Pokémon has long sold the fantasy of living in a world filled with collectible creatures that love to battle. The Pokémon Company's upcoming Pokémon Go isn't a traditional Pokémon game, but it's bound to be the closest that any of us are going to get to being a real-world Pokémon trainer.
The Pokémon Company is developing Pokémon Go in collaboration with Niantic Inc., a company that specializes in augmented reality. The studio's game Ingress provides a glimpse of what's ahead for would-be trainers, though there are some key differences between the games that show it's far from a reskin.
As with Ingress, players interact with the virtual world using their Android or iOS device. Using your phone's GPS data, the game puts an overlay on top of your surroundings, transforming real-world points of interest like parks, art installations, and other landmarks into points of interest for the game. In Pokémon Go, that works a couple of ways. First, Pokémon pop up in the world around you, and you have to travel to their "location" (or their GPS coordinates) to interact with them. In a clever touch, some Pokémon are only available in some locations, depending on their type. For instance, a water-type creature might only be located near ponds and other bodies of water. You capture them by throwing Poké Balls at them (not so fast; it's a virtual item), and add them to your collection. You can replenish your stock of balls by visiting special places on your map, which are designated PokéStops. Those locations also have eggs in them, which will hatch automatically after walking a specified number of steps. You can also evolve some of your characters by capturing them in multiple spots.
Players can join one of three gyms, and participate in larger-scale battles. Some high-priority locations and landmarks are designated as gyms, and when you travel to one you can assign one of your Pokémon to defend it. You'll need to coordinate with your fellow gym members to hold locations, since the other two teams will be fighting to take over.
Pokémon Go sounds like an interesting way to encourage players to get outside and explore their neighborhoods. The game is going through a field test in Japan soon, and it's planned for a worldwide release later this year.