The Art of Balance: Pokémon's Masuda on Complexity and Simplicity
April 3, 2009 Page 3 of 3
Every time there's a new Pokémon game, there are the two initial versions, and then later, there's a third version. Where did that idea come from, and how does that play into the design? You know it's going to happen every time, so how does that play into your game plan for creating a new Pokémon?
JM: We put so much energy into creating Pokémon video games. For example, let's take Diamond and Pearl. When we started thinking of Diamond and Pearl, especially because we were moving to the DS... the DS has lots of capabilities and lots of functions; new functions that you can utilize to adapt into the game. So many ideas.
So by the time we developed D/P, we had to give up some of the features we wanted to put into D/P because of the deadline.
Let's say, for example, in D/P's case, that the second half of the D/P development, you decide that, "There are some features that we really want to do. Let's do it in the third one."
That's how we make a decision. Ideally we wanted to put everything into D/P, but there is a deadline, so you have to make up your mind.
Now, development time between Pokémon sequels like Diamond and Pearl is quite a long period of time for games that look relatively simple. I know they're actually really complicated, but I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that most games would have a very short cycle. I want to know what goes in to that whole process. I can understand why it takes that long, but maybe not in detail. Could you talk about that process, of where you start and where you end up?
Takeshi Kawachimaru: Let me take the example of D/P and Platinum. As Masuda-san said, by the time we almost finished D/P, Masuda-san came to me and said, "Let's make Platinum. Would you like to do it?"
My answer, without thinking, was, "Yes." I put so much energy into D/P. I felt like I completed a marathon. You're out of breath, but I said, "Yes," and I started running again right away after.
As Masuda-san said, there were so many ideas that we wanted to work on. We wanted to revisit those ideas and see what we could do to put them into Platinum, so I had to go back and look at what we did with D/P, and what we couldn't do with D/P.
Also, we had to consider good reasons we should make Platinum, and why not something else. So we had to think of that reason, otherwise the product would not sell. We had to revisit the ideas which came up and see how we could apply them into Platinum.
Something about the Pokémon sequels is that they always have a lot of new elements added, whether it's new Pokémon, new types of Pokémon. I think that, even more than other games, balance is super-important to Pokémon. How do you add and balance elements?
JM: We think that the balance is one of the most important elements that we have to think of when we design the game.
We have designated staff who overview the balance of Pokémon battles. I don't know how long he works, but he spends time battling while eating or chatting with people.
That's the only way -- to actually play and make sure that the battle is balanced. It takes time and effort to make sure everything is balanced. That's something that we always care about.
And what about making sure that the different elements of the game -- when you add in whole new layers like GTS or a new region or something -- how do you make sure that those don't throw the game out of balance, in a more general sense? It's got to stay accessible to the broad audience that you spoke about. How do you make sure it's accessible, playable, and that everything works together?
JM: Personally, I don't like it when things get too complicated. I want Pokémon games to be accessible and approachable. However, you can make it complicated by adding accessible, approachable elements to it, and that would become built into something bigger. That's how we always create the game.
For the beginner players, you start by explaining, "This is how you catch the Pokémon. This is where you go for the Union Room. This is the GTS." Everything is introduced in a certain way, and in the end, by the time you complete the game, you realize how much you know.
TK: Normally, for RPGs, you come up with the plot, and that's the storyline that you have. And definitely, we do have that. But also, we have another plot, to talk about the functions of the game.
So we create the plot based on the functions and where we should put them. "This new function, this new element, here, there..." In the end, it becomes an entire big plot.
JM: That's why there is the Battle Frontier, after the game. That's where the best of the best trainers go and battle.
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