Monday, December 3, 2012

Improvements to Pokemon That Game Freak Doesn't Have the [Poke]Balls to Make

[Note: This article was written before the announcement and release of Pokemon X and Y.]
The Pokemon games are all quite good, and each new one brings a good deal to the table. Most impressive, is that the battle system is simple enough for a child to play, but has enough hidden depth for competitive players of all ages. Sure, it's not always completely balanced, but rules can be agreed upon among friends and in each tournament. I don't claim to be knowledgeable enough to suggest drastic changes to the already quite good battle system, so I'll just let the folks at smogon worry about that. What frustrates me is when a game with such a great core system has so many other, often minor, improvements that could be made. But of course, it still sells ludicrously well without changing these things, so why would Game Freak bother? For the love of the craft perhaps? Nah, I'm kidding myself, it's all about the product and sales for them.

Anyway, let's start with the stuff that has been improving, but not to the extent that it should.

Stuff that's improving but not to the extent that it should:
Say no to HM slaves.
HM moves have been a Pokemon annoyance since the first games. You need them to navigate the world, but they use up one of the four moves of one of your Pokemon. These moves then can't be easily deleted, are often useless in battle, and when there's five or more HMs to use, it becomes quite a hassle. Black and White versions finally improved on this system by not requiring you to use HMs to finish the game; instead only requiring them for optional areas. Unfortunately, this made the game feel more linear, as other arbitrary roadblocks were set up instead of barriers requiring HM moves. Also, the problem of the HMs still exists, even if it isn't to the extent that it used to be. How about instead of using HMs to move boulders and cut trees, there's a key item that you need to have? Or, keeping with the spirit of Pokemon, you could teach your Pokemon HM moves separately from their battle moves. That way you could have a separate list of what they can do outside of battle without making them totally useless during battle.

The story of Pokemon has always been the same: you have to get eight badges, beat the elite four, and stop some evil organization along the way. Honestly, that basic formula does not need to change for the story to improve. And the story has improved a little in recent games, but it still feels boring and uninspired. It's like they had to make a shell to put the great battle system into so they just said "Oh, alright" and made the first lifeless plot that they thought of. I don't think it's that the translations are bad; I think it's that the original writing is bad. Pokemon is an RPG, and as such, not having a compelling plot is missing a huge opportunity. The Pokemon universe has the potential to be epic and interesting, if only Game Freak would hire some better writers.

The graphics don't necessarily need to change. The current sprite-based 3D look is quite cool and I can understand the desire to maintain the same art direction. However, I've heard countless times that people would like to see a real Pokemon game on a home console in 3D. With the 3DS (and with the DS), it's possible to have a 3D Pokemon game on a handheld. Sure, it's not necessary, but I think that exploring the colorful world of Pokemon with a free camera and 3D models would bring the game to life in a significant way.

Multiplayer has always been a huge part of Pokemon. Battling and trading are definitely the essentials and as they are they work pretty well. The Global Trade Station (GTS) by which you can offer up trades and find trades online is a good start, but it could be improved. It is hopelessly clogged with impossible trade offers for level 9 and under legendaries, refreshing search results is cumbersome, and there's no way to specify that you are searching for a shiny Pokemon or one with a particular nature. Battling works well, but with random matchups online you'll only ever find ridiculously good people or people who disconnect without a penalty whenever you seem to be winning.

Additionally, I can't count the times I've heard people say they want a Pokemon MMO. I'm not going to suggest that. While I think it would be cool, I also think that it would be better as a spinoff game rather than one of the series' core games. I also understand that there is almost no chance of it happening. What I suggest instead is that you be able to see your friends running around in your game just as they are in their games, as long as they are in range of local wireless. You would then be able to talk to them to initiate a battle, trade, or minigame. Of course, you would still be able to initiate those things without being in the same place as them too.

Difficulty settings were added in Black 2 and White 2, but the way of unlocking them is convoluted and defeats the purpose of having them. Basically, beating White 2 unlocks an Easy  Mode option while beating Black 2 unlocks a Challenge Mode option. This can then be sent to another person's game to unlock it for them. Unfortunately, what this means is that you won't be able to play through the game in Challenge Mode or Easy Mode from the beginning unless someone sends you the key to unlock it. This design choice boggles my mind. It's better than not having the option at all, but increasing or decreasing the difficulty after the Elite Four is mostly pointless.

Stuff that worked but was removed for no obvious reason:
What's even more frustrating is when a handy or cool feature is implemented in one game and then not used in the next.

Secret bases from the third generation weren't necessary, but they were super fun. Basically, you could claim one of many designated areas in the world, make a secret base there, and decorate it with items that you buy or find. It was kind of like a mini Animal Crossing game in Pokemon. Even better was that when you mixed records with people, their secret base would become accessible in your game and you'd be able to battle a computer controlled version of their team once a day; a very good way of getting quick experience and extra challenge.
Using L=A to play Pokemon at work may cause you to
make mistakes, so be careful not to screw up your EVs.

L=A was an option available from the third generation to the fourth (what Bulbapedia says is wrong; it ain't in Black and White). It let you use the L button as the A button, which meant that if you had a mind to, you could do almost everything just using your left hand, leaving your right hand free to cure cancer or pet your cat or whatever. Anyway, it was quite handy and I want it back.

Autorun was available in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, and like it sounds, it made you run by default. It makes sense, since the times you want to walk are far fewer than the times you want to run. I don't know about you, but if I'm not running in Pokemon, it's because I'm biking. Not only would I bring autorun back, but I'd use it to improve the game in another way which I'll explain in a minute...

Being able to rematch trainers ought to be a no-brainer. So why isn't it in Black and White? We had this feature before, but now we don't. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to rematch every trainer and gym leader in the game if you want to.

There are a few other things too that are less necessary but still missed by some. Things like having a Pokemon follow around behind you, being able to use the bottom screen as a step counter, and minigames like the Pokemon Contests and Pokeathlon are just a few of the things that would be welcome to return.

New stuff and bigger changes:
When I think of things in Pokemon that make the game less fun and more of a chore, there are a few specific things that come to mind. 

First, the encounter rate is too damn high, even when the wild pokemon are at levels far below your own. But my solution isn't as simple as lowering the encounter rate. I would make it so that if the wild pokemon in the area are at a much lower level than those in your party, the encounter rate would decrease or stop entirely. However, supposing you wanted to encounter a pokemon, you could hold a certain button to walk (this is where autorun comes in) which would allow you to encounter pokemon regardless of your level.

Second, transferring pokemon is a huge pain when it involves more than just a few. In every new generation you'll probably want to transfer many of your pokemon from the previous version - and you can - but you'll only be able to do a few at a time and will also have to do some silly minigame first. Similarly, when trading between versions of the same generation, you'll only be able to trade one at a time, very slowly. It would sure be nice if you could just give your pokemon to the other game without having to trade, and if you could give more than one at a time.

While we're at it, why not make trading a feature of the PC box? The pokemon boxes also need an overhaul which would allow you to easily order your pokemon by type, number, level, etc. and also be able to manually move more than one at a time (edit: it seems moving multiple Pokemon is actually possible). Also, why are there so many menus before actually getting to the box? It asks if you want to withdraw, deposit, or move your pokemon, but you can do all three of those by selecting the move option, so why are the others even there?

The EV and IV system is also a big pain for competitive players and is what leads many to resort to hacking rather than spending the time required for breeding and training. For those who don't know, effort values (EV) and individual values (IV) are what determine your pokemon's stats (along with their nature and species). The IVs are determined when the pokemon is created and EVs are accumulated as you battle, with each pokemon giving EVs for certain stats. This means that if you battle a bunch of the same pokemon, one stat will increase far more than the others when you level up. Items like the macho brace can help you gain more EVs and cut down on the training time, so while it is a pain, it's not as big of a pain as trying to get good IVs. IVs can be bred for, but breeding takes tons of time and trying to get good IVs that match the nature and ability you want takes even longer. The benefit of EVs and IVs from the developer's perspective is that it makes every pokemon unique. Unfortunately, in competition it means that the person who wastes obscene amounts of time on it (or hacks their pokemon) has the advantage.

Fixing this is a bit more complicated. Breeding still needs to have a purpose; perhaps just getting the ability, nature, and egg-moves (and pre-evolutions of course). IVs could probably just be dropped entirely, and EVs could be replaced with a stat distribution system which lets you decide which stats to focus on at each level up.

Source: serebii.net
Finally, something less serious but totally awesome that I'd like to add is character customization. I want to be able to dress up my character and change their look. Right now you can choose to appear as one of the many other trainer types you battle throughout the game during multiplayer, but I'd like full customization that I can see in single player and multiplayer. They had this in Pokemon Battle Revolution and it was one more thing to try to achieve. It's not just the fun of playing dress-up (teehee), it's showing how awesome you are by showing off your hard to find clothes. It's wearable trophies and I want it.


And that's everything that I can think of for now. Thanks for reading this rather long post, and if you have any other suggestions for how to improve Pokemon, let me know in the comments.


You might also like these other posts about Pokemon:
Or maybe the improvements I'd make to F-Zero and Mario Kart.

46 comments:

  1. Very well written with great ideas. Good job

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  2. You are a smart person. I wholly agree with everything you have stated.

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  3. I agree with everything apart from the 3D models. I think Pokemon has become what it has due to the fact that it is a mainly handheld game, and putting it into 3D would just take away from it all. But the rest of it is fantastically put. I am glad you are not one of the fools who asked for "ALL REGIONS IN ONE GAME PLZ" as that would just be ridiculously over the top.

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  4. there are a few things here I dissagree with:
    1: encounter rate. it's just that type of game. if you made lower level pokemon stop spawning, it loses a bit of the charm of a classic style RPG.
    2: Pokeathlon. yes, it's a great feature and it would be nice in other games, but the dome is in Johto only. so putting it somewhere else would be...well...dumb.
    3: story. okay...so I mostly agree with this one, but take note the fact that they're actually improving that constantly, so there's no reason for it to be in the list.
    that said, this is an interesting article, and I approve of the informal manner in which it was expressed. congratulations on a good write.

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    1. The safari zone has made its way into several zones, so your second point is basically invalid.

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  5. There is actually a way to move several pokemon at once between PC boxes. This is available in BW2 and Emerald and a few other games, but it's not in some. It's distributed seemingly randomly. But it's there. Try hitting the select button while in the box.

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    1. Reeeeaaally? I'm gonna have to try that now. Thanks for the tip.

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  6. I like how he didn't mention having a game "with all the regions and you go and get all the badges from one region and then move to the next region and pick a new starter and get all the badges from that region and then beat their Elite 4 and then go to the next region and pick a new starter..."

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    1. So many want this to happen, but I doubt GameFreak will ever make it. If they had plans to do so, wouldn't they have done it years ago? I'd play the shit out of a game like that though. And the possibilities for storylines and sidequests would be endless. We can only dream.

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    2. they will probably do that when they run out of ideas for the new pokemon, they will probably make a larger game which includes all the regions and all the pokemon, but if they did that, they would have to make pokemon harder to train or else it'd be easy

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  7. Building on your thoughts on the encounter rate I think I have a good idea. Walking gets you a high encounter rate, running gets you a normal encounter rate, and biking gets you a low encounter rate. This works since people want to be running by default, when they are looking for pokemon a generally not trying to get anywhere and when biking want to get around quickly. There are also areas where you would want to force higher encounter rates and those areas can easily be made to coincide with not being aloud to use your bike.

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    1. Doesn't HeartGold and SoulSilver have a similar concept? When using Running Shoes, you're more likely to encounter a pokemon, they say so in the tutorial and it's apparent (if you ever stop running which I do often). The Running shoes make a lot of noise and thus attract pokemon. Walking lowers encounter rate.

      Try it out!

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  8. i would actually be against your suggested implementation of the breeding system for the evs and ivs.

    i mean sure it takes time, but it sure as hell is rewarding, and there are ways to make things not so difficult.

    my suggestion would be to be able to influence iv to a certain extent. just simply increasing the chances of iv passing down from the parents naturally would be nice.

    if iv should be removed, and the ev system changed to your recommendation, i would actually be mad. because not only it becomes easy to get 'the perfect pokemon', it becomes boring and loses the sense of accomplishment that breeders would have.

    other than that, i agree wholly with you.

    maybe make it easier to get legendaries from other generations as well. mew, mewtwo, jirachi, celebi and the like is next to impossible to get these days without buying their older games, and it is frankly, hard for new players to finish their dex.

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    1. I was pretty hesitant to complain about EVs and IVs since I didn't really feel that my solution was adequate. I think the big problems with them are:
      -They are hidden values that I don't believe Game Freak expected people to take advantage of.
      -As such, manipulating them is very unintuitive and time-consuming.

      An ideal solution would allow a more obvious way to influence a Pokemon's IVs and EVs that doesn't necessarily make it a simple task or instantaneous, but at least more intuitive and slightly less time consuming (in the case of IVs). Rather than being a hidden game mechanic, they should be tweaked and made visible so that using them is more obviously an intended part of the game.

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    2. Honestly, IVs don't make much of a difference. They only make a difference of a MAXIMUM of 31 points, and chances are the difference is going to be much smaller than that.

      Really, the only IV that counts for anything is Speed and if you get that at 22-25+ you're good.

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    3. Whether they initially expected them to be used, they are used constantly now so I do think there should be more transparency with them.

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  9. i would almost like to have the ability to encounter pokemon in the air, maybe in a pokemon ranger type of format i think it would be cool and of corse be optional

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  10. Great article! I also wish they had kept the feature where you make notes & mark locations on your town map.

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    1. Yeah, that was quite handy. I find myself forgetting which routes I need to go back to with an HM or during a different season.

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  11. They didn't impliment the pokemon follow feature because they'd have to redo the entire pokedex again because of the camera changes in Black/White from HG and SS

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  12. Honestly I don't like the whole fact about multiplayer in all games where you need it to gain certain access to certain things. For example, needing a Kyogre from Heart Gold to get Rayquaza in Soul Silver, or needing Groudon from Soul Silver to get Rayquaza in Heart Gold. I don't like this mainly because I'm a forever alone type of guy. The friends that I have would never think about getting any Pokemon games. Also, my internet won't allow my DS to connect online, thus ruling that possibility out.

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    1. On the other hand, things like multiplayer battles over wifi or local are fine with me since they aren't required. Something I forgot to mention were Pokemon that need to be traded to evolve- another thing that I cannot ever reach.

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  13. There's a feature that stops the huge encounter flow: repels. If these were the pre-BW2 days I would have shared your opinion that the encounter rate is super annoying, because using a new repel when your old one runs out of steps was so tedious. But in BW2, it's just a single button tap without ever having to go to the menu, so I think this is fine. I can deal with being repel-less for the first town or two.

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    1. That is true. Repels certainly do help. I could've mentioned that I suppose.

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  14. Something that should never have been added: new Pokemon. they should have stopped after generation two. Its because of all the new Pokemon that I've stopped being a Pokemon fan. For shame Game Freak/Nintendo, for shame.

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    1. Its not dumb, there's simply too many now and they're no longer special and unique in a way that encourages me to explore each Pokemon's individual capabilities at end game. I always wanted to see a better use of the later levels. Sure the added feature of learning new moves at high levels is nice, though also very annoying, I was always expectant of a more in depth continuation involving preexisting evolutionary chains. Imagine if instead of your third combination of fire and fighting in a starter you could evolve Charizard two more times. Imagine evolving Mewtwo, or Zapados. Just thinking of evolving some of the great classics which originally shaped the game makes me want to go play Pokemon all over again. It also increases the Pokedex at much smaller gradients. You could continue introduction of new species, especially starters so long as there's better R&D invested, alongside evolution past the third stage.

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    2. No you really are dumb

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    3. Why should legendaries evolve? That defeats the whole purpose of them being special if they are going to change. And having more than three evolutions is just horrible. A new dragonite evolution would need to be at like lvl 70. And if you want to see a good new pokemon, check out goomy's evolutions.

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  15. I WANT POKEMON TO FOLLOW ME LIKE HGSS!!

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  16. In case you don't know there is a good Pokemon MMO out there that is in development...yes, the pokemon follow you. Google PokeMMO

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  17. I disagree with your belief of a lack of story.. The enemy organization is trying to prevent players from being slave drivers, in black and white, you hear N talking, especially that ferris wheel scene, and it just clicked.. I'M THE BAD GUY. For the first time, I get to playthe bad character, the slave driver that refuses to make the world a better place by allowing us to live in harmony without the fighting and ownership. Look at Pikachu, she refused to be enslaved like the others, but she still became friends with Ash, and through their friendship, she helped him through his journey, as harmful as it was. It was a bit of an eye-opener and it made me replay all the previous generations again.

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    1. Ash's Pikachu isn't a Female. There was an episode when a Female Togepi used attract and Ash's Pikachu, Team Rocket's Meowth, and Dawn's Piplup were all affected. Meaning, they're all Male, since Meowth is...well, you know.

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    2. That's why I put it in the "improving but could be better category". I felt like the story in Black and White was definitely better than usual, but I still felt that the writing wasn't that great and that they just made the legitimate argument about whether or not Pokemon should be kept by trainers a moot point by turning the Team Plasma head totally evil at the end. Instead of following the controversy to it's conclusion, I felt like they took the cheap way out.

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  18. How about they increase the iv valua pokemon give and dont let trainers pokemon give ev's, that way you can start ev training early and not mess it up because you battled a trainer with an skarmory and you want to max speed and attack rather then defence.

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  19. You said that hey took away secret bases after gen 3, but in gen 4 you could have them underground. Just felt like pointing that out

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  20. I agree with most of what you said. especially the bit about evs and ivs. I really hate the fact that, like you said, people who waste too much time on a video game, and hackers, have the advantage. If there was a stat distribution system I might actually be more willing to actually care what stats my pokemon have. I also want the pokemon following you, contests and pokeathlon to return, hopefully all in one game. I think the new pokeathlon should allow medals won to be attached to the pokemon as ribbons. I love collecting them. Although I can live without it, I WOULD play the crap out of a game that had all regions in it. that last sentence is mostly just a dream of mine though, but all the other things are really important to me! :)

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    1. You shouldn't punish those who make more effort than you. If those people are willing to invest more time in the game, the rewards should be open to them.

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  21. I think they should add a diffrent type of battle mode to their games like simultaneous battle attacks gor example you pick your attack and as soon as you pick it your opponent sees that and has a few seconds to pick a counter attack based on your pokemons speed and certin moves could that longer to do or cancel out other moves it would be a great fun way to play pokemon

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    1. That sounds like it could be fun. Double and triple battles (and sky battles) changed up the already existing battle system a bit, but a completely redesigned battle system on the side could be fun. I'll admit that the same old Pokemon battles started to bore me by the end of Black 2.

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  22. i love how a lot of this is fixed now

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  23. Can you provide an update with the generation just released? X/Y

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    1. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I haven't actually played X/Y yet. I would if I had played them though. I'm going to try to wait for the probable third version for the first time ever.

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    2. they put most of this stuff in... just saying...EV system was subbed in with balloon popping but still had the option of battling new "horde" battles to gain massive EV's. Character customization was introduced with clothing and the changing of hair. Multiplayer was introduced with a friend system where if they were online or near you you could challenge them at the bottom of your screen. And pokemon gen transfer takes every pokemon in your first box and throws it into a sort of "cloud" box system that you can transfer those pokemon into the next gen, no stupid minigame involved.

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  24. Story does not make a game.

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    1. No, but it and everything other minor aspect contributes to making a good game. A significant amount of time in Pokemon games is spent with the story. Having a boring story makes the game objectively worse than it would be if it had a good story.

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