Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shattered dreams: The Pokemon MMORPURGER

Note: I'm planning to do a CGW-style review (read: no score) of HG/SS once I finish a third run with Chikorita as a starter. But for now...

A few months ago, I went into detail as to why a main-series Pokemon game on a console would never happen. If I went to Las Vegas and was asked to set a line on the possibility, it'd be 30,000-1 (or roughly the odds the St. Louis Rams will win Super Bowl 44). But the odds for a Pokemon MMO? 4,000,000-1 (or the Rams win the next 2 Super Bowls).

Oh, I know, the entire Internet would be lined up to preorder it day 1 (or so I heard) and it may be the only game capable of toppling the WoW juggernaut. But there's a lot of reasons Nintendo's never going to greenlight it...

1) Money, money. Yeah, yeah.
The first question has to be how the hell they're going to support the ongoing maintenance required for a MMO. This requires a lot of money, and Nintendo's certainly got the coin to at least get a game off the ground - but that's money that can be used to pay for new tea tables for Miyamoto to turn over.

In addition to standard development costs for a full game, there's ongoing server maintenance, paying GMs and programmers for patches. These things aren't cheap, and any money going into PokeMMOn is money that's not being spent on R&D or funding new projects.

Nintendo's not going to make it a no monthly fee MMO (think Guild Wars) or a free-to-play/microtransaction MMO (think Club Penguin or a lot of Korean MMOs), so they'd inevitably go to the WoW model of base game + monthly fee in order to turn a profit. And when you consider that Pokemon is a series designed exclusively for kids, Mommy and Daddy won't be happy when Billy and Sarah ask for raises in their allowance to pay the toll for the game they got them for Christmas.

(For a further examination of Pokemon's marketing, grab the September 22 episode of ListenUP.)

2) Wrong place, right time
Realistically, what Nintendo platform is suitable to handle a MMO? And is Nintendo Wi-Fi, where you use the 10 digit friend code (cell phone #) to get the 12 digit friend code, set up to handle a MMO?

In order to handle game updates and character storage, you need a system that has usable storage. That leaves the regular DS flat out, as there's no expandable storage. Sure we have 4 gigabit DS cards (used for The Another World, the Level 5/Studio Ghibli joint) but a MMO is going to need even more than that.

The Wii and the DSi both have SDHC support, so theoretically you have up to 32GB available. Even 8 GB SD cards are cheap now - I got a 8GB microSDHC for $35 at Walmart a few months ago. But that may be too much additional expense for players to bear. The DSi has 256MB internal, and the Wii has 512MB. If you're lucky, you'd have 3/4 of that available and it's no way suitable for an MMO. Nintendo would much prefer to make this as easy as possible, but the fact is the earliest system that could be designed for a MMO would be the next rev of the Wii (with HD-DVD drive).

And even then, there's the hurdle of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. They haven't even brought in random matchmaking into the DS games, and the only systems that use friend lists and other "modern online features" are 3rd party efforts. Again, this isn't going to change until the next generation of Nintendo systems (both handheld and console). The DSi doesn't count here.

The easiest way out for Nintendo is to put it on PC, but they haven't developed a PC game (as far as I know) in their company's history and would rather fall on their sword than let a 3rd party company handle it. (I'd give it to Blizzard personally, but it'd be delayed to 2018). And can you name a MMO on ANY console in history that could remotely be considered succesful? The only one I'd even think of being in that ballpark is PSO (no monthly fee style) and that ended up dying for the most part with the Dreamcast.

3) Everything you know is wrong
As mentioned in the console post, the developers have said they prefer players trade in person rather than work online. But people always say that there would be a lot of people who would be willing to play different roles in PokeMMOn.

Really cool articles about dancing in Star Wars: Galaxies from CGW aside, I can't think of any MMO that's known for a player base willing to do anything. In Pokemon you'd likely have a makeup of 55% casuals, 40% hardcore PVPers, and 5% in the other roles (collectors, breeders, contest fiends, et al). Eventually, the PVPers would end up running the show based on sheer time in the game, and the other players would get frustrated and quit when they get called a n00b (or prole, or whatever) for the Nth time.

The other thing, and it's a minor thing but one that worries me, is the effect this would have on Pokemon's canon. There's only a few birds, gerbils, Regis etc to go around in the current world (the ones you catch and the occasional user in the Battle Frontier) - but what happens in a MMO? Is there a 40-man raiding group going to get Lugia? And if so, who's going to end up with it? Do they respawn so that everyone and their mother-in-law has one?

There's simply too many things that have to be considered before a Pokemon MMO would get published, and why bother doing it when you can sell 2 million DS games in a week for a tenth of the effort and five times the profit?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heart Gold-Stopping Design Insanity (or: "How The PokeGear Ruined Everything")

Now that I've had a chance to dive further into Heart Gold/Soul Silver (13 badges at the time of this writing, looking for Chanseys due to my mild OCD about getting everything at the first opportunity), I've noticed some things that are driving me batty during the playthrough.

First of all, among the buyable TMs are Return, Dark Pulse, Taunt... and STEALTH ROCK. Yes, for the low low price of $2,000, you too can have the move solely responsible for preventing me from using entire types of Pokemon in PvP!

Now, I realize that this isn't going to stop most people from using it, since anyone who needs mass quantities of TM76 could've played through the first badge on a second game and traded it over, or is playing on a simulator. Still, at least that prevented casual use until now. This is probably the nastiest purchasable TM since Double Team was available (for $1000, by the way) in the halcyon days of RBY.

 Next is the new (or old) Itemfinder. In trying to chase down the Machine Part, the thing was bloody useless - maybe the instructions will make more sense when I can read them in something other than Japanese, but I eventually had to resort to running around the Cerulean gym like an idiot jabbing A. At least with the Dowsing Machine, you can eliminate a lot of space in one touch if the item doesn't appear.

But probably the most irritating thing is everything that goes in the Pokegear. The radio was functionally useless in the originals except for catching Snorlax, so I can understand adding something to it. And they did, in the form of the Hoenn and Sinnoh sound stations. A good idea and probably better than the Poke Radar, which I've gone on record as wanting to break a developer's legs over. But why restrict it to a day of the week for each? I'd rather not waste an appointment space on my phone's calendar that says "Catch Bidoof today", and I doubt anyone else would either. Make them each post-National stations and I'd be a little happier at using the radio to charm a Pokemon. (Or build the GB Player and this into a "pPod" item and kill two birds with one stone.)

I also prefered the Poketch Marking Map to using the PokeGear Town Map for legendary Gerbil and Lati tracking. Sure, it's just two additional button presses, but it's a lot easier to just have the map there and have it auto-update than hit the menu every time. Of course, it appears that these games are tech demos for the 5th gen engine, so we'll probably be stuck with this for the forseeable future. (Of course, they could just not have roaming Pokemon, but what do I know?)

The thing that really grinds my gears, however, is the return to the phone system instead of using the Vs. Seeker for rematches. Look Bug Catcher Wade, I don't give a flying fadoo that you beat a Bellsprout... I just want to know when you bothered to level up your stupid Caterpie so I can KO them while grinding my Mareep. (yeah.... stupid Bellsprout.) Although getting the calls from Mom that she bought me type-resisting berries - thanks to her, I've got enough Yache Berries for an entire platoon of Garchomp - and other hold items, it'd be just as easy to have the guy in the Poke Mart when I walk in.

Again, this is something that may be remedied after the localization - and unlike the originals, you can ignore the call by going into the menu. But if I need to grind at the endgame, I'd like to be the one who controls the timing for the rematches. Emerald was sorely missing this feature, and these games are going to feel the same way.

Other quick hits:

- I never realized how much Mareep relied on the elemental punches until now, especially Fire Punch. I finally had to get rid of it for Magnemite around Ecruteak City because if something's going to take up a slot in my party with its only usable attack being Thundershock, it can at least have a boatload of resistances.

- The relative hatred of Fire-types continues unabated. Houndour still is Kanto-exclusive pending a nightime visit to the new Safari Zone, Typhlosion is going to have the same problems Mareep did (not learning anything beyond its own type until high levels) and I couldn't find a Magmarizer anywhere. And Flareon's still a comedy option, before you ask (especially when it comes at L5 now).

- Miltank has Scrappy, which means it's still going to put a dent in Giratina with STAB attacks. Next time I get a chance, I'm using Dialga for native Stomp/Rollout resistance and Attract immunity.

- Lance broke out Pokesav again - LEVEL 40 DRAGONITE. At least Rock Slide is legal on Aerodactyl this time.

- I brought home a massive haul in a 2+ hour run to the Safari Zone - among previously unattainable-in-Johto Pokemon were Murkrow, Misdreavus, Mr. Mime, and Larvitar. I really hope someone goes into detail as to what can be done with the customization, since it may throw the concept of a version exclusive out the window.

- Modest Ho-oh on the 3rd Poke Ball. Hells yeah.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Quick and dirty HG/SS release thoughts

Normally Pokemon games get their street dates shattered about a week before release, but Heart Gold and Soul Silver managed to go until the day before release before getting squirted out to the teeming masses.

And between Smogon, Serebii and Pokebeach, we now know 80% of what's going to show up in an FAQ sometime around April of 2010. There's some things I like about the remakes... but the amount of sickening fanservice in this game makes me wonder just how far shoved up their nostalgic ass we have to go.

The things I like:

The Gravity tutor.

Legends and even STARTERS from previous generations available. Now all we need is the Ruby/Sapphire dongle Pokemon catchable.

Gym Leader fights that pose a challenge, assuming we can ever get to them.

The delicious tears that flow because people STILL haven't figured out the easy mode to beat Whitney's Miltank (it's called Geodude, guys...)

Being able to rape the game in half and stuff it through a mailbox ( with the Origin Form Giratina learning everything before L50. (Even Aura Sphere.) If you have a Movie Arceus, this game is officially a speedrunner's dream.

Aqua Jet/Belly Drum Azumarill being legal for a few hours (then again, this happens every time).

Death to the Defog HM. (Of course, Whirlpool... yeah...)

Togepi not only has an attack when you hatch it... it's Extrasensory.

Kanto is actually a usable continent, pending the release of the wild Pokemon locations.

The things I can do without:

The Gym rosters staying largely the same or regressing (see: Whitney). Couldn't they have at least given Bugsy Ledian and Spinarak? And Clair getting Gyarados just makes it easy mode.

Pokemon following me. And it sounds like you can't turn it off. I'm sorry, I just found that annoying in Yellow (and evolved my rats as soon as they learned Thunderbolt so I could get rid of the things) and now that I CAN'T GET RID OF IT... I'd say more, but Penny Arcade sums it up quite well, I think. Unless they start finding Master Balls.

Raising a Caterpie to Butterfree. I might have to adjust the ingame monsters list as I forgot just how much of a pain in the tukus it is to get to Butterfree in the first place. Still, 98% Sleep Powder...

The rumored tutors (priority moves ahoy) falling through, and no expansion to Rapid Spin... yet they found room to make String Shot a tutor. String Shot. I wish I was making this up. Without question, the worst tutor move ever.

Most of the Johto Pokemon still being stuck in Kanto (Houndour, Murkrow, Larvitar, etc) while I have to trudge around without a Fire type for the nth time.

And probably the one thing that makes me irrationally angry... the GB Player. Maybe it's because I play with the volume at minimum so I can listen to podcasts and such, but the fact is they devoted programming time to 1999 graphics and sound to appease people who are living in the past. That's time they could have devoted to, I dunno, making Chikorita not suck.

But this is the hand we got dealt, and I suspect my clean game is going to end up as Soul Silver while I run through Heart Gold whenever I'm really bored and not beating the best Pokemon game of this generation (Platinum).