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Pokemon devs on Red/Blue names for the west and localization difficulties, limit on new Pokemon per generation, more

Posted on December 11, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

In its issue last month, Retro Gamer published a large feature on Pokemon which takes a look back at the series’ earliest days up to the present. It included a number of comments from people with big connections to the franchise, including Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori. Masuda is well-known as the producer at Game Freak while Sugimori drew the original 151 Pokemon.

Masuda in particular shared some interesting comments about the process in which Game Freak went to work on the original games, how the team was limited by the Game Boy hardware, and localization overseas. Sugimori talked about why each new Pokemon generation tends to see no more than 100 creatures.

We’ve included these statements from both Masuda and Sugimori below.

Masuda on the development of the original games…

“From the inception of the idea to the completion of Red & Blue took a total of about six years, so a long time! We started by creating loads of different Pokemon designs, then we reduced that down to the favorite 150. That took a lot of effort. After that, once we were happy with our designs, we started working on the moves they could each use. This process probably accounted for around three of those six years. It was quite the task! There wasn’t an initial plan of which Pokémon would get which moves – we designed the Pokémon then designed the moves, then decided which would fit well together as a gradual process.”

Masuda on how the Game Boy hardware limited what the team wanted to accomplish with Pokemon Red/Blue…

“It was difficult. The thing we wanted to focus on at the start was communication and trading but it was difficult to do that as we could only transfer small amounts of data between two consoles. Communication itself was a big challenge – the technology just wasn’t there but we really wanted to do it, so we fought to get it in there. That was an overriding theme – it was a fight against capacity, a fight against what we could fit onto the cartridge. We had designed these 150-odd Pokémon to get in as well. But then we had the problem of movement, so we came up with the idea of the map tiles being the things that moved while the character was animated in place. With these ideas, we found ways to squeeze as much in as we possibly could. I like the Game Boy as a machine but trying to work with all these challenges and make a game that anyone could get into and enjoy was difficult.”

On choosing the Pokemon Red/Blue names for the west…

“Originally, it was kind of based on how people feel about and view different colors. The clearest split for us was between red and green but when we started thinking about abroad, it was clear that wasn’t the case. In America in particular, it’s red and blue that are considered ‘opposites’, if you will.”

On the difficulties making the English versions of Pokemon Red/Blue…

“With the capacity problems mentioned earlier, one thing that we found is that English takes up more space on the cart than Japanese. We had no room! Everything was so full on that cartridge and there was little space to implement English at the time we created it. So we had a lot of memory problems to solve – things like changing Pokémon names and even the name entry screen, which was all designed in Japanese. To change that to accommodate English was really difficult and something we hadn’t considered when first designing the game. We really had to spend a lot of time working on all of this.”

“Another example is the Pokédex. In the original Japanese versions, you just had one screen and everything was displayed there whereas in the US and European versions, it had to be changed to have two screens with the names and details of the Pokémon. Doing all these great changes took a long time, so that was what contributed to the delay. We never expected things to be so popular abroad, either – we had no idea this would be such a phenomenon so that was really amazing. But yes, it took a long time to make all the changes needed to get the game into different markets.”

Masuda on the synergy and coordination between the Pokemon video games, TCG, and, anime…

“We do have various staff involved in different things and we always think about these when developing a game. We really want to think about how we can develop beyond the game and widen things once it’s finished. For the card game in particular, we’ve got Creatures Inc. working on the game itself and we discuss with them how best we can expand on the game there and how the new Pokémon we’re creating might fit in with their plans. As we develop the game, we get the TV, TCG and animation teams in to play it so that they have a better idea of what the world, the characters and the Pokémon are like. We’re all creating the characters and the settings together so that they’re consistent across movies, games and trading cards.”

Sugimori on why Game Freak puts a limit on the amount of new Pokemon in each game…

“The reason why there are about 100 Pokémon added per game is not that we can’t come up with the ideas, especially when we have new staff – everyone can come up with unique ideas. The number is set by the duration of the project. Plus, if you added like 300 or so new monsters, that’d just be too many – we have to think of the balance of battles.”

Sugimori on how the same logic also applies to new types, which is why only three new ones have been added to the initial 15 since launch…

“By adding even one more type, it definitely makes the gameplay more complicated so when we did that, we had to really look into the battle balance. With new moves, there’s an infinite combination. If we can solve that problem, we can always add more types – it’s not impossible.”

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