Saturday, August 28, 2021

A field guide to LBGs: Pokémon Go

Today I am kicking off my LBG Field Guide series with a game that is likely familiar, and so will form a useful point of reference for future posts, Pokémon Go. This is really the standard LBG against which most others are judged  right now, sort of like EQ in the early 2000s or WoW from about 2005 on in the MMORPG scene.  It is also supposedly one of the most profitable games on the planet, with a staggering 166 million users and more than a billion in revenue in 2020.  As a point of reference, only eight countries in the world have a larger population than Pokémon Go.  Next week I'll continue this series with a game that has a very different tone (to put it mildly), Walking Dead: Our World.  

Pokémon Go

What do you do?  The basic gameplay loop of Pokémon Go is to catch random pokémon.  You can play it entirely as a collector, just trying to get as many species as possible.  For this approach rare variants called "shinies" that have a slightly different appearance from the base specimens are highly sought after.  You can also play it as more of  simple RPG, looking for the pokémon with the best statistics and attacks for either group PvE (taking down raid bosses),  PvP battles with other players, or attacking and defending gyms. You have to pick which of three global teams, Instinct, Mystic or Valor,  that you will associate yourself with when you start playing. 

Pokemon Go for an active player in the country.  This is what my street looks like when I fire up the game.  We live in the boonies, so there isn't a heck of a lot around.  However, the game has also figured out that there are two very active players at this location so it has made my yard an active spawn point. Besides that random handful of pokémon, a hot air balloon with a member of Team Rocket (NPC bad guys) that I can challenge to a duel comes by about once an hour.  Sometimes random presents from advertisers also arrive by balloon.   

What is the world like?  In addition to  random pokémon wandering all around you, the game adds Stops and Gyms to the world.  A Stop is an area with a disk that you can spin every five minutes for random items (e.g., balls that you use to catch pokémon, potions to heal your pokemon).  Gyms are buildings that can also be used to get supplies of items like a stop, but primarily are the focus of asynchronous PvP battles.  They are also the areas where raid bosses, which often require teams of players to take down, can be challenged.

This is what the game looks like if you play in a more public area.  You can see a stop and three gyms in the background, as well as a new pokémon species that was recently released.

Asynchronous interactions: Gym battles. If a gym is held by a players of a different team, you can fight the pokémon in the gym to take it over.  It can take a while to defeat everyone in a gym that has a really good defensive team, but it is quite doable even with fairly weak pokémon.  The exception to this is if owners of the pokémon defending the gym are actively healing them as you fight.  A determined defender with a lot of resources can hold you off, but this is extremely rare. 

The primary asynchronous interactions focus on gyms.  This one is being guarded by two pokémon, including a Garbodor (the evolved form of Trubbish, below).  I could fight them, knock them out of the gym and place a pokémon of my own in the gym. That would bring me a few coins if members of my team are able to hold the gym long enough. A more friendly interaction involves presents.  You can send and receive presents from anyone on your friends list once every 24 hours.

If a gym is held by a member of your team, or if you clear it of defenders yourself, you can add a pokémon to the gym.  If the gym is held by your team long enough, you will get up to 50 coins for the game's currency as a reward.   The reason that determined defense of a gym is so rare, is that the reward maxes out at 50 coins after a few hours.  After that, there is no in game reward for holding the gym any longer.  This ensures a pretty steady turnover of gym ownership.

Far and away the main thing you do is catch and manage pokémon.  Here I am trying to catch a Trubbish, the trashbag pokémon, one of the newer designs.

How do you interact with other players?  Primarily you either challenge other players to PvP battles where your pokémon fight, or you group up with other players to take down raid bosses.  Both of these activities can be undertaken either with players that you are hanging out with in real life, or remotely with players that are on your friends list.  Until very recently it was only possible to participate in a raid if you were physically standing near the same gym.  However, this year the game added remote raid passes, which allow you to join a raid from any distance if someone on your friends list invites you, or to join random pick up groups that are fighting raid bosses within roughly a quarter mile radius of your current location.  You can also send presents to players on your friends list once per day.  When opened, a present grants a random supply of consumable items, much like spinning a stop.

If you are playing purely as a collector, shiny pokémon are the ultimate prize.  They are rare variants of normal species that have a slightly different coloration.  Here is my shiny Trubbish I caught in my front yard one day.  She is more black instead of the olive green of most Trubbish.  Some of the super rare ones can even sell for a bit of cash on the pokémon black market (because of course some people take the game too seriously . . .)

Is it good exercise?  It depends.  If you are in an urban area with lots of stops and gyms, walking around to spin them for goodies and to look for new pokémon is really helpful.  However, if you are out in the country, in many areas there are no stops and no gyms.  In these locations, it doesn't make much difference whether you walk around or not.  Pokémon will generally only spawn if you are burning incense, and that works almost as well sitting on your couch as it does walking around.  When I lived on the city I got a lot of exercise walking from the game.  Now that I live in a rural area, I get very little exercise from it unless I decide to go into town.

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