EDIT: There’s some specific details with the animation and rendering of Sword and Shield that weren’t clarified or just weren’t known at the time of writing. My point still stands that creative labour on this scale requires hard work and difficult decisions, and if you think it doesn’t then… I don’t know what to tell you except that you’re wrong. Go play a video game you actually enjoy lol.
If you’ve been following the E3 coverage of Pokémon Sword and Shield you might have heard some disappointing news: The national dex has disappeared. Basically, we won’t be able to use any Pokémon not available in the new games’ regional dex because Game Freak wasn’t able to program all of them. That sucks, and if you’re bummed out like I am that’s pretty fair. But let’s make one thing clear: Game Freak aren’t lazy. The reason this happened isn’t because Masuda and co. couldn’t be bothered to press the magic Give The Fans What They Want button. It’s also not because they’re not capable or they hate you or whatever. Game development, like any other creative field, is complicated and difficult. It takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes decisions have to be made.
A lot of this anger is coming from people who don’t really know much about game development or 3D animation. That’s not me making some sort of elitist sneer. It’s totally okay not to know things! But it gets problematic when you start reading every perceived flaw as a deep personal failure on the creators’ parts. In this case it’s the assumption that the Pokémon developers are incompetent or greedy, or both.
I don’t doubt that Nintendo can put profits above making consumers happy (see: their frequent understocking of new items to inflate demand for their products). But first of all, that’s not just a Nintendo thing. All the big companies want your money, and none of them are your pals. More importantly, though, game developers aren’t CEOs. Game developers are usually average people, fans of video games who work tirelessly to give us the best they can offer. That includes the people working on broken games that don’t live up to their promises. Those games don’t get that way because the team decided to take a few too many days off. Heck, it’s usually because they DON’T have time off that they create unplayable products.
From what we saw of Sword and Shield at E3, it would be a major reach to call them unplayable. They’re easily the biggest games the series has ever put out and look damn near complete. Producing games this big doesn’t just require “budget”. You can’t just throw money at things and hire more people when you’re trying to create a unified project. Sometimes you need to compromise, whether it’s delaying a game’s release or deciding to scale back on content or patching things up later. Either way, time and energy are a serious consideration. Sadly it’s one that the game industry needs to work on, as shown by recent tales of people working gruelling schedules to meet unrealistic deadlines. Nintendo delaying the new Animal Crossing and cutting back on the national dex was a step towards not producing those horror stories (they’ve said as much themselves).
I don’t want to give the impression that I think Nintendo are pure. It isn’t great that they didn’t announce plans to patch this issue, and maybe it’s partially because they want to sell the feature back to people later. But I’d say that has more to do with Game Freak being too old-fashioned for large-scale patches than some malicious scheme. For all their problems Nintendo knows that people want a complete premium game when they pay a premium price, and there’s little to suggest that Sword and Shield are anything less than that.
Moreover, they weren’t lying when they said that this process is hard work. For anyone who wants to understand this, New Frame Plus’ video on Pokémon battle animations is essential viewing. The short of it is this: There’s a LOT of stuff that goes into making these games. Rendering over 800 Pokémon models. Giving every single one of them animations for being idle, for attacking, for fainting, for their trainers. Every single model and animation in the overworld, all the cutscenes, all the menus.
Pokémon Sword and Shield have more moving parts than any previous games come remotely close to. Plus, the Nintendo Switch is a high definition console that demands a lot more visual fidelity along with portable functionality. Maybe you think Pokémon Colosseum has better animation (I kinda’ think so too), but it’s still absolutely nothing compared to the scale of Sword and Shield. Bottom line, it’s not laziness. It’s hard fucking work, and a lot of it. A lot of armchair animators will say it looks easy, but that’s the whole idea of good animation. It suspends your disbelief and distracts you from the nuts and bolts.
I don’t think this piece is going to magically turn angry internet commenters into empathetic human beings. I don’t even think a lot of those people are going to read this far before typing up their rebuttals. If you have read this far, though, then I genuinely have to say thank you. Writing, like game development or any other creative task, takes time and energy.
If you love video games or movies or any other creative form here’s the most important thing to take from this: be kind to creators. It’s okay to criticise games, it’s okay to be disappointed by them, sometimes it’s okay to be mad about them. But please spare a thought for the struggling dev teams, because even a worthless pile of trash can be an unfortunate product of hard work. I’m probably going to get a lot out of Pokémon Sword and Shield, but it’s okay if you don’t. Just find a game you enjoy and please… let the Game Freak crew rest.
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