Pokemon: 'When I made Black/White I wasn't considering existing Pokémon users'
12th Mar 2011 | 12:30
Pokémon Black/White director Junichi Masuda is a busy man, jetting around the world to promote the latest games in the 'Mon series.
We sat down with him to discuss reinventing a franchise, 3DS, his love for New York and The Prodigy, and why you shouldn't expect a new Wii Pokémon game any time soon...
With Pokémon Black/White, you've made some big changes to the series - a new region, 156 new monsters. Why have you chosen now to shake things up?
In order to make players surprised, there needs to be something different. That's why there are 156 new Pokémon, so players can only encounter new Pokémon up until they clear the main storyline, and that leads to some surprises.
What was the thinking behind the new setting being based on the United States? Was it a conscious decision to appeal to a more international audience?
As you mentioned, appealing to an international audience is one of the reasons, but there are also others, too. One is that I organise musical concerts in Japan based on the setting of the regions in the past titles, like Johto, Kanto and Hoenn.
Then I thought if I could hold another concert somewhere else, where should it be? And I thought perhaps New York would be a good place to choose. That's why we used the US as the setting for this new region.
Why New York in particular?
[Laughs] I perhaps have a longing for New York as a city! Also because I organise these concerts that use classical versions of videogame music, it's quite modern and not really authentic classical.
If it was authentic classical I may have chosen Europe, but because it's closer to pop music, New York seemed to fit better.
Because Black/White's Story mode only has new Pokémon, it almost feels like a fresh start for the series. Did it feel like a new beginning making the game?
It felt fresh to me during development, because while I was developing the game I was playing the demo versions and the unfinished code - and when I played, I tried to play it as if I was a kid.
I tried to become like a child - because adults don't like the same things kids do - and then I would see different things; for example, a new character or trainer, or a town.
And sometimes I would encounter a new Pokémon, and I didn't know much about that Pokémon because it's new, so I didn't know its type or its other details.
So that gave me a lot of surprises, and sometimes when that happened I would ask the people who knew more about that Pokémon within the office, so I could beat them!
Was there any conflict in the need to appeal to new fans, but also to those who've played Pokémon games before? Did you, for example, consider a tutorial skip for those who've grown up with older Pokémon titles?
I didn't take out parts like the tutorial or teaching players the upgrade system because I wanted to try not to ignore newcomers. I always like to take care of the new players. For example, I didn't take out the parts where we are teaching people how to catch Pokémon, or how to use Pokéballs, so those elements are still in there.
At the same time, with regard to the people who've already played Pokémon in the past, I considered that they play more videogames and are better at them, so this time I added some new features in the battle system so I could target both newcomers and older players.
Were there any other DS games that influenced the new elements in Black/White - like Dragon Quest IX's Tag mode for example?
Actually, back around the time of Fire Red and Leaf Green I already had the idea of Tag mode, which was obviously before Dragon Quest IX, and I remember consulting with Nintendo about this idea.
But because of the technology restrictions it never came to fruition. So nothing came from other titles. And what Black/White can do is totally different from what DQIX can do.
You can instantly know what other players near you are doing. For example, whether you're using C-Gear or InfraRed or EntraLink...
So did your ideas for the C-Gear influence always-online 3DS features such as StreetPass mode?
[Laughs] I wouldn't know whether the C-Gear feature in Black/White influenced the technology in 3DS!
In previous generations there has always been a third game to supplement the first two releases. Ruby/Sapphire had Emerald, Diamond/Pearl had Platinum. Can we expect to see a third Pokémon game on DS or perhaps 3DS?
My mission right now is to have players enjoy these new Black and White versions in Europe and the US, so right now I'm not considering anything further.
Would you like to work on a 3DS Pokémon project? What are your current plans?
I would like to do something beyond people's expectations. That is all I can say.
You've composed a number of memorable Pokémon themes over the years. What are your musical influences?
I like up-tempo European techno music like, for example, The Prodigy and Underworld. Talking specifically about the themes in Black/White, there is a part when Victini appears and I wrote that battle music. Please look forward to listening to that Victini music!
What's the secret to creating a battle theme that you can listen to hundreds of times without going mad?
When I was composing battle music for Black/White, I wanted to capture the feeling that the player is going on a rollercoaster. So it can be really exciting and fun, but you have to be sure players are not tired of listening to a theme over and over, so I tried to introduce more complex elements to the music so that it's not like the sound of simple pop.
In the Victini music I mentioned, I intentionally changed the tempo. But I think that kind of music is something that when kids are listening to it, parents will say 'no no no, don't listen to that'. [Laughs]
You've made some big changes in places and some smaller ones in others. Do you feel pressure to stick to tradition for the older fans?
When I made changes to Black/White I wasn't considering existing Pokémon users too much. It was more like the process of tearing apart all the ideas we had from the past and building it up again.
As for moving the shop into the Pokémon Center, I simply thought it would be more convenient. And InfraRed allows players to quickly exchange Pokémon or even battle against friends. When you trade Pokémon, you can choose not only from your team but from the boxes as well.
So we didn't just keep the old ideas but thought about what was going to be more convenient and more fun for the players.
It's not just talking about differences and expectations, but more about what is good and what works. It was really important to challenge ourselves this way, because there are generations where player expectations will change, so we tried to do what kids in this generation will like.
Now there are 649 Pokémon, is it difficult to come up with new designs? How do you ensure that new designs are different enough from previous Pokémon?
Because there are so many Pokémon right now, we take care so that the silhouette and the colour balance of each Pokémon doesn't match any existing Pokémon.
We do this to set them apart, particularly when talking about Victini compared to Pikachu, for example. They are both two-foot-tall Pokémon, so it is important to make them different.
There are a lot of Legendary Pokémon in Black/White. How do you decide which Pokémon
are more important?
Talking about Legendary Pokémon in general, most of the time the order comes from the planning team - they already have ideas about which type of Pokémon they'd like, and what type they should be.
Talking about Reshiram and Zekrom, I had the idea of the types they should be, and that they should be used for this purpose. But with other Pokémon, sometimes we get requests from the planning team who will say we would like to have this type of Pokémon, or they want them to have a certain number or position in the Pokédex, and then the design team start to think and start to draw.
But then sometimes it's the other way around, and the designers will have their own ideas, and they start to draw and then present their ideas.
Are you ever tempted to produce a full Pokémon RPG on a home console like the Wii? Or can we expect to see some connectivity between DS or 3DS Pokémon titles and the Wii in future?
When creating Pokémon titles, Game Freak evaluates all the possibilities - that's why we are choosing DS for now. When you think about the main character in the videogame, carrying Pokéballs around with him or her... well, I wanted the players to carry along their DS with them in the same way to feel closer to the game.
Also, when exchanging Pokémon, or using the C-Gear to see other players around you or near you who are playing Black/White, we think DS is the most appropriate machine for this.
Of course there's not a zero possibility of having a Pokémon RPG for a home console, but only if there is something we can make out of it that's fun.
For this game we have introduced the Global Link, which allows users to connect to a PC, so that there is something to play at home.
Can we expect to see other spin-offs featuring the new Pokémon from Black/White?
Game Freak is not developing any other videogames for the Wii in the foreseeable future, as far as I know. There could be some other possibilities, but I am not really sure.