Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: Pokemon Go

It's not a good year around here unless I have something to talk about that is pokemon related.  Though Pokemon Sun and Moon are to come out in November of this year, the planets have aligned and given us all yet another pokemon game this year; the pokemon game of our dreams.  It's been twenty years since we all chose our starter pokemon and went on this life-time journey of becoming a pokemon master.  Many of us would fantasize what it would be like to find pokemon in real life, what kind of pokemon would be in our local area, and where each of them would show up.  This year we finally got the answer to those ponderings in the form of the mobile game Pokemon Go which is available for Android and iPhone markets!

Is it all that that we had hoped and dreamed?  Well, quite honestly you probably already know the answer to that one as traditional media and social media have gone berserk over the app within the first few days of it being released.  Practically everything I have to say about this game has already been said by numerous outlets and is pretty much futile.  However there is no greater example of extreme futility than my continued writing of this blog which nobody reads anymore so.... what the heck.  Let's talk about the latest game in a franchise that I hold dear to my heart.

The Premise

The Real World and the World of Pokemon have collided.  You have been enlisted by Professor Willow who gives you some pokeballs and allows you to capture a starting pokemon in Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle (though you can get a Pikachu if you ignore those 3 options and walk away.)  Similar to how the professors would act in the main series titles, Professor Willow has a mission for you to fill up the pokedex, however in order to find them this time you must physically travel to different locations yourself to locate pokemon rather than moving a character on the screen.  As you go through your "travels" you will level up to find more rare pokemon as you go.  You will also be able to join one of three teams and fight/claim/or assist in various pokemon gyms found in the nearby area.  You can also scout around to find locations called pokespots to give you items.  Lastly you can utilize a brand new type of candy item in order to evolve or power up your pokemon.  So just grab your phone, go downtown, to a park, a shopping center, or just around your neighborhood and begin catching pokemon!


The main purpose of Pokemon Go is honestly to encourage you to get up off the couch and go somewhere.  The game utilizes the GPS on your cell phone to pinpoint your exact location and follow exactly where you are moving.  Why would you want to be moving?  Well, pokemon show up at random locations on the map all over the world and the only way to actually encounter them is to walk towards a rustling grass area and try to find what may be around.  Also while you are out you may stumble across some Poke spots.  Poke spots are blue spaces of cultural, historical, or honestly unknown significance which will give you items such as pokeballs, potions, eggs which hatch as you walk, and berries when you visit them and are in-range. That's about it honestly from what you can do in the "overworld."  However, there are a few other portions of gameplay to talk about in regards to this game.

Obviously the main "purpose" of the game is to capture the pokemon that will appear around your town or wherever you travel to.  Pokemon will change depending on your location or area.  If you are near a field, you should be finding grass and bug pokemon.  If you are in an urban area you will most likely find a lot of rattata, pidgey, and poison types.  If you are walking by a river or pond, you'll likely encounter water types.  It all just depends on where you physically are.  You also have two options when encountering a pokemon.  You can turn on your camera and find their exact physical location in your world, or you can leave the camera off and just be in the generalized area.  There is no battling to weaken the pokemon, you just have different colored circles that will appear around the pokemon and shrink multiple times.  Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red signify Easy, Somewhat Difficult, Difficult, and Very Difficult to capture respectively.  In order to capture them you just simply swipe the pokeball on your phone screen at the proper distance and power to strike the pokemon and capture them.

Unlike the main series games, you will want to capture every single pokemon you come across.  Yes, that means you want to keep capturing those pidgeys over and over.  Capturing 50+ pidgeys is a good thing because capturing a pokemon provides you with stardust and candy.  You can then transfer your weaker pokemon to the professor in exchange for an additional candy.  Why is stardust and candy important?  Well we utilize those to either power up or evolve the pokemon we have captured.  If you want a powerful Venusaur, the easiest way to do that is capture multitudes of bulbasaur and trade them in for candy.  You would then use those candies to evolve the strongest bulbasaur you have captured then utilize a candy and stardust to keep powering him up to make him super strong!

The last thing that (currently) is available is pokemon gyms.  Gyms appear at random kind of like poke spots.  They may be a restaurant, a historical landmark, a church, or any other sort of location around.  However gyms are handled differently here than in the main series games.  In this game, the Gyms are actually "run" by players.  Once you reach level 5, you can take on gyms and choose one of the three teams to be a part of.  A player can then claim a gym for their team by leaving a pokemon there to defend the gym from challengers.  Others on the same team can also leave a pokemon there to either take over the gym (by having a more powerful pokemon) or provide support to the leader.  Trainers can fight the gyms in order to take over the gyms for their team or train their pokemon a little.  I...honestly don't really know the point of gyms but I'll get to that in an ever-growing section below.

What's Good About It?

This game truly is something that I personally had always dreamed of.  I'm somewhat ashamed to admit this but even up into my adulthood, I would daydream about this very thing.  What natural wildlife around my house would be a pokemon that I could capture.  Anytime I went to the beach I'd think about all the cool sea pokemon I could potentially have brought back.  Just going on a walk in the park would occassionally get my imagination running about coming across a wild Farfetch'd or Ekans that I could add to my team.  Now, I can actually do that.  I can walk around with my phone and see that Magikarp really are in the river near my house.  A local shopping center is where I found my very own Tauros.  I searched for a gastly (as ghost types are among my favorite) and finally found one at Chilli's.  My meowth was found in my own back yard.  Jigglypuff likes to taunt me by showing up super late at night when I'm not about to get out and find her.  It's not very often that the collective imaginations of millions of fans actually gets created into an actual product.  The feeling is truly magical.

This game actually has accomplished part of the goal it had in mind.  This is the first time...ever really, that I have actively wanted to go walking around outside.  I'm your stereotypical fat lazy gamer.  If I want to go somewhere, I'm going to go to gamestop or the mall, park as close as humanly possible to where I'm going and get my business done quickly so that I can go back home and sit around.  This is actively making me want to go out and walk around.  It's actively making me examine my daily routine to find time and ways to head to the park or downtown in order to capture pokemon and get items.  It's something that's happening to countless others as well.  The first night I ever went downtown and found several poke spots, I noticed countless others doing the exact same.  It's working.

There's also just a real sense of community with this game.  Yes, I've seen many things be a craze and "sweep the nation" in my 30 years of life...but I've never seen something like this.  I've never seen a video game become so mainstream and so popular that people everywhere are playing it.  People of all ages, races, genders, and orientations are out there catching pokemon, talking with friends, identifying with each other over a silly little mobile game.  You can actively see people playing it everywhere you go and you can connect with anyone even lightly and briefly because of this game.

Earlier, I mentioned that the poke spots give you items when you are within range.  What some people may not have been initially aware of, is that poke spots actually can be visited more than once in a day.  When you go to a poke spot you just spin the icon and it will provide you with items (that you must tap or they go away.)  Once you have collected your items the poke spot will turn purple meaning that you cannot use it anymore.  However, poke spots will reset themselves every 5-10 minutes and allow you to get more items from them.  This is good for when you are low on pokeballs... especially if you can find several in a row.  When I went to my local downtown area, I found a road with several poke spots.  By the time I would get to one end of the road, the other end was back to being blue.  I just spent all my time walking up and down that same section of road and was able to grab 100 some pokeballs within an hour!  Alternately, you could just sit in a single spot by a poke spot and just wait for it to come back blue if you can't find an area with multiple spots.

One last thing that is good about it, is the data usage.  I ran this game for a solid 3 hours and only used about 20 Megs of data (that's 0.02 Gigs).  That's not bad at all!

What's Bad About It?

In the words of Jeff Foxworthy... 
"Dear Lord, be with our guests and prepare them for the butt whooping they're about to receive!!"

The servers they are running this game on are absolute garbage.  I'm not sure if the fault lies with Niantic or The Pokemon Company, but somewhere someone has dropped the ball in a very large way.  I don't know what it is with Nintendo properties being grossly unprepared for the amount of demand that it is going to get... I'm still looking at you amiibos.  This is sort of the same exact way.  There are so many people playing this game that not only can you not create a trainer account and must use your Google account to even sign in to the thing, but also the servers are non-stop crashing.  In the few days that I've had the app, I'm pretty sure I've seen the above blue message at least once a day if not 10 times within the same day.  What's the point of having a game if you can't even play the game because of non-stop server issues?  The servers go down so incredibly often that social media is frequently inundated with images such as these below.
If you thought it was bad enough when the game was only available in a couple of countries... things only got worse.  When the game was released in all of Europe, they proved that they hadn't learned a SINGLE thing from the US release as the traffic on the server was so incredibly high that the majority of users couldn't even log in at all!  It's like they are running the entire world's servers out of a single location rather than in various regions.  I certainly couldn't get in to the game for several hours.  It's just ridiculous.

Unstable servers wouldn't be that much of a problem in all reality if the game was able to be run offline in any capacity.  However that's just not the case here.  The game desperately need some sort of offline mode capabilities.  Maybe it should keep a sort of small generalized database for your immediate area so that some pokemon could still be captured and then just synced up with the servers later.  If that would be too much of a hastle then allow the game to be used offline and still count for our steps in hatching eggs at a bare minimum.  Perhaps add in some functionality for pokemon catching training as well as gym battle training.  Something to hone our skills without having to utilize any of our items so that we can actually do something when the servers go down.  But...this isn't a thing.  If the servers aren't working, the game isn't working... and believe me, the servers will often be non-functional which will make the game non-functional.

It's not just the servers that aren't working... it's the game itself.  I'm not joking or over-exaggerating when I say that the game itself is a bit of a mess.  I thought Bethesda products were buggy but this thing is far worse than anything I've ever seen in Elder Scrolls or Fallout.  There are many times when the GPS signal will just suddenly go away even with clear skies.  The game will sometimes just not have your avatar move though you have walked far away from that spot, it won't count the distance you have walked at all so that you can't hatch your eggs, or it won't load any pokemon in your area even with incense(which attracts pokemon to your location) turned on.  Sometimes poke spots wont load and will just give you a white circle that you can't do anything with, or even more infuriatingly, it will load the poke spot but when you spin the icon it will just keep spinning and say "try again later" for an extremely long time.  It will freeze on a moments notice when you are trying to catch wild pokemon or just simply walking around forcing you to re-start the app...sometimes every three minutes!!!  There are two known and extremely irritating glitches in the game currently.  The first is when you are catching wild pokemon, the pokemon will go in the pokeball then it will just land and sit there with the "loading" pokeball in the top left spinning.  Once this happens you have no choice but to stop the app and re-start it.  Now this is annoying in and of itself but what makes it infuriating is that the part which counts how many balls you throw is still active meaning WHEN THIS GLITCH HAPPENS, YOU HAVE LOST A POKEBALL FOR NO REASON AT ALL.  The second known glitch involves Gym battles.  Sometimes without warning, the gym leader's pokemon will be brought down to 1 HP and it will remain at 1 HP indefinitely.  You cannot win the battle at all because of this.  Speaking of gyms....

Gyms are an absolute waste of time.  Pardon this terminology, but the gyms are effectively nothing but glorified dick waving contests.  I honestly don't really know much of the purpose of these things especially when the general public are the ones "running" the gym.  Why?  Every single gym around is overpowered to the maximum.  I have a wife, a job, and sort of a life.  I can't dedicate my every waking hour to this game, but there are apparently hundreds who don't have these things and spend all of their time training up their pokemon.  So when I show up at a gym, I will have my 515 Power Vaporeon (my strongest pokemon at the time) with me to take on the gym... only to find pokemon of power levels far over 1300.  I can't even add a pokemon to a red colored gym and assist because they're all full up with equally over-leveled jerks.  I did find one single gym that I was able to actually take over.  I was so excited to finally see these supposed benefits of being part of a gym.  I dropped off my vaporeon and figured I might at least get to see the benefit of being there for one day would be.  NOPE within 10 minutes of me dropping him off, he was back in my inventory with 1HP cause somebody took over the gym.   Screw gyms and stay away from them at all cost because they aren't worth your time.

If you don't live in a major metropolitan area, you're going to have a hard/bad time.  This game was clearly designed to be played by city people and not people who live in rural areas.  Up until now, every picture I've shown with poke spots has shown multiple places to stop and get more items.  This sort of thing is true for places like San Diego, Boston, Philadelphia, etc.  But what about small town and rural areas?  Well the picture I'm showing with this section will tell you exactly what you can expect to find living in rural USA..... piss all!  Now pokemon can appear anywhere and everywhere in both urban and rural areas.  I've never been without pokemon showing up for too long after walking a decent distance... but it's the items that I can't get much of.  For me personally, there's no poke spot within walking distance of my house... and I live INSIDE THE CITY LIMITS... I'm not even out in the boonies!  The point of Pokemon Go is to get you to go out and walking and if I want to just catch pokemon...yeah I can walk around my neighborhood, but if I need items I either have to plan a special trip to downtown (as downtown for most rural areas is a safe bet to find poke spots) or I have to spend real life money to refresh them...something I'm NOT about to do.  So again, If I didn't have a job, wife, or the pitiful excuse of a life I have, I could certainly go downtown and farm for items every day.  However, I generally can only get out there once a week at best because it is a good 15 minute drive and takes time out of my day.  It would be so nice to have a poke spot in my neighborhood so I could take a quick 10 minute walk multiple times throughout the day rather than turning it into an evening's event.

Despite all of the things that we CAN do in the game, there are several things that we simply can't do that we were told we would be able to.  It honestly feels like this official release isn't an actual release... it's more of a nation-wide beta testing as so many features just simply aren't in the game.  When you think of pokemon games, what sort of things do you think of?  Well I think of having all the pokemon, catching pokemon, trading pokemon with friends/strangers, and having real-life battles with other trainers.  So far we have... one of those.  Yes we can, in fact, catch pokemon.  Can we trade with our friends and neighbors?  NOPE   Can we battle pokemon?  Well the gym opponents are computer players and not the actual person running the gym so... not really.  Are all the pokemon available?  NOPE!  Just the first 151 Pokemon are even possibly available within the game.  Now they have said these features are coming but... why is this all coming out in tiny increments?  Again, this truly feels like we are still beta testing this game for them.

Also can we take a moment to talk about how much of a battery suck this thing is?  Sweet merciful heavens this game will absolutely decimate a battery.  In the three hours I played the game, it depleted my extra battery pack and then took my battery down to 30%.  Since my battery pack and fully charge a dead battery, that's 170% in only 3 hours!!  Why is this?  Well the game has to be open and running the whole time in order for it to be functional.  That means you're constantly having to make sure the screen doesn't shut down, lock or anything.  Now there IS a battery saver but the game doesn't actually tell you what it does.  What battery saver does is turn the game screen black when you turn the phone upside down so that the game will still run without wasting quite so much battery.  That said, unless you modify your phone settings to not lock/turn off your screen it becomes pointless because after "inactivity" on the phone, the screen will shut off.  If the screen shuts off for any reason even in battery save mode, the app stops working so.....

The Pokemon Radar that is supposed to show you what is nearby and allow you to track down pokemon is... pretty much useless.  The game doesn't explain the radar whatsoever other than  "oh look here's a radar to tell you what's close kthxbai."  The best that everyone can figure is... A pokemon with no footprints is right beside you and about to appear.  A pokemon with one footprint under it is within 10 meters.  Pokemon with two footprints are within 300 meters, and Pokemon with three footprints are within 1 kilometer.  Pulling up the radar, they are supposedly listed in order of how far away they are and will move up and down the list depending on where you are going.  So if you see something you want, pull up the radar and start walking... in theory the pokemon should rise up the list if you are getting close (or go further down the list if you aren't going the right way.)  Again that's all THEORY.   My own experience has painted a different picture entirely.  Most things are 3 footprints away whether they are in your own back yard or a mile down the road.  If you intend to find something specific you will never find it because the game doesn't even bother to tell you a direction.  Since pokemon move and disappear throughout the day you're almost guaranteed that unless you randomly pick the right direction on the first go...the pokemon will disappear before you can catch it.  I've never hunted for a particular pokemon and found him...EVER.  The radar needs some additional functionality like pointing you in a generalized direction or even highlighting the area on the map where it's most likely to appear.  As-is the radar is about worthless.  It's so worthless that people have actually made a map website and app to help people see where pokemon are likely to spawn in your area...cause the radar sure isn't going to do that!
When you have a game where people have to go out into the world, it's inevitable that things are going to end badly.  Why?  When human beings are given the ability to do something ignorant or horrible...they often times will choose (or accidentally make) the poor decision.  You really need to use your head when playing the game.  Pay attention to where you are, don't go out at night alone, don't go to strange neighborhoods.  Why do I need to point this out?  Within days of this game being launched we have reports of people finding dead bodies, getting jumped when they ended up in a bad neighborhood because a poke spot was there, people getting into wrecks by playing the game while driving, and people being injured because they aren't paying attention to where they are walking while playing the game.  Not to mention people being idiots by disrespecting places like the Holocaust Museum by turning on their camera and taking pictures of poison types that appear inside the place because it's in an urban area.  Yes I will admit that tickled my dark humor bone slightly but when I really got to thinking about it, that kind of stuff doesn't need to be happening.  And of course, we have to top this off with people getting felony charges against them.  There was a group of teens who placed a pokemon lure at a poke spot, waited for people to come catching pokemon and robbed them at gunpoint. 


Now that was a boatload of negative things to say about this game.  I wrote more in the "bad" section of this game than I did any other section... in fact I think I've written more negative points about this game than any other game I've ever covered.  There truly are some horrible things about this game whether it being legitimately broken at times, or the fact that people's lives have been put in danger due to various things.  That being said... most of these things can be fixed or aren't their faults at all. 

Niantic and the Pokemon Company are already working on getting the servers up to par for us and in the last couple days I haven't seen a server error page at all.  They are also actively working on fixing the bugs with the system that are causing the game to freeze.  Remember those things that I said were left out like trading, battling friends, and more pokemon?  They are actually planning to add those.  They could easily implement some changes to the radar, gyms, and battery saver mechanics.  There are a lot of things that could easily be done with an update or a patch...some of which they are currently working on.  It's also no fault of either companies that people are being idiots with their products.  So while there are some legitimately terrible things about this game that make it fairly bad.... the majority is stuff that can be fixed and will most likely be fixed.


A friend of mine, Jukan, made the following comment: "If it was anything but pokemon, this would be a pure flop."  I honestly have to agree with him there.  If this has been some original concept piece that was released it wouldn't have been tolerated.  With the main game mechanic constantly freezing, portions of the game not available at launch, and rampant server issues, if this were any other game it would have been found inadequate and the world would have ignored it.  In it's current state as of the writing of this post, it's in a mediocre (if not even pitiful) state.

But... it IS pokemon and that's exactly why people are willing to overlook the bad.  They are willing to look past all of the glitches and server downtime because it's the game that we pokemon fans have been wanting for years.  The fun and excitement of getting to actually go out in the world on your own pokemon adventure is too much to even properly describe.  There's no story, it's YOUR story of going out, finding pokemon wherever you are, and meeting other people along the way.  It's your pokemon adventure, which is something that so many of us had imagined in the past. It's the love of these 151 little creatures that are currently available to us that has carried this thing into the massive overnight powerhouse it has become.  It's a worldwide sensation where people from all kinds of backgrounds are coming together in unity under one single thing in a time when terror attacks and media hysteria is rampant.  So while it needs a lot of work, it's still beyond fun, exciting, and strangely enough a force for good in a time of trouble.  In the end... fun and excitement is really the key when it comes to video games isn't it?  Not to mention that you simply can't put a price on the amount of good it has brought to communities as people just get out and make friends... it also helps that the game is free.

If you are a fan of the pokemon series then...you probably already have this app unless you have a Windows phone.  If you aren't a fan of pokemon, maybe you can find some enjoyment and exercise as well.  Just get out there, find your pokemon, and be the best trainer/collector you can be!

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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