OPINION: What I would do with Pokemon (Featuring Art by Alex Diochon and Adriana Ferguson)
My parents were always adamant about us not having portable gaming systems, but when Pokemon Blue and Red came out my brother and I went on a year long pleading spree until we finally got some Game Boy Colors and a copy of each. Since then my interest in Pokemon has waned, but I’ve always kept the game in my thoughts. Which of course leads to analysis, which leads to contemplation of things that bother me about the game.
So I sat down and thought to myself. If I was given control of the Pokemon franchise, what would I do with it?
Be aware that these are general notes and largely apply to a potential video-game reboot. Although, I guess, they also could potentially apply to an RPG-type tabletop game. Also a lot of the design aspects could carry forward to TCGs or TV shows.
We will start by cracking open the basics of pokemonness. Types. I’ve never been crazy about the flying-beats-bug-beats-psychic-beats-fighting-beats-croissant-beats-breakdancing-beats-fire system pokemon has going. The main reason for this is that the types are totally arbitrary. So what I’ve done here is pulling a lot of the more resonant types and spread them across different tiers:
TIER ONE: GROUND OR FLYING
First off we determine whether the critter can fly or not. If he can, then he’s a FLYING Pokemon, if he can’t then he’s a GROUND pokemon. By ground I simply mean non-flying as opposed to the earthy connotation of current pokemon. These are mutually exclusive, a Pokemon cannot be a flying type and a ground type.
Mechanics: The primary function of these (and the following) mechanical designations is to serve as ‘tags’ so that attacks and abilities can interact with them, but I think it would make sense for flying pokemon to get an attack bonus vs. ethereal element types (more on that later) while ground types get an attack bonus against solid elements. This bonus will be fairly small.
Why not just make it so that they both get a bonus against each other? A two-way attack circle isn’t very interesting, and since every Pokey is going to end up with an elemental affinity (more on that later) it means there’ll always be something to interact with.
What about fishymon? Fish and molusks will operate under the same criteria, is it a floating manta ray or jellyfishmon? then it’s flying, is it an octopus or oystermon? then it’ll be on the ground, fish and mollusks will likely be defined by being water types.
TIER TWO: POWER ORIGIN
Now we determine where the critter gets its abilities. origins are mutually exclusive. here are the options:
PHYSICAL: The majority of the pokemon’s abilities come from its biology, it is simply made of rocks or has an internal furnace in its gall bladder.
MENTAL: The majority of the pokemon’s abilities come from its psychic powers. it creates psychokinetic fire or moves rocks around telekinetically
SHADOWDARKNESS: The pokemon hails from a dark dimension or is some sort of undead ghost thingy. It may surround itself with ghostly flames or summon gravestones from nowhere.
LIGHTMAGIC: The pokemon hails from a radiant glowy place or is somehow infused with shiny happy energies. It may create beams of searing light or summon star meteors.
Mechanics: Each Origin type gets an attack bonus against pokemon of the same origin.
Why the same origin? Looks like you’ve got a pretty good 2×2 square here? Because I have the feeling that the majority of pokemon would end up being physical types, and rather than push to have an even distribution this way you get the bonus and “penalty” in the same package. If lightmagic turns out to be an uncommon origin, then using a lightmagic pokemon means that you’re not usually going to get that bonus, but also no one will usually get a bonus against you. Conversely using a common origin means an almost guaranteed combat bonus for yourself AND your opponent. Furthermore, if an expansion introduces 20 new shadowdarkness Pokeys it won’t unbalance the other types.
TIER THREE: ELEMENTAL AFFINITY
Ok, here’s where we get into the heart of things. Everyone gets the Rock-Paper-Scissors thing Pokemon’s got going, but I find it extremely convoluted. That is why a lot of the elements that used to hang out here have been moved to other tiers, that is also why there will be only five elements. LIGHTNING, PLANT, EARTH, WATER and FIRE. All pokemon will have an elemental affinity. Elements are mutually exclusive.
Mechanics: Rather than the current water-beats-fire, fire-beats-grass system each element will have two enemies as illustrated here:
If an element is across the wheel from another they are enemies, meaning that Water gets an attack bonus against Lightning and Lightning gets an attack bonus against Water. This bonus will be sizeable. No element will have a natural defense against any other. Elements who are not enemies (the ones next to each other) have no inherent bonus or penalty against each other. Of course, as usual the elements also serve as tags for attacks and abilities.
Why should all pokemon have an elemental affinity? What about my Ratatas and Pidgeys? A good question, and one that needs a complex answer. I think that there are way too many “dog pokemon” and “cat pokemon”, where all they have going is the fact that they’re cartoon versions of animals. Is anyone really attached to Spearrow? If you are, wouldn’t you rather have a fire spearrow anyway? The other important part of this is that each of these tiers can be emphasized or de-emphasized in the critter’s visual identity. a plant-type can be either a viny turtle guy or a bird-nature-spirit pokemon that makes plants grow when it passes over the ground, it doesn’t have to be all viney, plants are somewhere in its persona and that’s all that matters.
OK, I can kinda see Water-puts-out-fire and fire-boils-water but Lightning-beats-Earth doesn’t make any sense! If you’re a pokemon fan you’ve had to rationalize way, WAY more complex issues than this one. Just think of it as earth pokemon having some metallic impurities that can be exploited.
So what was that “ethereal” stuff from earlier? Oh yeah, Water, Plant and Earth are solid elements, Fire and Lightning are ethereal elements.
Doesn’t this make Ground types more powerful? Marginally, like I said, that bonus should be small but might be enough incentive to prompt a risky mid-fight swap.
Why have pokemon only have one element? wouldn’t mixing and matching make things better? I can see that. But this keeps things simple, and since everything works on attack bonuses all it would do is add an additional ‘enemy element’ to the pokemon’s profile. However, I have not forgotten about you, guy who wants to have a fireplant! We’ll talk about this when we get to tier four.
Hey, isn’t that enemy-hosing mechanic a thing in another game? Yup. Shoulders of giants.
TIER FOUR: UNIQUE POWER
If the last tier is the heart of the pokeys then I believe this mechanic should be its soul.
EACH POKEMON SHOULD HAVE A UNIQUE POWER, ATTACK OR ABILITY.
Pokemon games are full of pokemon who are mechanically indistinguishable from each other except for obscure stats that might make them go faster in a fight. I’m saying each pokemon should have a unique, proprietary signature move that sets it apart from the others. Now, I think the card game does this already (in an attempt to create multiple unique cards for the same pokeys) also the cartoon keeps trying to do this, because it’s not that interesting to introduce a new Pokemon and immediately go “Oh, that one can do the same things as this one I already have”. This is also a good place to emphasize (and in a way de-emphasize) characteristics about the particular critter. You want your firecivetmon to be very fiery? make sure its unique power is super fiery. Have a glowy ghost pokemon who happens to be a fire type? give it a spooky ghost power and downplay its fireyness.
Wouldn’t it be hard to come up with a unique power for hundreds of Pokemon? Yes. Maybe, just maybe, there shouldn’t be so many Pokemon, especially when so many of them are so similar.
OK, I made it down here, let’s talk about my fireplant. Right! Ok! So you make a plant pokemon and give it a fiery unique power. Or Viceversa.
TIER FIVE: FAMILY POWER (OPTIONAL)
This is an important thematic category. By now some of you have tears in your eyes saying “But… but… what about my bug pokeys?” or “This is pidgeypoo! my flying types should have something going for them!” Well, this is where we make up for it. Each pokemon can have a power that he shares with a handful of other pokeys, pokemon who share that power are in a ‘family’. The powers will, of course, be thematically relevant to that family. So all pokemon in the bug family can have a stinger attack, all pokemon in the bird family can have a flutter ability, all pokemon in the icey family can have a freeze attack, etc. Family’s can represent anything from a demi-elemental affinity (the aforementioned ice) to a morphic type (birds, bugs, fish, ghosts) to a story related thing (say giving the old school legendary birds a legendary power). This is also a good way to represent the weird categories (Fighting?) or even size, like having a HUGESTOMP power for very large pokeys or a TINYDODGE power for very small ones. Some Pokemon will not belong to any family, some may belong to multiple families.
Evolution is arguably the most interesting aspect of the Pokemon franchise so, of course I have a few notes on that too.
The main function of evolution is to add to or change that pokemon’s play experience.
This will largely be achieved by adding or swapping powers. So, for example a little cricketmon becomes a giant cricketmon and swaps its TINYDODGE power for a HUGESTOMP power. New additional powers would synergize in some way with the Pokemon’s unique power in a sleep/dream eater kind of way. These powers could be unique or not, as long as they accomplish the desired result. This brings up an important point, an evolution should not invalidate previous choices and should still keep the Pokemon’s unique power relevant.
Evolution is also a good time to change families and types, so if you have a ground kiwimon but you want to evolve him into a flying ibismon the evolution would switch its type (and probably add a power to emphasize the flying).
Another thing I would like to see more is evolution trees rather than straight lines. Where rather than having a critter be small, then big, then bigger you would have small then Lightningbig OR Earthbig. This opens up a lot of options and really showcases the players’ evolutionary choices. Do you want a pokemon that is a total specialist? Do you want a pokemon that is a generalist? Those could be two options for a single evolutionary moment. Do you want your firecivetmon to be even more about fire? Do you want him to be more civet-ish? those could be two options as well.
There should also be some form of stat increase with evolution, which would depend greatly on the way the system actually worked.
VISUAL DESIGN NOTES
Pokemon should look like unusual animals or maybe alien beings.
Unusual animals is a very broad category, this can mean an animal that has something unusual about them (say a giraffe with six legs or a bear made of mist) or an animal who is a combination of multiple other animals (and/or plants). Certainly designs based on prehistoric or fictional animals are fair game. Alternately they may look like strange alien creatures. They should not, simply be pokemon versions of normal animals, The elemental clause is partially in place to ensure this, preventing a rat pokemon and fostering granite rat pokemon instead.
Anthropomorphic stuff should be kept to a minimum.
Let’s face it, Pokemon as a franchise has some really weird undertones. If we consider the cartoons to be canon, then some of these creatures are semi-sentient and a handful of them are irrefutably sentient. And we make them fight for our amusement. Having pokemon that stand on two legs and hold tools makes that a little more blatant. So if a pokemon needs to be bear-like and stand on two legs, or even ape-like that’s fine, but personmon should not exist.
That is, an evolution shouldn’t just be two critters standing next to each other. I’m good with the idea of multiple pokemon combining to form a new evolution but that should A) Be thematically appropriate (Like a coral pokemon? I don’t know), B) Significantly alter the Pokey’s visual identity and C) Be something only one or maybe two pokemon do.
IS IT SUPER EFFECTIVE!?
That’s all I got for now, obviously these are very broad and when applied to an actual system would actually need some tweaking. What do you guys think?