Although I'm honored that I get to meet some of the most phenomenal game developers in the world, I've been covering games long enough that I rarely get nervous meeting "famous" game designers. Don't get my wrong, I'm still excited and thrilled that I get to chat with people like Chris Taylor, Todd Hollenshead, etc., but, to use a wrestling term, I seldom "mark out" when I get to meet people such as these big players. Yesterday was one of those rare exceptions.
You see, yesterday, I went to Nintendo's office to chat with GameFreak director Junicihi Masuda and game designer Takeshi Kawachimaru. Masuda-san has been with the company since its inception, working on the original Pokemon role-playing games. He's one of the big reasons I've lost hundreds (thousands?) of hours of my life to Pokemon. Kawachimaru has also been contributing to Pokemon games for a long time, as well getting the spotlight in Pokemon Platinum (due out next week!). I chatted with the two about Platinum, particle physics, the Pokemon phenomenon, the surprising complexity of the series, future Pokemon games, and Masuda-san's fascination with bridges. I also turned into a total fan, asking them to sign some of my Pokemon goods and pose with some of my Pokemon toys. Here's my interview with these distinguished gentlemen from GameFreak.
G4: Pokemon Platinum's concept is based on some heady things like Einstein's theory of relativity, matter, and antimatter. Would you kindly expand on that for the G4 audience?
Takeshi Kawachimaru: I was the one that set the direction for Platinum. Mr. Masuda came to me and explained the original concept for the Pokemon Giratina. He mentioned anti-matter as something -- it's there, but it's something you can't see. Mr. Masuda gave me a lot of key concepts to design around -- matter, antimatter, Einstein's theory of relativity. I was the one that had to make those concepts a realization in a Pokemon game -- both visually and implementing certain tricks into the gameplay to give the player a sense of bipolarity.
There's a concept in particle, in physics called CP violation. It helps explain the relationship between matter and antimatter. The relationship is bipolar. The reality is that anti-matter is something that's very, very fragile. This concept weighs heavily in how we came up with Pokemon Platinum's Distortion World.
G4: How are some of these concepts realized? What will gamers see and feel when they're in Distortion World?
TK: One of the things I, along with the other designers, wanted to focus on in Distortion World is creating a place that's very similar to Sinnoh [the world of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl], but very different. It's definitely a real world, but as soon as the player enters Distortion World, I want to make sure they know that it's different. For example, the sky is a little bit darker in Distortion World than it is in Sinnoh. The player will see lots of plants that they've never seen before. Waterfalls will have water flowing in strange directions. There are many similar elements between the real world and Distortion World -- whether it's movement, shape, or color -- but we want to make sure the player feels that they're in a distinct and opposite world.
G4: Along with millions of competitive players, I'm personally looking forward to Battle Frontier. Would you tell G4 readers what they can expect in Battle Frontier?
TK: The kind of battling you do in Battle Frontier is very different from the battling you do throughout the game's storyline. There are different rules. You'll want to use different strategies. You'll want to raise Pokemon differently. You'll need extensive knowledge of Pokemon and their moves to confront the trainers in Battle Frontier. When you play the storyline, you pretty much play alone and complete the game. In Battle Frontier, you work with friends, siblings, parents, or children. You can play together. We wanted to create an opportunity for communication, so that families and friends can talk about the different strategies they can employ.
G4: Legendary Pokemon have been getting more powerful since gamers encountered Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos in Kanto. Giratina, the cover Pokemon for Platinum, is ridiculously powerful. Arceus is like the god of all Pokemon. Will there be anything more powerful than Arceus in future games?
Junichi Masuda: In Diamond and Pearl you have Dialga and Palkia. In Platinum you have Giratina. There are three legendary Pokemon and there's a relationship between the three. From there we have a story to move onto with other legendary Pokemon, but at this point that's all I can share.
G4: A lot of G4 readers love the Pokemon series, but want to see a proper Pokemon role-playing game on a home console, or even a Pokemon MMO. Do you see that ever happening?
JM: One of the core concepts of the Pokemon games is trading. You can trade within the game, but you can also go out and meet with your friends to trade. You can talk with your family and friends as you play Pokemon. For this concept, the most suitable hardware is portable, like the Nintendo DS. That's why we focus on portable game systems.
G4: How about a Pokemon game similar to Capcom's Monster Hunter. That's one of the biggest gaming phenomenons in Japan. Surely the popularity of Pokemon can dwarf Monster Hunter if it's used in a similar game.
JM: I believe that even though there are some similarities between Pokemon and Monster Hunter, the games are very different. They're two entirely different worlds and the gameplay is very different. Our focus is making Pokemon role-playing games for portable game systems.
G4: Masusda-san, you've said that you like Pokemon characters that are "well thought out" and used Pichu as an example. Pichu seems to have a special place in your heart. Why is that?
JM: Our art director, Ken Sugimori and I spend a lot of time talking about Pokemon. Since Pikachu is very popular, we wanted to create a Pokemon that was as cute as Pikachu, but we were having a very difficult time. Pikachu is so popular that it was hard to come up with something just as appealing. So we talked a lot and decided to come up with a Pokemon that would eventually evolve into Pikachu. We spent a lot of time designing Pichu and that's why I have a special love for this Pokemon.
G4: What other Pokemon do you feel are "well thought out"?
JM: Spinda comes to mind. It has very specific patterns on its ears and face. It's very unique. If you encounter and catch this Pokemon, you'll find that each one has a different pattern. At first we were concerned if this was technically possible, so we discussed this for a long time and made it happen. That's one Pokemon that's well thought out.
G4: Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima once told me that his favorite Pokemon is Ditto. How does it make you feel to hear that other famous game directors have a favorite Pokemon?
JM: That's great. I'm very happy to hear that.
G4: Do you know what if Miyamoto-san and Iwata-san have favorite Pokemon?
JM: [Laughs] I don't know. You'll have to ask them for me.
G4: Many people erroneously think that Pokemon games are just for children, but there are many complex features in the game like IVs, EV training, Hidden Power, and more. How did these features come about?
JM: The reason why we put things like IVs and EVs into the game is because we wanted to give players that are really into Pokemon battles much more to work with and much more to enjoy. We have a team that's dedicated to constantly enhancing and evolving the battle system. They have so many ideas and such a willingness to enhance the game. They're always thinking of ways to make battles more interesting. One example from this generation is that they separated moves into physical attacks and special attacks, which adds more versatility and strategy to both offense and defense. They always listen to player feedback and they battle a lot themselves. This team is the reason why Pokemon has such a rich battle system that's always evolving.
G4: Some G4 readers dismiss Pokemon as being just for kids. Do you have a message for them? Anything that might attract them to the game?
TK: I recommend that your readers try Battle Frontier in Pokemon Platinum. Although you can battle trainers and wild Pokemon in the storyline, Battle Frontier is the ultimate place for battling -- the place where people can enjoy the complexity of battles the most. One of the more complex parts of the game is raising Pokemon for battling, like you mentioned with IVs and EVs. Battle Frontier is the best place to enjoy that high level of battling and get the most out of the Pokemon you train.
G4: Masuda-san, I read on your blog that you're excited to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Why are you fascinated with bridges?
JM: [Laughs and shows me a photo that he took of the Golden Gate Bridge.] I love bridges and seeing different types of bridges. Each element of a bridge is very simple, but they all come together to become this huge and strong thing. That's why I'm fascinated with bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge. Bridges like that have to be strong to hold all the iron, concrete, cars, but at the same time they have to be flexible so that they can withstand heavy winds or an earthquake. The Golden Gate Bridge is very beautiful with its bright-red coloring. Just thinking about all the different components that go into building this one beautiful bridge -- that fascinates me.
Bridges look very simple, but if you look closely and see all the different elements -- it's a very complicated matter.
G4: And really, that's the perfect metaphor for Pokemon, isn't it?
JM: Yes, I agree.