How Pokemon Black and White 2 is a truly social game [Interview]

Pokemon Black White 2 screens
Pokemon Black White 2 screens

When you think about it, Pokemon was the first truly mobile social game. (In the most literal sense of the word "social", of course.) With the first direct sequel to a Pokemon game headed for Western shores Oct. 7, we recently sat down with Game Freak producer Junichi Masuda and director Takao Unno to discuss their excitement for the sequel, their process in coming to it and their thoughts on social games through the lens of Pokemon.

Junichi Masuda
Junichi Masuda

What are you both most excited about for the launch of Pokemon Black and White 2?

Masuda (pictured right): This is our first time making a sequel, and with Black Version 2 and White Version 2 being set two years after the original games, I'm really excited to see how players of the original games will enjoy the games. Seeing how, in what way will they play it and enjoy it. At the same time, I'm really excited to see how new players to the series will play the games and how they'll enjoy it as well.

Unno: With Black 2 and White 2, I think we've really managed to evolve the Pokemon series as a communication tool. We've really packed in a lot of new communication elements, and I'm just looking forward to seeing players playing with each other while smiling and having a good time.

You've both seen multiple Pokemon sequels realized. Can either of you talk about the process within Game Freak when cooking up a new sequel? What changed in that process for to come to Black and White 2, the first direct sequel?

Masuda: First, about Pokemon Black Version and Pokemon White Version, the original. With each game--the Diamond and Pearl, Black Version, White Version--there's always a different method and different style for developing the game. At first for Pokemon Black Version and White Version, we came up with the theme, the two extremes: black and white. We also wanted to make it a game that not just kids, but adults could really enjoy as well.

That was really reflected in how we designed the battle system, how players can trade with each other using infrared, and also the setting of the game, the setting of the story. I came up with a 200-page design document, a kind of conceptual design document, and we really referred to that when we were creating Black Version and White Version. For Black 2 and White 2, it's changed a little bit.

Unno: So, the process of design for Black Version and White Version was just as Mr. Masuda said, and I think that worked out very well for us. But when we decided to make a sequel, we really wanted to see how we could improve on that. You know as a sequel, we really had to improve on the originals. [There were] two aspects we were really concerned about when we first started development.

Pokemon Black White 2 screens
Pokemon Black White 2 screens

One of those was, "Would players of Pokemon Black Version and Pokemon White Version be interested in a sequel in the same world, in the same setting?" The other was, "Would new players, who hadn't played Black Version and White Version, feel too intimidated because there's a 2 in the title on it, the sequel?" In order to get around that, we really focused on--even if it's the same region, the same setting--we added in brand new towns, the protagonist is completely different, the story is all new and also the route in which you progress through the Unova Region. Although it's the same region, the route in which you progress through it is completely different.

So, by doing that I think we really succeeded in creating a game that both players of Black Version and White Version can enjoy. They'll have a fresh new look at the same region. And brand new players, that even though it's a sequel, they'll be able to jump in and start at this point and really enjoy the game.

Takao Unno
Takao Unno

Of course, this version has yet to release outside of Japan, but I am curious as to what either of you think about the possibility of exploring the same region in Black and White 2 even further beyond this sequel.

Unno (pictured left): When we were developing Black Version and White Version, we weren't really thinking about making a sequel to it in the first place. It's just that, once we were nearing the end of the development, we felt that there was still more possibilities with the communication functions, the gameplay, as well as some room to expand on the story and the really interesting characters that we created.

So, that's how the sequel came about this time and if it came about that we could do that in a similar fashion--expand on the story and expand on the gameplay element even further than we'd probably be interested in doing that but right now we don't really have any plan.

I imagine the reasoning behind releasing this version of Pokemon for the original DS rather than 3DS was for maximum reach, considering the timing. But perhaps you can speak to what comes to mind when you think of a Pokemon game for the 3DS. What possibilities do you see there?

Masuda: There are a lot of functions, really cool new connectivity functions in the 3DS, as well as other functions--the gyro sensor and the AR functionality. And we also developed the Pokemon Dream Radar, it's kind of a complementary application in the eShop that players can play to supplement their Black Version-to-White Version experience. We designed [that] after the 3DS, using some of these functions. And in terms of the 3DS as a piece of hardware, we really definitely feel there's a lot of possibility with all of the various functions and features that it has.

We all remember playing the original Pokemon on the GameBoy with a link cable to trade with friends and battle. It's pretty clear that, in a literal sense, Pokemon has been an inherently social game from the start. What are your thoughts on the social games of today on social networks and mobile phones?

Masuda: It's really interesting to see the forms of communications that can take place. You know, the possibilities of communication that can take place on on social networks, and that's really exciting to see. But at the same, time it really does put into focus the interesting aspect of Pokemon, where the social part is you are actually interacting with people in person. And, with the Pokemon series we definitely want to focus on that aspect as well as the more, you know, connectivity aspect as well.

Pokemon Black White 2 screens
Pokemon Black White 2 screens

Do you see a time when the core Pokemon releases incorporate more of these passive or asynchronous social features that we see in games for, say, Facebook or mobile?

Masuda: We are always looking for new ways to innovate Pokemon, innovate the series. If we can find ways to make those elements fit, and make them really work for the Pokemon games, then it would be something we would be interested in implementing.

However, one of the concerns is making something that parents feel not safe, but feel comfortable with letting their children playing the game. And when some of those elements are not very comfortable for parents to let their children play, then it is not something that we really think fit for the Pokemon series. But we are always looking for new ways to innovate.

Is there anything else either of you would like to add about Pokemon Black and White 2?

Masuda: In Black Version 2 and White Version 2, we really enhanced the communication features for the games. For example, there are the new Fun Fest missions and the Joint Avenue. These elements [are] particularly focused on end-person communication, like actually connecting with people nearby you. I really hope that the players will take their game and head to a mall or some place where other people are also playing the game and enjoy it with them.

Unno: Another one of the goals of Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 that I had was to really expand on the world of Pokemon and make it really exciting for players. Two examples of this are the new features we added: Pokemon World Tournament as well as the PokeStar Studios. There really is a ton of gameplay content in these games. I mean, there is so much that a lot of the players probably will not be able to get to all of it, but each individual gameplay element is really fun on its own and is easy to get into. So, I hope people will pick up the game and really try everything out

Are you excited for Pokemon Black and White 2? Which version will you pick up when they land in October? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.