Niantic Releases Official Sneak Peek for Pokémon GO
If you follow along Google’s shenanigans with Android and otherwise, you may have heard the name “Niantic” pop up time and again. While not as exciting as Google X (now Alphabet Inc’s X), Niantic Labs was the group within Google that was responsible for Ingress, a location based augmented reality game which pits two factions against each other for world domination. Starting with geeks and nerds in the invite-only beta phase, and then moving onto mainstream Android users and then extending to Apple devices as well, the game was successful in motivating thousands of people to move out of their houses and explore their surroundings and notice things they often overlooked. The game has spawned communities at the local level and has had over 10 Million downloads on the Google Play Store till date, making it one of the most successful applications of Augmented Reality.
When Google reorganized itself as Alphabet Inc, Niantic Labs broke away to become an independent entity. As mentioned to The Guardian, this would allow the Niantic team to accelerate their growth and align more closely with investors and partners. And grow they did, raising $30 Million in funding and announcing Pokémon GO: a game which mixes the location based mechanics of Ingress with the wide popularity of the Pokémon franchise. The game is being feverishly hyped, as it becomes one of the first gateways to experience the story of Pokémon in a setting that does justice to the storyline: You explore new areas to capture new Pokémon, except the areas are now real locations around you (but the Pokemons are still virtual, for now 🙁 ).
Niantic Inc’s CEO John Hanke gave us a first glimpse of actual gameplay at the SXSW conference held few days ago. Aside from the cringeworthy use of a Masterball to catch an Ivysaur, the gameplay gave us a look at what to expect from the game.
Now, Niantic has given us an official first look of Pokémon GO:
Starting off, just like Ingress, there will be a map overlay on which the user “moves” around. Being location based, you would obviously be expected to physically move around (fair play scenario) to navigate on the map. Pokémon will spawn on randomly scattered locations around you. To make things a little interesting, the Pokémon around you will reflect your local topography for the most part, with certain Pokémon appearing only in their native environment. The blog post mentions example of Water type Pokémon majorly appearing near lakes and oceans.
Just like in the game and in the anime series, locations will be setup for players to acquire items. These are referred to as PokéStops, and they will be located at interesting public places such as art installations, historical markers, museums and monuments. This aspect of the game will most likely leverage the data on Portals obtained from Ingress to create a playable field for local players in the initial phases.
No Pokémon game is complete without battles, and Pokémon GO will have plenty of it. The game will let players choose between three teams, and will then allow them to battle it out for ownership of Gyms (which would be similarly placed at real world locations). One player will be allowed to place one Pokémon at a friendly Gym, which should promote team-based gameplay for control. If the Gym is controlled by any of the other two teams, you will get a chance to battle the Pokémon lineup.
And there’s Eggs as well. No breeding based gameplay has been announced yet, with discoverability of Eggs being limited via PokéStops. You do have to walk for the Eggs to hatch, which mimics the mechanics in the game series.
We have some more information regarding Pokémon GO, coming in from pokemon.com. The levelling up mechanism of the game would allow you to capture more powerful Pokémon from the same areas, which you would need to help fill up your Pokédex. Levelling up would also unlock access to better items, like Ultra Balls and Master Balls (which we pray that you do not use on Ivysaurs). Evolving mechanisms of the Pokémon is different from the game, as it would now need you to catch the same Pokémon frequently. This is similar to the card approach that a lot of games these days take, where you have to collect a certain number of cards/parts/materials to level up that particular card.
There will also be a variety of challenges that trainers can undertake. Successful completion would grant them an achievement medals that appear in player profiles. While we do not know what these missions would be, we secretly hope that the medals would be modelled after the Gym medals ingame and in the anime.
Then there’s also the Pokémon GO Plus wearable, which connects to your device via Bluetooth and informs about activities in your vicinity and would allow you to take limited actions without looking at your device screen. Sale plans and pricing of the wearable are not known as of now, and should be available closer to public release. There are mentions of In-App Purchases as well, but if Ingress is any indication, these would be subtle and would not drastically alter gameplay or advantage. The game would also be publicly released on both Android and iOS.
At first glance, Pokémon GO looks like a mix between Ingress and Pokémon. But with how the initial gameplay mechanics are laid out, the game promises to evolve a distinct flavor from both of these. The presence of a 3-team setup instead of 2-teams from Ingress would help devolve the toxicity that Ingress sometimes leads to, as well as introduce a player level teamplay element that was missing from most Pokémon games. Not only would you have to manage your individual Pokémon team, you would have to coordinate and help manage your factions local team as well, and coordinate with each other (and possibly with one of your rival teams as well) for taking control of Gyms.
Pokémon GO is still in active development and will begin an early user field test in Japan soon. The blog mentions that features, design and overall appearance of the game are not finalized, but that was to be expected considering the early nature of the game. Seeing how Ingress has evolved from its days of early beta in 2013 to its current matured state in 2016, we can expect a lot of rough edges in the first few months of public beta (if the game enters such a phase before release).
We’re definitely excited for Pokémon GO and can’t wait for the game to launch outside of Japan! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!