This process is how they came up with all 802 Pokemon!
[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]n the last 20 years, we have seen all kinds of Pokemon created and released into countless Pokemon games, including the most recent Sun, Moon and Aloha forms! Now, we can all agree that the most recent Pokemon haven’t been the most impressive. But that hasn’t stopped them from going back to the drawing board to create more generations of Pokemon!
While exploring Game Freak’s development studio in Japan, Game Informer interviewed Pokemon director, composer and producer Junichi Masuda about the steps taken to making a Pokemon.
“The graphic designers are obviously going to be the ones finalizing the look, but it’s not just the graphic designers who come up with ideas or draw the Pokémon,” Masuda says. Sometimes a battle designer might want to feature a specific move in the game, which requires a specific creature. A story writer might want to execute a narrative beat that requires a new monster. Alternatively, it might be as simple as a graphic designer wanting to explore an animal that it has not yet inspired a Pokémon yet. “These ideas come from a lot of different places, the gameplay, the visuals, the story, and in the end those ideas just get centralized and designed,” Masuda says.
There are a few rules for what a Pokemon can and cannot look like.
“One thing we always really pay attention to is treating them like living creatures so you have to try and imagine where it would live in the environment and why it looks the way it does, what would it eat? For example,” Masuda says. “When designing Pokémon, and not just from a graphic design perspective, there must be a reason for why it looks the way it does and you have to think about why it might live in the Pokémon world.”
Making Pokemon and evaluating them is a tough task, especially now considering the fact that new ideas have to be presented without copying something that they already created.
“Once you’re in the middle of creating it and someone were to say, ‘No!, that’s not a Pokémon,’ and the design process gets killed? That doesn’t really happen that much,” Masuda says. “Usually, instead, maybe the person who is directing the game might say it won’t work in its current form, but maybe if you did this and adding ideas onto it might make it work better.”
That reasoning is why we do see Pokemon that really scratch our heads. But it’s working, so why change your approach to something that’s working?
“One thing that happens a lot – well, not a lot – but happens sometimes, is that you start out with a cat, and when it evolves one easy idea is to say, ‘Okay, now there’s more heads’,” Masuda says, going to the whiteboard behind him to illustrate his point. “We always want to make sure we think, ‘Why does that happen?’ And when it evolves why does it have three heads? So that’s just something we’re always trying to think of – what’s the reason for what changes and how it looks?” After hastily drawing the three-headed cat used to illustrate his point, Masuda laughs saying, “Even if I said I really wanted to make this, I would probably get shot down.”
Reddit user IanMazgelis created a post with a theory, showing how Pokemon eyes have changed over the years. The older generations would have sharper eyes, as opposed to recent Pokemon generations having more rounded eyes.
It’s definitely conscious of the evolving design, but some of the reason behind that, for example, is in the beginning, the Game Boy had a really limited palette and a very small amount of pixels to express the designs,” Masuda says. “It was hard to make circles so that was one reason a lot of them had a similar look. As the technology evolved we had more options for expression with different shapes and more variety, so I think we’ve focused on trying to have a lot of variety in the eyes, for example.”
We can definitely see Game Freak going a new route sometime in the future creating Pokemon. But in terms of boundaries for creating Pokemon, the sky’s the limit!