Interview With Team Behind The Pokémon Franchise: Game Freak

by Annette Gonzalez on Mar 19, 2010 at 11:00 AM

With the exciting release of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver this week, we got a chance to interview members of the Game Freak team, who were part of the conception of the the video game series. Director Junichi Masuda, game director Shigeki Morimoto, art director Takao Unno, planner Kenji Matsushima, and programming lead Akito Mori tell us the development process behind creating and naming Pokémon, suprises you'll find in HeartGold and SoulSilver, the idea behind the Pokéwalker, and more.

The Pokémon franchise is no stranger to remakes. Why are remakes so frequent and well-received with this series? And why did you decide to remake Pokémon Gold and Silver specifically?

Morimoto: This is the second time we have created a remake. When we create Pokémon games, we always keep in mind the look of the game and its approachability. It has been 10 years since Gold and Silver launched, and we felt it was the best timing to create remakes since there are more people who have not played the original Game Boy titles.

The Pokémon brand is obviously still very alive and well in Japan as HeartGold and SoulSilver have sold incredibly well there. What is it that keeps people interested in such a long-running franchise that already has a lengthy list of titles?

Morimoto: Because we always add new gameplay so each time the game evolves. I am confident that all the people engaged with the Pokémon brand including The Pokémon Company are making great efforts to ensure it’s a long-running franchise.

Ohmori: We challenge ourselves to create new gameplay every time we develop a new Pokémon game. I believe such effort is received very well by the players. I would like to keep challenging ourselves to determine how we can add new elements like wireless and Wi-Fi communication, as well as things like the Pokéwalker for HeartGold and SoulSilver.

Matsushima: I believe it is because we keep challenging ourselves without changing the core. The core for Pokémon game is collecting, trading, and battling. For HeartGold and SoulSilver, it was the Pokéathlon and Pokéwalker.

Mori: I think it’s because the game is attractive to not only boys and girls, but also adults. 

Where did you get the idea for the pedometer peripheral bundled with HeartGold and SoulSilver?

Ohmori:  The idea came up when we thought about what we could do to make players’ dream — “I would like to become a Pokémon Trainer!” — possible. Our focus was to enable a player to be with his or her Pokémon all the time, even when he or she is walking. Because you can play anytime, anywhere, it seems there are many players who play with the Pokéwalker as much as the actual games. I am happy to see that.

Mori: There were many ideas, but in the end we settled on Director Morimoto’s decision to make a product that would make fans happy.

We took some elements from Pokémon Pikachu, which was sold at the same time as Pokémon Gold and Silver. We wanted to provide more nostalgia to the players who played the original Gold and Silver games.

For fans who have already played Gold and Silver, what surprises can they expect to discover?

  As for the scenario, we tried to keep the storyline truthful to the original all while adding something new. As a result, it has good depth. There is a lot of gameplay you didn’t experience in the original Gold and Silver games.

Even though it is the same storyline, there is a new experience. For example, players can walk with his or her Pokémon. It is a whole new experience to walk into towns and down the street with your Pokémon. Also, you might want to enjoy competing with your Pokémon at Pokéathlon Dome.

Matsushima: We replicate the Gold and Silver storyline, but we added more stages. Now you can meet familiar Pokémon in the Kanto Region.

Mori: The Pokémon are now able to show off their movement. Also, those who played using the black and white screen of the Game Boy can finally see what the Johto Region looks like!

There are tons of Pokémon in existence now. What’s the process internally for creating new Pokémon? How do you come up with concepts and names for each new creature?

Unno: When we create new Pokémon, a few graphic designers bring their own ideas to the design meetings lead by Sugimori [art director and board member at Game Freak. -Ed]. Basically, each brings his or her ideas, discuss, brush-up the ideas, and finalize the design. Sometimes, all designers go to a zoo or museum to get some ideas. Also, they work on new Pokémon based on the requests they get from planners who ask things such as “we would like to get this kind of Pokémon” or “we would like to have a Pokémon who appears in this kind of setting.” As for the naming, designers bring their name ideas. If it’s brilliant, we use it.

Matsushima: We decide the setting for a particular Pokémon based on the designs that our designers propose. Sometimes we request changes to the Pokémon. As for the new names, first, we find words to describe that Pokémon. We try to rephrase the words or add another word and eventually we come across the final name.

Do you think there’s still room for new players to jump into the Pokémon franchise? Do you think with the staggering number of Pokémon in existence and the number of hardcore players that it would be too difficult to jump in now?

Morimoto: There is always room for new players. I hope those who have never played Pokémon will jump in and play these Pokémon games. It is difficult to satisfy both core players and beginners, but that is something I always have on my mind.

Still on the fence regarding whether or not you should catch 'em all over again? Check out our reviews for HeartGold and SoulSilver.