Published on September 21st, 2016 | by Ed Sum0
Where Pokémon GO Needs to Head to Keep Me Playing
Pokémon GO is more than two months old. While there has been a steep decline in players since its launch, that has not stopped the software company, Niantic Inc. from rolling out new features in an attempt to get their fan base back and draw new players in. I’ve spent too much time playing the game to call it quits. I feel the Buddy system is a step in the right direction, and am really curious to discover any hidden features of this latest software update beyond what is advertised (see below for my hopes). However, like everyone who has criticized this game, more elements from the animation and original games from The Pokémon Company are needed to make the product feel authentic.
As many players have expressed on many a forum, this product was rushed. Even John Hanke admits “We got the minimum viable product out into the marketplace. It’s a tip of the iceberg in terms of where we ultimately want to take the game, so it will change and evolve substantially over the next several years.” to Heavy.com
The game released this year coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the franchise; the mobile product definitely feels like it features only 20% of what being a Pokémon Trainer is like. If this world was real, the player will need to have the throwing skills of baseball legend Nolan Ryan and oratory skills of General Patton to inspire soldiers (Pokémon) to effectively catch those wild and woolly vagrants to turn into new fighting cadets. In the mobile world, that translates to having the skills to swipe at the screen with an appropriate motion (or curve) to send a Pokéball far enough to hit the monster. Players are essentially catching these critters like Ash Ketchum did in episode one. That is, to believe the fauna can be caught without weakening it first. Many fans of the franchise have already pointed this difference out and I firmly believe the game developers did not put enough thought into what their game represents to give long-time fans the ideal game. They acquired the license without realizing who their fan base is.
Despite the flaws, the game is enjoyable and addictive. Yes, to catch the most elusive figure gives a player bragging rights (usually posted over social media). To truly catch them all means travelling the world since there are country exclusives.
I enjoy the game well enough to want to work on building up a ghost and fire team for collector’s purposes. My reason is because I love the world of the paranormal. Although they are not strong enough to defeat the most powerful Pokémon in gym or trainer battles, I enjoy having all these spirits around.
In generation one, there are only three: Gastly, Haunter and Gengar. When this game introduces the rest of the rogue’s gallery from later seasons of the anime / later games, I’ll be ready to use a Mega Gengar and perhaps get to evolve some with Gastly candies. But until the flaws are fixed in this game — to which there is a handful — just how often I’ll be playing really depends on when my friends are able to join me. The social aspect is far more enjoyable than achieving victory in owning a gym on my own to gain coins (this game’s currency) for a short time. The impact on society is already felt, and all anyone has to do is turn to the news or to do a Google search to hear about the pros and cons.
The following are my observations in what needs to be fixed if Niantic Inc. really wants this game to succeed (while ignoring the obvious Trading and Player vs Player system, which is coming). They are ranked by most important to least.
Multi-player Gym Takeovers (and levelling them up)
The game will sometimes kick a player out when several players are engaging in attacking a Poké Gym at the same time. There’s no reason why. Some believe it has to do with the type of cellular network (H, 3G or 4G) their mobile service is on, others think the problem lurks in the delay connecting to the gym (the game servers are not able to handle the load) or the issue is related to how accurate the GPS is to register the player as next to the gym. From a computer programmer’s point of view, perhaps the the “gym” is not able to generate a dynamic linked list fast enough to allow multiple players to occupy that node so the Pokémon datasets can be “fought.” A gym is stacked by order of weakest to powerful by data value (combat power in the game), so just how well this module in the game’s code is written was never fully beta tested since something is getting rejected when external pointers are searching for a Pokémon to fight.
This problem still persists, and it’s been frustrating not only for me, but also for others. The issue is not related to a particular team occupying the gym.
Here’s one thread discussing the problem:
A Working In-Game Sightings / Tracker Monitor
The little radar Niantic Inc. has put in place is a slight improvement because Pokémon moves up and down the list of who is closer like a queue, but searching for it is still like watching a first time player attempt a game of darts. You are shooting blindly hoping you’re getting close. For advanced players (working in teams of three or more), just where it is can be located by triangulation. More Methods to Gain Coins (for micro-transactions)
Some players enjoy this game without spending real-world money. The items that can be bought are for finding new Pokémon and increasing the player’s storage capacity in their backpack and digital matrix. Though to take on the gyms that offer coins after occupying them for a certain time is nearly impossible. Plenty of variables exist, which is not limited to location but also the strength of the defenders.
To have only one option to earn free money makes every Trainer’s life difficult. Most find spending a couple of dollars no big deal, but it translates to big rewards for Niantic and the investors. Sadly, just where the money is going has not been disclosed. They really need to hire the staff to handle bug testing and maintaining the servers.
Other options really need to exist, like offering rewards for medals earned. Personally, I love to see the game offer daily goals where a Pokémon of a certain type needs to be captured within a certain time frame. A module scanning the entire database of players who achieved the criteria can be easily implemented.
Improving the Pokémon Buddy System
Paul Tassi at Forbes Magazine suggested a great idea, and that’s to sell extra slots to players wanting to walk more than one Pokémon. Since people in real life can take several dogs on a run, the idea can translate well into the game. But the list should not end here.
If there are any Easter Eggs, there might be some which have not revealed themselves yet. Travelling with the same buddy over a long period of time — like two weeks minimum and achieving at least 100km — should increase the stamina skill. The rewards must be very slow in coming so that the bonus is richly rewarded and at the same time, not being stackable. Once the bonus is achieved, that’s it!
Just like in Pokémon XY, I like to see options of being able to play with them or feed them puffs to increase their happiness (like in Bandai’s Tamagotchi). By increasing the love, they can perform better in gyms or have stats gradually altered.
Tassi’s suggestion can be read here:
Not Every Mobile Has a Gyroscope for Augmented Reality (AR)
Not every player has a gyroscope built into their cell phone. That feature is available in mid-range to high-end phones. Budget users are out of luck. Although this game can be played without (most players do anyways since the monsters are easier to catch), there will be instances where the player will want a snapshot of a Pokémon popping out in the most unusual, embarrassing or awkward of situations to post on social media. When they do appear, they are not scaled in relation to the image the camera sees. These issues are not all that big, but when Hanke sees his product as a cornerstone of what AR can be, I really like to find out if he has plans to project the digital realm upon the real world anytime soon. The technology exists. Just go to a Gorillaz concert. He’s right in saying it is “far more interesting and promising – for technology and, really, for humanity,” but until stadiums and hubs (like New York’s Times Square) have holo-projection systems built into the infrastructure, this dream will take years to look like Marty McFly going Back to the Future (yes, I’m addressing the scene where Jaws chomps on him).
In the meantime, the mobile device allows for a bit of a peak into the looking glass to the future. I have seen a few virtual reality apps use code to detect how the cell moves with the accelerometer. The feature can be coded to give players an ability to play around with budget AR. Sadly it is not perfect.
Turning Pokémon GO into a Pinball Game
Since the point of the game is to swipe the ball towards a target, a near miss can be frustrating. The game can be made even more challenging by using the mobile device’s accelerometer to navigate the ball for that perfect shot or to keep a really steady hand when swiping a ball towards a moving target. Catching Pokémon is like playing a game of darts on a mobile screen. In the real world, some will compare the game to baseball or golf.