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Evolution of Pokemon Design – Generation 4

by Caleb Compton on 05/26/20 10:23:00 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. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com

Transcript

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s installment of “Evolution of Pokemon Design” we will be taking a look at the Pokemon’s fourth generation, which includes the games Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. As we are currently in Gen 8, this marks a big moment for this series as we are halfway done! As always, in this video I will be taking a look at the Pokemon of this generation to find any major themes and trends, see how new technology and mechanics have influenced these designs, and compare them to previous generations.

Really quick, before we jump into it I just want to say that this is a small channel that I am trying to build while doing work and school full-time, and if you enjoy this type of content it would mean a lot to me if you would help me grow this channel. Leaving a like or a comment really helps, but if you could share this video with a friend who likes Pokemon that would be amazing. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

First, lets take a look at how the Gen 4 games fit in with previous games in the series. These games find themselves in a pretty interesting space because they are neither direct sequels, like Gen 2, nor are they a soft reboot, like Gen 3. Instead, these games fill a sort of middle-ground that is relatively unique among Pokemon games – they are completely new games that take place in a brand new region with new characters, and yet the selection of Pokemon is VERY heavily linked to previous generations.

This generation introduces 107 new Pokemon, and 29 of them are either evolutions or pre-evolutions of older Pokemon. This represents over a quarter of all of the new Pokemon introduced, and is the highest proportion of Pokemon related to previous generations of any generation if you don’t count things like Mega Evolutions. In addition, unlike Gen 2 which included a large number of new forms that were only connected to Gen 1, the new evolutions and pre-evolutions of this generation are pretty evenly distributed across all three previous generations, which I personally think helps make the wider world of Pokemon feel a bit more connected.

Speaking of connected, this generation is quite possibly the most connected generation so far. While the previous generation took some heat for not being able to connect with it’s predecessors, Diamond and Pearl is the first generation to be compatible with the games before AND after it. If you include the remakes FireRed, LeafGreen, HeartGold and SoulSilver, you can actually trade Pokemon back and forth from 5 different regions in these games.

However, this isn’t even the only way that these games attempted to make the world of Pokemon a little more unified. A major theme of the Sinnoh region is legends and myths, and this generation introduces a huge amount of lore and back-story for the Pokemon world. While previous generations have had legends, such as the burned tower or the battle between Kyogre and Groudon, Gen 4 really takes this to the next level.

For one thing, it introduces more Legendary and Mythical Pokemon than any Generation before it with a total of 14. Depending on whether you consider Meltan and Melmetal to be part of Generation 7 or 8, this may still be tied for the number 1 spot. However, not only do they introduce a glut of legendary and mythical Pokemon, but they introduce the Pokemon that are, lore-wise at least, still the most powerful that the Pokemon world has ever seen. These include the God-Pokemon Arceus, who supposedly created the entire Pokemon world with his 1000 arms, as well as his children Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina.

As the legend goes, there was once a void of nothingness in which a single egg came into being. This egg then hatched into Arceus, the first Pokemon. Arceus created Dialga and Palkia and gave them power over time and space. He also created Giratina, and banished him to the distortion for his violent behavior (which basically makes Giratina the Pokemon version of Satan). He also created the Lake Trio of Azelf, Uxie and Mesprit to create Willpower, Knowledge and Emotion, which can be found in all humans and Pokemon. There is also Regigigas, who is not only responsible for building the other Regis out of stone, metal and ice, but also apparently responsible for moving all of the continents into place.

This epic theme goes beyond the Legendary Pokemon themselves, however. The entire Sinnoh region is shrouded in history and myth, and is not only considered to be the oldest region but is literally the first place that was created when Arceus created the universe. There are a number of places in the Sinnoh region that are incredibly ancient, or have connections to various myths including Floaroma Town, Eterna City, Snowpoint Temple, and the Spear Pillar.

Even the Starter Pokemon of this region play into this theme, as they are all based on real-world myths. Emploeon has references to the Greek god Poseidon, particular containing a Trident-like design on it’s head and body. Torterra appears to be based around the various legends of the world turtle, particularly found in Hindu mythology. Finally, Infernape is a clear reference to Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a character in the Chinese Epic Journey to the West. This marks the first time that all three starter Pokemon will have a unifying theme, and this trend will continue forward in future generations.  In addition, a number of other non-legendary Pokemon are also given legendary backstories, such as Spiritomb which is said to contain 108 evil spirits.

Now that we have covered some of the themes and backstory, it’s time to actually begin looking at the designs of these Pokemon. If there is one thing that is immediately obvious from looking at Generation 4 Pokemon, it is that the designs have become much more detailed – some might even say “cluttered”. This may be due to the increased resolution of the DS screen compared to the Gameboy Advanced. The DS screen is only slightly higher resolution than the GBA screens, but the Pokemon sprites are considerably larger – 80 by 80 pixels, rather than 64 by 64. This results in almost 60% more pixels per sprite than on the GBA, which could explain why Gen 4 Pokemon tend to have a higher level of detail on average.

This increased detail can be seen in a number of places. In previous generations it was rare to see a Pokemon with 4 or more major colors, but in Gen 4 this is the norm. This generation contains a number of quite colorful Pokemon such as Luxray, Garchomp, Toxicroak and Cresselia, and even Pokemon that may not be considered colorful such as Staraptor or Floatzel fit this description.

Second, similar to previous generations there are a number of similar details that can be found among generation 4 Pokemon, and many of these details contribute to the more complicated designs of Pokemon in this generation. While adding additional details in the forms of loops or stripes has been a common design choice in all generations, this generation definitely took this to another level. Of all the details that are common among this generation, however, the most noticeable are certainly the spikes.

Once again, Pokemon has a history of adding spikes or horns to traditionally non-spiked animals. Simply look at Seaking, Seel or Cloyster to see how adding a single spike or horn was a common way of making an animal look just a bit more “monstrous”. This generation, however, they went absolutely hog-wild with the spikes, adding them not only to the head but shoulders, wrists, wherever. The designs of Pokemon such as Lucario, Drapion, Bastiodon, Garchomp, and Rampardos are absolutely spike-tacular.

While I generally try to avoid giving my own opinions on the designs of these Pokemon, I think a good number of Pokemon in this generation would look much better if they simply toned down the number of features a bit. Let’s look at a few quick examples to see what I mean. First, let’s take a look at Purugly. As you can see, there is a lot going on with this design. From the boomerang shaped head, to the purple fingers at the tips of it’s ears, the squiggly whiskers, the curly tail, tiny feet – there are a ton of distracting design decisions going on here, and make the Pokemon overall look very cluttered. Suppose we simplified just one of these details – say, the ears, and made them more traditionally catlike. It could still retain it’s grumpy, spoiled attitude while having a bit cleaner overall design.

Let’s quickly look at a second example – this time, an evolution to a previous generation, Ambipom. Ambipom is the evolution of Aipom – a mischievous little monkey Pokemon from Gen 2. Aipom is a relatively simple design – it’s simply a purple monkey with a hand on it’s tail, and a troublemaking personality. Now look at Ambipom. First, you can immediately notice that we are adding a second color – a reddish shade in the ears and on the tips of the fingers. This not only makes the color pallete more complicated, but has the added side effect of making the fingers look painfully swollen.

The head shares a number of similarities with Aipom’s head, but adds a nose, a bowlcut, and two extra long strands on the top of the head. Personally, I find this nose marking to be probably the ugliest nose of any Pokemon. I think that this design could be made significantly more pleasant by simply removing the nose, and swapping out the gross new hands with hands that match Aipom’s original hands. Sure, the new design maybe doesn’t change all that much – it simply looks like a bigger Aipom with two hands instead of one – but I think it is enough change to make it recognizable as a different Pokemon while still looking clearly connected to it’s pre-evolution and not adding unnecessary details that detract from the design.

There are two additional design decisions I have noticed about Generation 4 Pokemon. First, it moves away from the more jagged fur found in previous generations to more rounded fur shapes. If you look at Pokemon like Glameow, Bidoof, Shaymin, Buizel, Buneary and even Luxray, you can see that the fur tends to have a much more rounded look. Don’t get me wrong – purely sharp, jagged fur still exists in this generation, but I believe that these designs are the beginning of a “softening” of Pokemon designs that will continue for the next few generations.

The second additional design decision is, surprisingly, a simplification or reduction of certain details. Compare, for example, the roses on Roserade’s hands vs those on Roselia’s – it is clear to see that Roselia’s roses are much more realistic, while Roserade’s are much more simplified. Similarly, look at the vines on Tangrowth vs Tangela, and it is clear that there is a certain amount of lost detail. Finally, if you look at the tongues of Lickilicki vs Lickitung, there is a clear difference with Lickitung’s tongue looking much more organic.

Finally, let’s take a look at the Legendary Pokemon of this generation – and there are a lot of them. First off, looking at this group as a whole it is clear that the higher level of detail among this generation is equally present among these legendaries, although legendary Pokemon have always tended to have more complicated designs in general, so I think it is more fitting. However, another thing no notice is that a large number of these legendary Pokemon don’t really resemble specific real-life animals. A lot of them have much more abstract designs that evoke an idea. Heatran has aspects of many different animals, and his design basically just communicates “lava monster”, while Arceus’s design looks fittingly divine, and Darkrai definitely looks like the sort of thing that would create nightmares. I think a big reason for this is that most of these legendary Pokemon are designed to be very ancient – like, from the beginning of the universe –  and therefore it makes sense that they would not resemble modern day animals.

Narrowing in on the group of Palkia, Dialga, Giratina, I like how all of their designs connect back to the design of Arceus – particularly their faces. This not only does a good job of communicating that they are a trio, but it also helps illustrate that they were the first Pokemon created by Arceus – the “children” resemble the “parent”, if you will. These designs are all very abstract, and while the designs are all quite complicated I think they do a good job of feeling powerful and legendary.

The last group of Pokemon I want to look at this week is the “lake” trio of Uxie, Azelf and Mesprit. I want to narrow in on these Pokemon specifically because they are the first real instance of “copy-paste” design found in the Pokedex. All of these legendary Pokemon look very similar to one another, and are also very similar to Mew. While none of these designs necessarily look bad in their own right, Pokemon has already shown that it is possible to make a trio of legendaries that all look connected without sharing the exact same design with different hats. Unfortunately, this design philosophy will get worse before it gets better.

Finally, as we have in the past lets do a side-by-side comparison of Pokemon from this generation compared to previous generations. While watching this apples-to-apples comparison, see if you can spot any additional design trends or similarities that I may have missed!

Starters:

Gen 3 – Treecko, Mudkip, Torchic

Gen 4 – Turtwig, Piplup, Chimchar

Early Game Birds:

Gen 3 – Taillow, Swellow,

Gen 4 – Starly, Staravia, Staraptor

Early Game Mammals:

Gen 3 – Zigzagoon, Linoone

Gen 4 – Bidoof, Bibarrel

Fossils:

Gen 3 – Anorith, Armaldo, Lileep, Cradily

Gen 4 – Cranidos, Rampardos, Shieldon, Bastiodon

Pikachu Clones:

Gen 3 – Plusle, Minun

Gen 4 – Pachirisu

Normal Cats:

Gen 3 – Skitty, Delcatty

Gen 4 – Glameow, Purugly

Pseudo-Legendary:

Gen 3 – Bagon, Shellgon, Salamence

Gen 4 – Gible, Gabite, Garchomp

Legendary Trio:

Gen 3 – Regice, Registeel, Regirock

Gen 4 – Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf

Cover Legendaries:

Gen 3 – Kyogre, Groudon, Rayquaza

Gen 4 – Palkia, Dialga, Giratina

That’s all I have for today. Thank you so much for watching this video – if you like it, please leave a like and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, you can check out the previous entries to the series – I’ll leave the playlist in the description down below. And join me next time, where I’ll be looking at the price of games. Do they cost to much, or should they actually cost more? Until then, thank you so much for watching, and I’ll see you all next time.


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