While Game Freak are known for developing the universally popular Pokémon series, they’re not exactly the largest game development studio around. In an interview with 4Gamer, art director Ken Sugimori and director Tetsuya Watanabe shared a little insight on the company and its recent growth thanks to Pokémon X and Y.
In an earlier interview featuring Game Freak developers, they discussed the company’s unique game development process, dubbed “Gear,” that allows any member of the company to brainstorm an idea, which is then put into motion once they can get three other staff members to agree and join in on the brainstorming.
Thus far, Gear has been used to develop two titles—HarmoKnight and Soliti Horse, both of which have been released on the Nintendo eShop. 4Gamer asks about what it was like to plan a new game prior to the introduction of the Gear program.
“If anything, it was something close to the form of a top-down [design],” says Watanabe. “Whenever a development for Pokémon had calmed down, it was something like, ‘let’s get someone young to do it,’ as we warmed to the idea of whoever was planning it, and advanced from there.”
“Additionally, the advancement of projects were always centered around the planners, but we’ve recently got rid of such limitations, so it has changed into something that gives us more freedom,” Watanabe adds.
4Gamer then asks whether Game Freak have a Pokémon development line concurrently running at the same time with other games that use the Gear development process.
“It feels like it has finally become that way,” Sugimori says. “Previously, due to the work put into Pokémon, it was virtually impossible to have other lines [of development]. Simply saying ‘that’s difficult’ won’t get you anywhere, and Gear has been put into action so we can say ‘let’s do our best even if it doesn’t seem possible,’ instead. Our company isn’t actually that large in the first place, so having multiple lines of development alone was already tough for us.”
Considering the magnitude of popularity the Pokémon franchise boasts, one would think that Game Freak has a massive development team. According to Watanabe, however, that isn’t the case.
“Right now, we have over 80 employees, but this is the result of expanding for the development of Pokémon X and Y,” shares Watanabe. “Previously, we had roughly 50 to 60 people, and before that we had much less. Also, to us, Pokémon is a very important piece of work, so we put a considerable amount of energy into it. So, making something other than Pokémon has always been a tough situation for us.”
“While many of our young staff members have pride in working on Pokémon, I believe that another part of them feel something like, ‘It’s not a game that we created.’”
“The feeling of creating something from scratch and watching it grow, is an exceptional feeling, after all,” adds Sugimori.
Watanabe concludes, “So I think that it’s best for our company’s young staff members to take the opportunity to gain that experience. Working independently, and arguing while advancing through projects might be an experience that won’t end well at first; however, thinking ahead five or ten years, I believe that [experience] will become a necessity.”
Photograph courtesy 4Gamer.