Recently, Pokemon Card project manager Kouta Okamoto and director Atsushi Nagashima from Creatures, Inc. were interviewed on the card game that is still a hit to this day, regarding its origins, and how the varied illustrations are decided upon. [Thanks, Famitsu!]
Here are the highlights:
Firstly, please tell us about the process of development up to October 1996, when Pokemon Cards began to be sold in stores.
Atsushi Nagashima, director: “At the time, I had yet to be involved in Pokemon Cards, so this is what I’ve heard, but it was Creatures founder [Tsunekazu] Ishihara who at the time was studying board games of all sorts. At the time, Pokemon Red & Green were still in development, but from how you could collect 151 species of Pokemon, and the game’s turn-based battle system, it was very compatible with the TCG format. That’s how development began, so I hear.”
So it started with Ishihara-san’s idea. So even when Pokemon Red & Green were in development, people were already looking for expand the series beyond games.
Kouta Okamoto, project manager: “Right. Because it was born as a new way of producing the Pokemon series, the Pokemon Card TCG has emphasized “pretending to be a trainer” from the very start. For example, the deck basically has the same role PCs do in the main games. Also, there’s only one battle space, and five bench spaces, meaning you follow the rule of only having six Pokemon. The fact your turn ends after you attack is the same way.”
Nagashima: “To reiterate, we’re always keeping in mind having the game designed to be as simple and easy to understand as possible. We want the game to be easy to understand not only for kids, but also parents who might play the game with them.”
Even if it’s the same Pokemon, the card illustrations differ, of course. While the card game contracts various illustrators, how do you decide who draws what?
Okamoto: “Currently, we request illustrations from about 80 different artists, each who have their own styles and strengths. So, we usually ask the artist who can draw that Pokemon with the most charm as a basis. However, because Pokemon that are often made into cards end up having a similar look when drawn by the same person, we sometimes ask new people to handle it. What’s important is keeping in mind those that are getting to know new Pokemon with these cards.”
Nagashima: “Pokemon Cards are like each a page of the Pokemon encyclopedia. That’s why the basic direction is to have artists draw illustrations that match the Pokemon’s image. However, sometimes one Pokemon may have several cards in the same expansion, and in these cases we ask artists to show a surprising side to the Pokemon for one of them.”
Okamoto: “It’s hard to balance, and illustration styles also change in different eras, so we may ask illustrators who have different styles to join at any time. Currently, we’re holding the Pokemon TCG Illustration Grand Prix to recruit new illustrators, so check it out if you’re interested!”