Pokemon Mailbox pt.8
Friday, June 3, 2011 at 12:23AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Competition, Critique, Genre, Interview, Pokemon, RPG
Let's start things off easy with some quotes I lifted from various reviews, posts, and opinions:
  • "Said roster is a bit of a mixed bag: While there are certainly some cool-looking 'mons in the bunch, there are also some outlandish designs that are a bit too weird, even for Pokémon. Did we really need a trash-bag Pokémon?” theescapistmagazine

If you can stomach Grimer and Muk from generation 1, then you shouldn't think Trubbish and Garbodor are very different creatively. Urban waste has a face in the Pokemon world. 

 

  • "One thing that hasn't gone away is the emphasis on grinding levels. Pokémon Black & White does make it easier to raise an evenly-leveled team; lower-level Pokémon get more experience for defeating higher-level enemies, and you gain even more experience if you swap your team during a fight. Still, "easier" in this case is hardly "easy." RPGgamer

As I've explained, there are plenty of anti-grinding design features in Pokemon B/W. And if you don't want to play to the RPG stats side of the game, you can embrace the deeper aspects of the combat.

 

images from Teej/TopHat's gallery

  • "Although many of the new monsters feel like reskins of series mainstays like Pidgey and Geodude, there are enough winners in the batch that selecting a core team of six is difficult." RPGgamer

All the generations have multiple versions of bird, rock, mouse, etc. type Pokemon. Judging a Pokemon by how it looks ignores most of what makes it unique. Ability, movepool, and base stats shape how a Pokemon functions in battle, which is the core of the Pokemon experience. Ignore battle, and all the Pokemon are just pictures. 

 

  • "They’re an inconsistent bunch; a smattering of the adorable (Stoutland), the rehash (Pidove) and the ridiculous (Vanilluxe) but the hits greatly outweigh the misses." darkzero.co.uk

The creative direction behind the generation 5 Pokemon is fairly consistent with the distribution of types from the previous generations.

 

 

  • "Speaking of battered monsters, the story is one of the greatest disappointments. In the right hands, it could have been a thoughtful deconstruction of the Pokémon mythos -- or at least an alternative viewpoint of the utopia in which the games exist.... While the story heats up and takes a few chances near the end, it's a case of too little, too late. Too much is explained in flat, exposition-heavy speeches. Instead of being experienced, the emotionally charged background becomes a big data dump." next-gen.biz
The story is a thoughtful and challenging alternative view of the Pokemon world supported by new themes and characters. However, these elements exist largely in the background of your own adventure where battling is the primary truth. Most of the narrative progression has always been communicated via NPC dialog. True, it's a bit more heavy handed this time, but it's all within the style that's common in many Japanese animes/manga. Personally, I would have liked a different execution of the story. But this doesn't mean that what's there doesn't work on some level. 
 
  
 
  • "I mean, we all know it’s a (potentially very annoying) game of rock, paper, scissors, right? ... If one or two attacks don’t take out your enemy, then you’re doing something wrong – but what?" beefjack.com
  • "I don't know a lot about the game, but i think the limited RPS feature seems like it is rather low skill cap."  B.W.

It's clear that the 17 type match up chart is well beyond the complexity of Rock Paper Scissors. Even if Pokemon was built around a simpler interplay system, this is no reason enough to doubt the skill ceiling of the game. After all, popular and competitive fighting games and FPSs are built around a RPS-like interplay loop. It's from the core interplay design that the strategies and metagame emerges. I do sympathize with beefjack. The game doesn't do a good job teaching the player the finer aspects of battling. If you're not plugged into an external community, you'll probably be suck guessing how to improve. 

 
  • "...in the first season of Pokémon there was a Sandshrew, a ground-type, who was supposed to be weak against water-type but after some aggressive training was far less prone to water-based aggressors. Obviously it was just a narrative device to teach kids you can do anything if you try, but why not bring this into the game?" beefjack.com
A while ago I wrote an article titled Be Careful. You Might Suck....Is That A Challenge? The core idea from the article is that it's important for gamers and writers to carefully consider how their own skills or lack thereof shape their views/opinions. I always thoroughly research the games I play and the ideas I present on this blog. With that said, it's obvious that the quoted person does not know much about Pokemon at all. The feature he described from the first season of the anime, is actually in the game. Not only can you EV train your Pokemon to make them more defensively buff, but you can also give them hold items that will allow them to survive with 1 HP from a one-hit-KO, reduce the super effectiveness of an incoming attack with a specific berry, or use an Eviolite stone to give a not-fully-evolved Pokemon a 50% defense stat increase. I often see Pokemon take super effective hits without too much trouble.
 
  
  
  
Speaking of research, I've interviewed a few competitive wifi battlers from the youtube channel PokeMoshPit, which I cannot recommend enough. I also interviewed a few players I knew personally. I feel that it is important that this article series close on their responses to a few questions. 
First of all, when I asked when they first got into Pokemon most answered that they started with Pokemon Red/Blue. 
  • [C3H8]Steven: since Red and Blue version, but competitively... in Gen 4 (Platinum).
  • Fernando: overall since Pokemon red. I started [competitive battling] recently ... because I found a battle [simulator] that my friend showed me
  • Nbz: I first got into Pokemon during the R/B/Y era and my first game was Pokemon Blue for the GBC, and seeing as I didn't have a GBC of my own at the time I had to borrow my Sister's every time I wanted to play it. Though I played every generation of the franchise, I didn't start to get into competitive play until September of 2007 after Diamond/Pearl had been out for a few months.
  • AAmazing0: Got into Pokemon back in 1998. Pokemon Red/Blue just came out. Started competitively battling around June/July 2008
  • BlakBlastoise: I didn't pick up the video games until 2003 or so, since my parents didn't allow me to play video games of any kind. Once I picked up the game, I was immediately hooked. I loved training my Pokemon, and beating the gyms/e4 in Pokemon red, which was my first Pokemon game. I didn't start competitive until my [senior] year in High school, around may 2007.

 

 

 

Many of these gamers branched out a bit into the other Pokemon products. Some played the Trading Card Game. Others enjoyed the TV show. But all are mostly focused on battling now. I asked what they liked about battling. Many expressed being creative and making accurate predictions of their opponent as their favorite part of battling.

  • Frenando: [It's easy] to make reads since all you do is click.
  • Nbz: My favourite part about battling is when you make a prediction and get it correct, either giving you the upper hand in a situation or getting you a crucial kill on a [Pokemon] that was bogging down your team. There is an immense amount of satisfaction to be gained from predicting correctly and effectively, and therefore I find it the most rewarding part of playing this game competitively.
  • AAmazing0: Battling against other people. Using the sets/Pokemon you have created and seeing how well they do against another person. Watching other battles on Youtube, and learning from them.
  •  BlakBlastoise: I like the mindgames involved and all the critical thinking which must be used in order to win. Most days, the highlight of my day is getting an epic prediction right, or having a battle which really challenges my critical/long term thinking/decision making.



When I asked what these players disliked about the game the answers were much more varied (as to be expected). Some disliked the slow pace of the combat especially with animations turned on. Other enjoyed how the slow pace gave them time to think. Some have accepted the random elements, while others would turn it off if they could. 

 

 

All the competitors I interviewed use some kind of external Pokemon battling tool. Some use battle simulators where they can create teams and battle all on their computers. Others use flash cards and specially tailored programs to manipulate their save files. For one thing, these tools have allowed high quality direct feed battle footage to be uploaded to youtube. Recording off of DS screens is difficult and somewhat disappointing. Besides this perk, I wanted to understand why these players use these tools and what is lost from using them. The first step is to understand exactly how long it takes to build a competent battling team. 


  
 
Like any competitive game, it takes time to stay competitive. However, there's a difference between practicing or researching, and grinding. Putting together a team is the hard work, and grinding to make each Pokemon level 100 is the mindless, busy work. In gen 4, when battling on wifi, there is a feature that automatically levels Pokemon up to 100. With this feature, players didn't have to grind hardly at all. But, for some reason, this feature was removed in Pokemon B/W. This is perhaps the biggest flaw in the game. Rather than waste time grinding, many players use outside "hacking" tools like PokeSav. 

 

It seems like it's impossible to compete by playing the game alone. You'll either waste too much time training Pokemon, or you simply won't get enough battle experience compared to those who are setting the latest metagame trends. It's amazing how one removed feature can push a whole competitive generation into a singular direction. What is gained? What is lost?

Part of the challenge of Pokemon is assembling a team. In the card game, the power of my deck was balanced by the rarity of cards. While Charizard was a powerful card, it was extremely rare. When I played the card game competitively, part of my advantage came from my willingness to trade to get the cards I needed. It seems like for the RPGs there's a disconnect between the adventure and competitive battling for many players. They see no problem in punching in numbers to assemble their teams. They want nothing to hold them back from testing their ideas. On the other hand, the designers of the game want players to work for everything. From searching the world for all the TMs, Pokemon, or helpful NPCs to running through the Battle Subway for great items, the small experiences are a key part of the challenge. The reason why you can only trade one Pokemon at a time is because Pokemon are closer to pets and people than possessions. The way things are currently designed, the competitor and the adventurer are at odds. Understanding this has changed the way I design my games. 

 

It's been an adventure studying Pokemon for this article series. I've met new trainers, new Pokemon, and I understand the design of the RPGs better than ever. Like everyone else, I wonder what's next for the series. I have my own design docs for a few Pokemon games. But, I think I'll keep them to myself for now. Thanks to all the contributors. In the meantime, I'm ready for a Pokemon battle when you are. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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