Q&A: Head Pokétrainer Tsunekazu Ishihara
Pokémon Company CEO chats with GameSpot about Diamond and Pearl, why making a game multiplatform dilutes quality, and why Nintendo will win the console war.
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As president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, Tsunekazu Ishihara has seen "Gotta catch 'em all" turn from a marketing slogan to a capitalist edict for many a young gamer.
Ishihara produced the first two Pokémon titles, Pocket Monster Aka and Pocket Monster Midori, which were released in 1996 in Japan for the Game Boy. Since then he has seen the series' success spread around the world, eventually yielding a trading card game, a TV animation series, and movies.
The latest two titles, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, have been out in the US since April 22, and will be released in Europe July 27. Today, Pokémon is the second most successful video game franchise in the world, second only to the Nintendo mascot himself, Mario.
GameSpot caught up with Tsunekazu Ishihara on a whirlwind visit to the UK to promote the two latest titles at the Nintendo Wii Flat in London.
GameSpot UK: Pokémon has been an incredibly long-running franchise. Why do you think it has managed that longevity when many other series have been forgotten?
Tsunekazu Ishihara: I think perhaps the continued success is due to the fact that every time we create a new game there's always a new surprise, something new to discover, and a new element of fun. That's something that we always try to have in mind when we evolve the game. For example, every time there is a new iteration of the game, a new region and therefore new Pokémon are discovered.
If you look at what's happening at the moment, there are many intellectual properties that have made these crossovers between TV, movies, and games, and I think have applied similar methods [with the Pokémon brand]. So, we have to continue to look at new ways and ideas so that we don't get left behind or snowed under by these copies. So we have to keep topping ourselves.
GSUK: How has your audience evolved?
TI: As the game itself evolves, and new areas are discovered and the game expands, there's always a new generation of Pokémon users who are starting to play the game. Also, at the same time, there are users who used to play and stopped, but now they're rediscovering it because they are parents themselves and have started to play together with their children.
GSUK: Do you think you have a big adult audience?
TI: First and foremost, it's a game I play, and I'm an adult, and I can get quite passionate and involved in it. Initially Pokémon was designed with children from toward the end of primary school to the middle of secondary school in mind, but there are certainly elements that adults can and do enjoy, too.
GSUK: Where are the games most popular? The US? Japan?
TI: In terms of population, the US is probably the biggest, but if you look at the installed base with hardware and software, it's about the same.
GSUK: How did you find working with the DS technology for the first time with Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl?
TI: Looking at the game, we need to bring out the best of the game on the particular platform--in this instance we tried to utilise the touch screen, and also the Wi-Fi element, as well as the two cartridge slots.
For example, a new experience would be to use the DS almost like [a voice over IP] phone and you can chat to your friends, or have a battle with them, or exchange Pokémon with them.
GSUK: What do you think of how the industry is changing and the new platforms?
TI: If you look at the DS or the Wii--these are very well received consoles at the moment and rather than try to compete with hardware specifications alone I think it is more important to look at the lifestyle and come up with an idea that is more unique with this hardware.
If you look at other companies, they make games on multiple platforms, but perhaps it is better to concentrate on what one hardware platform can offer, and to use that to bring out the best in the software with that in mind.
GSUK: Why's that? Do you think making a title multiplatform somehow dilutes it?
TI: Yes. When you look at multiplatform games, because they are multiplatform you have to consider what is universal to all of the platforms when you're making it and therefore that limits the actual creativity.
An obvious example, on the DS you have the touch screen but on other hardware you can't use that. In Pokémon, you can inherit Pokémon from your Game Boy Advance, a feature which is also only available on the DS.
GSUK: Any plans for a Pokémon massively multiplayer online game?
TI: At the moment it's not in that exact style, but I already feel that the fact that Pokémon can now be played worldwide, exchanging Pokémon and so on, that it is essentially a massively multiplayer online game already.
GSUK: What's next for the Pokémon series?
TI: Right now [in the UK] Diamond and Pearl will be made available soon, then the Wii Pokémon Battle Revolution is coming, which can connect with the DS versions. I have ideas for the next Pokémon games after that, but I can't disclose them at the moment.
GSUK: What do you think makes a good game?
TI: In terms of Pokemon, if you look at any given user, they generally want to play a new Pokémon game but they want to play something that's very familiar to them at the same time. That's perhaps the most difficult part during the development, to try to come up with a new game, with new elements, and also maintain the integrity of the original. Generally, it's not any one element that makes a game interesting and fun to play, but a combination of many things.
GSUK: How do you think the next-gen war will play out?
TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner.
GSUK: Thanks for your time.