Inside the Minds behind Pokémon!
04 Oct, 2013 in Video Games
GAME FREAK’s Junichi Masuda and Hironobu Yoshida give insight into the upcoming Pokémon X and Pokémon Y games.
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y Director Junichi Masuda and Character Designer Hironobu Yoshida take time leading up to the exciting launch of the new games to discuss a variety of Pokémon topics, including Pokémon character design, the move to 3D, and the inspiration for the Kalos region.
Pokemon.com: The looks of the new Pokémon have already been receiving a positive reaction from Pokémon fans. Have you been pleased with the response?
Mr. Masuda: Of course I’m happy to hear everyone’s impressions, and I know that everyone’s enjoying them, but the key is to never be satisfied and to always challenge ourselves to come up with new and better designs.
Pokemon.com: As people have learned and seen more about Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, have you been surprised at anything that the fans have been really drawn to?
Mr. Yoshida: Well, most recently I’m surprised by the reveal of Mega Blastoise, and how positive the reaction has been. We knew that everyone would like Charizard a lot because it’s a really popular Mega-Evolved Pokémon, but we were happy that they liked Mega Blastoise, too.
From a design perspective, Mega Blastoise is designed to be a little more goofy looking, with all the big cannons on its arms for example. It’s kind of a more ridiculous concept, but people ended up thinking it’s really cool. I was kind of surprised by that.
Pokemon.com: How long does it take to create a single Pokémon, and how many design iterations does it usually go through?
Mr. Yoshida: It depends on the Pokémon, but usually each goes through around five to 10 revisions before it has its final design. The least amount of time for a Pokémon to be designed and its name decided upon was about half a year. They can take up to a full year though.
Pokemon.com: What was the impetus for the concept of Mega-Evolved Pokémon and the way that they work?
Mr. Masuda: In Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, we had three main themes in mind: beauty, the bond between people and Pokémon, and Evolution. Evolution has always been a key part of Pokémon...one of its defining characteristics. We felt that we wanted to do something new this time. But we didn’t want to simply add another level of Evolution—by doing that and just making the Pokémon stronger, it would ruin the balance for battles and whatnot.
So to come up with a way to do something new with Evolution, without destroying the balance in battles, we looked at a lot of different options and gathered a lot of different ideas. One thing that came up was a form of Evolution that only lasted during the battle, and it also required the Pokémon to hold onto an item to trigger the Mega Evolution. What that accomplished for us is that we could use this level of Evolution without making it permanent, while also restricting the Pokémon by making it hold an item to be used in battle.
Another thing that Mega Evolution does is add a lot of strategic depth to the battles. For example with Mewtwo capable of holding either Mewtwonite X or Mewtwonite Y, it requires you to evaluate the opponent’s strategy. The Pokémon’s type can change depending on the Mega Stone used, so you have to consider what your opponent will use, or if the Pokémon will Mega Evolve at all.
Pokemon.com: So the primary strategy comes from not knowing which Mega Stone, if any, a potential Mega-Evolved Pokémon might be holding?
Mr. Masuda: Yes, that’s one aspect. You don’t know if they’re holding a Mega Stone at all. But it’s more than that. Mega Evolutions don’t trigger immediately when you go into battle. An option appears on the bottom screen that you tap to determine when to Mega Evolve. So you can use strategies like attack normally on one turn, then Mega Evolve and use a different attack on the next.
Pokemon.com: Has designing a Pokémon for 3D changed your approach? Do you think about the Pokémon as a 3D character first, or do you sketch a 2D design and then think about how it would look in 3D?
Mr. Yoshida: For me, from a design perspective, the process hasn’t really changed much. We still start out with an initial 2D design, and create setting sheets that detail what the character is all about. The biggest challenge for moving to 3D was keeping the feel of the art that Art Director Ken Sugimori makes, and how that translates faithfully to 3D.
It took a lot of time for us to create the development environment that would allow us to translate that art style faithfully into 3D. To do this, we created what we like to call “Sugimori shaders,” a suite of shader technology that gets that feel right.
Pokemon.com: That sounds like one of the bigger challenges of moving to 3D. Besides the benefit of the 3D look, what are some of the other advantages to moving to the Nintendo 3DS?
Mr. Yoshida: One of the bigger benefits is that we’re now able to create much more atmospheric scenes by manipulating the camera angle. Everything comes to life during battle and is much more dynamic. Before, when the characters were in 2D, moving the camera didn’t really work. In fact, the reason we chose to bring the game into 3D was because of these benefits—being able to freely move the camera for more impactful and exciting scenes. It’s also enabled us to create modes such as Pokémon-Amie and Sky Battles, so that you can look up from the ground at your Pokémon.
From the perspective of the graphic designers, even before the move to 3D, they always had to think about what the Pokémon would look like from every angle. What do the bottom of their feet look like? What do their backs look like? So the actual design process probably hasn’t changed too much.
Pokemon.com: Is there something inherent to 3D that attracts older players?
Mr. Yoshida: There have been a lot of Pokémon games that have shown the Pokémon in 3D, but they represent a different visual style. With regard to how they appear in the core games, we pay attention to the 2D thickness of the character outlines and the shading, for example, to make it appear more like Mr. Sugimori’s art. We think this attracts all kinds of players.
Pokemon.com: How important are features such as the Player Search System (PSS) in fostering communication between players?
Mr. Masuda: Going all the way back to the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, we originally designed them with trading as the core concept. We viewed Pokémon as not only a game, but also as a communication tool. When we had this focus on trading, that’s what inspired us to create all these different kinds of Pokémon. It’s also why we included the Pokédex, so that people could see which Pokémon they had collected. This is also why we had the two versions. There would be different Pokémon that were unique to each game, which encouraged people to trade and communicate.
We really think that Pokémon isn’t just about your relationship with the game. It doesn’t just end there. It kind of expands to encompass the outside world, by encouraging you to talk, trade, and battle with other players. It’s also one of the reasons that we hold Pokémon distribution events at specific locations. Of course players will go to get a Pokémon, but they’ll also meet and connect with other players. We really view this as a core aspect within the Pokémon series.
Pokemon.com: Now that the full strengths and weaknesses have been revealed for the new Fairy type, can you talk a little about the process of gameplay-balancing the new type into battles?
Mr. Masuda: The entire reason for adding the Fairy type was to bring more balance to the battle system. Over the years, the Dragon type has been a bit stronger, causing some Pokémon to be used more than other Pokémon. It took us a long time because we carefully deliberated a new type and whether that was what we really needed to create to balance the battles. So that’s how we came to the decision to include the Fairy type.
We spent a lot of time working with a lot of people at GAME FREAK, just trying everything out and working through all the different combinations. We’d have internal competitions even during development, with employees raising Pokémon as if they were playing the final game. Of course we spend a lot of time trying to perfect the balance, but every year we go to tournaments and we’ll find surprising new techniques and combinations that players think of. Although we think we got it right this time, it’ll be interesting to see what happens at the World Championships next year when Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are used. It’ll be interesting to see if players are using a lot of different Pokémon and moves, or trending toward certain ones. That’s when we’ll know whether we got it right.
Pokemon.com: Speaking of the World Championships, Mr. Masuda, you had a major presence there and got to reveal a new Mega-Evolved Pokémon. What was the experience like for you?
Mr. Masuda: Yes, at Worlds this year we made the announcement of Mega Kangaskhan. We had done a few rehearsals beforehand, but when we actually went up on stage and made the announcement, the crowd went wild. I almost forgot what I was supposed to say given the incredible reaction we got. I was really happy to experience that.
The presentation at this year’s Worlds was better than ever before. Things like the players being on screen and the commentators talking about what was going on made it more fun for the audience. It was really easy to follow the matches, and just a great time.
Pokemon.com: Events are a good reminder of how there are all generations of Pokémon players, from those who played the original games to those who are just starting. What is your approach to making a game that all those players will enjoy?
Mr. Masuda: We always try for a wide audience of players. Going back to what Mr. Yoshida said about the shaders when rendering the Pokémon, we could have just made the Pokémon look more realistic, and that would be one direction. But I think by continuing to convey the feel of the 2D art style, existing fans will continue to appreciate the direction. One thing about Pokémon games is that they’re comforting. They’re easy to understand. For new players, of course, we always teach the basics, starting from catching Pokémon. Of course, people who go to events already know those things. It’s very important to make the games easy to get into if you’ve never played before, but also have incredible depth in the battle system...making it deep enough that there can be competitive tournaments. It’s kind of like playing sports. There’s a wide entry point, but it gets very deep, as well. That’s what appeals to a wide variety of players.
Pokemon.com: Why did you choose France as the inspiration for the Kalos region?
Mr. Masuda: It’s really tied back to the theme of beauty that I mentioned earlier. I wanted to make a game that was really beautiful, and one where players would explore and experience a beautiful region. When I was working on the concept for the game, I thought about where people would want to go to take photos. Why would people want to take photos of a certain place? Because it’s beautiful. I did some research and found that France is a place with some of the most tourists in the world, and a place that puts a lot of focus on beauty, as well as food, art, and fashion. It just seems like a good place to take this concept of beauty and reflect it in the Kalos region.
Another thing we chose to focus on was the transition through times of day to create different color, lighting, and atmosphere. That ties into choosing a place where people would want to take photos. So that’s how France became the inspiration for the Kalos region.
Pokemon.com: You’re going to celebrate the launch of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y in France. Was it difficult deciding where you wanted to be for such an important event?
Mr. Masuda: It was very difficult to choose France for where to be for the launch event. Up until now, the games launched in Japan first, so it was easy to be in Japan and then another location later. But it kind of made sense to choose France this time, particularly since we’re doing a global release and I can choose only one location. Over the last three years I’ve spent a lot of time in France doing research, thinking about the country, and trying to get a lot of inspiration for the Kalos region.
Pokemon.com: Can you talk a little about your excitement and expectations about the simultaneous worldwide launch of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y?
Mr. Masuda: A global simultaneous launch has been a goal for the last seven years. Over the years, we were able to lessen the time between the Japanese release and the international releases by speeding up the localization process. The reason for this is to allow all players around the world to catch and discover Pokémon simultaneously for the very first time. Up until now, the information came out in Japan first and immediately went up onto the Internet. Fans would find about the games before they were released outside of Japan, which would spoil the surprise of discovering new Pokémon.
Experience Pokémon X and Pokémon Y for yourself starting October 12th! Visit Pokemon.co.uk/XY to learn more!