In the “Iwata Asks” interview series, where Nintendo President Satoru Iwata interviews several developers. This time, he interviews Tsunekazu Ishihara president of The Pokémon Inc., along with GameFreak directors Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori on the making of Pokémon Black & White.
Thanks to Sabonea_Masukippa, we have a translation of selected excerpts from the interview:
Part 1: Making The Second Main Series Game on the DS
Masuda says he always wanted to make 2 titles for the DS (Being Gens 4 and 5), especially because the DS is so popular worldwide. There were very aware that having a second title on DS could mean the games would feel the same, and have done their best to avoid that with these games.
He realized ideas like “Go to a Pokemon Centre and trade” were fixed in his mind and did his best to break them down, because he’s been working on the games since the start. They took this as an opportunity to re-evaluate rules and systems in the game.
They wanted to make the games more accessible to older players to lower the number of people who were “growing out” of Pokemon. Stuff like adding Kanji to make it easier to read.
The producer of the games, Ishihara, was very happy when Masuda suggest all these radical changes to the games. He says even he had the idea that each generation of Pokemon games had to come out on a different system, but because of the DS’s long life and popularity worldwide he was glad for the freedom that creating on the same platform gave them. Ishihara, who Iwata calls a ’veteran’ of the series thought “Can it be changed that much? Can we really pull it off” when Masuda told him of the changes that he wanted.
Sugimori thought Masuda’s suggestions were a bit crazy. When he was told all the Pokemon would be new he said “Gimme a break! Couldn’t we lower the number a bit?” but Masuda refused to budge. Iwata comments that Masuda is stubborn, and Masuda agrees.
Part 2: The Brand New World of Pokemon
Sugimori said he was resistant to Masuda’s ideas, but also says that he knew Masuda was not mistaken. There were around 200 pages of planning sheets for new features, explaining exactly what crossing a bridge would mean, or how we’d show the player going into someone else’s game world. They didn’t do it with DP this way, in fact this is the first time they have. This was to do with all the new challenges they were facing with these games. Once again, they confirm that they used New York as a motif. This was primarily to fulfill the goal of giving these games a new feel, and also so he could have a concert there (like they do in Japan in the region where the games are based off, using music from the relevant games. Apparently), but it might be impossible this time. After deciding this they began deciding where to place towns etc. In doing so they visited the Museum of Modern Art.
While he was sitting in the garden of the Museum, he came up with the idea of using a hexagon. Also, because he’s heard about children not being able to complete the game he decided to try and make the direction you travel in more linear. He says there’s people who have the idea that the real fun of Pokemon doesn’t start until after the main story has been completed. Then he talks about the hexagonal shape of the region, and the piers and sky scrapers in Hiun City.
The name Isshu comes from “isshurui” which means “one type/kind/species” according to Masuda. He says unconnected races, Pokemon and people come together to form “many types/kinds/species” in the region.
Sugimori acknowledges this is the first time since red and green that they’ve only used new Pokemon in game. He says he had to make sure that all of the new Pokemon had their own ecological system/sense to them. Iwata mentions that it’s not just thinking up new Pokemon, but also thinking of the balance. Sugimori says that they go to Aquariums and Zoos to make sure the Pokemon have a strong base in reality, but also consider how much they can surprise us and look for the proverbial “line” for what’s an acceptable design.
Less than 10 people were involved in total for R/B’s designs. Sugimori still draws all the final, official images himself. He also does the drawings from various angles that are given to the sprite artists [the ones for the starters can be seen in popup, these ones also appear in Peer]. They talk about this process “filtering” all the people’s designs and ideas and finally making them “pokemon-like” and maintaining the “Pokemon look”. They want to avoid designs that are impossible, or ones that are difficult to explain. 17 people designed Pokemon this Generation. All the Graphic Designers were involved as well. It’s like that every time. Even if it’s only one idea, every one on the team comes up with or draws at least one Pokemon each.
Masuda says that his input tends to be in the later half of development, when they line up all he images of the new Pokemon on the wall of the conference room and he looks at them and goes “Hmm, this section has too much of this color.” or “Was this Pokemon alright being this color, again? Could we change it?” But other than that he really leaves the designing up to Sugimori and doesn’t butt in much.
Part 3: Connecting Online
Masuda talks about how he’d hoped the DS game card could talk directly to the PC, but of course that’s impossible, so they stuck with Wi-Fi. Setting up the dream world took a long time. They original planned to have Mii-like avatars, but then realized that was silly because you looked different from your in-game self, which looked different from you – sort of like having 3 protagonists, which they said was weird and disconcerting. So they decided to have only Pokemon appearing in the Dream World. It was around that time they noticed that Sugimori’s team had already designed Munna, who has a connection to dreams, and decided to use it as the mascot. They wanted to make a global community where people communicated, not just a place to get berries and other items. In all it took 2 years to perfect.
They originally had no plans to include infra-red, especially because when they tested it it cut the battery life in half. So, you connect via Infra red but then switch over to wireless when battling, apparently. You can trade anywhere, anytime, even from boxes while playing.
The live caster was initially thought up as a way to talk to Professor Araragi during the game.
Part 4: The Unchanging Pokemon-ness
They talk about all the parts of Pokemon that are unchanging. And talk about the thoughts behind TMs being infinitely usable and why they thought players would like it, rather than having them not use them for fear of wasting them and making them like collectibles.
Part 5: New World, New Meetings
Masuda thinks that the plot and characters are different to those of previous games and think people will be surprised by it. He wants people to experience it without being spoiled, to the point that none of them will even give their opinions or reactions to the climax.
Sugimori and Iwata talk about the many people who’s only new pokemon is the starter each game, relying on the old ones to fill out their team, and how it’s refreshing that in this game you’re forced to have to learn about and try out new ones. He wants you to feel like you did with Red and Green, discovering news ones and hopefully finding a few new favourites. Ishihara wants there to be a feeling of accomplishment once you finish the games. He says that he’s played the games three times, each with a different starter, and says he thinks he’s only done about 1/5 of all the stuff there is to do, not including the Dream World, which he hasn’t touched yet. Iwata says that if that’s the case they’ve really done a great job.