Game Freak details the design process of creating new Pokémon

With the latest release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, there are a total of 802 Pokémon created to date. While visiting Japan to explore Game Freak’s development studio, the folks at Game Informer spoke with Pokémon director, producer and composer Junichi Masuda about what the process of designing a Pokémon looks like.

“The graphic designers are obviously going to be the ones finalizing the look, but it’s not just the graphic designers who come up with ideas or draw the Pokémon,” Masuda says. Sometimes a battle designer might want to feature a specific move in the game, which requires a specific creature. A story writer might want to execute a narrative beat that requires a new monster. Alternatively, it might be as simple as a graphic designer wanting to explore an animal that it has not yet inspired a Pokémon yet. “These ideas come from a lot of different places, the gameplay, the visuals, the story, and in the end those ideas just get centralized and designed,” Masuda says.

There are few, if any, hard and fast rules about what a Pokémon can and cannot be. “One thing we always really pay attention to is treating them like living creatures so you have to try and imagine where it would live in the environment and why it looks the way it does, what would it eat? For example,” Masuda says. “When designing Pokémon, and not just from a graphic design perspective, there must be a reason for why it looks the way it does and you have to think about why it might live in the Pokémon world.”

Pokémon designs rarely get cancelled, so to speak. If a new Pokémon weren’t going to fit in the game or world, Game Freak doesn’t let them get far past the conceptual stages. “Once you’re in the middle of creating it and someone were to say, ‘No!, that’s not a Pokémon,’ and the design process gets killed? That doesn’t really happen that much,” Masuda says. “Usually, instead, maybe the person who is directing the game might say it won’t work in its current form, but maybe if you did this and adding ideas onto it might make it work better.” For this reason, ideas for new Pokémon rarely get thrown away.

Game Freak has been working on Pokémon for just over 20 years, so it knows what makes a good Pokémon at this point, but evolution tracks can still be tricky. “One thing that happens a lot – well, not a lot – but happens sometimes, is that you start out with a cat, and when it evolves one easy idea is to say, ‘Okay, now there’s more heads’,” Masuda says, going to the whiteboard behind him to illustrate his point. “We always want to make sure we think, ‘Why does that happen?’ And when it evolves why does it have three heads? So that’s just something we’re always trying to think of – what’s the reason for what changes and how it looks?” After hastily drawing the three-headed cat used to illustrate his point, Masuda laughs saying, “Even if I said I really wanted to make this, I would probably get shot down.”

Early Pokémon designs feature sharp eyes that were more angular, while later designs round the eyes for a generally softer look. We showed Masuda IanMazgelis’ post in order to find out why the eyes have changed. “It’s definitely conscious of the evolving design, but some of the reason behind that, for example, is in the beginning, the Game Boy had a really limited palette and a very small amount of pixels to express the designs,” Masuda says. “It was hard to make circles so that was one reason a lot of them had a similar look. As the technology evolved we had more options for expression with different shapes and more variety, so I think we’ve focused on trying to have a lot of variety in the eyes, for example.” To read this feature in its entirety, click here.

Source: Game Informer

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