During one May evening, I stood in front of a tank and admired a shark with a gigantic nose. Flipping through the visitor book, I found charming comments from past visitors also praising the shark for its magnificent features. Among the comments were, “beautiful,” “loooong boy. Boop,” and “great nose.” I wasn’t the only one in that room, either. Hordes of visitors — couples flirting with each other, groups of friends jumping and laughing — came through to also gaze upon the fish swimming around us.
You’d think I was in the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Georgia Aquarium, but no — I was in Final Fantasy XIV. Possessing the body of my alternate character, named after my favorite Taco Bell drink, I hopped from my home server on Aether over to Crystal’s Malboro server to visit the renowned Eorzean Aquarium.
The Eorzean Aquarium is a sprawling exhibit of FFXIV‘s marine life. Created by one fisher with a dream, Fruity Snacks, and over 20 volunteers, the Eorzean Aquarium is a community-driven initiative with more than 90 aquarium tanks housing every displayable in-game fish. There’s even a gift store, cafe, and a newly added Touch Tank room. At this scale, it’s the first of its kind in the game.
So, how did this creative venue get started?
Fruity Snacks had long been thinking about an in-game place for fishers to hangout in FFXIV. There is the Fishcord, a Discord group where fishers flock to in order to get advice, master fishing, and just chat — but, well, it wasn’t the same as hanging out in Eorzea.
So he began researching what this venue could possibly look like, and the idea of a hangout space eventually snowballed into a full-blown concept for an aquarium. One day, with just an inkling of what he was about to launch, Fruity Snacks typed a message into Fishcord saying, “You know what… If one was so inclined, they could use a [Free Company] house to have private rooms for all types of aquariums.”
28 days later, the Eorzean Aquarium officially opened for business.
An Idea Becoming Reality
Over Twitter direct messages, Fruity Snacks eagerly delved into his history of fishing in FFXIV. He jokingly said everything “went downhill” after he took first place on the Malboro server during the Ishgardian Restoration Skybuilder rankings. “I caught every fish for the Grandmaster Cast title within a couple months after that,” he told me.
With the idea formed, now came the hard part: designing, building, and stocking the aquarium. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the full force of the fishing community showed up to manifest the Eorzean Aquarium. “The idea just skyrocketed in the Crystal DC channel in the Fishcord,” Fruity Snacks said. “Within a few hours, we had a FC house that was effectively donated to us for the cause. And maybe 10-15 volunteers, and a second Discord focused on helping out with projects like this.”
Using a FC house was a clever solution to displaying FFXIV‘s displayable marine life into one house. FFXIV housing tends to be wonky and has its own set of rules, as any player who’s experimented with interior decorating in-game probably knows. With regards to aquarium units, there’s a limit to how many a private residence can have; ten is the maximum, and that’s only if you have a large house. So how did Fruity Snacks and the Eorzean Aquarium’s volunteers get a massive amount of tanks in a single residence?
“Using Free Company rooms, we could skirt around [the limitations] and have up to 2,048 fish tanks — if we filled every private FC room (which is capped at 512, based on my research),” Fruity Snacks said. “We’re nowhere near that and boy, do I hope we’ll never have to be. But we’ve basically future-proofed the aquarium with this method.”
Lucerna found out about the project after a friend mentioned that Fruit Snacks had the idea of using the Free Company rooms within a house to bypass aquarium restrictions and, more importantly, display all of FFXIV’s viewable fish in one central location. In the end, Lucerna is the one who secured the house to host the Eorzean Aquarium. “I thought this was an excellent idea, so I brought it to the attention of my friends in the Little Sun Housing Discord to see if we had a venue that we could use to help,” Lucerna said.
And it turns out the organization did have a venue to lend. The Little Sun Housing group’s mission is very admirable. If you’re new to the game, it’s hard to make enough Gil to buy a house — and, under the old first-come-first-served housing system, even harder to beat out the bots and cheaters and actually get a house. In response to such difficult conditions, different groups — including The Little Sun — started banding together to provide aid and help.
“[We] in The Little Sun Squad would use our years and years of expertise to work around the cheaters and raise Gil,” Lucerna explained. “Then we would find houses being sold for relatively reasonable Gil amounts, and buy them to grant them to Free Company groups who had been struggling.”
One of the Little Sun Squad leaders decided to lend their house to the aquarium staffers. Risa, who owns the house, offered to let Fruity Snacks and his fishers use it. “Risa still owns the house, and she still uses the workshop to fundraise for the Suns,” Lucerna said, “but Fruity Snacks and the other aquarium staff have full access otherwise.”
Designing the Eorzean Aquarium
Getting a FC house, arguably one of the harder parts of building the aquarium in FFXIV, was crossed off the to-do checklist. Now, it was time to stock the building full of fish and set up exhibits — something Fruity Snacks and the volunteers from Fishcord completed at a blistering pace.
When you visit the Eorzean Aquarium, you’ll see that each apartment room hosts fish from a particular region, like Fish of La Noscea or Fish of Il Mheg. Currently, all rooms are curated and organized by region. Fruity Snacks designed the overall layout and flow of the building, but let individual exhibit designers do what they wanted in their particular rooms. Fruity Snacks let each exhibit designer exercise their creativity, but did give the group a singular base template so each room had four Tier 4 fish tanks and a message book.
Kyrie, one of the Fishcord members who volunteered to help build the project, designed the Saltwater Norvrandt room. “I pulled a lot of inspiration from the level 80 dungeons Anamnesis Anyder and Akadaemia Anyder since most of the fish come from The Tempest zone,” she said. She chose to not use the overworld’s music out of consideration for the fisher mains who’ve probably spent way too much time listening to the theme while trying to capture the Lancetfish, which is “a notoriously hard catch.”
“We also have one of the La Noscea rooms themed after Sastasha Seagrot, so I thought it would be nice to put the Sastasha callback dungeon in as well,” she added.
In addition to the locale-themed rooms, the Eorzean Aquarium was recently updated to include a touch tank room after much request from players. Bug, another FFXIV player, designed the ornately decorated touch tank room. There aren’t a lot of objects that visitors can interact with, so Bug focused on “getting the feel of the room right first and then filling in the gaps.”
“We spent quite a bit of time figuring out little details — like having the fish prints line up on the maps on the wall with the exact locations where the displayed fish can be found,” she said. Other room design elements Bug really loves are the footstools for Lalafells, so they can touch the water, and the handwashing station. “Gotta keep the fish and the visitors both safe! I think little details like that are really what makes the whole aquarium feel like a full aquarium experience.”
Cattor Fishbot, who is award-winning author Megan O’Keefe in real life, designed the Mor Dhona room. The area has several cool fishing spots, and she made sure to give a nod to those areas while designing. “I picked up a painting of The Tangle, an area that has a Big Fish that can be desynthesized into a betta fish minion,” she said. “And another painting for the Singing Shards, a location where one of the A Realm Reborn legendary fish can be caught. (Technically that legendary is in the North Shards but, hey, close enough!)”
Speaking on the little details that bring the aquarium fully to life, multiple Eorzean Aquarium staff members came up with creative ways to make the venue an interactive space. Lucerna not only helped with acquiring the FC house, but also designed and procured the materials for the aquarium’s gift shop. Thoughtfully, though she stocked the store with items like the popular straw hat, she made sure to include headgear that Viera and Hrothgar can wear as well. The downstairs aquarium cafe’s menu was created by Sophie, another Fishcord member and fishing enthusiast. They staff the cafe on the weekend and interact with roleplayers who stop by for a bite and chat. Items on the menu were chosen to increase GP and gatherer attributes as much as possible, but there are also references like “cindered eggs” — a nod to the notoriously hard-to-catch rare “fish” (an egg in the desert that people can catch).
Behind-the-scenes members were also integral to efforts in coordinating the operation. Luc is an administration member for the Little Sun Housing group who later became an admin for the Eorzean Aquarium as well. “I helped make sure every fish friend that came into our Discord got the role they needed to see the aquarium’s communication channel, helped run some level 80 maps (contributing my own guaranteed portal maps from a Moogle Tomestone Event a while back) in our attempt to farm materials for the uniforms,” Luc said. He added that he also offered random comments ranging from feedback to fun sarcastic remarks — an important role in any group project!
Eorzean Aquarium Staff’s Future Plans
So what’s next for the Eorzean Aquarium? The whole team has ambitious plans for the future, like new exhibits, lectures, and fishing parties. Fruity Snacks is currently working on a shark exhibit and is highly enthusiastic about the possibilities of using the aquarium as an educational tool. Through the game’s ecosystem, he hopes to teach FFXIV players about real-world fish and marine life. He’s even planning “TADtalks” (a play on Ted Talks) that explore the parallels between ocean conservation in the real world and Hydaelyn. They would ideally be led by an actual marine biologist among FFXIV’s player base who could present on various topics of their choice.
“I have a Masters of Education in Instructional Design and so this has kind of become my fun little challenge — teaching people about real world things in a video game,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do that, and I think the aquarium is a good starting point.”
The team also plans to help other players get the shark mount, the reward for earning over 10,000 points in a single Ocean Fishing instance. “We’re going to be hosting community Ocean Fishing voyages, where our expert fishers will party up with folks,” Fruity Snacks said. “We’ll be providing the food, cordials, baits, gear (if needed) and knowledge — anything we can to help folks get their shark mount, or get them the knowledge they need so they feel comfortable in getting it themselves.”
That community aspect is at the core of the Eorzean Aquarium’s mission — one that is seeing success already. Visitors should know that the Eorzean Aquarium staff are appreciative of the quips people leave in the visitor book, and the team keeps every single message left in a Discord thread. I brought up the visitor book to Fruity Snacks, commenting how much I enjoyed reading what the community had to say about each fish and each room. On the more hilarious end of comments, there’s one room where everybody called the Funnel Shark “pog shark.” Role players who assume the identities of Ascian characters have also come through and left comments, including one Emet-Selch who pondered upon the exhibits and said, “Good fish.”
But one comment particularly moved the entire Eorzean Aquarium team. A visitor thanked the group for creating the aquarium, as they had planned to visit an aquarium in real-life before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But they haven’t been able to go due to their immune system, and probably can‘t in the foreseeable future due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The visitor said the Eorzean Aquarium cheered them up. After seeing this comment on the first day, the team decided the whole project was worth it for that one comment.
“We had a handful of other people as well who said similar things,” Fruity Snacks said. “Every time, it has motivated the team to make the aquarium even more of an awesome experience.”