Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pokemon: The 3D Jump

The Polygon Ceiling

The late nineties were an interesting time for video games. Super Mario 64 had just revolutionized the videogame landscape by providing the first great 3D game console experience. Many other franchises followed. The results were all over the board. Some, such as The Legend of Zelda and Metal Gear, broke the polygon ceiling effortlessly and became more celebrated than they had been in 2D form. Some were dead on arrival, such as the infamous Castlevaniaand Earthworm Jim offerings on the N64. Then there was a safer third option some took: update the presentation to 3D, but retain the gameplay of the 2D era, such as several Final Fantasy titles at the time. Many series attempted 3D offerings but later went to this option after missteps, such as the return to 2D sidescrollers in the Mega Man series and later Street Fighter IV.

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How NOT to do the 3D jump.

Pokémon is one such series. When the 151 monsters first jumped from sprites to polygons in Pokémon Stadium, it was not what fans had hoped for. Stadium was a 3D presentation of the same battle system present in the Game Boy games, along with a few minigames for good measure. Pokémon Snap also brought the series into polygon presentation, but it was a rail shooting photography-themed spinoff and had little to do with the main series.Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness on the Gamecube were touted as being the first 3D RPGs in the series, but at their fundamentals, they were nothing more than, again, a 3D presentation of the same game fundamentals in the 2D games.

Simply put, Pokémon has yet to truly make the jump to 3D.

So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions for how the Pokémon RPGs can take full advantage of the possibilities of 3D:


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Mt. Coronet in Concept Art, Mt. Coronet in-game.

Ever since Red and Blue, the games have been presented in a top-down perspective, though over time it has come to resemble more of an isometric perspective. The fourth generation games have toyed with the idea of 3D rendered buildings and locales, but still are 2D at their very core. Even Colosseumand XD resemble the top down perspective of the games in their overworlds.

I propose completely doing away with such limited perspectives, and instead adding a camera like most 3D games. Imagine walking over a hill to see the beautiful skyscrapers of Saffron City over the horizon, or climbing atop Mount Coronet and being able to turn around to look at the entirety of the Sinnoh region below. The vibrant and creative locales continually provided by Game Freak deserve more than the limited presentations of sprites.

Of course, this means completely doing away with the big headed overworld sprites, and quite frankly, they won’t be missed.

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Spoken Dialogue

I’m hitting another cliché about 3D games, and I suppose you can take this one with a grain of salt if you choose. I would want a 3D overhaul of the games to have spoken dialogue. The dialogue boxes in the RPGs are a hangover from their old school roots, and can be done away with in this day and age. Voice all of the NPCs, but for sake of tradition, we can keep our protagonist silent. Imagine Cynthia’s sultry voice, or Silver’s jeering spoken aloud. Hopefully though, the dialogue would have much better writing and voice acting than the current quality of the anime’s dub.

On another sound related note, do away with the Pokémon’s cries. No, I’m not suggesting the name-speak from the anime, but instead sets of grunts, roars, chirps, etc, like real animals.

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Don't even start.

Real Time Battles

Instead of shifting to an entirely different screen or display when you enter into a battle, have it all occur in real time. When a passing trainer challenges you, the two of you both step back and release your Pokémon. Your Pokémon would be controlled by their own AI, but you would issue commands they follow. Imagine the flashy potential battles could take on, with modern graphical capabilities; the 17 elements could make for a beautiful showcase on the screen every time, instead of trite sprite effects we have representing the moves now.

Of course, one question immediately springing up is how this would relate to wild Pokémon, who have faithfully appeared as we entered tall grass since the beginning. Simple: wild Pokémon would appear, living and acting naturally in their environments. Simply send out your own Pokémon to get their attention, and then the battle begins.

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The movie was pure fail, but it did show how cool it is to have fire, water, earth, and wind being thrown around on screen.

Pocket Monster Sandbox

Sandbox games have went from phenomenon, to cliché, to standard staple of gaming over the last few years. There’s no denying that Grand Theft Auto 3has changed video games forever. The idea has great potential for Pokémon as well. Imagine how alive the game world could become with a few random generators here and there.

Imagine walking through Viridian Forest. A flock of Spearow flies overhead, a Caterpie sits on a tree branch munching on leaves, and a Pikachu naps below. You continue, and you see two trainers engaged in a battle, instead of both of them simply waiting to challenge you. You run into a challenger further on, and your battle leaves scorch marks on the ground from your Charmander finishing off his Weedle. Bring the game world to life, show that Pokémon are everywhere, and so are the trainers that use them.

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I didn't mean it like that.

But what about the Pokémon?

Of course, all of these 3D advancements would still make a rather standard Pokémon game experience without new changes to the central mechanic to the games, and the franchise itself: capturing, raising, and battling Pokémon. I have my own ideas on how to bring this age old experience into the twenty-first century, but that will be elaborated on in Part 2. Stay tuned! 

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