SANTA FE, N.M. -- So you want to play God. Start with fish.
That's what Vladimir Pokhilko is doing with a team of 15 Russian mathematicians, physicists and computer programmers working under the rubric InTec, for Intellectual Technology. You'll be able to join them in the breeding of new life forms by Christmas.
That's when a personal computer version of the program they've been working on for three years will hit the market, courtesy of the same folks who now bring you SimEarth and SimCity. Call it SimFish.
Actually, it's called Elfish, for electronic fish. It's the code child of Mr. Pokhilko and Alexey Pajitnov, who gained fame as one of the developers of Tetris, an engrossing game of concentration and planning.
In Elfish, players create their own aquariums. Everything in it -- fish included -- is computer generated.
First, players choose simple things, such as the color and size of the stones they want at the bottom. They determine the number of bubbles that will percolate as the water is aerated. They'll choose shells, mermaids and all the other debris of the typical aquarium.
Then, the real intrigue begins. You can choose from a variety of three-dimensional fish from around the world. As with real fish, they come with their own behavior patterns and genes.
Now breed your own.
Choose a mother fish and a father fish. If you like the look of one more than the other, tip the mating scale in its favor.
Then mate them. Elfish will not only mix and match genes from the parents, but mutate them. There are 800 aspects of the fish that might change.
There are no supplies to buy, no cleaning to do and fish are free. Total cost: Say $1,000, a one-time cost for the personal computer system.
This is one of the early efforts at giving computer users everywhere the ability to toy with synthetic life. Next up probably are more complex creatures, such as dinosaurs.