Dev Blog: Why We’re Not Pokémon, Part One: Thematic Difference
Alrighty. I just finished writing what is a Far Too Long Explanation of why Project Purple is distinct from Pokémon. Turns out it’s far too long, so I’m gonna break it up into two parts to avoid Wall of Texting you nice people. The first part is about thematic, genre, and purpose differences. The next entry will be a slightly more nitty-gritty explanation of the core gameplay differences, and we’ll get around to posting that in a day or two. In the meantime, here’s part one.
So, if there’s one thing I anticipate hearing a lot of as we move forward with programming and marketing, it’s the phrase “So wait…isn’t this just Pokémon?” This blog post is dedicated to explaining why I feel we’re offering a different, and (though similar) distinct enough experience from Pokémon to more than disprove the notion that we’re mere imitators. For me, the biggest elements of this argument are a reading of Pokémon as a progenitor of a genre, the adaptations entailed by building as a game for smartphones as opposed to other handheld platforms, and the ground-up construction of our battle system, including both the rules themselves and the focus on balanced high-end play.
Right now, people see monsters, the collecting and battling thereof, and jump instantly to Pokémon. That’s natural: the Pokémon series was a colossal part of what I assume the typical childhood of our generation entailed. It’s got a massive social footprint, but it did not emerge out of nowhere: replay the first two generations of games, and it becomes clearer that Pokémon is first and foremost an RPG, very much in the style of something more traditional, like Final Fantasy, or Golden Sun. The games place an emphasis on story, progression, and the accumulation of power. You have the traditional silent protagonist, on a quest to prove himself, temporarily stymied by obstacles ranging from needing to move Snorlax out of the way, to having to defeat a particular local leader. These themes only get more and more explicit in later generations (In Ruby and Sapphire, your job is literally to save/restore the world).
What set Pokémon apart from the typical RPG was the huge diversity in its party system. You’re no longer deciding which four characters to take out of a collection of bards, white mages and rogues, but drawing from a HUGE pool of 150+ monsters with appealing traits, backstories, and unique feels. This also allowed Nintendo to shift analogously from grinding or hunting for the best items to expanding your power by having the player find rare monsters (in a pre-internet world, discovering the power plant, and Zapdos was SO satisfying). This drew simultaneously from existing party systems, the collectible fighting already introduced by Magic: The Gathering, and the creator’s childhood love of bug collecting.
Time was back in the 90’s when almost any FPS released was called a Doom-Alike. As a game, it set many of the standards we have for the FPS genre as a whole today. Pistol as your secondary/back-up weapon? Rifle/Shotgun/Rocket Launcher as necessary weapons? First done in Doom. I see Pokémon as the first of a subgenre of the RPG you could call Collect and Battle, or a Monster Training RPG.
While it’s true that we’re taking heavy, heavy cues from the party mechanic introduced and popularized by Pokémon, we’re not a traditional RPG. We have a limited backstory, and as of now, no NPC’s, quests, or higher purposes. The experience we’re trying to capture is less of an immersive adventure, so much as a layer of adventure an excitement superimposed over your everyday life. We have many, many of the RPG-derived features, like levels, experience, stats, and what have you, but you will never steer an avatar of yourself through Ilex Forest or Saffron City. You (yes, YOU) are the character. Random encounters with wild monsters, and with your fellow players happen as YOU move around your world.
It’s possible to sit down with our game and battle wild monsters and players for continuous hours (for Pokémon veterans there’s a generic “Sweet Scent” feature), but as of now we’re envisaging a more relaxed playstyle. Other players appear for challenges based on physical proximity, monsters spawn randomly, and the sort of monster which spawns randomly depends on a range of conditions; primarily time and location, but hopefully things like weather and season as well. The idea is to have engagement create and reveal itself as you go about the business of your day.
The nature of a game for the iPhone/Android, and a game for the DS tends to be play which occurs less intensely. While it’s possible to sit down for a rousing three hours of Angry Birds or Battleheart, a lot of smartphone gaming, like Draw Something, or Words with Friends is done in smaller increments. Similarly, we’ve boiled down our game to be primarily about the experience of battling and collecting your monster team, more so than hours-long story. A lot of the thought will be less along the lines of “What do I need to make this wiggly tree move out of my way?” and more like “Is it more beneficial to take this really powerful attack, or for me to make sure I can burn the enemy?” or “How dangerous is it to take a team of only fire monsters?”