The out-of-nowhere July launch of Niantic’s Pokémon Go was one of the most successful in gaming history. Its blend of traditional “catch ’em all” Pokémon gameplay, augmented reality and real-world location made it an instant global phenomenon, and it stoked a media frenzy with alarmist headlines that warned of everything from back-alley robberies to distracted players wandering into traffic. To date, it has been downloaded more than 500 million times and, despite falling from its peak popularity, it still generates nearly $2 million every day. For a while there, Pokémania – last seen in 1999 – was back.
For long-term fans of the core franchise though, the mobile game was little more than an appetizer. The main dish comes November 18 when Sun and Moon, the latest duo of games in the main Pokémon series for Nintendo’s 60-million-selling handheld 3DS are released. We spoke with long-time series producer, director and composer Junichi Masuda and first-time director Shigeru Ohmori about what’s new for Sun and Moon, how they’re trying to make Pokémon more accessible, and where the new game fits now that Pokémon Go is on so many players’ phones.
Pokémon Go was released while both Sun and Moon were in development, and it became an instant global hit. Were you guys collaborating during development, and are you taking Pokémon Go’s success into account when working on these new games?
Junichi Masuda: I was actually directly involved in the development of Pokémon Go, working alongside Niantic. In the early stages, I was giving a lot of direction as to what Pokémon Go should be. From the beginning, I knew we wanted Go to take a different direction. Go was to be a game where you walk around finding Pokémon in your real-world surroundings – I was actually specifically involved in designing the catching sequence. Sun and Moon are tailored more towards long play sessions. You don’t just catch Pokémon, you train and battle with them, and you can enjoy growing stronger alongside them. Since the directions we wanted each title to take were so different, there really isn’t anything in Sun and Moon that was influenced by Go‘s success. I do think Pokémon Go has increased brand awareness, though, so maybe people are more familiar with it. Personally, I just want them to give Sun and Moon a try.
Do you see Pokémon Go as a game that’s as valuable to the Pokémon brand as one of the “core” games like Sun and Moon, or as more of a complement?
Masuda: It’s definitely considered a spinoff, but among the Pokémon spinoffs, it’s one of the bigger projects that we’ve focused on.
This is the first Pokémon game that features real 3D movement. How does that change things?
Shigeru Ohmori: That’s one of the big things we changed in order to give the player a feeling of really exploring and adventuring through the Alola region, yes. Another change is actually the proportions of the 3D character models – we wanted them to seem more realistic, and we were thinking of what the world would look like through to eyes of the trainers. And with trainer battles, when you’re getting close to a potential foe, there are graphical cues that indicate that their gaze is on you before the battle actually begins. Getting that feeling right was very important to us.