Pokémon – The Archive
It all started with a videogame-obsessed boy who enjoyed catching bugs…
Welcome to The Archive, where we look into the history of your favourite videogames, shows, movies, etc. Today we will be exploring the creation of one of the most influential franchasises to ever exist, Pokémon; and we can’t really talk about Pokémon without talking about its creator, so let’s get right into it.
Satoshi Tajiri was born in Tokyo on the 28th of August of 1965. He grew up in the city of Machida (in the Tokyo Prefecture) when it still maintained a rural atmosphere. As a kid, Tajiri had two passions: Collecting insects and spending egregious amounts of time in arcades. Both of these were very popular hobbies for Japanese children growing up in the late seventies, as videogames had rallied up massive popularity and the still unurbanised landscape allowed the capture of big beetles (Which you could then force to fight with your friends’ own battle bugs). Just mentioning these hobbies don’t make justice to Satoshi’s obsession with them though. He would get to the extreme of actively failing classes at school to have more time to play Space Invaders, and his friends called him Dr Bug (Consider that bug catching wasn’t an uncommon pastime, but still Tajiri was THE insect kid).
In 1981 he created a fanzine focused on the arcade game scene called Game Freak, which he would write and edit until 1986. Game Freak was handwritten and stapled together, photocopied and distributed by hand to retailers. After seeing the magazine at a dōjinshi shop aspiring artist Ken Sugimori would get involved and become its illustrator. As more and more contributors came to work on Game Freak, Tajiri and Sugimori made the judgement call that every true nerd makes at some point: These games suck, we could totally do it better. This is how their self-published magazine would turn into a small development studio, with Satoshi Tajiri having taught himself programming. They saw mild success at creating games for different projects, but soon Tajiri would decide to pursue a passion project. He sought to create a game that could give young children the same wonder he had experienced collecting bugs, and so the concept creation for Capsule Monsters began in 1990.
Sadly, the name Capsule Monsters was already taken, so the team saw itself forced to change it to Pocket Monsters which of course abbreviates to Pokémon (Can you imagine if the franchise had been called Capsumon though?). One of the first things that Satoshi Tajiri thought about including in his game was a prominent use for the Gameboy’s link cable (Since wireless wasn’t a thing back then you had to physically connect two Gameboy with an actual cable. Crazy stuff, huh?). This would later become the trading mechanic, which resulted in two different versions of the game being created. Each of these had some monsters that were exclusive to it, so the only way to get all of them was to a friend until they bought the game and traded with you. This gimmick especially charmed notorious videogame big boy Shigeru Miyamoto, since he was absolutely convinced that this would greatly increase the sales. With Miyamoto’s support, Nintendo gave them the green light to start development of Capsule Monsters. Sadly, the name was already taken, so the team saw itself forced to change it to Pocket Monsters which of course abbreviates to Pokémon (Can you imagine if the franchise had been called Capsumon though?). The game was written in assembly language (This is barely any better than writing the ones and zeroes of binary code), and since it was being done by a bunch of self-taught programmer nerds the final version was full of bugs and glitches (Strangely enough, this helped its popularity. More on that later).
After six years of development, Pocket Monsters Red and Green versions were released for the original Gameboy in Japan on February 27, 1996. In the start, it didn’t sell very well but instead saw a steady increase in sales until they became some of Nintendo’s top-selling games. This was due in part of rumours about a mysterious, hidden pokemon that could only be obtained by exploiting game glitches. The name of this creature was Mew, which had been added by Game Freak during the final stage of development in secret (Nintendo executives had no idea that this had been done, but were quick to capitalise on it once it was discovered). Other errors in the game were also exploited to catch the glitch pokemon Missingno (which is what happened when you got the game to start an encounter but didn’t load the information of any monster. Missingno refers to the error code Missing Number) and to clone items. Other rumours that appeared were the speculation of a 4th evolution for pokemon, which was referred to as Pokégods (I guess kids had zero creativity back then). The culture of finding the secrets in the game, along with the huge variety of characters and the high capacity for customisation (You’re bound to like the design of at least one pokemon, and on top of this you can name it and decide which moves it knows. Pure genius) greatly boosted the popularity of the games, transforming it into the phenomenon that we now know.
Pokémon was released in North America on 1998 as the Red and Blue versions, another game based on the anime series would later be created under the name Pokémon: Yellow Version. The original first generation games sold more than 10.4 million copies in Japan and 9.85 million in the United States.
The franchise went on to conquer the hearts of players all around the world.