Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Roller Coaster of Pokémon Sword and Shield News

The next generation of Pokémon games, Pokémon Sword and Shield, drop in November and I have been riding a roller coaster of emotion since the first trailer dropped showing off the starters: Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble.

I am about to discuss A LOT! It's TL;DR prone, so I will make a quick summary at the bottom if you want to just scroll through all of this to get my overall opinions.

Despite the news drops we've gotten this year, anyone who follows me knows I haven't been as vocal in my excitement, or disappointment, as I usually am. To be fair, I am rarely THAT disappointed in any pokémon game. At this point, I know what I can expect from pokémon games, although I'm certainly all for the game developers to surprise me with something. Although I have posted some on Twitter about the new games, I didn't write anything substantial related to my feelings of the games until now.

Obviously, like most, I was excited by the final reveal of a new set of games that are more in line with the traditional main series games. The "Let's Go" games were ok, but even if they had been more in line with traditional games they would have still have been "remakes with a twist." As mush as I like replaying through regions with better visuals, I'm never as excited for them as I am brand new games. The first trailer for Pokémon Sword and Shield is exactly what you would expect from a first news drop. Just a random montage of the new region made from footage that, although it shows the general asthetic, may not 100% be what we get when the game drops. However, I really enjoyed the UK inspired atmosphere. Then I saw the starters at the end of the trailer and was left a little underwhelmed, but I was ok with it that. There's a strong chance the final evolutions would excite me more than the basic pokémon anyway.


The next big news drop, disregarding leaks as I don't really put a lot of thought into anything but facts, gave us some new pokémon. I loved the new pokémon shown off, specifically Drednaw and Corviknight. The wild area also took me by surprise as well as Dynamax. To be honest, though, Dynamax didn't excite me. It just seemed like it was the new battle gimmick in the same vein as Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves. Out of all three, Mega Evolutions were the only recent additions I really approved of. Both Z-Moves, and at outward appears Dynamax, both were just OK. I didn't need them, but they exist so I may use them from time to time. The legendaries were revealed too, but neither made a lasting impression on me. I do prefer the Sword legendary Zacian, but I could take or leave either. That's also fine, I felt the same way about Zekrom initially, but he's grown on me. However, I typically really like the third, or hidden, legendary more so that is fine too.


The gut punch I wasn't expecting, really no one was, was E3. The pokémon portion started off strong, and multiplayer co-op showing in the form of Max Raids and interactions in the Wild Area were particularly stand out. I was also happy to see overworld pokémon come back from the "Let's Go" games, which was one of the things those games introduced that should be a staple. However, when it was announced that only pokémon in the regional dex of Galar could be transferred, I was disappointed. I wasn't alone though, given the pokémon community has been in turmoil since the announcement. Over the weeks since the announcement I have mellowed, others have dug in. However, my faith in the games was shaken, as transferring my older pokémon post-game to take on battle facilities or friends has become tradition. It was weird knowing that something I have been doing since 2006 and come to expect as normal has suddenly changed. The reveal later that Megas and Z-moves were being completely dropped also hurt, more so because of the Megas. This means even less pokémon are available. Plus, as I previously mentioned, I'm a big fan of Megas as a concept.


Despite these big changes, I still planned on getting the games. I did the same with Pokémon Ruby, despite Gen 3 also making me leave every pokémon I had in my Gen 1 and 2 games behind. A cloud has definitely been cast over Sword and Shield, and I wasn't sure I would enjoy them as much as I had before. One of the biggest issues I found myself returning to was the scrapping of Megas and the idea that Dynamax was somehow better, according to the developers, in terms of a replacement. I couldn't bring myself to believe that as Dynamax doesn't result in any difference in appearance except size, which I found uninspired. I liked the idea of Megas, first and foremost, because they changed the appearance of a pokémon, power and versatility came second. Dynamax was stated to allow all pokémon to shine, which is an improvement over Megas, but I still was unconvinced. However, then we got the Gigantamax announcement. To me, Gigantamax is basically "Giant Megas," so I like it. The G Max Moves are basically species specific Z-Moves, so those mechanics seem less removed so much as absorbed into Gigantamax. That relieved some of my concern, but did leave me confused as Gigantamax seems like a superior Dynamax... which undermines the idea that Dynamax allows all pokémon to have time in the spotlight. If I get a pokémon capable of Gigantamaxing, I'll probably do that more than Dynamax some other pokémon on my team.


The most recent trailer highlights regional variants, which is a welcomed returning mechanic. Honestly, I appreciate Gen 7 more for introducing the concept of regional variants over Z-moves. They could have just done more regional variants and no Z-moves and I would have been happy. Regional variants and Gigantamax (along with the co-op aspects I mentioned) have me fully back on board for Gen 8. Not being to transfer older pokémon is still a pretty big let down, but if they jam pack enough new stuff into the games, I doubt I will notice that much. Also, these trailers have shown a lot of older pokémon that are in the regional dex, so if the regional dex is large enough I think I can be ok with it all overall. Developers representing Game Freak have already said other games will have other mixes of pokémon, so eventually I can transfer every pokémon I have currently to a new game if I want, so that's good. This trailer also shows off Team Yell, which I don't like primarily based on their name and the idea this might be a red herring team like Team Skull. Too soon, in my opinion, to have another red herring.

The lost of a full national dex compatible game is a growing pain we'll have to overcome. It's going to hurt for a while, but if the developers make up for it elsewhere then I think it will be ok. I am also interested in what this will mean for the pokémon competitive scene when each pair of games has it's own unique pool of pokémon to choose from. That would mean there could be a couple different metas within a single generation totally dependent on which game you are playing. We have sort of seen this with Gen 6 and Gen 7 where the pool of usable pokémon/Megas are different per paired game. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire players can't use certain Megas vs X and Y players as those Megas aren't programmed within X and Y. The same goes for the new Ultra Beasts and Z-moves in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon not being usable vs someone playing Sun and Moon. I'm interested to see this further develop.



Summary:

What I liked:
-Wild Area
-Max Raid Battles
-New pokémon, specifically more rugged ones like Drenaw
-Regional Variants
-Gigantamax

What I don't like:
-Inability to transfer up any pokémon I want
-Dynamax
-Team Yell name and possible red herring concept

Remaining Questions:
-How many pokémon are in the Galardex
-Is Team Yell actually a threat?
-Can we expect any more non-Kanto Galar forms? I hope so
-How will compatibility work between Gen 8 games without a National dex?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Return to Unova, Chapter 1

The Nacrene Museum

My name is Mattock Ginkgo and I study fossil pokémon. My family moved from Unova when I was a kid, but at one point I had it in my head that I would be a pokémon master. I can't say my goals were particularly different from many other kids my age. Just about everyone I knew thought they could become a champion. Most don't even get enough badges to even try to take that title. I had collected my badges and gotten entry into several league tournaments, in several regions, but I learned pretty quickly that becoming the "best" wasn't in the cards for me. There's a difference between being good and being great. The kind of difference you don't recognize when you're ten. Of course, not everyone has the same potential in the same areas. Although I realized I was only an ok battler, I learned quick that I was more interested in learning more about pokémon, especially those of the past.

As my train pulled into the station my mind was still wandering through my own past. Unova has changed since I was here last. In some ways, it is for the better. In some ways, not so much. Sometimes I wonder, am I responsible for at least a little of the negative? I certainly knew I had played a part. Maybe now I can be responsible for something more positive. I had returned to Unova a few years back as part of paleontological research group while finishing my professorship. I don't think anyone would have ever described me as "cheery", but I was definitely more so at the beginning than by the end. A mistake was made. A mistake that still haunts me. After that project, things had changed. I learned that knowledge can be a tool, and a tool is neither good nor bad, but tools can become weapons and weapons can be catastrophic.

"Don't forget your bag sir," the train conductor reminded me as I left my seat.

"Thanks! I wouldn't want to show up to a job interview with no résumé."

"That would be bad!" he said as he stamped someone's ticket, "What's the job?"

"Museum curator, " I said, probably with more excitement than my face seemed to suggest. 

As I left the train I realized how much I had forgotten about Nacrene City. Compared to other parts of Unova, it's only a city in the strictest of sense, especially when compared to Castelia City. Recently  the old tracks that run to Nacrene had been repaired so that visitors could take the train to Nacrene from Castelia. With the track repair Nacrene had begun to become easier to visit and was slowly growing into a tourist site. Specifically, the museum was flourishing with the influx of daily visitors. 

Nacrene had a history as an old train town, and the museum had recently been renovated to feature a large train exhibit. With the growth of the museum, and the shifting of staff, the museum finally had created a new museum curator position. Luckily for me, someone else wanted the train curator position, leaving a paleontology position open.

I walked past the reclaimed train depots, now hipster housing and cafés, on my way to the museum. I had been personally contacted by the museum's director to come interview for the position, so I felt good about my chances. Perhaps she remembers me from my old gym run years ago? I half hoped my team left an impression, at least certainly the trainer in me did. The rest of me, not as much. I noticed her immediately as I walked toward the entrance to the museum. Not a lot of people I've met command a presence like Lenora. Tall, confident, pretty much exactly like I remembered.

"Professor Ginkgo! Glad you made it! You're even a few minutes early. I thought you might be running behind since the trains have been a little off schedule," she said with a smile.

"Well, I wouldn't want to make a bad impression."

"Good for you! Let's step into our meeting room. My husband Hawes should be in shortly."

Lenora led me down into what had once been the site of her gym and office. I remembered it from my battle with Lenora almost a 5 years ago. Since the museum no longer functions as a gym, Lenora had converted the gym portion into a meeting room and library. Hawes shuffled in a few minutes after we sat down.

"Professor Mattock Ginkgo! It is amazing to finally meet you! I've read all of your work on fossil pokémon! I hope I haven't kept you both waiting," Hawes said, scratching his head, "I was cleaning a Yamask mask replica and lost track of time."

"I just got here, myself," I said, "and you can just call me Matt."

Lenora assured Hawes it was fine and they began asking me the standard sort of questions you would expect. I talked to them about my previous research projects and positions. Lenora even asked me if I had ever taken the Unova League challenge. I responded that I had.

"I knew it. I knew I remembered you, you challenged me with a fossil pokémon! We  didn't see that many around prior to offering fossil rejuvenation ourselves," she said laughing.

I forced a smile, "Yea, that would have been one of my Aerodactyl."

"Wow! One of?! You have more than one?" Hawes said, on the edge of his seat.

"Heh, yea, a couple."

"Well, you know what that means. We're going to have to wrap up this interview with a battle." Lenora said as she went over to her desk to grab a few pokéballs.

"Awesome..."

It's a good thing I didn't forget my bag on the train. I didn't really prepare myself well for a battle, I only had three pokémon with me. The rest were with my wife and daughter back home in Castelia. Then again, I don't battle nearly as much as I used to. Battling doesn't bring quite as much joy as it used to. At one point there wasn't a day that went by where I didn't battle someone. Now, it may be weeks or months between battles. I try to still keep my pokémon sharp and trained, but they rarely see any real action.

"Since I know you competed in the Unova League, I'm not going to hold anything back," Lenora quipped. "You shouldn't either. I have a few meetings this afternoon, so let's just go one on one. Your best pokémon versus mine."

I sighed in relief to myself, at least I'm not as ill prepared as I thought. I'm not sure  how the battle will affect my job interview, but regardless, I didn't want to seem like I'm not prepared. Since I only have to use one pokémon, she won't know that I wasn't exactly ready for this. Despite only bringing three slightly rusty battlers, I'm sure I can still hold my own against whatever normal type she throws out. As I fumble through my bag for a pokéball, I see Lenora motioning to a door behind us.

"Since the museum is no longer a gym, we typically battle out back. It's safer for the exhibits as well as my office," she said. "Honestly, I never was a huge fan of having battles in the museum."

We stepped outside into the wooded area behind the museum. Beneath the tree cover a large area had been cleared. Based on the patchy areas of grass that appeared trampled and scorched, it was obvious that a battle had happened recently. Hawes stationed himself to judge as Lenora and I walked to opposite ends of the makeshift battlefield. I had my pokéball ready. I had decided who I wanted to use during the walk outside, however I was still curious as to who Lenora was going to use. She knew I used fossil pokémon against her before and maybe even remembered what attacks my Aerodactyl knew. I had decided to use a pokémon I hadn't used against her before, but I wonder if she would anticipate that. I tossed my pokéball in the air, as overthinking things wasn't going to solve anything. The pokéball burst open and a flash of light hit the ground. Quickly the light grew into an intimidating silhouette before materializing my choice, Tyrantrum.

"Ok, Grimlock," I said, actually getting a bit excited by the prospect of battling the ex-gym leader again, "Let's see what Lenora's got in store for us."

Grimlock let out a mighty roar, and stomped a foot to the ground. I'm sure the noise was already disrupting some of the visitors in the museum, who I could now easily see in the windows. I could also tell Hawes was in awe. Seeing a fossil pokémon at all is a rare sight, one from a different region is even rarer.

"Don't think using a Kalos pokémon is going to throw me!" Lenora tossed a heal ball in the air releasing her pokémon on to the battlefield. A Kangaskhan materialized, one of Lenora's top picks when she participates in the World Tournament.

"The one on one battle of Lenora, Director of the Nacrene Museum and Mattock, renowned Pokémon Paleontolgist, is about to begin! The match will be over when either trainer's pokémon is no longer able to battle," Hawes announced, showing he's often officiated Lenora's battles. "Battle begin!"

TO BE CONTINUED

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Preface: Returning to Unova

I'm not like typical professors, I suppose. Most professors help new trainers start their journey by giving them their first pokémon and a pokédex. I've never done either. I'm not one for sitting around a research lab and waiting for other person to come do my work for me. That probably comes off more harsh than I am intending, but it's true. I have respect for my colleges, but I prefer to do my own research.

My name is Mattock L. Ginkgo and I research ancient pokémon no longer present naturally in our world, or in other words, I dig up fossils. (I am aware of the irony in the fact I'm named after a type of pick ax and pursued a career that requires digging.) I'm often out in the field, picking around in sedimentary rock layers, hoping to uncover something new or exciting in the world of pokémon paleontology. Field researchers like myself aren't as common as those who attempt to use our work to revive fossils. Fossil rejuvenation has become incredibly trendy over the last few decades, however it's still fossil jockeys and maniacs like me that continue to fuel that research. I have my own problems with cloning from fossils that I plan to bring to light, but I will discuss that deeper later on. I prefer more traditional research of excavation, cataloging, and potentially exhibition of fossils. Good old fashion museum work that I hope to continue for as long as possible.

My goals are what have brought me back to Unova years after I left. A position has recently opened up for a paleontologist with the newly renovated Nacrene Museum. As much as I like the field, it would be nice to have an office to come back to after filling my pack with fossils. I don't suspect, given previous email discussions the director of the museum, that there is much stiff competition. Getting this position would also help me tie up some loose ends in Unova that I should have dealt with years ago. Here's hoping. 

-M. L. Ginkgo
Pokémon Paleontologist


Friday, November 2, 2018

Final Thoughts on Pokémon Let's GO Before Launch

Still... who is actually going with Pikachu? Seriously.
Pokémon Let's GO launches in in two weeks, so I assume we know almost all there is to know about this game. Given it is basically a remake of Pokémon Yellow, or re-imagining, or whatever, there are probably very few surprises left and I don't suspect there will be any more ground breaking reveals. Since that is the case, I want to break down some of my thoughts and concerns before actually sitting down and playing the game in the next week or two. I'll start off with some positives, then some negatives, and then end with some additional things I think could be positive going forward.

The Positive


Main Series Adjacent: Despite what developers have said about this being a core game, it still stands as "main series adjacent" in my mind. Personally, I would like to see future remakes do the same thing. Now, I'm not saying the developers were wrong or that I know better than they do, I'm saying my definition of what constitutes a "core game" is different. Since certain mechanics have been removed than have been staples in the series since Gen 2 and 3, I simply can't define it as a core game as I would other releases. I think that gives the "Let's GO" line of games and edge in terms of marketing. Despite a portion of the community fervently disavowing the possibility that non-competitive pokémon fans may exist, they do, and it's okay to make games for them. If Super Mario Odyssey can exist alongside New Super Mario Bros., I don't see why Let's GO can't exist alongside other Pokémon games. They are two different ways to tackle the same franchise.

Pokémon in the Overworld: The sheer fact this wasn't enough for people to be super jazzed on these games is baffling to me. For the first time ever the Pokémon World seems like pokémon live in it. Sure, in the Game Boy days I could suspend my belief and pretend a 7 foot tall Kangaskhan could live in waist deep grass completely hidden, but we are beyond that point. If anything, players should be praising this change.

I can't be the only person who has wanted this. 
Couch Co-Op: Although I'll grant it's very basic co-op, with the 2nd player basically just controlling part of the 1st player's team and helping catch pokémon, but it's a step in the right direction. If people want an open world game they can play with their friends, this could be a step toward that. If anything, they are toying with the idea of having multiple players working together in the story part of the game and not just in battle facilities. I'm ok with this as a first step and hope that it will become more and more fleshed out in future games.

The Negative


Simplified Catches: Bare in mind, I don't dislike the motion controls. In fact, they seem based on timing which, if anything, adds just enough immersion without being too taxing. However, what I don't like is how the battling aspect was completely abandoned. The player has to fight legendaries to then go to the catch mini-game. I feel like that's how all battles should have been done. Granted, the focus of this game is more catching wild pokémon vs. battling them, but the whole "battle them until they are weak enough to catch" strategy seemed like it was a pretty core pillar to the games. I know I've had to play through enough tutorials in core games to make it seem that way. I'd also be ok if the motion controls were optional. I'd probably still use them, but I know there are people who hate motion controls period, so sure, make them optional the same way battle animations and the shift/set modes are for battle.

In an ideal world, we'd have both a system for battling wild pokémon and optional motion controls for catching pokémon which could add bonuses for utilizing it like more experience or better catch rates.
Ability/Hold Item Removal: Of all of the changes in Let's GO from the core game, I find this the most bothersome. In fact, when people first began saying they were confirmed to not be in GO (with no real evidence, mind you), I didn't believe it. However, it was then later officially confirmed. I don't buy the argument that since these aspects weren't in Yellow they should be in Let's GO. Not being in Red and Blue didn't stop them from being in FireRed and LeafGreen. As an adjacent game, I suppose it's ok, but my primary concern is how this will affect people who start with Let's GO and then transition to the 2019 games which will most likely have them.

Kanto Again?: I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again... I'm tired of Kanto. At this point I've explored it pretty thoroughly and it doesn't seem like enough has changed to make me excited to go back. Yea, it's HD now, but still. At this point, I'm going back to play it for the mechanics like motion controls and co-op, not really for the pokémon. I already have them all outside of Meltan and Melmetal. I think the biggest mistake was making it Kanto only pokémon. If anything, non-Kanto pokémon should be allowed to be sent from GO after the game has been beaten. That would be a big incentive for people to play GO if you could only get Gen 2 - 4 pokémon via migration. Basically, playing GO would be a big part of the postgame. It just seems like a missed opportunity.

I assume Genwunners are happy about this. I'm not sure though. I guess it just depends on how attached they are to the old capture system. Hypothetically, they should love the "Let's GO" games.


And "I'm not sure yet"


EV Changes: I only have one aspect I'm undecided on at the moment and that's effort values (EVs). We now know that battles don't yield EVs, and instead Let's GO uses candies. This is similar to Pokémon GO, but still different. The candies in Let's GO are used for boosting stat points the ways EVs do in other games. This mechanic isn't super original as players can already do something similar using items like Zinc or the various Wings in the main games. It really depends on how friendly this system is vs battling for EVs to determine which I'd prefer. It comes down to would I rather battle a ton of Machops for attack EVs or catch a ton of Machops for those EVs. I can't really say until I try it out. At the moment, the differences between the two systems seem minimal and the only real difference is I'm more familiar with one over the other. I know shortcuts to max EVs quicker with the old system. However, if there are shortcuts to learn for the new system then it may turn out that I may prefer the new one. The one bonus is I don't have to worry about getting the wrong EVs from battling some random trainer, meaning I can hypothetically begin correctly EVing training my team immediately. This almost seems more competitive to me, as I'd often have to wait until the post game since having to fight all the in-game trainers during the story often meant my team had really weird effort value spreads.

In Conclusion...


All in all, like I've said on my Twitter, I'm not saying these games are where I want to see the series go, per sé. However, I think there are some positive additions they bring that I want to see carried over to the 2019 games. So help me if following pokémon disappear again for another 9 - 10 years I'm going to be very upset. If they make the tweaks I suggested in the "cons" I think they could be really fun casual pokémon games that could run concurrently to what many people consider the "core" games. The core games could definitely stand to implement some of the things in Let's GO, like overworld pokémon over random encounters and optional motion controls. If anything, I feel the Pokémon series constantly tries to do the same thing year after year and are generally lacking "freshness" outside of pokémon designs. Let's GO may represent some loss due to the growing pains of trying to branch away, but it does feel like an attempt to make the games "fresh" (although, not fresh enough if you ask me... freaking Kanto...). Hopefully any future Let's GO games would learn from any mistakes of these initial games and drive the Let's GO branch of pokémon toward becoming the kind of games we wish we had in the late 90's.