Unless you've been under a very large rock somewhere you've probably heard about Pokemon GO by now - the upcoming augmented reality Pokémon game and the first designed for iOS and Android.
When Nintendo first announced their intention to get into mobile gaming the suspicion was that they would be going along the emulator route. You can already play classic Nintendo games the likes of Pokémon, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda on phones and computer via fan-made emulators, so cashing in on this market seemed like a wise choice. What they went for was something a little unexpected, but hugely well received by the fandom, and that was Pokémon GO.
When the announcement trailer first went live back in September 2015 Pokéfans both young and old lost their minds, and for anyone who grew up alongside the games it's not difficult to see why.
Pokémon GO, which is expected to release sometime next year, uses location-based markers to allow users to hunt, catch and train virtual Pokémon in real-life surroundings and locations. The sheer scope of this concept highlights the incredible amount of work being put into the app development and it's sure to be a crowning glory in the Pokémon series, if The Pokémon Company and the developers - augmented reality Google start up Niantic, Inc. - can pull it off.
Niantic is the studio responsible for the acclaimed location portal based MMORPG Ingress, so there's a precedent for their good work in that field. And John Hanke, Niantic's chief executive, says that they were sought out by the Pokémon Company specifically for their work on Ingress:
"[The Pokémon Company] saw Ingress as a perfect match for Pokémon. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences. Ingress, you conquer portals. Pokémon, obviously, you’d go out into the real world and find Pokémon and battle them against other players and trade them and go to gyms. That’s how it’s going to work. Let’s do it."
But despite the massive hype for the game there's not been that much information available about Pokémon GO yet. Luckily for us John Hanke and Niantic's chief marketing officer - Mike Quigley - had a recent sit down with Games Beat during which they shared details about the development of, and their plans for, the highly anticipated Pokémon GO.
Distribution of Pokémon
Just like in the Gameboy and DS games different types of Pokémon will exist in different parts of the world depending on their base type, for example water Pokémon will be found near seas or lakes.
But if you want a water Pokémon and live in an arid place worry not, as Hanke explains that Pokémon GO will include a trading element also, something which will be integral to the collective aspect of the game:
"It may be that certain Pokémon will only exist in certain parts of the world. Very rare Pokémon may exist in very few places. But you can trade. If you live in a place with lots of water Pokémon and you come to an event — we have these Ingress events that are getting bigger and bigger."
Given that we've been told before that Pokémon GO will launch with the first 150 generation it's safe to assume the types in question will be the original fifteen: Bug, Dragon, Ice, Fighting, Fire, Flying, Grass, Ghost, Ground, Electric, Normal, Poison, Psychic, Rock and Water. Presumably further generations and other types (Dark, Steel and Fairy) may be added in later, or perhaps available as in app purchase content or the like.
Pokémon Gyms & Events
"Our goal is to make it so you can walk out of the house and within five minutes, you can find Pokémon. It may not be the most rare Pokémon in the world, but there’ll be a population of Pokémon living near all our players."
Whilst you'll be able to encounter Pokémon by just strolling down the road (damn Rattatas...) gyms will be a bit more difficult to come across. Gyms will serve a similar purpose as in the original games; to battle in order to level up your Pokémon, and so will take more effort to find.
Whilst Hanke didn't say much more about the structure of the gyms he did explain that Pokémon GO players will be able to join teams and compete against each other in those team formations, with different teams being linked to different gyms.
As mentioned earlier there will also be competitive events allowing players to battle and trade, and real world locations such as historical sites or local businesses will play an important role in Pokémon GO just as they do in Ingress. Players will also be rewarded depending on how far they have walked and the places they've visited:
"That same mechanic of encouraging people to take a walk in the park and see some aspect of their city they haven’t seen before, to go explore a nook or cranny in a part of the city they haven’t been to before so they can get a new Pokémon, that will be at work."
Pokémon GO Plus
The Pokémon GO Plus wristband device was unveiled back at the game's initial announcement, but further details have now been revealed about how it will integrate with the game itself.
The GO Plus serves as a hands on alert system, vibrating to notify the user when there are Pokémon nearby. By pressing the button on the GO Plus in a specific sequence or code the user will be able to attempt to capture the Pokémon in question, then find out what they've captured later via the app, bringing a level of chance to the game.
Hanke explains that the reason behind including this element is because they don't want players to have to be constantly glued to their phone screens:
"We wanted to give people a way to play the game where you didn’t necessarily have to take your phone out and interact with the UX. Part of the idea of the game is, you’re outside and you can see beautiful things. If you’re always staring at your phone, you’re not seeing the world around you. We had brainstormed this idea. Why not have a little device that buzzes when you’re near something important? You can interact with it in some subtle way, and then later on you can open up your app or your tablet and you see, “Oh, I got this or did that.” That was one of the influences."
As for the design specifics itself, Hanke compared the GO Plus to the popular fitness tracker Fitbit in terms of size, worn on the wrist in a bracelet and with a long lasting battery so you don't have to constantly have it charging up.
And The Release Date...?
As for a release date Niantic and Nintendo are still staying pretty quiet, but Pokémon GO is likely still in the beta stages of testing.
Despite the persistent rumors of a February 27, 2016 release (which are unlikely conjecture at best) all we really know about the upcoming augmented reality game is that it's set to be released at some point next year.
Back when Pokémon GO was first announced we learned from the Ingress Report that the game would undergo closed beta testing over the winter with a release date of an unspecified time in 2016. It's hard to say for sure until we receive an official line from Nintendo, but it's likely that Pokémon GO won't exit beta testing until after the New Year. So hopefully we'll get a line on the release date then.