellectual Technology) in order to apply their scientific knowledge to making software, not for industry or science, but for people--or in their words, for "people’s souls." They referred to this type of program as Human Software. Human Software is defined by three rules: 1. It has to be aesthetically beautiful. 2. It has to be constructive. 3. It has to give people new personal possibilities, sensations and feelings that they don't have in everyday life.

To this end, they came up with El-Fish. It uses the latest in computer graphics and animation for beauty. It allows the player to build and be constructive. It exposes people to artificial life and the beginnings of virtual reality.


  • .ROE files are the "genetic data" that make up each fish. They're text files; you can substitute random values into a .ROE file to create some really, really odd fish (although sometimes the program will crash trying to render them).
  • If you open fish file "dragon.roe" (which comes with the game) in a text editor, you can read some rather odd notes entitled "More Ronald Dragon Stuff". It seems like a brainstorm for future Ronald Dragon stories. Next you'll ask yourself: Was this supposed to be here?


  • Lots and lots of bad fish puns
  • A special thanks to "The Last Sea Monkey"
  • Over 50 things you can do while waiting for fish to render (rendering fish takes a very long time on anything slower than 100MHz), including "Run to the store to buy a math co-processor", "Name all the provinces in Canada", "Wash your parakeet", and "Organize your album collection by the number of grooves in the records".

Music generator

The music generator included in El-Fish, called BEMUSE, was designed and programmed by Brian Conrad. It's impressive, using a series of templates that include tempo, time signature, chord progressions, song length, drum rhythm/fill and harmonic comping dictionaries, and another dictionary for each chord (including the bass notes, the chord notes, and the notes that can be played against the chord) to generate music.


  • Computer Gaming World
    • November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) – #13 Worst Game of All Time

Information also contributed by spamspamspamdude

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Are you familiar with this game? Help document and preserve this entry in video game history!

Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Trixter.

FM Towns added by Infernos.

Additional contributors: Patrick Bregger, JMM, Infernos.

Game added October 19th, 1999. Last modified August 14th, 2023.