How the Creators of Pokémon Took the Characters from the Small Screen to Virtual Reality
August 1st, 2016 | Natasha Englehardt
By now you already know that Pokémon Go is a major phenomenon. What’s truly interesting about it, though, is the fact that Pokémon Go represents not just the latest in augmented reality apps, but also that it is the first wave of nostalgia marketing aimed at millennials. In this post we’re taking a closer look at how the original Pokémon game and show gave rise to Pokémon Go and how the app was created.
From 90s games and television to Pokémon Go
The frenzy surrounding Pokémon Go is the result of the smart harnessing of an existing Pokémon nostalgia community that until now has mostly survived online. In the 90s, Pokémon was available to you via the television show, but only on the weekends, not on demand. And playing Pokémon meant using a Game Boy and accepting a separation between the world of Pokémon and the world of everything else.
Now, Pokémon Go allows the same kids who used to play with Game Boys to use their new favorite devices—smart phones—to hunt for their pocket monsters in their own world, anytime they want, and interact with other fans as they do it. In other words, Pokémon Go has made a 24/7, interactive fan culture possible for a very receptive, nostalgic audience.
That’s right! Even the young generation, millennials, are getting old enough to have a mass nostalgia craze just for them.
How Pokémon Go works
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality app that imposes digital objects on the physical world using geolocation. The digital objects are the Pokémon, Japanese pocket monsters, which are “seen” by your smartphone.
You move around in the app as an avatar that you create, and you can see yourself interacting with the Pokémon at various Pokéstops which take the place of real world locations and landmarks. You need to reach the Pokéstops to get supplies, like Pokémon eggs, items that can heal your Pokémon after a battle, and the Pokéballs you need to capture more Pokémon.
You can find Pokémon almost anywhere, but the app is designed to promote social behavior in that you’re more likely to find them in public places. Parks, for example, are a good bet. You hatch your eggs by walking, so the more you play the more progress you make. As you collect more and more Pokémon of a certain species that species gets stronger.
At a certain point you get strong enough to represent one of three teams: Yellow, Blue, or Red. These three teams fight for supremacy, hoping to capture and keep control of Pokémon gyms which are at large real world landmarks.
How they created Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go is a multi platform mobile multiplayer game that uses augmented reality. This just means that the creators of Pokémon Go designed the app to function using a combination of three sources of positioning information along with fairly simple graphics.
The app uses native device methods to query the smartphone’s GPS coordinates, and then combines them with topographic relief data it gets from Google API or USGS and the phone’s rotation in three dimensions: pitch, roll, and yaw. Sensor capabilities of smartphones vary, so how each one gets that information, which just tells it where on the x, y, and z planes the phone is moving, is a little different, although the end effect is basically the same.
The bottom line is that the technology of the app is not especially groundbreaking. What sets the app apart is its specific combination of nostalgia, interactive play, and technology.
Pokémon Go has already exceeded the wildest expectations of even the most diehard Nintendo fans. Now even older players who were adults when Pokémon Go first hit the scene in the 90s and a new generation of young players are joining the craze, guaranteeing both a broader fan base now and a future generation of loyal nostalgia fans for the franchise. Pokémon Go may not be the most sophisticated augmented reality app, but it certainly is a fantastic example of getting the combination of technology and nostalgia marketing right.