Pokemon GO: A quick teardown

I recently had the opportunity to play Pokemon GO (PoGo from here on) from a developers perspective with other students of game development. To preface this, I was already level 20 in PoGo and as such, capturing many of the monsters I found was more difficult. I immediately ran up against things many of the other students did not. The first of which was a full item bag slot and a full Pokemon bag slot. After transferring a few Pokemon to the professor (which is essentially sending them to a grinder to be made into candy) I was finally able to start capturing Pokemon. This is when the game decided to crash 2 consecutive times. After rebooting it for the 3rd time I was finally able to play again. I captured 3 Pokemon, snagged a picture of one of the ones that I captured. I also went and attempted to bolster the local Gym on campus with my team of Pokemon.

Getting in a fight with Hitmonlee

Mechanics:

  • Core mechanic: Capturing Pokemon with Pokeballs, at spin, throw balls with swipes of the finger.
  • Real life walking, tracked on the game map with GPS location data.
  • Item collecting at Pokestops.
  • Dropping lures to help others catch Pokemon at Pokestops.
  • Gym battling, in which there are 3 options. Tap to attack. Hold to Use a special ability, and swipe left or right to dodge.

So as many know, PoGo was a huge phenomenon over the Summer of 2016, attracting a massive number of players. I tried the game during that time, and will compare the prior experience to the current one.

The main Dynamic of Pokemon Go never actually occurs in the game itself. The primary dynamic is social interaction, a form of real world emergent gameplay that I was able to experience at its height at Guadalupe River Park in San Jose, California. The park was overflowing with players, all chatting, grouping and trying to catch the rarest, most amazing finds. During that time, the Pokemon finder in the bottom right of the game was broken, which was also rather problematic for players. This caused people to be more vocal, and discuss their finds with each other, ultimately people crowd-sourced finding rare Pokemon, such as a Porygon which more than 100 people walked under a bridge during the middle of the night to catch. This phenomenon became all the more real when police started kicking people out of the park "at sundown" which apparently was the time the park closed. To highlight a point here, I feel it is rather ridiculous that we can not take a night walk in the park (night can be as early as 5:30 pm during winter Daylight Savings Time.)

Porygon under bridge

So how did this compare to the small group of players I played alongside of at school? 1. The game had updated, and fixed the horrible, three step bug (showing 3 footprints at all time for a Pokemon's distance) which made the game quite difficult to play.
2. The addition of a buddy Pokemon, that would gain its type of candy as you walked around with it also was rather appealing.
3. Overall, the collective experience before was better from a player's perspective, but from a development perspective, the game is far better now. The mechanics are more refined, the game is more crash resistant, and the game is far more feature complete.

What were the main Aesthetics of Pokemon go? As I started breaking it down, I realized Pokemon Go is ridiculously ambitious, even though it seems rather weak (lacking battling and trading). As it really fits into almost every category of Aesthetics defined by the MDA aside from Narrative.

  • Discovery/Exploration : Explore the world in search of Pokemon and Gyms to battle.
  • Expression : Customize your characters look, choose a team, select a buddy Pokemon.
  • Fellowship : Join a team, work together to conquer Gyms. Explore the world with a friend while catching Pokemon. Work together to lure Pokestops.
  • Fantasy : Get engrossed in the fantasy of being a Pokemon trainer
  • Challenge : I think the curve on challenge is still rather messed up in this game
  • Competition : Gym battles may be one of the most passive forms of competition I've ever seen. But it is still a competition between teams.
  • Abnegation : Turn off your brain, click Pokemon, throw balls.
  • Sense Pleasure : Swipe to throw Pokeballs, and see the feedback of capture. Listen to that Pokemon music that reminds me of the adventures you ran on your Gameboy back in the day, be the Pokemon trainer you always wanted to be in real life. Live a childhood fantasy.

All in all, Pokemon GO will only keep filling out these categories, with the eventual addition of trading, and potential addition of player vs player battling.

Mankey

Pokemon Go manages to capitalize on the pre-existing Pokemon IP in a way that captures back a mature audience. Though it is worth noting that their leveling model, being tied in to their monetary generation strategy is rather bad for the game after level 20, and really killed the experience for me - full bags are the worst.