This week inspector detective officer person Plasterbrain investigates fanmade Pokemon MMO’s across the net — the good, the bad, and the Purugly. Lousy game design, shameless pay-to-win, and a fear of pineapples — plus the secret, seedy underbelly of online Poke-plagiarism.
Running the Rattata Race
MMO’s are the stage on which thousands show off how much time they have and how few alternative hobbies, social obligations, and responsibilities compete for this time. How do you keep this faction of your player-base entertained when adapting an easy single-player RPG like Pokemon? A few games seem to think slowing the rate of your progress down to a crawl will do the trick.
In Pokemon Planet, for one, players begin their journey in Palette Town and slowly — very slowly — progress through the first four regions on some kind of extreme setting which reduces experience earned and skews encounter rates so Pokemon like Machop appear only .008% of the time.
If you listen closely, I am compelled to point out, you’ll notice that the music in this game is terrible. The entire soundtrack is arrangements of FR/LG music using an e-piano and an acid base with cReAtIvE interpetations of the original chord progression. If you thought the journey through Gen 1 on hard-mode wasn’t excruciating enough, try it out to cousin Timmy’s CASIO keyboard.
There’s not much by way of original content in Pokemon Planet, and in fact the only real unique aspect other than some rudimentary character customization is the lagging presence of other players.
The problem is that this multiplayer aspect — which includes clans, basic PvP, and a marketplace between users to sell your Mankeys — is irrelevant if you are not willing to commit to three months of raising a competitively viable team limited to a select pool of Pokemon given increased difficulty and extremely minimized encounter rate.
I waited around for a 1/1000 chance Jigglypuff, just to show The Man who was in charge, but then what? A moonstone will come along in the year two-thousand-and-never, and it’s a well-known fact to the scientific community that Jigglypuff sucks. Good luck with your Jigglypuff in a world populated by that guy, and only that guy, who thinks he’s a master strategist with his Venusaur/Alakazam/Gengar/Dragonite/Arcanine/Gyarados fusillade.
To give you an idea of what it’s like to basically play Pokemon under five times the level of Earth’s regular gravity, Pokemon Planet also hosts a discussion forum where players often post their own game guides, the most comprehensive of which even features a TV binge list of shows to watch while you painstakingly grind. Usually when folks complain about the lack of real challenge in Pokemon games, they are not asking to double the play-time and half the enjoyment of an otherwise identical exerpience. Grinding against level 2 Pidgeys is not fun.
Planet offers premium memberships for seven days at a time. You also can purchase special prize boxes and other such trinkets with “donation credits.” For every dollar you donate towards that noble cause of footing the bill for the game’s online server, you’ll get 100 of these credits. Most capitalists would refer to this as a kind of exchange of goods for currency, so not really a donation, but who am I to judge? I want to buy a $10 chance at getting an Eevee.
Where shamelessly freemium Facebook and mobile games have popularized the pay-to-win model, MMORPG’s like Pokemon Planet established a pay-to-make-this-not-boring-and-excruciatingly-slow format.
Pokemon Revolution Online, another fangame which begins in Kanto, also styles itself in this tradition.
This would be fine if the base game seemed like something worth paying for, but in Revolution’s case, the attention and polish are very a la shit. A Mankey was taped to the door of one of the early Pokemon Centers for a moment before flying away. I got into a wild Pokemon battle and in one with a trainer simultaneously. Pokemon can get a status effect and faint in immediate succession. Characters use Gaia-style speech bubbles which are accompanied by sound effects liberally borrowed from the RPG Maker XP run time package.
As an F2P casual scrub, I chose Pikachu as my starter, because I wanted to feel special. In order to get that Pikachu, which I cannot nickname, to level 8, I need 1492 experience points.
By Bulbapedia’s accounts, Pikachu is in the Medium-Fast leveling group, which means that the minimum total experience a Pokemon will have at any level is equal to that level cubed. 8^3 = 512. 512! Even the definite integral of that experience graph is only about 1024, and when you’re doing definite integrals on a Saturday you can be sure that software designed for entertainment purposes has TRICKED you. I think I deserve a premium membership merely by virtue of having been TRICKED INTO MATH.
Hoarders: Pokemon Edition
On the other side of the coin are the Pokemon browser games, which for whatever reason are more like legendary Easter Egg hunts than legitimate RPGs of any kind. Pokemon arrive in all sorts of new collectible varieties, like sapphire, cursed, shadow, glitter glue, clown, retro, presidential, genesis, primal, elderly, and nightmarish (alright I made some of those up), and through your luck and/or real-world money, they can be gathered by the boxful! Gotta collect ’em all!
Now not only the sysop gets to live in fantasy land. Everyone can join! Rather than aiming to be a watered down recplica of the original games, these browser versions offer a fresh interpretation of the franchise. Unfortunately that also means Pokemon conventions tend to get thrown out the window.
In The Pineco Pals Club, or whatever TPPC stands for, the nefarious Pokemon teams from throughout the series are fighting some kind of turf war. You begin as a grunt on whichever team you like and ascend through the ranks as you beat people up.
This is all good so far. “Give me a Glameow!” I cry, before realizing no one else was in line for Team Galactic sign-ups. I look at the ground and mutter “this is plasbad.”
Given the option to assign your party members just about any move in the game in TPPC, I tried to pick ones that made sense for my Pokemon. The game did not extend me this same courtesy.
Just how exactly does an Umbreon use cross-chop? What is there to cross-chop with?! Umbreon couldn’t cross-chop an onion! Are you saying my Glameow made no effort to dodge and instead politely waited to be bludgeoned to death with those stubby little limited-motion-ranged arms? Are you saying my Glameow is dumb? I’ll have you know my Glameow took seventh place in the 2014 Poké Spelling Bee. I would even venture so much as to say my Glameow is among the top percentage of Glameow.
Maybe I could try my luck at Pokemon Dusk, which claims to be “the most famous and awesome online pokemon gaming site [in the developer’s mind].” Yeah! We’re finally getting to the dark and gritty stuff. “Do you have what it takes to be Duskers ?” asks this edgy online game defiantly. Pokemon Dusk, a browser fangame which seems to be written exclusively in fine print, has no need for Pokemon fundamentals.
I chose the picnicker sprite for my character (Picnicker Erin!!1 get it? lelz) but Dusk has other ideas, deciding I am in fact a Team Aqua grunt with $20,000,000 of venture capital to do assuredly villainous Team Aqua-type things.
Before you get emotional over that figure, I’m obligated to point out that the Dusk economy operates on no less than seven simultaneous systems of currency at any given time: in-game “cash,” coins (premium), gems (double premium), clan credits, battle points, berries, and actual Pokemon. Basically, if you can count it, and the quantity exceeds one, it can be exchanged for goods and services.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#ee3578″ class=”” size=””]”I would even venture so much as to say my Glameow is among the top percentage of Glameow.”[/pullquote]
There’s no shortage of things to spend money on, either. Send a gesture to your friends, such as an entire “lol” for the low, low price of $1,000,000 (plus a S&H fee of 400 coins). You know, an “lol!” The kind you can say to someone via instant messaging at any time, for free. This is why old people hate us.
After a quick tutorial with Professor Oak, I’m left in the care of Duskbot, the intelligent robot who will show me the ropes. Good news seeing as the site has about 600 pages, half of which are just portals for sending the developers your money. As his first order of business, Duskbot orders I disable Adblock, so that I may view the same Google text ad listed multiple times in a row throughout the site. I don’t care for Duskbot especially.
Almost certainly making use of my patented “slap some PHP together from various sources” UX design strategy, Dusk gameplay holds the dubious distinction of being a thing that sucks.
Half of the map tiles are missing from the screen, causing a great deal of fumbling in the dark and bumping into what your character exclaims are “obvious walls and obstacles,” and rendering the search for Pokemon a head-to-desk-slamming endeavor. Fortunately, when you don’t find a Pokemon, you get hilarious and quirky messages such as:
- “Shhhh… I hear footsteps… Oh, they were only mine, silly buns…”
- “There must be some pokemon around here!?”
- “Yes! I stepped on something squishy… Oh no! Don’t tell me it’s…!”
- “What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just me.”
- “Oops… I stood on a slug.”
There is some unexplained fascination for the writers with the phrase “silly buns.” The overworld trainer is a generic male protagonist sprite who, from what I gather, navigates the area in the hopes of stepping on something squishy, and when his shoe encounters an object meeting this mysterious criterion, he stands in place, for a moment, to investigate, which nearly always results in the disappointment of discovering what he stepped and has now stood on was in fact a slug. The accumulation of shoe-slugs creates a noxious smell which drives most, if not all, Pokemon out of the area.
Fortunately, this wild Cranidos lost its sense of smell as a child. I do have a couple of questions, however:
- Why is there a Cranidos in the wild?
- Why does Chimchar know bubble?
- Why is there no logical progression of enemy levels anywhere in this game?
- Why does everything in this picture suck?
- Why does Cranidos know recover?
- How can a move heal for 2 HP but also “have no effect on the Pokemon?”
- Who is that effeminate man standing in front of the wild Cranidos?
- Why does Chimchar know bubble?!
I am unable to access my bag-pack to use a Pokeball. So it looks like it’s no main storyline for me.
Good news is there’s an excess of mini-games in Pokemon Dusk, although most of them either require some form of premium currency or are under construction. I try the free Wishing Well, which is just a page you share with your friends like those annoying click-to-hatch dragon eggs and not actually a game at all.
Wait a minute. Isn’t that the Neopets wishing well? You thought I wouldn’t notice, Pokemon Dusk?! Well guess what, pally, people who look for cheap online ways to play Pokemon are the same demographic as people looking for any other kind of pretend virtual companionship. Time to sic the cyber cops on this high quality game.
(On the subject of cops, it turns out Pokemon Dusk is an exact copy of another game, Pokemon Creed, but with worse graphics. A cursory investigation reveals Creed actually came out four years earlier, in 2010, and boasts 360k members to Dusk’s 19k as of this time of writing, but apparently has worse SEO.
Dusk was set up by a guy from New Delhi named CruZ, who borrowed and modified the server-side code from Creed’s programmer Alan Du. The legal information page for Dusk credits Du all of once, claims “We do not hold any rights of the php codes or the database or any other site data. We have just modified some of them,” and then proceeds to label the game under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. This license prohibits users from distributing a modified version of the work and/or making money off of it. I don’t see anything wrong with that if you don’t.
You might imagine the offensively unfunny dialogue was a result of Dusk’s Indian webmaster attempting English as a second language, but in fact everything, from purchasing gestures down to the bizarre pet phrase “silly buns,” was appropriated from Pokemon Creed. So not only is it not the “most famous and awesome” Pokemon MMO by a long shot, Pokemon Dusk is also a lightly modified stolen version of another game. Also, both games used the Neopets Wishing Well.)
There’s an emerging trend in these games — what they lack in story, rules, structure, and gameplay outside of button clicks, they make up for in button clicks.
About two seconds after creating an account on Pokemon Helios, I tried a daily called Lucky Hour with no strategy aforethought, where pressing a plain red button gave me $50,000 and a free level 100 Tangela.
Understand that in doing this I had just ruined someone’s hour. I’ve tried to get the Lucky Hour to work wonders again and quickly realized that, as is to be expected, there are 1-2 other people camping there at any given moment, refreshing the page as the clock ticks down in hopes of winning a Tangela… I guess.
Pokemon Eclipse gets a little more creative with the time-tested clicking-a-button formula. On the Mining page, for example, a button pops around in different locations and you click on it a certain number of times in order to “complete” a mine and move onto the next one. Each click randomly awards shards and rocks you can trade in for prizes, items, Pokemon encounters, and enormous piles of money. There is no way this is not a social experiment to see how many times teenagers will click a button on the vague promise of free virtual nothing.
It’s not limited to the minigames either. To catch Pokemon you click a search button on the screen until enough clicks accumulate to advance to the next area or some obtainable appears. This is without a doubt exactly what kids would be doing in a terrible, contemporary English novel about dependence on technology and information poisoning and systematic oppression or whatever. Nobody thinks. They just click, and catch eleven Meowths.
In fairness to Eclipse, it is by far the least shitty of all the online Pokemon MMOs I encountered. There’s a lack of that spend-to-win pretension and an actual sense of community, thanks to the chatbox on the side.
If you’re a dumbass like me and left your Pokemon games at home for an extended period of time before deciding while at college that you want to play them, none of these games will satisfy that hankering (you’d want roms and rom hacks for that), but at least the people here friendly, and you can trade a Shadow Lugia for two Dark Jigglypuffs like me, and focus on the important things in life.
(The important things are Jigglypuffs.) ❧
Oh! And here’s my Eclipse referral link. ;0 </shamelessplug>