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Iwata Asks About Pokemon Black & White

The development staff discusses the new world and the decision to go with all new Pokemon.


Pokemon Black & White hits next week. I bet Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata has some questions he'd like to ask about the game. A quick check at Nintendo's official site and...

Sure enough, there's Iwata sitting in the world's happiest meeting room across from Pokemon Co. CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, Black & White director Junichi Masuda, and 2D art director Ken Sugimori. This is the long awaited Iwata Asks for Black & White.

The column is, as one expects of the Iwata Asks features, long and full of new revelations about the subject. Here's a summary of the discussion about the game's world and creature design, which included the revelation that the game's main city was designed in the motif of New York City.

Iwata began the interview, which was conducted at Pokemon Co. by asking how the Black & White project came to be. Why did Pokemon Co. want to make a second original Pokemon game for DS (following Diamond & Pearl)? Masuda's response was that he'd actually always wanted to make a second game for the system, the reason being that the system has become so popular throughout the world.

When starting up the project, one thing Masuda and the entire staff kept in mind was that they wanted to make sure the resulting game didn't end up being just like Diamond & Pearl. Explained Masuda, with this being another DS Pokemon, there's a danger that if you just develop it normally it will end up being similar to the previous entries on the platform.

Iwata posed the question, how did you go about "destroying" the image of what a DS Pokemon is. Replied Masuda, the development staff has had set images throughout the series' development -- such things as "go to the Pokemon Center and exchange Pokemon." They wanted to "destroy" these bits of "common knowledge" regarding Pokemon game development.

In other words, said Iwata, they'd be rethinking the rules that had been formulated over the long history of the Pokemon franchise.

Masuda also wanted to tackle one particular issue. While the Pokemon games are made to be played by everyone from kids to adults, it's often the case that people will "graduate" from the series as they go from junior high, to high school, then to college. This is something that he regrets. To address this, he considered "If it were me, what could be done to make me continue playing." This thinking resulted in such elements as the ability to view the text using kanji characters rather than the strict kana-only policy of past games.

These issues were on Masuda's mind following Diamond & Pearl's release as Game Freak's staff worked on Platinum. He didn't have such issues with Diamond & Pearl because the game was coming to the new DS hardware for the first time, so there would be obvious differences -- things like the Wi-Fi component, the touch controls and so-forth.

Masuda, Ishida and Iwata agreed that Black & White has the feeling of being a brand new game. You can see this in a number of areas, notably the new setting. The Hiun City setting that was the first local introduced for the game was designed in the motif of New York City, revealed Masuda.

This is big news, as it's a non Japanese environment. Past Pokemon games have taken place in areas themed around Japan's Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu and Hokaido areas.

Hiun City

The reason for going for this motif, said Masuda, was that he wanted a big change. But his idea for New York in particular came from a 2006 Pokemon concert series that toured those four areas of Japan. At the time, he considered what would be a nice location if they could do another concert. Manhattan came to mind because it's known for musicals and operas. Unfortunately, they were unable to realize this idea due to logistical issues in bringing over all the instruments and musicians. However, the idea of going to New York lingered in Black & White's setting.

After deciding on the setting, Masuda traveled to New York's Museum of Modern Art. There, he sat down in a garden area and finalized his ideas, coming up with the general setting of the new Isshu region.

Sugimori drew these pre-sprite images as well.

The name Isshu, Masuda revealed, comes from a similar Japanese word meaning "single type." The Isshu region is meant to consist of people and Pokemon of all types. While there are a variety of types, viewed from afar, everyone looks to be one. This feeling is similar to what he gets from New York, which he believes is an amazing place because of having so many types of people together in one area.

Moving the discussion strictly back to Pokemon, Sugimori discussed the decision to give the game all new Pokemon. This is the first time such a thing has happened since the original Red and Green. Previous Pokemon titles have simply added new Pokemon over their predecessors.

Making all these Pokemon is tricky business, explained Sugimori. The design staff has to keep the world balance in mind, making sure they have a proper eco system. The team engaged in debates about such things as the Pokemon looking too similar to past titles, or creatures not looking like Pokemon. The staff went to a zoo to view actual animals, which helped to bring a reality to the creatures.

Creating the designs for all the Pokemon took the work of 17 people, all graphic designers. There are veteran Pokemon designers in the bunch, and newcomers as well. In comparison, the staff for Red and Green was 10.

Despite all the designers, every final official Pokemon illustration is drawn by Sugimori himself. Sugimori also does the preliminary artwork, showing all sides of the Pokemon (samples are below), just prior to creating the sprite versions.

Isshu Region. Hiun City is the big city in the lower center.

For those interested in more, the Iwata Asks column has three more pages discussing the game's wireless component and other areas.

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