3 timeless lessons from Pokémon on designing enduring worlds

650 million downloads & $1 billion in revenue later the monster success of Niantic’s Pokémon Go is undeniable. The Pokémon franchises 1996 Gameboy origins is well known gaming lore, but did you know the pocket monsters we’ve been chasing worldwide have 2,000 years of history behind them?

 

1) Tap into your culture’s creative lineage which has persisted to the modern day

The idea of exploring mountains and seas to catch and battling elemental monsters didn’t spring from Pokémon alone. It has centuries of history in the mythology of Pokémon’s homeland of Japan.

Master onmyouji Abe no Seimei with his shikigami monsters
The five elements

The Yin Yang and elemental weakness/resistance theory that formed the basis of Onmyudo was transmitted to Japan via trade with the Chinese Tang dynasty in the 6th century.

The Tang dynasty in turn were influenced by the mythology of the older 1st century BCE Han dynasty, who wrote imagination provoking bestiaries like the Classics of Mountains and Seas detailing exotic lands and fantastic monsters found within them.

Nine-tailed foxes are among the monsters detailed in the Classic of Mountains and Seas…

In turn Han dynasty sources claim this knowledge came from legendary 30th century BCE emperor Yu the Great who commanded mystic dragons to master the elements. This ancient Chinese mythology blended with native Japanese animism, through the centuries producing many colorful tales of humans commanding monsters in strategic duels taking into account the strategic weakness and resistances of their monsters.

18th century woodblock print showing magicians of Japanese mythology competing with their monsters

 

2) Draw from that which has been tried & proven by peers

As technology advanced the Ancient East Asian storytelling tradition of monster catching and battling endured into the 20th century and adapted with the technology of the times. In the 60’s the hit scifi TV show Ultraman captured the imagination of Japan with larger than life heroes battling giant monsters, some monsters were even stored in capsules and fought alongside the hero. Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri has talked about the influence of Ultraman on his hit game franchise.

Early concept art by Ken Sugimori, “Capsule Monsters”

By the 1980’s the ultra-modern nation of Japan saw a renewed interest in ancient fantasy, popular new fiction like Teito Monogatari prominently featured the monster commanding onmyouji of old transplanted to the world of 20th century Japan.

Some readers may know Teito Monogatari through its movie adaption Doomed Megalopolis

The occult boom of the 80’s also coincided with the widespread adaption of home computers and video game consoles, leading to new video games like Megami Tensei based on popular novels where ancient mythological monsters appear in the present day but could be controlled by computer programs much like how ancient onmyouji controlled them with seals brushed onto paper.

Awesome Shin Megami Tensei cover art by Kazuma Kaneko
Like Pokémon the journey begins with a professor, and then you upload monsters into computers

Megami Tensei game mechanics greatly influenced the turn based elemental monster catching, battling, and evolving gameplay of Pokémon . While the single player Megami Tensei series had a hardcore cult following on home consoles, Pokémon added a social element of face to face interaction on the widely popular Gameboy portable.

 

 

3) Distill the best from your own personal experiences

Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri spent his childhood in the suburbs of Tokyo exploring tall grass, streams and trees for beetles to battle with, tadpoles and other pocket sized critters to collect, earning him the title of ‘Dr. Bug’ from his schoolmates. His interest in the emergent media of video games also lead him to start the fanzine Game Freak, which in time became the game company that would develop Pokémon.

Beetle Sumo is still popular across Japan and Southeast Asia

As Tajiri grew older those bits of wildlife in the city steadily disappeared under the concrete of urbanization. Where once was grass was now pavement, the pond now a mall, a generation of children were growing up without the same neighborhood access to nature as Tajiri did. But this new generation also had something he didn’t at their age, games on portable electronics that let players play on the go.

With the help of modern technology Satoshi Tajiri digitized his childhood experience of exploration and creature catching to a new generation growing up in the big city.

 

Cultural lineage, proven methods of peers, and personal experience all came together in the 1996 release of the first Pokémon games, resulting in 30+ million sales worldwide. Sequels came out on Nintendo portables and regularly sold 10+ million copies but never quite reached the numbers of the original.

Into the 21st century Pokémon has been adapted by Niantic to reach the widest global audience, mobile. Like how the original Gameboy Pokémon drew from contemporary titles, Pokémon Go’s mechanics are based on Niantic’s previous geocaching mobile game Ingress. But the element of Pokémon monsters rooted the AR mobile game in a concept of exploring a world full of monsters that has entertained humans for millennia. As ancient civilizations told stories of fantastic monsters on far away mountains and seas, we can now find them by walking down the street.

The Women That Make Japan’s Games Industry Great

 

 

In celebration of international women’s day, let’s look at some of the awesome women that defined the video games industry:

Kinu Nishimura: Artist behind many of Capcom’s flagship titles

If you recognize these characters you’ve played a game Kinu worked on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinu Nishimura has been with Capcom since 1991 with Street Fighter II and has worked on countless titles since, rising up to become the most senior artist in the whole company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Designs for Street Fighter III: New Generation

I’ve also heard stories from Capcom staff on how Kinu was the most intimidating person in the studio, relentless in making sure the high standards of Capcom artwork were maintained by everyone, and an immense amount of respect was given to her in turn.

Many of the games that had a profound impact on who I am today and my career path in video games is directly related to Kinu Nishimura’s masterful designs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the girls of Capcom games, illustrated by Kinu Nishimura

Keiko Erikawa, co-founder of industry giant Koei and #34 wealthiest person in Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She must be from the same generation as my aunt ’cause they have the same fashion sense

Keiko Erikawa started off in the fashion industry but then co-founded the prolific Koei company with her husband Kou Shibusawa.

Keiko Erikawa is credited for getting some atypical games made, like the stylishly odd rhythm action game Gitaroo-Man, hotel cooking game Shaberu! DS Oryouri Navi Marugoto Teikoku Hotel, and deciding that Koei should pick up the Gundam license because in her words: “I want to use a Gundam in a Koei game!”

But one of her most notable accomplishments would be…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very very very very very obscure to get title for English speakers, even the console it was on wasn’t released in the US!

Though video games is usually seen as a male dominated hobby, Koei’s female co-founder  believed there was no reason women couldn’t be part of the core audience so she assembled an all-woman team to created what would be the first ‘otome game’ (lit. ‘girl’s game’, a genre of Japanese games which seek out women as their prime audience).

Koei at the time was most famous for hardcore strategy/kingdom building games like Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms that starred macho mustached men of military history. With those roots Koei created Angelique (1993), where the protagonist is a young woman given the responsibility to rule over her own kingdom, if her kingdom thrives then she will inherit control over the world. Will she do so as a benevolent queen or martial despot? Such choices are up to the player to decide.

Many of the women I’ve worked alongside in the games industry have told me that their interest in games started with the otome genre that Angelique created,  That is the difference that a single person in power like Keiko Erikawa can make on a whole industry.


Many industry marketing specialists today would say strategy/conquest games are a ‘man’s genre’ that would scare away women with ‘hardcore’ mechanics, but Keiko Erikawa proved that wrong over two decades ago! Continue reading “The Women That Make Japan’s Games Industry Great”

Kill la Kill: The Sin of Clothing

vlcsnap-2014-02-18-21h08m10s204

“What is clothing?”

SIN! MAN’S ORIGINAL SIN!”

“Indeed… clothing is sin. When man ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge he became ashamed of his nakedness and covered his nethers. From the time humanity first gained free will as human beings it has been his fate to cover his body in the clothing called sin. Because we alone know man’s sin and create clothing for clothing’s sake!”

As Kill la Kill advances the plot at break-neck speed, the lore of its world comes out at an equally break-neck pace! While the early episodes delve into historic imagery of clothes (such as fascism), later episodes delve into the religious side of things:

 

Original Sin

sin

Kill la Kill gives us the world-shattering revelation that it was not humanity which created clothes, it was clothing that chose the ancestor of humanity and spurred their evolution into a being that relies on clothing! This point is driven home with well known biblical imagery (Trigger is ex-Gainax after all!) but is there more to it?

chosen

There’s a sect of Christianity called Christian naturalism that believes man’s natural state is to be naked and wearing clothes is the result of sin. To them, Adam & Eve were created pure in their nakedness until the serpent caused them to sin, so they covered themselves in leaves to hide their shame from God. God gave Adam & Eve animal skins, not for them to hide, but to show them that sin requires a blood sacrifice. Christian naturalists cite this event as the first time that bloodshed is known (an animal has to die for one to wear its skin) and all subsequent blood sacrifices, from common lambs to the Lamb of God (aka Jesus) is the price paid for this original sin. Continue reading “Kill la Kill: The Sin of Clothing”

Happy Birthday Bruce Lee

 

 

 

 

Lightning fast strikes, flying kicks, incomparable lattisimi dorsi muscles, and the piercing warcry of “WATAAAAAH!”, few men have made as huge an impact on the very fabric of modern badassery as Bruce Lee.

Here is but a few of the many video game and manga characters we have thanks to The Dragon. What characters are your favorite Bruce Lee tributes? Tell us in the comment’s section!

hnk

Continue reading “Happy Birthday Bruce Lee”

Kill la Kill: The Fashion of Fascism

killakilllogo

“Wow”

“WOW!!”

“WOWW!!THIS!!IS!!!Soooo!!!Goooooooooooood!!!!!!”

That was reaction to the first minute of watching Kill la Kill, the first fight of Kill la Kill, and the marathoning of every episode up to the latest (which you can watch online for free and legally here: http://www.killlakill.com/streaming/). Now I’m here to share with you my happy joyful feelings on this amazing show created by Studio Trigger (formed from ex-Gainax staff).

 

 

Dressed to Kill

Fashionism

When a show begins with a history lesson on fascism you wonder if it’s suppose to mean something. Luckily for us, the director of Kill la Kill, Hiroyuki Imaishi (of FLCL and Gurren Lagann fame) explains it outright: “When Japanese pronounce the English words ‘fashion’ and ‘fascism’, it sounds nearly the same.” and from there many more puns sprung forth and formed the key words to Kill la Kill’s plot.

English Japanese Pronounced
Fashion ファッション Fashhon
Fascism ファッショ Fassho
Kill/Cut キル Kiru
To wear (clothes) 着る Kiru
Sailor Uniform 制服 Seifuku
Conquest 征服 Seifuku

This is a story of fashion, fascism, and conquest through the power of blood soaked school uniforms.

Continue reading “Kill la Kill: The Fashion of Fascism”