Pokémon GO updates, Make PoGo Fun Again.

I appreciate the design choices Niantic is making


I’m more than a little biased about Pokémon GO (as evidenced by my blog being almost entirely about it so far, I swear I have other interests). I can earnestly say that the new update announced just yesterday 6/20/17 has me excited again. Not quite that wide-eyed wonder that the game had me in on release, but certainly feels like a step in the right direction which honestly feels like a first for Niantic.

Niantic is in a difficult position, they need to provide updates to their game to keep it interesting and profitable. However they had quite nearly painted themselves into a corner with Pokémon GO as it currently exists. Any new changes or improvements they want to make have to adhere to the game as it currently is, in that they cannot make changes that strip the player of earned digital property.

It feels BAD as a player to have your hard work invalidated, such as having your resources (items, Pokémon) taken away, or having their value decreased (i.e. nerfed). Niantic wants to avoid making players feel worse, so any updates they have in mind have to work off of the existing infrastructure of Pokémon GO. That’s quite a challenge, I know I have more than my share of complaints about the current state of the game.

I appreciate the design choices Niantic is making, working to strengthen the current game without invalidating existing content, especially the introduction of Raid bosses. I would say that this game’s greatest strength, most defining quality, and proudest mark on the developer’s report card is the way that back in July/August of 2016 they brought thousands of people outside in a social gathering around Pokéstops and Gyms, on tracks and trails calling out to others playing the game “an Ivysaur spawned down the road!”. This is an incredible feat, and Niantic is zeroing in on that feeling with Raid Bosses. Having a countdown timer to let people all around know when an event is happening, needing a large number of people to be able to battle together, and having powerful yet balanced items as rewards to incentivize this play are all excellent decisions that have this 18-year Pokémon vet very excited.

Beyond the Raids, many of these other updates feel like icing on the cake in contrast to so many of Niantic’s updates in the past which have felt questionable at best and regressive at worst. Receiving notifications when your Pokémon are defeated and removed from a Gym instead of just finding them KO’d on your list is a nice quality change. The search feature is an obvious and welcome feature. And adding a bit of clarity to Pokéstops and whether you’ve visited them or not is a nice addition.

I’ve said for a long time that I’ve wanted Pokémon GO to be a good game. I’m hoping that Niantic has hit their stride and is on the way to making this a game I can be excited to play instead of just… weirdly clingy to. (please validate me Niantic, I don’t know why I’ve been playing so long).

The most climactic confrontation in gaming.

By all accounts, this should have felt like a completely inconsequential (yet difficult) battle

One of the most climactic videogame battles from my youth seems strange and out of place. The fate of the world wasn’t at stake; I wasn’t on a journey for revenge, there was no princess to be saved, no sinister machinations to be halted. In fact not even my (character’s) life was at stake, but still this fight held great significance for me. The battle with Red atop Mt. Silver in Pokemon Gold/Silver.

What really made this battle matter? By all accounts, this should have felt like a completely inconsequential (yet difficult) battle, but I find myself fondly remembering that battle above nearly all others in my long Pokemon battling career.

What holds this above all others in my mind and my heart? When looking at the amount of time I spent playing this series of games, in a way it’s like a battle with myself. I AM Gold (or whatever name you’ve chosen), but I AM also Red. This is a battle with ourselves. I know that I spent upwards of 100 hours playing Pokemon Blue version. Mind you this is from a time when the internet was young and finding all of the secrets was a journey of personal exploration, or by word-of-mouth from fellow trainers at the time. So much time and effort I poured into that game, I had Pokemon at level 100 before I even learned about the item duplication glitch giving me nigh infinite Rare Candies.

I was incredibly excited when I got my hands on Pokemon Silver version. I played it to completion, excited to earn the 8 badges of the new Johto region and just as excited to retrace my steps from my recent adventure through the 8 Gyms of Kanto and feeling like the world was alive and evolving. Koga had passed the torch of Gym leadership to his daughter, Blaine faced the disaster on Cinnabar island, and my old Rival Blue had taken up residence as leader of the Viridian City Gym thanks to MY actions in dismantling Team Rocket.

The final challenge lay ahead of me, with 16 badges under my lapel I entered Mt. Silver, the dividing mountain range between this new exciting land Johto and my old familiar region Kanto. Walking this line that bridged yet separated the two different worlds and different experiences I’ve had. The toughest challenge yet ahead.

And there after all of the twists and puzzles, the hard fights, and use of every trick and resource I had learned up to this point stood Red. A Pokemon battle much like any other takes place. This is the true final boss of this game, and I still remember how this fight went down years later. I barely held on, Red is much higher leveled than even the Elite Four. This is still the only time in my life I’ve resorted to a desperate tactic such as…

Go Electrode, use Explosion!
Go Electrode, use Explosion!
Go Electrode, use Explosion!
Go Electrode, use Explosion!
Go Electrode, use Explosion!

After concluding the battle I felt the greatest sense of achievement and accomplishment I’ve felt in a Pokemon game that I think even to date I have not exceeded.

But why? Looking at it analytically, as I said there was really nothing riding on this battle. No lives hang in the balance, no great world-ending catastrophe threatens to sunder space/time itself were I to fail. Yet it was still such a satisfying battle.

It was perhaps a passing of the torch. My sense of self was tied to both Red and to Gold, maybe it is akin to overcoming your own self and improving. This battle was fought with ourselves and we are all of the things at stake. We are the ones at the top, while we are also striving to become stronger than all others before us. Maybe it’s just me, but I still get shivers when I listen to the battle theme for the fight with Red even today (which inspired me to ramble here).

I love the games that have been able to resonate so strongly with their players like that. I would love to see more games that can make themselves so personal to give them meaning. Don’t get me wrong, saving the galaxy from killer AI, thwarting ancient world-ending dragons, and freeing humanity from its enslavement are great plot motivations. It’s a real treasure though when a game can give you a sense of accomplishment of self.