Pokemon Go is a fun game that does virtually everything wrong

So I’m still playing Pokemon Go. And I’m still enjoying it. Mostly what I enjoy is bike riding with a purpose and weird emergent social situations with just enough slot-machine randomness thrown in, but I’m still playing.

Still as I sit there thinking, I am just constantly taken back by the fact that this is a game that does virtually everything wrong in terms of nuts and bolts game design. TECHNICALLY the game is massively impressive, but it feels like a game designed by engineers and not game designers. The core concept of ‘pokemon but like… in the real world’ is GREAT. So great that it gets around a lot of their bad design. And some things are neat. Seeing a lure, going there and meeting people is cool. Some issues (no trading) are because the game is kinda half baked. it’s admittedly a Minimally Viable Product. But some things are just bad.

How Pokemon Spawn is Rubbish

“So like, pokemon spawn points are dictated by cellphone usage in areas and–” … like… why? “Because Ingress did it that way.”

I imagine a lot of problems are “because thats how Ingress did it”. But you have a spawn system that shuts out a huge amount of potential players. I can’t say its ‘for no reason’. There is osme inherent optimization that goes on here, but you can’t even give a logged on player a certain amount of spawns or something? Any decision here is likely a challenging one, but the one that makes a huge group of potential players have the game be virtually unplayable is clearly the bad one.

There is also no real reasonable way  to tell when you’re in another biome or make any real deduction about when you’re likely to get anywhere with different spawns or anything.  Even if something pops up on the radar, you have no way to really know. Water is about the only type of area easy to find. You could also do things like making sure every area has some non-trash pokemon and hide them based on level. So early game is a lotta Ratatta and Pidgy garbage but once you level up you get to see more of the local flavor.

Also how they level up with you is ALSO rubbish but we’ll get to that.

Tracking Pokemon is Rubbish

This is actually something that could be a non-problem is the way biomes worked was a bit more understandable and varied. But when something rare pops up on the radar, what do you do? You can be a crazy person and try a bunch of weird tracking methods or if you’re most casual people, you’ll just flail and fail with no direction or idea what you should do. When you’re only way to find certain pokemon is sheer luck, seeing them and failing to find them is frustrating, especially when you didn’t do anything obvious wrong.

Capturing Pokemon is Rubbish

Throwing pokeballs is great! I love it! But the actual catching mechanics are rubbish. First, the randomness is so high that nothing you do seems to affect anything. Even though Niantic said “Hey, small circles are good” people would say “Oh yeah small circle is like holding B in pokemon its a placebo thing” because there was no way to feel that you did anything good. You do the same thing, regardless of whether its a weedle or a Dragonite. Maybe you use different balls, but you have one strategy. Once you get ultra balls and get good at throwing, the only thing that separates you capturing a weedle and a powerful pokemon is luck. Luck is a part of pokemon but when luck is so high that no one feels their actions have consequences well… thats bad?

I can’t even beat up wild pokemon what kind of world is this

“Training” Pokemon is Rubbish

I find the fact this game gives you a Starter to be insulting. It’s cargo cult game design. The game is basicaly like “yo here are 4 candies.” … Yeah. Thanks. A little bit better now with the buddy system but the fact is still clear — you should NEVER, EVER, EVER DO ANYTHING WITH YOUR STARTER. Besides maybe use it as a buddy. And wait to find a better Bulbasaur or whatever.

Which gets to the problem that Stardust leveling is one of the worst, least player friendly systems in existence. Powering up a pokemon is something you should absolutely not do  until you’re at least in your 20s. You’re going to find stuff thats going to invalidate your old pokemon so fast. If you use your Stardust sooner you get to feel like a fool. If you evolve a 3 stage pokemon too soon, you feel like a fool. In normal pokemon games, you aren’t a fool for leveling up crappy pokemon — that’s all you got! This isn’t a resource your wasting.  Having a pokemon in Go is about being totally lucky. Once you’re totally lucky, you spend your resources and you have what you want. This not only is unsatisfying and undercuts one of the larger appeals of pokemon (training and bonding) but also cuts the life of the game down. People complain about there being no end game in Go and thats because there isn’t really much of a sensible need to build up a team, nor mechanics for prolonging the development of a pokemon. “Well, catching is like battling and you can just apply XP retroactively” sounds like its the same but maybe even better, but its basically totally worse.

Battling is Rubbish

Like throwing balls, capturing gyms are fun, but the actual act of battling is not. First, battling is massively unaccessible. There is no way for lower players to compete. They’re tyrannized by powerful players, shutting people off from trying a whole different part of an already thin game. And battles aren’t interesting. You have a huge attacker advantage and can brute force so much stuff. Attack and dodge attack and dodge. Nothing has any utility. There is no reason to try and do clever type counter things or have certain pokemon on hand. You widdle down gyms one pokemon at a time, using the ones best for the job. It quickly becomes work.

Gyms are Rubbish

Terrible rewards, terrible mechanics. Getting in takes tons of effort and  how the game works encourages a mercenary approach of just throwing in strong pokemon and hoping no one even tries. There is no rewards for a successful defense, nothing for weaker players to do.  If I had to decide one thing to be changed it’d probably be the gyms (or the spawning). Just change it to have NPC battles, to have different leagues for lower level players and other stuff like that. Someone should be about to put a 200cp ratatta in there and I should not be able to step on it  with something 10 times stronger.

 Niantic is too busy fighting cheaters rather than designing their systems to be resistant to cheating… and.. uh… that’s Rubbish

If people could fight people closer to their own level, botters taking over gyms would be less of a problem. Why you would have such an aggressive pvp system in a game with high casual appeal is beyond me. Super players are just as disruptive as botters. By dealing with this on a system level and reducing the harm caused by strong players, you reduce the negative effects cheaters have on other players. So much so that you can’t even have a rooted phone or some chinese phones. If I was still on android I would have been furious. Even if I could still jump through hoops to make it work, that is still unacceptable.

Just tons of random Rubbish

Why are their no dailies or anything like that? Some people may be glad it doesn’t have them, but that’s the type of thing that gets people coming back. Why doesn’t the game do more while its off? Why do you need the watch? Why don’t have the push notification YO THERE A SQUIRTLE. Even if you have to do it as a step-tracker sorta random personal spawn thing, give players a reason to go back. ALSO why is the distance tracker so bad? I GIVE YOU MY GPS COORDINATES EVERY 10 SECONDS WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING.

Really in the end, the list of things Niantic has done well in a game design sense is… a very very short list.

8 thoughts on “Pokemon Go is a fun game that does virtually everything wrong

  1. I haven’t played Pokemon Go, but it seems like basing spawns on cell phone usage is a reasonable idea? Since an ARG is always going to have social aspects, you wouldn’t want a constant density of spawns, and putting your most dense spawn areas in areas with high population density seems like a good way to get players to run into each other.

  2. In theory you could use this as a way to encourage dense spqwns, but as the game is, a lot of the middle of the country (and even people not that far out of citie sin some areas) get basically next to nothing.

  3. Just saw your Garegga tweet — right now, the answer to “how much should I be controlling rank?” is probably “none”. You shouldn’t worry about it at all until you’re consistently making it to stage 6.

    What you *do* need to worry about is learning scoring techniques. This will help to keep the rank low naturally, anyways; you’ll need to suicide some to get bombs for crucial moments, and 100-400 point medals spike the rank like crazy, but above 400, they barely touch rank at all (translation: if you learn to not drop the chain, your rank will stay much lower). Once you’re consistently hitting stage 6 with a score around 7 million, you’ll have no problem keeping your shot-power low in the first two-and-a-half stages.

  4. Interesting, my first gut reaction was ‘avoid medals’ and while that still seems like it’s valid, chaining seems like a better way to practice for the future. I’ve seen talk too of suiciding in stage 2 and it seems like one of those things where I’m constantly wondering if that’s something I should be doing now or later. Granted I also just reead about the Flamingo Trick which would put me up a life but on a deficit weapon wise so it might all work out better next time I play.

    edit: Just watched some play and saw how many extends you get in this game playing right. D: God damn, that makes a lot make more sense.

  5. You need to be learning the score tricks as early as possible. It’s OK to lose some lives by trying to score aggressively, since, as you’ve learned, you’re gonna get a lot of them, and you’re also going to need to trash some of them for bombs to do more tricks (for the stage 2 flamingos, you want to have as many bombs as possible, which means being on your last life).

    As a total noob, I’d recommend picking Gain C as your ship, and learning the following things:
    -Competent medalling
    -Maximizing fragment grabs at the very start of stage 1
    -Maximizing fragments from the train-cars during stage 1
    -Milking Nose Lavagghin
    -If you have lives left-over, do the suicide medal-value-gain trick at the start of stage 2. If you lost lives milking Nose Lavagghin, no sweat, it’s not a big deal, and milking Nose Lavagghin is worth much more.
    -Flamginoes
    -“Plane wing” medals towards the end of stage 2 (seriously, learn this; it’s not worth a lot of points to get right, but screwing it up breaks your chain at an awful moment.)
    -Partial MadBall milk (getting the full milk here is hard and partially luck-dependant, but you can do pretty well well with Gain by just putting a full bomb on him the instant he comes in. You’ll probably need to suicide in the second half of stage 2 for this.)
    -Medal tracks at the start of stage 3
    -Stage 3 hidden extend
    -Learn what the bomb targets are in stage 4
    -Airships in stage 5
    -Same partial milk on MadBall mk 2
    -If you’re flush with resources, plant a bomb on the central turret of Slayer (the big green bomber in stage 5’s boss rush) as it explodes, since the shrapnel as it explodes is worth a lot of points if you can catch it all in one bomb. This will require you to learn a method to control the kill-timing, and some pretty serious bullet misdirection to be able to sit towards the top of the screen while fighting him.

    Don’t worry about trying to score in stages 6 or 7 unless you’re a superplayer. The stage 3 and 4 boss milks are [i]really[/i] tough, and probably out of reach of a beginner. Same with milking the stage 5 boss rush, aside from the aforementioned Slayer and MadBall 2 milks; you do NOT want to fuck around with Nose Lavagghin mk 2 or Black Heart, unless you’re REALLY good.

  6. BTW, put a save-state on the title screen. One of Garegga’s, shall we say, “eccentricities”, is that there’s a “starting rank” counter that goes up every time a quarter is put into the game, and goes down by one quarter every time the attract screen is allowed to fully cycle. You need to either reboot the machine between credits, let the attract screen cycle, or put a save-state on the title screen to counteract this.

  7. Yeah I’ve been using a save state just because the test screen is amazing. Also read about the rank thing today. Definitely essential if I’m going to be using those unlockable ships too. Been using Golden Bat which seemed like a recommended starting ship but Gain looked super cool so I don’t have to be convinced super hard there. Right now been working on medel juggling, flamingos and trying get that 3rd extend.

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