It’s the game that gripped a generation back in 1997 with the release of Blue and Red and the syndicated cartoon. A phenomenon that needs very little introduction and now it’s back on a new, mobile medium. After 2 days of release it was installed on 5% of America’s Android devices. It’s Pokémon GO!
Now, don’t let my gruff exterior fool you, I’m a Pokéfan through and through. I could spend hours writing about all the games, creatures and adventures, the highs and lows, the friendships and rivalries that I’ve had playing through the various Pokémon games over the last 20-odd years. But I’d like to write this articuno about the mew innovation that is Pokémon GO but, more specifically about the incredible use of technology that made it all possible. I’ll even try and throw a few Poke-puns in so keep your eyes peeled.
Back in 2011 there was an odd game called Ingress, released initially on Android and then iOS 2 years later. It worked by mixing augmented reality and real world locations - much like geocaching mixed with Google Street view.
The gameplay was based around capturing portals – places of public interest such as landmarks, monuments, churches – and triangulating between them all to control that area.
The great thing about these portals is that the players of the game submit requests for various local landmarks to be new portals, and over the lifetime of the game thousands upon thousands of new portals were created worldwide.
You may think I’ve got my wires all a tangela, but don’t worry, it’s all connected.
Ingress was developed by a company called Niantic. Sound familiar? That’s because Niantic are the developers behind Pokémon GO. All the portals that were important landmarks in Ingress have become Pokéstops. Effectively, the players of Ingress created the world you seel in Pokémon GO!
Pokémon GO is considered an Exergame. These have been around since the mid-80s with Atari and Nintendo creating peripherals and bikes to encourage exercise while gaming. These were always typically fringe devices and seemed rather jynxed until Nintendo’s masterfully exeggcuted Wii Fit brought the genre into homes towards the end of 2007.
The success of Nintendo’s Wii Fit led to rapid dashes with motion control gaming such as the Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move, encouraging gamers to remain active.
Now, with the advent of accessible Augmented Reality games on mobile devices there has been a split in the development paths of Exergaming - the device-led likes of Wii and Kinect, or the AR route, as used in Pokémon GO.
For consoles and PCs the motion-capture home gaming of the Wii Fit, Kinect, Oculus rift and Leap motion has transformed the way gamers can interact with the world on the screen.
On the AR side the computer-generated landscapes are substituted with our own world, and add an additional overlay for us to interact with digitally; in this case, adding Pokémon to the real world.
This combination of Motion Capture plus Augmented Reality is a great development. Keeping everybody active while still being able to playing their favourite games means that the sofa-gamer stereotype is no longer valid. AR is certain to move in leaps and bounds in popularity - now that Pokémon GO is installed on more devices than Tinder we’ll see less people using their phones to catch partners, as we’re now too busy catching Pokémon
Gotta catch ‘em all
It’s still very early days but already we’ve seen some real world implications from the release of the game – libraries are taking advantage of their new status as Pokéstops, and there’s a real sense of community developing around local gyms.
It looks very much like the Pokémon GO world is also going to be massively shaped by the players themselves which in my book is a fantastic innovation and gives us the closest approximate experience of being true Pokémon masters yet.