-['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, we examine an activist Flash game cautioning against overfishing.]

Aside from Ecco the Dolphin, it’s kind of hard to think of any other games that have you playing as a sea creature. EVO: Search for Eden? Did you play as a fish in that? I really can’t remember. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I never played it, and only know about it because I saw an ad in GamePro.

Anyway, we can add another game to that list now: Pew Environment Group’s Flash title Ocean Survivor. It’s a little more on the serious side than Ecco, however, with about 100% less Vortex Queen and more of a focus on the actual realities of the sea. “Pollution, habitat destruction, mismanagement and overfishing have impoverished our ocean resources,” says the game’s website, “and have caused more than 90% of the world's large fish, including tuna, swordfish and marlin to disappear from our oceans.”

It’s overfishing that’s the game’s real concern, though. Your bluefin tuna swims through a 2D ocean, avoiding nets and hooks of various kinds – the game details the destructive impact of each if you manage to hook or net yourself.

Of course, to hook the public in, there’s the high score table, which currently sits around the 300,000 mark. I’ve only managed about 80,000 so far, which makes me feel like a complete failure of a fish, but I guess that’s life.

We had a chat to project lead Joseph Gordon about the game, and – more importantly – about whether the high score grabbing public will actually learn from the game and take the chance to sign the petition.

GSW: How did the project begin to come together?

Joseph Gordon: For years, we’ve been working on a campaign to end overfishing. A crucial element was to get the public to give comments to the US Fisheries Service demanding conservation for all of ocean life. My colleague Tara, who manages our MySpace and YouTube pages, sent me the link to a great game: Whale’s Revenge. I decided to create an overfishing game of our own.

My mother is a computer science professor, so I asked her advice. One of her students with gaming experience suggested I add a post on Gamedev.net. I received an amazing response from many talented volunteers from around the world. The rest was a very fast learning curve of recruitment and discovering what it takes to build a team and make an online game.

GSW: Where did you take inspiration for the project from?

JG: The game Whale's Revenge was approaching 1 million signatures opposing international whaling.

-GSW: How many people worked on the project?

JG: We had a seven person team - eight if you count our first programmer who disappeared after the demo was complete. The game’s credits page gives their names and websites. I hope this game highlights their fantastic work and helps build their careers. I would give them all the highest recommendations. Bernat [Pina] also programmed Whale's Revenge and he did an amazing job of putting it all together in the end.

GSW: How long did the game take to complete?

JG: It took seven months to complete the game, from the day we came up with the idea.

GSW: How did you decide on the gameplay for Ocean Survivor? Were there other ideas that were considered?

JG: Erlend [S. Heggen], our team leader, came up with the first sketch of a concept based on a very simple helicopter game. There was a lot of discussion about adding fish that the tuna would eat for points, having the fish get bigger over time, making the music and play speed up, etc.

But I felt it was important to keep the game simple and beautiful, to get it done quickly, and to not distract the player from the end overfishing message. What I like most about the final gameplay is that it gets you to think about what life’s like from the fish’s perspective in an ocean facing more and more nets and hooks, and then you have a chance to do something about it!

GSW: What were the aims of the game in terms of actual play mechanics? That is, was it important to have something score based so that people would continue to play it?

JG: The team all believed that a "top score" competitive component was essential to success, and so it was really just a question of Bernat writing a script to make that happen.

GSW: How much of a concern was the level of complexity?

JG: This was a central concern from the start. Colin, our webmaster at that time, advised me that what was great about the whale game, and fails in most online games, is that it was simple, fun, and addictive. The key was to raise awareness and get people to take action but not be preachy or boring. I hope we've achieved that goal.

GSW: What challenges did you face in trying to include facts that would be read by more casual players?

JG: Our website and many of our publications are geared toward the general public, for example the Ocean Legacy slideshow that we present to scientists as well as first graders, and so we had experience with this kind of writing. I thought the surrounding images would be important.

The biggest challenge for us was the petition; writing a sample letter that was not too technical but did respond to two complex rulemakings and sounded like something a real person would write.

- GSW: What hopes do you have in regards to visibility and user figures for the game?

JG: During the first day after the game release, thousands of people visited the site and we had 3,000 petition signatures. "Ocean Survivor" was also featured in blogs and websites around the world including India, China, and Portugal. Our immediate goal is 10,000 signatures, but of course it would be great to gain momentum and generate 100,000 or more!

I hope that GameSetWatch can help spread the word.

GSW: What sort of figures are you aiming for in regards to the ratio of players signing the petition?

JG: I have no experience as a basis for an estimate. The rule of thumb for alerts to activist networks in the non-profit world is a 5% return. Of course, I hope people will play again and again so that would skew this statistic. I'm starting with 5% as a prediction, but I'd love for this to be an underestimate.

GSW: How much of a difference do you believe the game will make?

JG: That is the ultimate question! If we are successful in all of our many outreach efforts, and I’m confident we will be, we will deliver more than 300,000 comments to the US Fisheries Service. This would be the most comments on any ocean issue in U.S. history. We believe that will have a major impact on the rules and the effort that’s made to reach the new legal requirement to end overfishing in U.S. oceans by 2011. These new Fisheries Service rules for overfishing and environmental review may govern U.S. ocean territory for more than a decade and set a precedent around the world.

One further note: it will be very easy in the future to change the lead fish and the petition in the game so it can be useful for years to come. In this way, the game can continue to contribute to our campaigns to protect our ocean legacy.