Melvin Smif’s Geekery is nothing if it isn’t a weird amalgamation of various nerdy interests. So while I typically delve into Tabletop Gaming, I need to speak about my latest passion, Pokemon Go. This little app game has it’s claws in me so deep I can cite more than one late night excursion into the wilds of my suburban neighborhood seeking one of the more elusive Pocket Monsters. It’s a genuine worldwide phenomenon. Its popularity likely surpassing even the expectations of its creators, and we’ve really only seen the beginnings of this game.
Pokemon Go is the team effort between Nintendo, The Pokemon Company, and Niantic, inc. that utilizes GPS tracking to pinpoint a player’s location within the real world to overlay an Augmented Reality fictional Pokemon universe. Pokemon are randomly placed throughout the world, often even generating based on regional types, water Pokemon tend to be near Lakes, Rivers, Ocean etc. & if you want a Scyther, head to the park. On top of catching these critters players are also encouraged to visit landmarks, derived from data gleaned from Niantic’s previous AR game Ingress, to collect items (from areas deemed “Pokestops”) or battle against other teams (in areas known as “Gyms”).
Pokemon Go’s mission seems to be to get people outdoors, visiting landmarks, and interacting with fellow players. There’s even a method for rewarding movement via the inclusion of Pokemon Eggs that react through a pedometer function to log the distance you travel, hatching a Pokemon when that distance is reached. I can say earnestly that, in my experience and via much of what I’ve seen online, this mission has been met, and exceeded! It is safe to say this game has been an overwhelming success.
I’ve had some truly great personal experiences since the game’s launch on July 6th. My wife and I have both been playing , it’s gotten us out the door walking more and our kids love helping us catch the Pokemon around our neighborhood. You can easily enjoy an afternoon stroll paying casual attention to your phone, via glances or awaiting a telltale rumble signifying that something is near. We’ve seen a bevy of others out walking and playing too. It has also been a blast taking on a Gym together!
This past weekend my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a good friend’s 30th birthday party in Columbia, Missouri. Amid the usual activities like going to dinner and catching up with friends were sprinkled moments of “Guys! There’s a <insert Pokemon here> outside!” followed by the bulk of the party hitting the neighborhood streets in search of it. Later that night (and by later I mean midnight until 3 am) we drove through the downtown district catching Pocket Monsters and hitting up Pokestops. We also took on a number of gyms throughout the weekend, smartly collaborating early in the game to all choose the same team (Team Instinct baby!). We even crafted a monstrosity of a gym on the outskirts of town, pumping it up to level 9. That gym is still holding strong three days later. Some other great memories from this weekend are.
- Watching someone from either team Valor or Mystic drive up to our beefy gym, see a carload of Team Instinct players then decide he was never going to do any damage to us and drive off with a wave of defeat.
- My friend and I sprinting (unnecessarily) to add some extra Pokemon to another yellow gym we came across.
- Me yelling “Get that Puff!” to a stranger whom I knew was trying to catch the same Jigglypuff we were after.
- Hunting down a Nidoqueen!
- Me threatening to use my phone as a hammer “for all the good it was to me” because it wasn’t loading the game.
- Driving a car full of happy, grown ass, adults around the same area we use to hit up bars at midnight so they can hit the various Pokestops (I had someone working my phone, I don’t drive and Go)
- Having yet another shared interest with my wonderful wife 🙂
Honestly there are so many fun things I’m forgetting, I’m certain. It was all just a blur of gaming and friends.
Now, Pokemon Go is a solid success, but it is far from a perfect specimen of gaming yet. I have plenty of issues with the gameplay and reward system alone but the true monumental task Niantic will need to be dealing with over the next few weeks and system updates will be simply getting the game to run correctly. Server outages are the main complaint people have, followed closely by the game freezing up and generally being difficult to get into. On multiple occasions over the weekend, and before, just getting into the game long enough to enjoy it was a hassle. Often at least one, if not more of our group, was blocked from getting into the game. Gym battles were always tough for me. For some reason I freeze up in those constantly. The game also comes with a supposed tracking system for nearby Pokemon but it hardly ever works correctly, for a bit I would see one or two footstep Pokemon, but lately it’s always been a three steps away symbol. The game is sadly ripe with glitches and bugs, but honestly much of that is just a company attempting to meet overwhelming demand. It stands to be seen how well they do fixing these issues. For now, I’m content to deal with them.
The major issues to fix are bug and server related, obviously, but I’ve also been pondering the game-play itself. They do a lot of things right in the game. There is a pay to play aspect that the casual player, someone just seeking to catch Pokemon, can usually ignore if they wish. Items are plentiful at Pokestops, but you have to have Pokestops near you to make use of them. This isn’t an issue for people in heavily populated areas, or even rural areas with a lot of landmarks, but if you live somewhere very plain vanilla suburban (like me) you have a hidden cost, in gas, to playing the game. You have to drive to find Pokestops or you’re stuck purchasing Pokeballs. My city has a population of nearly 100k and I have only two Pokestops within a mile of me, and the next nearest one after that is easily five miles. Compare that to some towns around us we are a veritable wasteland. I was nearly dizzy with excitement to see the bevy of ‘stops in Columbia this weekend.
The gym system is fantastic fun, but if you aren’t someone who started this game week one, you’re not going to be able to even touch a gym for a long time unless of course you hook up with some buddies as there is incentive to start a gym with easy to defeat Pokemon that you then beat up to raise the prestige. The “Defender Bonus” you receive for owning a gym is paltry and makes capturing gyms more of a pride thing than anything else, the reward is so low that it’s more of a pat on the head than anything else. I also take issue with the fact you don’t get some kind of extra reward for having held a gym for the 20 hour time limit between reward collections. It really seems like they need either lower the time limit between collecting the Defender Bonus or give you more for it. Right now unless you luck into holding multiple gyms, it’s almost not even worth collecting.
One of my bigger complaints lies with the tone of the game. So much of the appeal of Pokemon in the past was about obtaining a Pokemon and then working with that Pokemon to level it up and watch it grow as you modify it’s abilities. In Pokemon Go the Pokemon you start with are quickly eclipsed and you simply cannot utilize the same Pokemon who were your starters later in the game. Hell, you can’t even use the same Poklemon from three levels ago. It’s a completely different style, and frankly a huge grind.
Other issues aside, battery draining and data soaring issues, Pokemon Go has captured me, my wife and family, and my friends in its talons and shows no chance of releasing us soon. I endeavor to catch them all, and train to be the very best, like…well… you know how this goes. I hope you all give this game a chance, and don’t let the haters get you down. Sure there have been accidents related to people behaving foolishly while playing this game but since when is that new to people in any hobby. If someone calls you silly for playing a “kids game” they are hypocrites and jerks, laugh em off.
Have fun out there and (as my father always says) be aware of your surroundings! Gotta catch ’em all!
P.S. Fellow Team Instinct Trainers. Meet me at Gen Con! We shall rule the gyms of Indianapolis!