Friday, January 18, 2013

Making A Better Clone - Pokemon

I whinge and moan about Pokemon a lot, this is a thing that I'm willing to admit to, and all of those whingings always end up with me stating "I wish somebody would clone the game properly" in some fashion.  Because it would just be that easy, right?  Well, no, no it wouldn't and this is something that I've realized.  So while it's perfectly easy for me to just go 'wah wah, I want more games like pokemon', it would be a true task to really sit down and posit what would make a Pokemon Clone a good game, if not equal or better to the existing Pokemon franchise.  And since just sitting around and moaning and groaning about things without doing much else about a situation is a bitch move, let us discuss what I would suggest might make a capable Pokemon clone.

The way this process begins is by taking Pokemon, as a franchise, and separating it down to a core collection of the elements that makes it so successful - the reasons that people -love- Pokemon to the extent they do, even in the face of other games that would offer the same thing (though there aren't really many of those).  Ignoring the intangible like the built-in brand loyalty from being a long-standing series that most people got into in their childhoods and its dominance as, really, the only thing of its kind out there.  Yes, there are others, but you do not hear of them because of Nintendo's uncanny ability to shirk competition.  Those are obstacles that no one will probably ever fully overcome, just as no one will probably ever fully overcome WoW as the most popular MMO, no one will probably ever fully overcome Call of Duty as the most popular FPS and so on.  I mean, yes, they will eventually become things of the past, replaced by bigger things that aren't WoW 2.0, that aren't Call of Duty 17, and may be perhaps truly challenged, but to underplay the dominance both of those have had in their respective genres would be silliness.

The first thing the series has is something that I'm going to call 'charm', but that's not even quite the term for it.  If nothing else, you can tell the care that goes into the creation of each and every pokemon that exists, yes, even that one you don't like on any level and that is certainly something that drives them further.  I'm not willing to say the same amount of care goes into the actual characters of the games or the worlds in which they take place in, but certainly, the Pokemon are the main points of the game, thus that's pretty acceptable as a reality.  Still, while not as carefully crafted as the titular monsters, the worlds each game reside in do have their own little quirks, as do the characters in their own way, which certainly add to the overall package of the game.  Joey, with his Rattata that's in the top percentage of Rattatas, didn't become popular because of his in-depth characterization, after all - simply that he was a quirky character that was picked up on by the hivemind as it were.

Secondly, something that Pokemon does quite well is cramming a surprising amount of strategy into its small confines through clever limitations that don't feel too much like restrictions, even when they clearly are.  Limiting all Pokemon to being only able to know four moves at a time prevents any one Pokemon from being 'too' powerful in a sense, because no Pokemon will be able to do everything on its own.  Buffs and debuffs are used with pokemon on your team that you see as utilitarian for the others which are your hitters and your hitters have to be able to have a wide variety of moves to affect the most pokemon as possible.  What good is a pokemon that only knows Electric moves against a Ground type, after all?  The typings help with strategy as well, being kind of the backbone of the whole of it and all.  It doesn't seem like a -lot-, but it strikes a ridiculously good balance through-out and it's hard to tell just -what- does that, just that it works in execution.

The last big thing that the series has is the accessibility of it all, being something that younger players can pick up, but being something that's fairly interesting for older players as well because of the layers of strategy the game has that might not be immediately apparent.  Things like EVs, IVs, breeding, advanced stuff like that is a main draw for folks who just can't be happy with the same old 'beat gyms, beat the Elite Four, embrace victory' routine that is there.  The meta-game of Pokemon is strong, perhaps not as strong as it should be, but strong nonetheless and that goes a long way towards ensuring there will be a lot of people playing your game and, more importantly, buying it over and over again with each iteration that pops up.  It's that reason that each Pokemon game has been able to be, essentially, the last one with a slightly different story wrapping and new pokemon, because the Meta-game just grows and grows with every iteration, thanks to the new monsters and the new moves, even if the -game- itself doesn't grow that much.

So, in identifying the strengths of the series, to make a 'clone', all you have to do is get those strong points in a way that is also your own, playing to your own strengths.  If you can 'improve' on any of those, then all the better, obviously.  It might seem an impossible task, since the strengths mentioned are really, really good, but I have my own fair share of complaints and they are not solely my own either.  The games simplicity is a major turn-off for many, not just in that it's easy, but the story, the world, those elements are rather shallow which is only charming to a point.  Five generations in, and it's a little old-hat by now, only continued because Game Freak knows that every single Pokemon game is someone's first Pokemon game and they simply want those people to experience that.  They're still clinging to quite a lot from the inception of the series, showing no sign of real evolution for the most part (ironically) and while I don't suggest a Locke's Socks scenario, where it must be all-new, all-new, there is a happy middle ground that they've simply not explored on just yet.

For a theoretical clone game, you need to first accept that, yes, Pokemon has a lot of monsters and that is part of the charm, part of the goodness of the game.  You will also need to accept that in no way, shape or form should you try to attempt the amount of monsters that Pokemon has now because the number is literally like 600.  A number between 100 and 200 is a good things to shoot for, but I would personally avoid 150, 151 or 152, or, really just any of the 150 numbers - just go above or below that for a bit.  Make sure there are evolutions of sorts included because evolution is awesome, even if you'll definitely want to handle it a different way.  Perhaps with consumables, perhaps with interactions with characters (masters over 'magic' that can alter forms of your monsters) or something along those lines - something that gives you a little more control over the process might be a nice touch.

The world, as I've been saying, needs to be open for a pokemon clone game.  It kind of needs to be open for a regular pokemon game, but I will settle for this being one of those points that will make it better.  It's hard to establish an open world like that, but in doing so, you'd make a nice bit of backlore or what have you, which is nice to work with.  This will also give you plenty of chances to utilize the innate abilities of some monsters, which are previously, you know, HM skills.  Take a horse-like monster or some other monster that you can ride and ride that here and there, unsummoning it when you're done and want to resume battles or something.  Have a monster that can manipulate water dive underwater with you so you can search for hidden treasures or something like that.  Things of that nature.

The story is a bit of a hard part to tackle since the gym set-up works to a degree.  Perhaps take it as a Summoner's Pilgrimage or something like that, which makes it something that a lot of folks still do, gives you reason to challenge folks ('My summons are better than yours!') and gives you an end-goal with a possible end 'boss' (a cadre of master summoners whom you challenge to join the ranks).  A bit cliche' perhaps, but it doesn't really need to be that big - what's important is making the world more realized than a Pokemon one.  This would, in theory, be helped by quests and missions as in most other Open World games, perhaps with some that are simply randomized indefinitely, meaning you'll be able to head to any city and find a few things to occupy your time, should you so desire.  Little things like that go a long way towards breathing life into your game, and depending on how you work the Day/Night cycle (personally, I would tie it to the actual time), you can play with the times for those random quests, eluding the Animal Crossing situation of "Okay, I have played for thirty minutes and done everything I need aside from talking to the villagers like ten times in the hopes that one of them will give me a letter for someone else or something, might as well turn it off".

Another advantage of an Open World is that you allow your player to go wherever they want and by that measure, it becomes much, much nicer in terms of exploring and discovery.  Imagine Pokemon games where you don't have to traverse the same 'dark cave' thing with the use of the ever-useless Flash HM move.  Yet you can still go into those places if you want to capture some of the monsters the cave holds.  Imagine a Pokemon game where you can simply walk around a tree that may be in your way otherwise, rather than having to cut the tree down with the HM move of the same name.  Yet, cutting that tree down might net you rewards that you might not otherwise get.  Imagine hopping on to your giant bird monster and actually flying around until you see a place where you want to land and then actually landing there with the counterbalance being that you might be attacked by other birds while in mid-flight.  More open world offers more areas in which you can battle which gives you certain advantages and disadvantages over other areas.

It might be a little over-simplistic, but it's a concept at least, and it's a concept that would actually work.  Make the monsters, slap a title on that and sell it and you are in the money, good sirs.  Hell, if there's anyone out there reading this that wants to do this, go for it.  Make this game.  I will buy it.  I will buy it because I want an open world pokemon type game and also because I just need another frigging Pokemon outlet than Pokemon itself because it comes out so infrequently, technically, that it's hard to get a fix.  And who knows, maybe a little competition will encourage Game Freak to really shake things up, maybe not go with the same exact story with a different team name.  Maybe it'll encourage them to lay off the whole Legendary Pokemon angle since there are like nineteen Pokemon gods now and it's a little ridiculous.  It's nice to dream, really, since this will never happen, but, hey, it sounds kind of cool in my head at least.

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