Earlier this week, Niantic technical artist/designer David Hollin helmed a panel titled “Origins of Pokémon GO” at the Animation on Display (AOD) convention in Santa Clara yesterday. Hollin has been with the game from the start and is responsible for coming up with AR mode. Although Hollin emphasized that he was not officially representing Niantic at the panel, he was able to share the following tidbits regarding the development process of Pokémon GO:
Stuff about Pokémon GO’s Origins/History
As most of you probably know, PoGo started as an April Fool’s joke by Google in 2014. Basically, a Google Maps engineer named Tatsuo Nomura wanted to do something with Google Maps and Pokemon, so he pitched the idea to The Pokemon Company (TPC). It was a great prank, and everyone thought that was the end of it.
But then Niantic CEO John Hanke thought it would make for a fun actual game, so he tried contacting TPC again. Turns out the TPC CEO was a huge fan of Ingress, Niantic’s previous game, which has a big cult following. (Speaking of Ingress, David showed an old trailer for it and commented on how Niantic had a thing for releasing really epic trailers that don’t reflect gameplay at all LOL.)
TPC liked the idea of a Pokemon mobile game but wanted to make sure it was simple (e.g. no battling with Pokemon in order to catch them) and that it was distinct from the other Pokemon games.
When David talked about Niantic’s split from Google, he put up a screenshot from the episode “Bye Bye Butterfree.”
Niantic’s main goal in creating PoGo was basically to get people to walk around outside. Secondary goals were to get people to notice nearby landmarks and hopefully interact with other players.
When PoGo first started, you threw Pokeballs by pressing a button. There was no control over how far or curved your throw would be.
AR mode was also not really in consideration at the beginning. Niantic fiddled with the idea of using Google Earth images and superimposing Pokemon, but that required users to download huge images and would not have been practical.
One day, David experimented with incorporating AR mode and his phone camera in his backyard and showed it to his coworkers, who really liked the results. (The funny part of this is that David showed an early screencap of AR mode, but the only part of the screencap that everyone focused on was the fact that he was using a Master Ball and that he had 61 of them in his bag.)
Niantic was in a time crunch to release PoGo by summer because otherwise, it would have been fall/winter and everybody would stay in their houses. Hence, all the issues at launch.
When PoGo launched, Niantic had only two server engineers who had to work 24/7 in shifts to handle the server issues.
PoGo completely surpassed all expectations Niantic had for the game. I believe the response was 50x what they expected.
Niantic does read /r/PokemonGO and /r/TheSilphRoad, though mostly to keep track of bugs (not Caterpies, but things that need to be fixed right away).
Niantic is also hiring.
Stuff about Pokémon Gameplay/Future Developments
Niantic staff is well aware that gym battling is not the greatest at the moment. Apparently, the saying at the office is “Battling is not the worst thing in the world, but it’s the worst thing in Pokemon GO.”
Trading is definitely being worked on, but David said they’re taking their “sweet time” to release it because it’s a veritable Pandora’s Box. (“If you think bots and spoofers are bad now…”) He did say that he would prefer if trading were restricted to between people standing right next to each other, like how the old Gameboy games were.
David really wants to bring in more weather-related spawns. For example, if the weather is hotter than normal, there would be more Fire Pokemon, and if the weather is colder than normal, more Ice. If it’s raining, more Water Pokemon. He did say that Niantic was finally able to incorporate different spawns based on the time of day/night. (Is that why I haven’t seen a lot of Zubat lately? Not that I miss them…)
When asked if shiny Pokemon were in the works, David said, “No comment.” I can’t remember if he said anything about legendaries, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything definitive.
Regional Pokemon are a thing because Tatsuo Nomura really wanted players to feel the scope of the Pokemon world.
Niantic is currently working with Apple to see if they can come up with something that will count your steps while you’re exercising indoors, such as on a treadmill, so you can walk your eggs without actually being outdoors. No idea if anything will come out of this, though.
David said he’s pretty sure players have discovered all of the Easter Eggs in the game. The Umbreon/Espeon naming Easter Egg was discovered within 40 seconds of the Gen 2 release.