Saturday, September 3, 2016

Random Thoughts on Pokémon GO

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I don’t normally write about Pokémon GO—this may be the only article I ever write on the subject!—but I’ve been playing the game for around 6 weeks now, and I’ve got some thoughts on it.  This isn’t terribly well structured; it’s more like my random jumbled thoughts forced into something of an order.

There are a lot of things I really like about this game:  it’s fun to capture new Pokémon, fighting and taking down gyms is rather cathartic, it gives a reason to explore the local area, and it’s a great excuse to go out and walk a lot.  However, there are also a number of aspects where the game isn’t as good as it could be.  Hopefully the updates which are supposed to be on their way in the near future will help with this, but there are a few things that have not been mentioned which I really think need to be discussed.

Recent Updates

I really like the “Appraise” feature, though it isn’t that easy to figure out.  It would be nice if there were a tutorial explaining exactly what the statements mean.  I was under the impression that “Its stats are the best I’ve ever seen!” (at the end of the appraisal dialogue) meant that the Pokémon’s Individual Values were close to the maximum, but I saw a YouTube video suggesting that the first statement (“Your [Pokémon] looks like it can really battle with the best of them!” for Team Instinct) is actually the statement about the Pokémon’s Individual Values.  Which is correct???

Announced/Rumored Updates

Buddy Pokemon
Last week it was announced that there will be a Buddy Pokémon system coming as part of the next update (presumably this week).  Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with this idea.  They haven’t said exactly what the Buddy Pokémon system will entail yet, but the rumor suggests that when you walk with your Buddy Pokémon you will earn candies for it (among other things).  I think this is a brilliant idea:  if you are close to enough candies to evolve a Pokémon but can’t find any more of them to capture, you can simply walk around with it as your Buddy for a while to accumulate the candies necessary.  This would be especially helpful with extremely rare Pokémon and Pokémon with high evolution requirements (such as Magikarp—I know Magikarps are ridiculously common, but I live in Kansas and I’ve only caught two of them in 6 weeks, so I would absolutely let a Magikarp flop around behind me for a couple weeks if it means evolving a Gyarados, darn it!).

We will see what all this entails when they roll the Buddy Pokémon system out this week, but my hope is that it will be something simple like receiving 1 candy for every km you walk.  It would be amazing if walking with the Pokémon could either increase its CP and HP (without expending candies and Stardust) or improve its Individual Values, but the basic benefit of gaining candies shouldn’t be over-complicated.  Just give us a candy per km and I’ll be happy.  I’d probably use a half-dozen Buddy Pokémon in the first 2 weeks or so to get enough candies to evolve them, and then settle on a single go-to Buddy.

I really cannot wait for Trading to become available.  After all, that may be the only way for most of us to get region-exclusive Pokémon.  It would also provide an incentive for keeping more of the Pokémon that we are not as interested in using for battles.  For example, I’ve caught 1-2 dozen Pinsirs and Scythers, several of which are fairly decent specimens.  However, I’m not keeping the majority of them since I already have my 1-2 good fighters out of the bunch.  I can trade them for candies (which I don’t need so many of because they don’t have evolutions, or not yet in the case of Scyther), but I would rather try to trade them to players who have either a Pokémon I don’t have or a better specimen of one I do.

Customizable or Specialized Pokéstops
This will be another really exciting update when it comes.  I have a number of ideas for possible specializations, and if even a couple of them were adopted, it would make the game that much better.

I think this is the one that most players want:  a Hospital where you can take your Pokémon to recover after a battle.  My preference for this would be time-based recovery.  You would take your Pokémon to the Hospital and check it in.  It would then stay at the Hospital until you check it out.  For the duration of its stay it would recover HP at a set rate (1/hour, 10/day, etc.).  This would save you from needing to use Potions just to get the Pokémon’s HP up a single point to the maximum.

In the games, players have the option of leaving their Pokémon with a breeder, who would then give them eggs of the same species as their Pokémon.  In Pokémon GO, eggs come from Pokéstops randomly in varieties based on the distance you need to walk to hatch the egg.  How about if you could combine these two into a slightly-revamped egg receiving system?  Eggs would still be available from Pokéstops randomly as before, but you could also receive a guaranteed egg from a Breeder.

You would leave one of your Pokémon with the Breeder (probably giving it to him permanently but maybe just lending it to him) to breed.  Then every set period of time (say 1 week) you could receive an egg from that Breeder provided that you have a free egg slot.  The variety of egg you receive would be dependent on the Pokémon you left with him:  if the Pokémon is one whose base form hatches from a 2 km egg, you could only get 2 km eggs; if it hatches from a 5 km egg, you could get 2 km and 5 km eggs; if it hatches from a 10 km egg, you could get any egg.  That would be a great use for those spare Pinsirs and Scythers!

            Trading Posts
With trading on the way, this would be one option for that (in addition to a global listing service of some sort).  At a Trading Post, players could leave any Pokémon they are interested in trading and allow any other visitors to check it out (stats, moves, even appraise it).  Those visitors could then propose a trade to the Pokémon’s owner.  When the owner visits the Trading Post again he can check out the trade offers (stats, moves, appraisal, etc.) and either accept or reject the offer.

            Pokémon Trainers
I think it would be nice if players had the option of teaching their Pokémon different combat moves.  This would involve bringing the Pokémon to a Pokémon Trainer, paying the Trainer a certain number of candies and Stardust, selecting the new move you want it to learn, and leaving the Pokémon with the Trainer for a set period of time.  At the end of that time you can pick up your Pokémon and it will have learned that new move (which would replace the old one).

            Training Centers
This is one that I actually do not want to see as a Pokéstop option, but rather as a Pokégym option—it just makes more sense to me that way.

The problem with the current gym system is that it really doesn’t allow for training.  You can only fight the Pokémon that are at the gym (and in that order), so there isn’t much variety.  There also isn’t anything in the way of tutorials to help you learn to fight better.  Additionally, many gyms have Pokémon that are too powerful for low-level players to really train against.  All of these things are frustrating when you want to train at the gym.

My proposed solution would be to give some/all Pokégyms a Training Center.  This would be open to every team regardless of which team actually controls the gym (and would not get closed down or interrupted when a gym falls).  Players would assign Pokémon to the Training Center in a similar fashion to the way they are at a gym, but would retain the option of removing a Pokémon at any time.  There would be many more available slots for Pokémon to be assigned, rather than the maximum of 10 at the gym itself:  1 for each Pokémon type in 5 different levels (CP 10-100, CP 101-500, CP 501-1000, CP 1001-2000, CP 2001 and above), for a total of 90 assigned Pokémon.  A player can assign as many Pokémon as he wishes to the Training Center, but he only gets coins when someone trains against them.  However, a player’s Pokémon could be kicked out of the Training Center if he doesn’t train there at least once in a given week.

At the Training Center the player would have the option of guided or unguided training.  Guided training would involve either the player’s team leader or a training coach NPC walking him through the battle process, including several specific scenarios: selecting a team of Pokémon, type advantages, special moves, dodging, etc.  Unguided training would simply have the player select a team of Pokémon and then drop him into a fight with random level-based Pokémon.

Training would grant the player XP, but based on different calculations than the current gym battling system.  XP would be based on winning, selecting appropriate Pokémon, the difficulty level of the Pokémon faced (the lowest tier would net much less XP than the highest tier), good use of special moves, damage inflicted, damage received (less damage = more XP), etc.  This way even if the player loses the battle, they still receive some XP, though not as much as if they won.

This would give an option other than battling at the gym for players who either don’t want to fight the gym’s Pokémon or don’t have strong-enough Pokémon to fight the gym’s Pokémon.

New Tracking System
Can we just get a new tracking system already?  I understand why they disabled all of the third-party tracking systems out there (I didn’t actually use them anyways), but the timing wasn’t right.  I think it would have been a better idea for Niantic to develop and roll out their own revamped tracking system as part of the same update which disabled the third-party systems.  As it is, all we get is a list of “Sightings” in no particular order and with no idea exactly where any of them are (or even the direction).  If the current tracking “system” even just included an arrow pointing in the general direction of the spawn point, that would be a huge improvement!

The One BIG Problem

Now that I have hit level 22, I have realized exactly what the biggest problem with this game is.  I don’t think this is particularly earth-shattering—I doubt that I’m the first one to realize it—but it is somewhat troubling/annoying.  What is this problem?  The XP system and level requirements.

As your level increases, the amount of XP required for the next level also increases.  For example, it takes 50,000 additional XP to go from 20 to level 21; 75,000 more to get from there to level 22; 100,000 more for level 23.  From here the XP requirements continue to increase by at least 25,000 XP per level.

This is fairly common for long-term strategy-based video games like this.  Runescape and World of Warcraft, for example, follow a similar model.  But the key difference between these games and Pokémon GO is in the methods available for gaining XP.  You see, in the two games I mentioned, different skills, items, and methods are unlocked at various levels, which allow you to gain more XP per task performed than the options available at lower levels (for example, you gain more XP for mining Rune than Iron in Runescape).

That’s not the case with Pokémon GO.  On the contrary, you are actually able to gain less XP at higher levels!  How?  Keep reading.

There are five ways to gain XP in Pokémon GO:  hatching an egg, catching a Pokémon, adding a Pokémon to your Pokédex, going to a Pokéstop, and fighting/training at a Pokégym.  The only time an additional method is unlocked is when you reach level 5 and gain access to the Pokégym.  Beyond this, the available methods do not change at all.  In fact, the longer you play the game and the more Pokémon you add to your Pokédex, the less frequently you receive the additional 500 XP for adding a Pokémon to the Pokédex.  This means that you can go from level 1 to level 2 by catching just 2 Pokémon (both of which are new to the Pokédex), but you would have to catch 1,000 Pokémon (likely none of which are new to your Pokédex) to get from level 22 to level 23.

To correct this problem, Niantic really needs to do something to allow players to gain more XP for completing certain tasks at higher levels than they can at lower levels.  I have a couple ideas for this, which leads us to my…

Ideas for the Future

Level Multipliers
Currently, capturing any Pokémon is worth 100 XP, plus bonuses for a curveball and for a Nice, Great, or Excellent throw, making each Pokémon worth a maximum of 210 XP:  100 (capture) + 100 (Excellent Throw) + 10 (Curveball), leaving the Pokédex bonus completely out of the equation.  This is the same whether it is a CP 10 Pidgey or a CP 2600 Gyarados.  But it’s a whole lot harder to capture the one than the other, so why shouldn’t you gain more XP for capturing more difficult Pokémon?

My simple solution to this problem would be to add level multipliers for the Pokémon you capture as you get to higher levels.  This would not be based on the player’s level, however; it would be based on the Pokémon’s internal level instead.  Each Pokémon has its own internal level which is partially based on the player’s level when encountering it—you cannot encounter a Pokémon with a higher level than your own.

This would mean that either the entire encounter itself (the capture as well as throw bonuses) or just the 100 XP for capturing the Pokémon would be multiplied by a number based on the Pokémon’s internal level.  This could either be a simple method or a slightly more complicated method.  The simplest method would be a multiplier based on a range of levels:
·        Level 1-9- 100*1=100
·        Level 10-19= 100*1.5=150
·        Level 20-29= 100*2=200
·        Level 30-39= 100*3=300
·        Level 40= 100*4=400

A slightly more complicated method would be based on the exact level:
·        Level 1-10- 10*10=100
·        Level 11 and up- 10*[Level]=X
·        Consequently Level 11=110, level 12=120, level 35=350, etc.

Either of these would give a greater incentive to catch Pokémon and give the ability to gain more XP when you have a higher level.

Unlocking New Generations of Pokémon
It’s been teased multiple times that Pokémon GO is going to include Generation 2 Pokémon and beyond at some point.  If Niantic wants to give players the ability to gain more XP at higher levels, they should make these additional Generations available at certain levels.

For example, at level 20 a player could visit Professor Willow and receive access to Generation 2 Pokémon (in addition to a starter Gen 2 Pokémon).  At level 30 a player would receive access to Generation 3, Generation 4 at level 40, and so on.  This way players can still receive bonuses for adding new Pokémon to their Pokédex, even at level 20 when they have theoretically already captured the majority of Generation 1 Pokémon.

Additional Combat Options
I remember the original Game Boy games included the ability to link your Game Boy to a friend’s and battle each other.  Unfortunately, this is not an option yet with Pokémon GO.  I can understand Niantic being hesitant to do this when their servers are being taxed already, but I still think there is a way to do it.  The first option would be to design a linking cable system by which you can connect 2 devices directly, battle, and then update the server via Internet afterwards, avoiding taxing the servers during the battle itself.  Such a system would need to use a USB hub and may include cable options for every available device, but if it were just a proprietary USB hub and the players provided their own cables it could work just as well.  The second option would be to use the devices’ tethering and Bluetooth capabilities to wirelessly connect the devices directly, and then update the server after the battle as mentioned before.

A second combat option would be to give players the option of using their own Pokémon (one of six the player preselected) to fight wild Pokémon.  This would serve a twofold purpose.  First, players could gain XP by battling (similar to the current Gym battling system).  Second, players could weaken stronger wild Pokémon in order to capture them.  This would net XP both for capturing the Pokémon and for fighting it.  However, to make this more challenging, wild Pokémon would also have the ability to flee while you are fighting them, at a different rate than their Pokéball escape rate.  This means that an aggressive Pokémon would be more likely to stay and fight, while a skittish Pokémon would be more likely to run away as soon as you send out one of your own Pokémon.


So there, in no particular order (beyond the headings), are my thoughts on Pokémon GO.  Like I said at the beginning, I really enjoy playing this game (for the most part), but there are a small number of issues that really annoy me.  In particular the fact that I will probably be stuck at level 22 for a week before I catch, hatch, and fight enough Pokémon for level 23!

Do you play Pokémon GO?  What do you think of the recent and upcoming updates?  What do you want to see them add to the game in the future?  Let me know in the comments!

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