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The Art of Balance: Pokémon's Masuda on Complexity and Simplicity
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The Art of Balance: Pokémon's Masuda on Complexity and Simplicity

April 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Obviously it's one of the most popular games around now, but at the time, I get the impression it was sort of a slow uptake. Could you talk about watching it become more popular after it was introduced?

JM: First of all, it was launched on February 27, 1996. The game started gradually picking up.

Meanwhile, Pokémon was adapted to an animated TV show, and manga, as well as a trading card game. I was surprised that Pokémon was about to enter different media like that. That's when I realized, "Wow." Surprising.

And it took a couple of years before Nintendo put it out in America. Were you initially surprised when you found out? I think the thought was that maybe it wouldn't appeal to the U.S. audience -- at that time, in 1998.

JM: Most of the Pokémon characters are very cute Pokémon. Also, there was a notion in the Japanese game industry that role-playing games created by a Japanese company may not sell really well in the U.S.

There was a notion among everyone in the game industry; so the initial thought was that it might be difficult.

I have a friend who is a developer, and he's working on a kids' game. He's worked on several different games for kids that are developed in the U.S. He says that very often, in his observation, developers in the U.S. aren't all that happy to be working on kids' games. They'd rather be working on games more for an older audience. But I get the impression that you must be very happy to work on Pokémon, because it's so popular. Could you talk about how that inspires you, working on games for kids?

JM: First of all, we did not create Pokémon for kids. We create the Pokémon games for everybody. Everybody can play the Pokémon games, so we try to make the games very approachable. For example, we use different colors. It's not just about the text, but the visual appeal. In the end, yes, even kids can play this game.

Of course, adults might focus more on the storyline. But the main thing is catching Pokémon, and trading Pokémon. You trade Pokémon.

If you're an adult and you're trying to trade Pokémon, you might feel a little bit shy, because you're dealing with Pokémon. Maybe between kids, they're not shy about it. So maybe in that sense, maybe kids can better enjoy the trading aspect of Pokémon games.

Something about Pokémon is that it stays very true to its roots across its sequels, and it stays very simple. It didn't become super-3D, and the stories didn't become overblown as the series moved on. I was wondering, how did you stay true to the roots, and how do you balance that? How do you avoid the temptation or the pressure to pump everything up and become like Final Fantasy, or something like that, over the years?

JM: Visually, you're saying that 3D here may be possible, but I question your question that 3D is the best technique to realize the game.

The basic concept of Pokémon is that we want to attract the beginner, so that when the beginner comes and plays, if it's 3D, it's three dimensions instead of two, so it's much more information for you to take in. We don't know if that's what they want. We want the game to be approachable and easy to understand.

Also, there is a balance that we have to make. By balance, I mean, do we want to make the scenario deeper, so we have a deeper, more complicated storyline, or do we want players to collect, catch, and trade Pokémon?

That balance is always difficult, and we try to find a better balance always. But I absolutely consider it. If 3D makes the player catch and collect more Pokémon, then that's definitely the way to go.

No, I agree. I think that you made the right decision, actually, with the game, and the look. Something that I find very cool about Pokémon is that it sticks to its roots in terms of the pixel art. Even though there are 3D polygons in the DS Pokémon, it sticks visually to a very simple style. With the battles, you stick entirely to 2D artwork, still. I was wondering if you could talk about why you stick to your roots. Maybe it is just in terms of making it simple and easy to understand, but it seems to really stay true to the series and what it's been like over the years.

JM: You think that creating 2D is easier than 3D, but it's not. It requires a lot of technological understanding and technological skills. I always talk with the art director -- "What's the value is of sticking with 2D art?"

When you look at 2D, it's like a picture. You look at the picture, and it has some flavor to it. 3D, yes, you can make the object very realistic, but 2D is something you can put flavor into. That's what we love about 2D.

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