Pokémon – I Promise I’ll Stop Talking About It.

Alright, so in the first Pokémon Go article I wrote, I talked about what it was, who was playing it, and the fact that I ran into a goddamn rattlesnake. Part two explored Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon. I wanted to discuss what made Pokémon popular in the first place. In this third and last installment, I want to talk about the actual game Pokémon Go, and review the game. The question I’m posing, is Pokémon GO actually a good game?

The short answer is no.

Games for mobile platforms, ie your phone, have exploded in the last couple of years. There are actually too many games for both the Android platform and the IOS platform. Thousands and thousands and thousands of games, most being lousy and poorly thought out. When people started making games for phones, companies and programmers saw that there was a large market for apps, and started going to work. We now have a berth of apps for phones, so many that even if you deliver a quality product, there’s little chance of success.

Now, there’s a reason I’m not particularly a fan of games for the phone. A lot of these games are free to download. You don’t have to pay anything to play these games! You would think that’s some sort of bonus, but most of these free games fall under the ‘pay-to-win’ category. The games are often difficult, but if you choose to spend some money, you can gain access to more of the game faster. You can get potions to heal you, or buy more rounds of a puzzle game instead of waiting, or buy upgrades for your little virtual farm.

Mobile game companies have figured out some pretty heavy psychological aspect of human beings while making these games. Video games operate on the same principle as sports, work, hunting, or pretty much anything. Move towards a goal, face a challenge, then succeed or fail. If you succeed, you get a little dose of happy brain chemicals like dopamine, and you turn to face another goal. Score a touchdown, get a dose of dopamine. Complete a task at work, get a dose of dopamine. Your brain rewards you when you achieve victory. The insidious thing about these ‘pay-to-win’ games is video game companies have figured out that the brain still rewards the player with dopamine if you pay to level up instead of achieving it.

Like most people, you probably haven’t dropped any of your hard earned cash on these free games, and most players don’t. There’s a few people that do spend some money of these games, anywhere from $20 to $100 dollars. The companies aren’t interested in those people, or the people who spend zero dollars. The people they’re interested in are what the industry calls ‘Whales’. You see, Whales will spend thousands of dollars on pay-to-win games. These people aren’t playing a game, they’re addicts who are being taken advantage of.

Pokémon Go isn’t as insidious. Yet. You can still buy upgrades to make the game a little easier, but for the most part it’s still pretty balanced. But this game hasn’t even been released in Canada yet, and it’s only a week old, so there’s plenty of time to upgrade the game into something that might target these Whales.

The other issue regarding Pokémon Go, is it requires what us gamers call ‘Grinding’. ‘Grinding’ is the term used to progress your character’s development by continually repeating the same task over and over again. For hours. There’s a difficult boss you can’t beat? Go out and fight low level monsters for hours until your good enough to face the boss. In the new Pokémon Go, in order to evolve your ‘Mons, you have to catch enough of that particular ‘Mon to level it up. And that doesn’t take effort or skill, it just takes time and a lot of walking around. Some people have figured out a work around. In order to fool the game into thinking they are walking about, cheeky gamers have attached their phones to ceiling fans or stationary bikes. The game thinks you’re moving, and rewards you accordingly.

Because of this, Pokémon Go as a game fails for me. I don’t actually have a phone powerful enough to play it, and I’m not going out anytime soon to rectify this. There’s enough good games out there, that you pay for with money, that are fun all the way through, and aren’t confused with chores. Because if you’re attaching your phone to a bike in your living room, and pushing the wheel occasionally with a stick to trick the game into thinking you’re playing, well, how much fun is that exactly?

At the same time, it’s the most downloaded app. Ever. And it’s getting people out and about, getting exercise and meeting other people, even if it’s to talk about Pokémon. So in the scheme of things, even though the game isn’t for me, it wasn’t designed for me. It was made for Pokémon fans, and there’s obviously a lot of them. Who cares if it’s not a great game, it’s a great way to get in shape and meet some people, especially for those who struggle with that already.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. To all game developers; Are you making a game? Or a gimmic?

 

Pokemon Go – Going to Get Bigger

I wasn’t exactly sure how big Pokemon Go was going to be. I knew it was going to be a hit with the legions of people who are already Pokemon fans. That was a given. But since its release a few days ago, I’ve been bombarded with questions about Pokemon and Pokemon Go. I’m going to clarify a few things about the craze, so the less informed can get in the know about Pocket Monsters, aka Pokemon.

The game people are playing right now, Pokemon Go, isn’t a new type of game. One of the developers of Pokemon Go, Niantic, released a similar game called Ingress for the Android and IPhone platforms a while back. If you have absolutely no interest in Pokemon whatsoever, but you’re curious to see what kind of game people are playing, then Ingress is your best bet. The game is played in the real world, with your phone as a tool. The game places you on a team, and then you’re encouraged to walk around to find items, located strongholds, and battle for supremacy. Pokemon Go is incredibly similar, but uses the Pokemon franchise as its theme.

Now, Ingress was wildly popular, and it has millions of players. I can almost guarantee Pokemon Go has already exceeded the number of players Ingress has. There was never a number of news stories running about Ingress, people weren’t playing the game at Holocaust memorials, there wasn’t anyone finding dead bodies in low lying areas. What makes Pokemon Go popular isn’t the game itself; there’s a number of games, including Ingress, offering the same sort of game. It’s popular because Pokemon is popular. So how did Pokemon get so big?

Let’s rewind the clock twenty years, back to 1996. The original Pokemon games were released for the Gameboy, the handheld portable game console by Nintendo. The game was based on the creators childhood of capturing bugs. There’s two objectives to the game. One, catch all the Pokemon and complete the Pokedex, an encyclopedia of Pokemon. Two, train a team of Pokemon that’s powerful enough to challenge the other trainers in the game world, eventually going up against the Pokemon Leagues ‘Elite Four’, the best trainers in the game.

The second part of the game is straight forward. The game works on a giant ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ mechanic. Pokemon are strong against some, weak against others. If your opponent is using fire type Pokemon, you can use water type to subdue them. Your Pokemon lineup would included matches for each Pokemon in your opponents line up. If you have a wide enough variety of ‘Mons, you can easily defeat anyone you go up against.

The first part of the game is a little more difficult. You see, in order to catch all the Pokemon and complete this Pokedex, you need to catch all 151 variety of Pokemon. The thing is, there’s two versions of the game that were released. Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. You can’t capture all the Pokemon with just one game cartridge. You need both copies, two Gameboys and a Link cable. The premise was, if you had a copy of Red, and your friend had a copy of Blue, you could trade the Pokemon that were exclusive to each game.

The game was immensely popular when it first came out, and there was a cartoon featuring Pokemon released at roughly the same time, with a full length feature film not too long afterwards. Kids went crazy over the both the game and the cartoon, and adults who played video games found that the game play could be incredibly complex.

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You wouldn’t believe how far the rabbit hole goes.

What you need to remember is the original Pokemon video games were incredibly well thought out games with a very deep strategy system that was engaging. The other point worth remembering is that nostalgia’s a powerful thing, and we all have things from our childhood that we look back fondly.

I grew up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and Super Mario. If you ever enjoy any of these things, track them down and give them another look. You’re going to find out two things. First, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers were absolutely abysmal cartoons. They were really nothing more than toy commercials, and the fact that my younger self enjoyed them makes me think less of six-year-old Mr. Charlton. Secondly, Super Mario still holds up. Even after thirty years, it’s still fun to play.

Pokemon has the same nostalgia factor with people thirty and younger. My girlfriend was part of the bracket that got the full dose of Pokemon when she was a kid. So it’s really no surprise to me a free Pokemon game for the mobile platform is doing well. If you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go, then read below, and you’ll know how I feel.

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Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Truthfully, I was always more of a SimCity kind of guy, anyways.

Pokemon Go Outside

If you’ve recently seen a bunch of sweaty, pale, unfit people who look like they generally don’t go outside very often, congratulations, you’re witnessing the phenomenon known as Pokemon Go, the new augmented reality game recently released for certain mobile phone platforms. Pokemon Go is a game that combines three things. Augmented Reality, geocaching and Pokemon. Maybe I should step back and explain what these three things are.

Augmented Reality, also known as AR, is when you can use a device to superimpose games and information right over a computer screen in real time. Let’s say your phone device has it’s email setup with AR. If you look at your table, there won’t be anything there, but hold up your phone to it, and using the camera to display your table, it will also show your email lying on the table as if it were physical mail. Now, this isn’t done with your phone typically, but with Microsoft’s Hololens, that idea is now a reality. Put on the Hololens, and an empty table can now hold a virtual board game, that responds to your hand gestures.

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A Wild Koffing Appears! (in the car)

Geocaching is a game played outside, where people are given coordinates to locate with GPS devices. At this location there is usually a water resistant container, with a little log book. You find the geocache, put your name down on the log, then look for another. It’s been around since the year 2000. Think of it like a treasure hunt.

Pokemon is a video game franchise that has at least a couple dozen games under its belt. The premise is to search the game world for animals called Pokemon. These animals have powers, and you use your Pokemon to battle other Pokemon trainers. The goal of the game is to ‘Catch them all’. There are hundreds of different  variety of Pokemon that can be caught. It’s one of the most popular video game franchises of all time.

Pokemon Go combines all three. Using AR, it layers the game play on top of your phone , and with your GPS locator in your phone, lets you track them on a map. Unlike the previous Pokemon games, you can’t simply play it at home on the couch. You actually have to get up and go find the Pokemon in the real world. Because of this, there are a lot of Pokemon players out in the sunlight, for the first time in months. And some of them are getting hurt, mugged, and finding dead bodies instead of Pokemon.

Now, I’m not a particularly huge Pokemon fan. Maybe it’s because I was a tad old when the originals came out, maybe it was because I got sick of the idea of trying to obtain a hundred percent completion on every damn game that was out, maybe it’s because the only pet I had growing up as a kid was a cat who was an asshole. There’s a lot of good reasons Pokemon is not for me.

Enter my girlfriend, Kat. You see, Kat loves Pokemon. She has Pokemon T-shirts, Pokemon water bottles, Pokemon figurines, Pokemon hats. Not to mention she’s played every Pokemon game. I was definitely in the know when it came out on Friday, which also happened to coincide with our one year anniversary. On our way out of town for a little weekend getaway, she’s getting me to frantically check for Pokemon at the Gas Station while we filled up. I’m proud to say I caught an Abra.

After returning from our weekend vacation, where there was no cell service or wifi, which meant no Pokemon, we arrived back at home and I started to unpack. We’ve been home for three minutes, and Kat asks me if I’d like to go for a walk. I’m pretty perplexed at this point, because Kat rarely wants to go out for a walk with me. I love to walk. I walk everywhere. My body is getting old and it’s nothing to write home about anymore, but my calves look like granite wrapped in silk. I haven’t owned a car in over a decade, and it’s not unusual for me to walk for an hour to get to a destination. So I hopped at the opportunity, even if it meant we’d have to stop every once and a while to catch a Pokemon or hit up a PokeStop.

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You typically find two things at PokeStops. PokeBalls and Jesus.

We head over to Lethbridge University, because there is a lot of PokeStops over there. Pokestops are a refueling point, and they’re usually a landmark of some sort. We took turns looking for Pokemon, scrambling all over the campus looking for the little critters.

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The fellah was right behind me.

The game play is straight forward. You walk around a map of your city, and occasionally your phone will buzz. If you look around, you’ll see a Pokemon. Touch it to engage it, and when you do that, the game will task you to throw a ball. If you hit the Pokemon, it’ll catch ’em (beware though, even though they might be in the ball, they can still escape and you’ll have to try again). If you wait too long or miss too many throws, the Pokemon will get angrier and angrier and eventually disappear.

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It took us a long time to get this shot, and Pikachu was pissed.

They’re doing a lot of renovations at the University right now, so a lot of the campus was unreachable. Now, Kat is a stickler for rules, but if there’s one thing she loves more than rules, it’s Pokemon. Soon we’re hopping fences, ignoring ‘Danger – Rattlesnakes’ signs and full on bush wacking it to find Pokemon.

Did I mention the part about rattlesnakes? Because at one point, due to construction, we had to turn around and backtrack. And guess what’s in our path, the one we just walked over? A rattlesnake. He wasn’t shaking his tail yet, but he certainly was making some noise and letting us know we were in the wrong neck of the woods.

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Look! A wild goddamn rattlesnake appeared!

The really, really strange part was the Pokemon gyms. These are strongholds that can be contested by anyone playing the game. You take one of your Pokemon, pit it against the person who’s at the gym, and if you win, the gym is now yours. Other players can come to that gym and dethrone you if they beat your Pokemon. At every gym we found, there was at least two or three people, all a little out of shape and with pale skin, battling over these gyms. You’d walk up and they’d say “Pokemon Go?” and you’d nod your head. You’d see packs of video game nerds walking in the park, all of them staring at their phones.

This is the new reality of video games. Virtual reality is around the corner, so video games won’t always be the favored activity of couch potatoes. This is great because it’ll get dorks out of the house and interacting with other humans in the flesh. My girlfriend will actually go out on walks with me, as long as there’s enough Pokemon in the area. If you are out there, Pokemon trainers, just keep your head up. The real world has vehicle accidents, creeks to fall into, and occasionally, rattlesnakes.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I’m not joking, rattlesnakes are scary.

p.s.s. There’s a Pokemon gym right by our apartment. There’s now at least three fat dudes with Fedoras there at all times.