Gotta Catch ’em All: What we might expect from the newly announced Pokemon GO


Last week, Nintendo dropped a bombshell and announced a new Pokemon game named Pokemon GO. This is big news because this is the first Pokemon game ever that is going to be on mobile devices. This is all part of Nintendo's big, reluctant shift towards developing games for iOS/Android. For Pokemon GO, they've partnered with Niantic, a developer that created a game called Ingress. This is key, because Ingress was an augmented reality game that blended together elements of gameplay from the digital, game world and the real, physical world.




From the trailer that Nintendo debuted, it looks like Pokemon GO will follow from that design philosophy and thus we have a very intriguing game on our hands. The trailer shows everyday people going about their lives and encountering Pokemon on their phones as they interact with the real world. Obviously, this won't be a Pokemon game you can play on your couch. There seems to be a large social component as well, with the trailer showcasing a large, communal battle between players that takes place in Times Square. Other than the trailer however, all we have are these screenshots:

That's it. So the rest is left to speculation, but we can start to paint an interesting picture given the structure of existing Pokemon games and Niantic's history with Google. Niantic actually started as a Google start-up, and their last game, Ingress, implemented features of Google Earth. I think it's safe to say that we'll see more of this integration in Pokemon GO, but the question is, to what extent? It's easy to get carried away and wildly speculate about features that would be SO COOL LIKE WHAT IF YOU HAD TO CLIMB MOUNT EVEREST TO FIND ARTICUNO OR INFILTRATE THE PENTAGON JUST TO CATCH MEWTWO! I think there are a lot of exciting possibilities, yes, but these must be tempered with realistic expectations of Google Earth's capabilities.

The essence of any Pokemon game is tied to capturing the little buggers, so this is clearly going to be the focus of Pokemon GO. Niantic's founder, John Hanke, has said, "Imagine discovering a Squirtle hiding along the waterfront in San Francisco, a Bulbasaur at Shinjuku Station or a Pikachu beneath the Eiffel Tower." All of these possibilities are intriguing, but we have to see how far they can go. Let's take a look.


The likely shit:

  • Finding Pokemon at major landmarks

    • Google Earth has "layers" built into it, one of which tracks major landmarks and points of interest in an area. Assigning certain Pokemon to landmarks should be no problem for Niantic and we'll definitely see this feature.

  • Finding Pokemon in different weather conditions and at different times of day

    • Google Earth taps into radar and satellite data in real time; information that could be used to inform the app's generation of Pokemon. Phones already track the time of day so that's a definite YES.

  • Randomly running into other trainers

    • The game is listed as an "MMO" in the job listings for Niantic, which means a lot of social interaction between players. I'm assuming the app will give push alerts to your phone when you run into a new Pokemon location or are nearby another trainer.

The maybe shit:

  • Finding Pokemon in different biomes

    • This is tricky. Google Earth is capable of distinguishing between parks, bodies of water, and everything else. I'm fairly certain it can distinguish between major metropolises (btw fun fact, there is no established plural word for metropolis!) and their surrounding areas, given that they are auto-generating 3-D versions of major cities. What I'm not certain of is whether or not Google Earth can distinguish a farm from a suburb. Furthermore, I don't believe that biomes are tracked by Google Earth, but weather actually is tracked. It is possible that biomes could be auto-generated using weather information, but the more likely solution is that Niantic might create biome divisions by hand in the most popular regions, such as Japan, the United States, and Western Europe. The rest of the world may have to wait.

  • Gym leaders and local competitive leagues

    • We don't really know what Nintendo's influence is going to be on an MMO, given they've never done one on this scale before. However, Niantic's design philosophy seems very oriented towards community-driven control, seeing as players could tag landmarks to create new nodes in Ingress. A similar player-driven system might arise in Pokemon GO for local gym leaders, but the extent and freedom of this system is very much pure speculation.

The unlikely shit

  • Truly rare legendary Pokemon

    • I would be all for a Pokemon AR game where the legendaries would be completely unique - can you imagine racing everyone else to try to find where the only copy of Mew is hidden? However, everybody wants to own a legendary Pokemon, and especially given that Pokemon is still primarily a children's game, this is super unlikely. I think certain legendaries will still be hard to get, perhaps limited to certain regions, like most of the promotional events in Japan.

  • Being able to form your own Team Rocket

    • While I think that Niantic would have allowed this option - Ingress had a fair number of trolls and they were more or less unregulated - I don't think Nintendo will actively encourage any potentially negative ways of playing their games. Again, as a child-focused franchise, Pokemon is all about beating the bad guys, not becoming them. Sorry to dash your Pokemon-stealing hopes!

Anyways, that's a wrap on my thoughts about the upcoming Pokemon GO. I think there are a lot of possibilities here and since the game is still in early development, I can't wait to hear more news about which direction Niantic and Nintendo decide to take the game! Let me know your ideas and predictions for Pokemon GO, and if you are curious to learn more about Google Earth, check out the Google Earth blog right here.


One response to “Gotta Catch ’em All: What we might expect from the newly announced Pokemon GO”

  1. such a cool article.. i wanna try the game when it is released!

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