Pokemon Go Will Soon Bring Monsters Into Your (Real) World
Soon, the whole world will be your Pokémon playground, and to catch ’em all, you’ll have to get out of the house.
Pokémon Go, a mobile game jointly produced by The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, and Niantic, will be launching later this summer for iOS and Android. Recently, WIRED visited Niantic’s office to get a demo of how the augmented-reality game will let players capture monsters in their own neighborhoods, and battle them at landmarks around their cities and towns. In the 20 years since the release of the original Pokémon games, what kid hasn’t dreamed about going off and having their own IRL Pokémon adventure? Go is about as close as they’re likely to get.
“It’s exactly what Pokémon games are about,” says The Pokémon Company’s J.C. Smith. “You’re a kid in a town, and you go and explore it, and capture Pokémon, and battle.” And it could reach an even wider audience than the Pokémon role-playing games for Nintendo’s own game hardware (it has sold 14 million copies of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y for its 3DS system). “As well as Nintendo’s products have sold,” says Smith, “not everyone has a 3DS. A lot more people have a cell phone.”
While it’s Nintendo and The Pokémon Company that are bringing the big franchise to mobile, it’s Niantic that’s bringing the magic. A former Google division that was spun off late last year (and now has Nintendo as an investor), it created Ingress, a GPS-enabled augmented-reality game that’s been a worldwide hit. You play the game by traveling to real-world landmarks designated as “portals.” In Pokémon Go, those become one of two Pokémon-specific areas: “Pokestops,” where you can acquire new items, like Pokeballs that let you capture more monsters; or “gyms,” where you can battle other players’ Pokémon. For instance, underneath the Bay Bridge near Niantic’s San Francisco office is a Pokestop, and nearby art installation Cupid’s Span—which looks like a giant bow and arrow lodged in a grassy patch of park—is a gym.
But what if you don’t live in San Francisco? Niantic CEO John Hanke, who “grew up in a town of 1,000 people [with a] single blinking stoplight and a Dairy Queen,” says that problem has been solved—by Ingress players.
“In every community, whether it’s rural Sri Lanka or downtown Manhattan, there are places that people know about and are proud of,” Hanke says. “We had to crowdsource that, which we did with Ingress.” In all, Hanke says there are about 15 million different points of interest that served as portals in Ingress, and now will serve as Pokestops and gyms in Go. Libraries, museums, historical markers, statues, public artwork… anything of cultural or historial interest.
Thanks to Ingress‘s player base submitting the data, Pokémon Go is off to a “huge running start” at launch. Climbing California’s Mount Diablo last weekend, Hanke found that the peak markers and trail markers were Pokestops and gyms.
Catching ‘Em All
Boot up Pokémon Go and look at the onscreen map, and you’ll see that your world is full of Pokémon, ripe for the capturing. These placements, too, reflect the world around them: Water creatures will be in lakes, rivers, and oceans; grass-dwelling Pokémon will be in your public park. One of a player’s ultimate goals is to fill up the Pokedex with all of the different creatures. Walk to the icon on the screen where a Pokémon lies in wait, and you’ll get the chance to catch it.
In the Nintendo 3DS games, catching more Pokémon for your team means engaging in sometimes lengthy battles between the monsters, tiring them out before attempting to capture them by tossing one of your limited supply of Pokeballs. But Niantic doesn’t want players to have to stop in one place and battle for minutes on end. So it’s a more simplified approach: When you encounter a creature, you flick Pokeballs at it on your phone’s screen to try to capture it. Flick more accurately with your finger, and you’ll waste fewer Pokeballs in the attempt.
You won’t directly battle other players for supremacy. Instead, the real-world spots like Cupid’s Span that are designated as “gyms” are where different teams of players will constantly vie for control over the lifespan of the game. At the game’s onset, you’ll pick one of a few factions to align yourself with, and you can use the Pokémon you’ve gathered by assigning them to gyms. If you want to take a gym back from a team that’s captured it, you’ll have to go into battle.
There’s one more piece of the puzzle: the Pokémon Go Plus, a small Bluetooth device that players can carry in their pocket or wear on their person. This will let you accomplish basic actions without having to look at your phone, “so you don’t have to be heads-down all the time,” Hanke says.
“It vibrates and flashes when you’re near Pokestops or near Pokémon,” he says. “You repeat a pattern on the button, and you’ve acquired items or captured a Pokémon. You can do a farming run on the way to work every morning without staring at your phone the whole time.”
Just walking around is a key part of gameplay. You can also catch Pokémon by finding eggs, which only hatch once you’ve spent enough time an energy walking around. “There are people that have used Ingress as an incentive to walk every day,” Hanke says. “It’s Fitbit for geeks.”
Niantic’s first goal with Pokémon Go is to create something that new players can jump into easily, Hanke says. Ingress could be “overwhelming” for new players, since the core of its gameplay is team-based competition. For Pokémon Go, he’s looking for something a lot easier on newbies.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re onboarding in an area where there may be hyper-competitive gym battles going on between high-level trainers. It’s not going to affect your experiences,” he says. “There is no intimidation factor.” One less thing to get in the way of Pokémon—for almost-real this time—taking over the world.
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