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September 20, 2020
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Dear Game Freak: I’m Not Mad, Just Confused

by Caleb Compton on 12/24/19 10:12:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The following article is a reproduction, and has been modified for this site. The original article, and many more, can be found at RemptonGames.com


What’s up everybody? I know in my last video I said that I would be talking about the lore of the Mario series, but Pokemon Sword and Shield have come out recently so I have a lot of Pokemon on my mind. Now, if you have been paying any attention to the Pokemon community over the past several months, chances are that you are already familiar with many of the controversies that have surrounded these games from their announcement all the way to their release. Everything from the Dexit controversy to #gamefreaklied, which then got turned around into #thankyougamefreak. If you are at all interested in Pokemon you would have to be living under a rock to not know about these goings on, right?

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What controversy?

Well, for the past nine months I HAVE basically been living under a rock, particularly in regards to Pokemon. After the release of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon I decided that I wanted to go into Generation 8 as unspoiled as I could. I haven’t gone into a Pokemon game blind since Generation 3, and ever since then I have been pretty much been keeping up with all the information about the new games since it has been coming out. For this generation, I decided to change that. Until Pokemon Sword and Shield came out I tried my best to avoid spoilers as much as I possibly could – not only did I not watch any sort of trailers or promotional materials, but I also unsubscribed from any youtube channels, subreddits, or anything else that I though would spoil the games for me.

While this whole thing was kinda a huge pain in the butt, and I probably will never do it again, I was pretty successful. I saw some glimpses of the starters and the cover legendaries, because they are pretty much impossible to avoid, but other than that I went into my playthrough of Pokemon Shield completely blind. This also means that I was relatively blind to the controversies as well – while I WAS aware that they were not going to be bringing the National Dex into the games, I tried not to think about it too much, and I was not part of any of the community furor on either side.

I continued avoiding spoilers as I played through the game, and tried to savor every little surprise that I came across. While I do actually think that going into the game blind made for a more enjoyable experience, I found that once I was finished I had a lot of questions, so I decided to find out everything I could about the game. Were there any Pokemon I hadn’t seen throughout my playthrough? What little secrets had I missed?

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There’s no way I’m gonna figure out how to evolve this guy on my own

It was during this time that I really began to learn about the extent of the uproar that surrounded these games. I learned about all the controversies, the lies, and all of the misinformation that was being spread around by all parts of the Pokemon community. As I did, I began to wonder actually happened. A lot of the information I was reading or hearing in Youtube videos seemed to contradict eachother, and all I heard were people arguing for and against the National Dex claiming that the other side were a bunch of ignorant idiots who were ignoring reality. In many ways, the controversy around the Pokemon Sword and Shield reminded me a lot of the controversy around Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It seemed that fans couldn’t agree on anything about the game – some fans seemed to hate everything about the game, while others seemed to claim that everything about the game was wonderful and wouldn’t accept even the tiniest  bit of criticism. The more I researched, far from the issues becoming more clear, I only became more and more confused.

On the whole, that’s what this issue is about – what was going on with the development of Sword and Shield, why was the National Dex really cut, why so many people were disappointed, and whether these criticisms are valid or not. I know there are a lot of videos on this topic already, but as far as I can tell there isn’t a single video out there that brings all of the evidence together in a cohesive way, which is what I am trying to do today. I want to be as thorough and comprehensive as I possibly can for this video/article, and it was a lot of work to put together so if you like it I would really appreciate it if you left a like, it would mean a lot to me.

Why Was the National Dex Removed

Let’s start with the thing that started it all – the National Dex. As far as I can tell, the main thing that caused this massive split in the Pokemon community was the announcement that Pokemon Sword and Shield would no longer have the National Dex. This means that, unless your Pokemon was found native to the new games you would not be able to bring them over from previous entries in the series.

Why was this announcement controversial? Ever since the Pokemon series originally began the National Dex has been an implicit agreement between the players and Game Freak that you would always be able to bring your favorite Pokemon with you to a new generation. Now, with Generation 8, that agreement has been broken. Whether you simply have a favorite Pokemon that you love using on your team, or you’ve spent dozens of hours maintaining a perfect Pokedex and collecting the Shiny Charm so that you can hunt for Shiny Pokemon, it doesn’t matter – if it’s not found in Galar, you aren’t bringing it in.

Now, on the surface of this decision I think I can see both sides. On the one hand, I can completely understand why people would be upset about this. Pokemon very much encourages people to become attached to their favorite creatures, and to be told that you can’t have them anymore can be really disappointing. I also have a favorite Pokemon. In fact, because my Wife and I are both such huge fans of Pokemon we decided to sculpt eachother our favorite Pokemon out of clay, and use them as cake toppers at our wedding. I still have those cake toppers. For my wife, I sculpted a Sylveon, and for me she made a Dragonite.

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You don’t have to tell us we’re huge dorks, we already know

Dragonite is not in these games, and that sucks. However, just because a game doesn’t have all of my favorite Pokemon doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game. I can also understand how, now that the number of unique pokemon is nearly 900, bringing all of them into a new game on a new console could be infeasible, at least at first. If it isn’t possible to bring all the Pokemon in at once, then there is still hope that additional Pokemon could be added later as DLC, or that future games on the Switch would slowly be able to fill in the missing Pokemon. However, these possibilities were also erased by several interviews in which Junichi Masuda, the producer of these games, claims that there are no plans to add pokemon in DLC, and that no future Pokemon games will have the National Dex.

I have to admit that this is incredibly disappointing news to me, and is undeniably a huge loss. Even if you believe that removing the National Dex was necessary, or even a good thing, I don’t think it can be argued that it isn’t a major thing to remove from this franchise. However, not only did they remove the National Dex, but the total number of Pokemon was cut down significantly. Out of nearly 900 pokemon that exist, only 400, or around 45%, are in these games.

That being said, a decision like this could not have been made lightly, and would not have been done without a good reason. Fortunately, the developers of Sword and Shield have clearly stated why this decision was made in several different interviews. Just so that it doesn’t sound like I’m intentionally leaving anything out, I am going to read the full quote from Junichi Masuda, in his interview with USGamer, where he initially revealed the reason for cutting the Pokedex.

          “There are a couple of different parts to the thinking behind it, but really the biggest reason for it is just the sheer number of Pokemon. We already have well over 800 Pokemon species, and there’s going to be more added in these games. And now that they’re on the Nintendo Switch, we’re creating it with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations. But even more than that, it’s coming down to the battle system. We’re making sure we can keep everything balanced and give all the Pokemon that appear in the games a chance to shine.

We knew at some point we weren’t going to be able to indefinitely keep supporting all of the Pokemon, and we just found that Sword and Shield would probably be a good point to go back and reevaluate what would be the best selection of Pokemon that appeal to the widest audience while keeping into consideration the balance of the battle system. It isn’t just going to be all-new Pokemon in the Galar region Pokedex; there’s still going to be a lot of favorites that fans will be able to bring over that they’ve adventured with previously. But yeah, it was pretty much just balancing and getting this optimal selection of Pokemon for the adventure we wanted to provide.”

So based on that quote, there seems to be two main parts. The first part seems to be a technical reason – they want the Pokemon to look better and have higher quality animations. This reason was only further reinforced in a later interview with Famitsu, where they claimed that every Pokemon model would have to be rebuilt from scratch, which means that textures and animations would also have to be redone. The second part seems to be a gameplay reason – they thought that by limiting the number of pokemon it would help improve game balance, presumably for competitive Pokemon battling.

Did #GameFreakLie?

However, this discussion around the reasons brings us to our next section – did Game Freak Lie? After Game Freak employees gave these interviews explaining the reasons for the cut national dex, the Pokemon community once again split into camps – those who accepted these reasons, and those who did not. For this section, I will mostly be discussing the technical explanations given – that producing new models and high quality animations for all of the new Pokemon would be infeasible. I will discuss gameplay balance in a later section.

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This many, to be exact

On the surface, the explanations that Masuda gave seem entirely reasonable– after all, 900 Pokemon is quite a lot, and having to re-model and animate them would be an incredible amount of work. It is totally understandable that Game Freak simply would not be able to make these assets at the quality they would like. On the other hand, this reason only works if Game Freak is telling the truth, and some fans suspected that they were not. Despite Game Freak’s claims, these fans believed that the models and animations were not in fact new, and were actually re-used assets from previous games in the series. If these allegations were true, this would mean that Game Freak had, in fact, lied to their fans regarding the reasons for removing the National Dex, EVEN IF it was not the only reason.  And that is not a great look for a game company.

So, which is it? Did Game Freak reuse assets, or did they rebuild them all from scratch? I’m going to get to that, but before I do I want to mention one thing. I want to make it clear that the only reason I bring this up is because I have seen a lot of discussion on the topic of whether Game Freak did or did not reuse models and animations, and I have seen a tendency for people to make certain claims regarding those that they disagree with. Specifically, I have seen people claim that the opposing side is ignorant, has no idea how games work, and doesn’t understand about modelling and 3d animation.

Therefore, before I get into the technical discussion around these issues I simply want to mention that I do have a bit of experience when it comes to games and game engines. Right now I am pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science, and I have studied topics that include game engine design and computer graphics and, while my focus is primarily as a programmer, I do have some experience with 3D modelling, texturing and rendering. I also have a small amount of Game Industry experience, having worked for a summer with the Game Development team at Rooster Teeth. With that all out of the way, the evidence against Game Freak’s claims do seem pretty damning.

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To be clear, neither my blog or YouTube channel are affiliated in any way with the Rooster Teeth brand

I’ll begin by saying that, when I first heard the claim that Game Freak had to completely remake their models and animations for Pokemon Sword and Shield it didn’t make much sense to me. True, the Nintendo Switch is a completely different piece of hardware than the 3DS, but that alone shouldn’t necessarily prevent you from transferring models from one to the other. While 3D models may seem complicated, they are really only made of 3 things – vertices, edges, and faces. Anytime you create or store a 3D model, what you are actually creating is a file that specifies the locations of a bunch of points and edges in 3D space. Even if you cannot transfer the models directly due to a difference of file format, all you would need to do is convert the data that makes up your model into a different format and re-use the same model. I know this is possible, because not only are there a number of applications out there that perform this function, but I have actually written a program in the past that converted from one 3D format to another – if you are curious, it converted from DAE collada format to OBJ. Therefore, simply switching hardware isn’t really a major hurdle to re-using these assets.

One thing that could be a reason for remaking assets instead of reusing them is if the original assets are of low quality. After all, the 3DS had a tiny screen that was only 400 * 240 resolution, and the Nintendo Switch supports full 1080p HD. Perhaps the models and animations that were used on the 3DS were simply too low quality to look good on a full TV screen, even if they look fine on the DS screen?

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Look at all those polygons!

Unfortunately, this also doesn’t hold up, for a few reasons. First, when the 3D Pokemon models were originally introduced in Pokemon X and Y in 2013, it was clear that they were far too high-quality to only be intended for a 3DS game. Pokemon games are some of the most datamined games of all time, and it wasn’t long before dataminers got ahold of the models and found that they are all very high-quality models with thousands of polygons each. Game Freak was planning ahead when they made these models, knowing that it would not be sustainable to have to keep re-making them for better and better hardware, so they made their models intentionally future-proofed so that they could be effectively used on more powerful hardware without losing quality.

 

Not only are the 3DS models of a high enough quality that they would look fine on the Nintendo Switch, but we actually know that they look good on the Switch because these models were actually already reused for Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. Youtuber HoodlumCallum made a really great video comparing the 3DS models from Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon with the models from Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. While the models look much better in the Let’s Go games than they do on the 3DS, due to improved textures and lighting, it’s clear from this video that both the models themselves as well as the animations have all been reused for the Let’s Go games – and look great, if I might add.

However, just because we know that they COULD reuse the models doesn’t mean that they DID reuse the models. While I think it would be a major waste of time and money to remake these models and animations when they already have high-quality to assets to work with, they still could have done it. But remember when I mentioned that the Pokemon games are some of the most datamined games of all time? That holds true for Pokemon Sword and Shield as well, and as soon as dataminers were able to get their hands on models from Pokemon Sword and Shield it became immediately obvious that they were in fact the same models that have been reused since Pokemon X and Y.

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More pixels, same model

Youtuber DJThed Games put out a great video comparing the models from Pokemon Sword and Shield against previous models, and I highly encourage you to watch the whole thing because he does a great job of breaking it all down, but for now I will summarize most of his key points. First, most of the 3D models used in Pokemon Sword and Shield that he examined were found to be completely identical to models from previous games (with new textures). It isn’t just that the models look the same, as some people claim, but they are made up of identical vertices and edges.

However, this did not hold true for all of the models that he found. Some of the models had minor tweaks, with the most major being to Pikachu because of course Pikachu gets special treatment. However, even the tweaks to Pikachu are pretty minor – previously his mouth was just a texture, but now his mouth is part of the model. Another example was Raichu’s cheeks, which used to have a separate layer on top of them that was presumably to help them glow. This extra layer has been removed, presumably because it is no longer required with the new lighting engine.

While there have been some minor modifications to some of the models, most of them were identical, and it seems pretty clear that NONE of the models of previous pokemon were “rebuilt from scratch”. This includes regular Dynamax Pokemon, which do not require new models – they are simply scaled up versions of the existing models. Galarian forms of Pokemon, and new Gigantimax forms of existing Pokemon would require new models, but this only accounts for a small fraction of the Pokemon from older games.

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Shiny Gigantimax Gengar is amazing, and I will never, ever have one

Similarly, it also appears that all of the animations for older Pokemon were also reused. This includes battle animations, as well as animations for playing with Pokemon in Camp, which were reused from Pokemon Refresh.

I have spent a lot of time trying to show Game Freak has, in fact, reused animations and models from previous Pokemon games, but I don’t want to give the impression that this, in and of itself, is a bad thing. All of the models, and many of the animations, are very high quality, and there is nothing wrong with reusing high quality assets. I actually think it would be dumb to waste money redoing them when they look really good already – well, most of them (show yamper tail whip). The only reason this is an issue is because Game Freak has specifically claimed that part of the reason they had to remove Pokemon in Sword and Shield was because they A. Had to remake models from scratch and B. wanted higher fidelity animations. However, given the fact that the models and animations are in fact reused (coupled with the very poor quality of some of the animations) means that that Game Freak did, in fact, lie to the fans and the public. THAT, is why this is an issue, not simply because of the reuse itself.

On Balance

While most of the controversy around #GameFreakLied revolved around the animations and models being reused, that wasn’t the only reason given for removing the National Dex. The other reason was to provide better game balance. Once again, on the surface I think this is an admirable idea. The thing that sets games apart from other forms of media is interactivity, and I firmly believe that improving gameplay should take precedent over pretty much anything else. That being said, I don’t see any reason why improving competitive balance would require removing over half of all Pokemon.

First, I want to mention that Pokemon Sword and Shield do create a number of changes that will definitely have an effect on competitive battling, some of which are really positive, others of which are more questionable. Regarding positive changes, Sword and Shield make it much easier to raise and train a competitive Pokemon than pretty much any generation. They introduce Nature Candies, which make it easy to change your Pokemon to the perfect nature, and experience candies from Max Raid Battles make it easier than ever to quickly level up your Pokemon. In addition, the introduction of a number of held items such as Heavy-Duty boots are already having a big effect on the competitive landscape.

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A candy so good, it changes your whole personality

There are also a number of competitive changes that I think are somewhat more questionable. The introduction of Dynamax and Gigantimax pokemon may look flashy, but from what I have seen online they are not being very well received by the competitive community. While I’m not huge into competitive battling, the main complaint seems to be that Dynamax Pokemon have too little counterplay since they cannot be switched out, they are unaffected by a number of moves, they remove the downside of restrictive items such as Choice bands, and they cannot be fully stopped by moves such as Protect. Also, in addition to removing nearly 500 Pokemon Game Freak also removed around 144 moves (although, to be fair, around half of those are Z-moves).

However, whether you think these changes are good or bad, none of them necessitate the removal of the National Pokedex. While it is true that it is harder to balance a competitive game with 900 Pokemon than 400, not all Pokemon need to be included in competitive battles. The simple solution would be to implement a rotation system similar to Magic: The Gathering. Under this system, only Pokemon found in the native Galarian Pokedex would be allowed in competitive battles, while any Pokemon could be used casually. Or, even better, implement multiple competitive battling formats – one of  which allows you to only use the Galarian Pokedex with restricted moves, and another “Anything Goes” format that allows any Pokemon or move.

Blue_pentagon_status_screen.jpgAs a matter of fact, this sort of thing wouldn’t even be new for the Pokemon series. In the past few generations Pokemon has introduced something called an “origin” marker, which is a small marking that you can see when looking at a pokemon’s summary that tells you where that Pokemon is from. Pokemon in the Gen VI games have a blue pentagon, Pokemon in the Gen VII games have a black clover, and there are different markings for Pokemon that originate in Pokemon Go, the Let’s Go games, or Pokemon Sword and Shield. According to Bulbapedia in official live tournaments and even some online features, only Pokemon with a specific origin marking can be used. Even in Gen VIII only Pokemon with the Galar origin mark are allowed to be used in live tournaments, so it doesn’t seem like letting players use the other Pokemon casually would have a negative effect on competitive balance.

Game Freak used Confusion! It’s Super Effective

This is why I am so confused. Game Freak made this choice for a reason, but none of the explanations that they have provided seem to hold up. Couple that with the fact that they definitely lied about remaking the models and animations, and I can completely understand why so many fans are upset. While losing the National Dex is definitely a big loss for a lot of Pokemon fans, I think that Game Freak would have simply explained the real reason for removing it right away the fans would not have been nearly as outraged, and they could have avoided a whole lot of controversy.

However, it seems that Game Freak is choosing to keep the real reasons to themselves, and If I had to speculate I would guess that there is some internal squabbling going on between the various companies that have a stake in the Pokemon brand. Ownership over Pokemon is an extremely complicated subject, with various pieces of the franchise belonging to Game Freak, Creatures Inc., Nintendo, and the Pokemon Company. With so many different companies involved, that seems to be the most reasonable explanation I can come up with for why these changes were made.

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It may look better, but to be fair Dragon Quest XI does only have 726 monsters in it….

Throughout this video I have mostly been talking about the removal of the National Dex, and the various explanations for why this was done. However, this was far from the only change made to the Pokemon games with Sword and Shield. While there are actually a number of changes that I like, there are several that I find very concerning. From the lackluster quality of the graphics compared to pretty much any other modern RPG, to the lack of plot even compared to other Pokemon games, to the removal of so many key features, I can’t help but be a bit concerned for this franchise going forward – however, this video is getting long enough, so if you want me to talk more about those in a later video, please let me know.

With all that being said, I will try to remain optimistic. Despite it’s many flaws, I still thought Pokemon Sword and Shield were pretty enjoyable games, and if Game Freak decides to build on what they have done in this game instead of continuing to cut, then the future of Pokemon could be very exciting indeed.

Until Next Time

If you enjoyed this video please leave a “Like”, and subscribe if you want to see more game design content in the future. If you want to see more stuff like this you should definitely check out my other videos, and I also have over 100 articles on the Rempton Games blog which you can find in the description down below. And join me next time where I will be looking at how the designs of Pokemon have changed from Generation to Generation. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time!


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