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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games


January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 17 of 21 Next
 

16. Pokemon

Hidden stats.

Developed by Game Freak.

Designed by numerous people -- Satoshi Tajiri seems to be one of the main minds behind it. The recent DS games list Shigeru Ohmori as Game Design Leader.

Reason for inclusion:

A little-known aspect of the Pokemon games among casual players that comes to rule the strategy of experts is a set of hidden variables that carry each monster's battle history forward in unexpected ways, and greatly influences stat growth upon gaining levels.

The game:

Pokemon has gotten so complex across the five incarnations of the series, with trades between them, new features added each game, and the dozens of ways of interacting with them, that it's really in a class by itself. It requires far more out its grade school enthusiasts than a casual observer may suspect. It's popular to ridicule this franchise in general, in many cases justifiably, but the games are beyond reproach. And huge amount of Pokemon's appeal comes from the mystery that suffuses the games. The lore that surrounds the games is the current preteen version of knowing the special moves in Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat back in the day.

I could easily fill this whole article with stuff about the Pokemon series alone. They are games that require poring over megabyte-sized FAQs to completely understand. The only other game I can think of that's of similar complexity is NetHack. Between breeding, evolution paths, time and day differences, berries, accessories, trading, daily events, contests, one-time-only encounters, Nintendo-only monsters and many other things besides, it defies understanding without serious effort. It almost seems as if it's designed to build character. Yet of all these things, there is still one aspect that's generally little-known. It's the dividing line between the Pokemon amateur and the super-amateur: do you know what Effort Values, a.k.a. EV, are?

Effort Values are the fan name for them. The official name is not known. They are an aspect of Pokemon that none of the companies responsible for the game have ever officially acknowledged. All of the game functions that relate to them speak in imprecise terms. It is only through the work of people hacking saves and using other extra-game means that we can put any hard numbers to EV.

EV is a set of hidden stats tied to all pokemon since those captured in the black-and-white Game Boy originals. In addition to the base stats of HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed, each also has a hidden EV value. EV goes up when pokemon fight, like experience points, but this varies according to species fought. The level of the monster doesn't matter -- only its species. Fighting Bidoof earns a player's troops HP EV, while pitting them against Golduck gets them Special Attack EV. Fighting a lot of low-level monsters will help a bit, but there are limits to the amount of EV that can be built for each stat, and possessed in total, so to fully optimize a given pokemon the player must shepherd it along a managed program of fights.

EV points are not reported in the battle victory message, and do not appear on a pokemon's stats display, but they build up invisibly as a pokemon fights. When a monster gains a level, in addition to the base stat growth and a random factor, it also cashes in some of its EV points in exchange for additional points of its matching stat. In this way, a pokemon's battle history comes to influence its advancement in ways other than just gaining levels.

There exist ways to grant pokemon "free" experience. Giving it a Rare Candy grants a free experience level. But those experience points are just empty calories, for while the pokemon gains its level bonus to stats, unless it has been fighting anyway to build up EV its stat growth will be less than it could be. Over 100 levels of advancement these bonuses add up, with the result being that an EV-trained pokemon will always be superior to one that was built haphazardly.

In true pokemon fashion, there exist other ways to build EV, although the workings of the system are never explained in-game. Giving a pokemon vitamins will boost a specific EV value a bit. In Diamond and Pearl, equipping a pokemon with the Macho Brace will cause it to earn double EV, a significant bonus. There is also a very rare effect in the game that happens randomly, which causes a pokemon to get sick with a "Pokerus." Getting sick is actually a very good thing, because it doubles EV earned, its bonus stacks with that of the Macho Brace, and it can be spread among the player's collection through casual contact, Corrupted Blood-style.

Design lesson:

EV may be the most mysterious aspect of a game... that may have too many mysterious elements. One interesting thing about it is that there's an aspect of punishment to it. It seems as if it exists to make players who use many Rare Candies pay for it. But it also serves to cause a pokemon's battle history to carry forward in ways other than its experience count, helping it seem like slightly more than a collection of pixels with numbers attached.

Links:

GameFAQs EV FAQ for Pokemon Diamond.

 


Article Start Previous Page 17 of 21 Next

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