Revisiting the monster training genre

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By Apollonios 4 Sep 2017 10:10

New member · 5 comments

I just discovered the Tuxemon project yesterday, and I've been reading thru the forum bit. I don't know if I'll be able to make any significant contributions. My artistic and programming skills are basic. I haven't been keeping up with the gaming scene for about a decade. I haven't even played any of the Pokemon games after generation 3. But this project has sparked my interest for some reason. I do think I can contribute a bit in plot/ mythos/ flavor. But before addressing specific topics, I want to take a fresh look at the background of the project. Since Tuxemon is still in a pretty early stage of development, I'd like to put forward this question: to what degree will it be a Pokemon clone?

Looking thru the forum threads it's clear you guys don't mind moving outside of the Pokemon formula to some degree. So I'd like to look back at the entire genre to explore some different concepts and options presented in different franchises.

The monsters genre blew up in the late 90's. Besides Pokemon there were: Digimon, Monster Rancher, Dragon Warrior (Quest) Monsters Yu-gi-oh, DemiKids, Azure Dreams and more I can't remember. These all developed out of fantasy JRPGs that featured a summoner or monster trainer class. (There was even a blue mage class in one of the FF titles that could learn monster abilities). Looking even further back, there have long been different toy lines that involved collectible items. I can vaguely remember one that used a barcode scanner to collect different characters.

Pokemon got the right combination of several elements to become the franchise that stood out.

- character design: I see a tripolar spectrum here – cute, cool, and strange/gross. Pokemon struck the right balance to draw in a wide fanbase. Digimon had a few cute and gross monsters at the outset (mostly due to its origins in Tamagochi), but came to focus on the cool side, ensuring a largely preteen male demographic. Dragon Quest Monsters drew largely on that franchise's pre-exisiting roster of monsters, which are mostly of “safe” design, ie: not very far in any of those three extremes. Some franchises had designs that were frankly boring or ugly in a bad way.

- battle system:  It's actually a pretty stock RPG battle system on the surface, simple enough for young kids to quickly understand. But in combination with the monster collecting aspect it lead to engrossing gameplay. Dragon Quest Monsters had a fairly similar battle system, which hewed more closely to traditional RPG in some ways, but less in others. I'd say Pokemon also mainstreamed RPGs. Before that they were mostly games for loners, whereas fighting games and side-scrollers were social games.

- media: Digimon's flagship was the anime, though other merchandise followed suit. The first Digimon World game felt like an afterthought, and was more like the handheld games than the show. The other franchises were mostly restricted to their video games. I actually watched the Pokemon anime before I even knew there was a game. So early hype helped, even if the show's writing was actually pretty terrible. Once those two took off heaps of merchandise followed. The pokeball being a particularly iconic accessory.

- incompleteness: This was a stroke of marketing genius. Giving the player the task of documenting all of the monsters, but not giving them all of them in one cartridge. Plus that immortal catchphrase.

So what could Tuxemon learn from the above? Well, as a non-commerical venture some of the stuff doesn't apply. No need (or funding) to create monster plushies, or a TV show. The battle system seems to follow the tried and true format, and more variables could be plugged in for those interested in coding them. The main ingredient that seems to be missing is the social component. Since we're not selling the game there's no reason to do different versions. But surely there can be a similar mechanic that requires interaction with other players. Perhaps focus on monsters that can only evolve thru a trade. Maybe even have some that can only be received in an in-person exchange. This would increase word-of-mouth buy-in. Player creativity should probably also take center stage. Clearly there's a huge number of fan-created monsters that folks would love to see implemented in a game. I'm sure there must be an effective way to build hype around this aspect.

I've got plenty more to say on this matter, but I'll post my ideas later in the appropriate threads. To summarize: I think it this project would benefit from striking a balance between similarities to Pokemon (making it instantly intelligible to potential players), and incorporating some ideas from others in the genre, while also striking out in exciting new directions.

Also: I really like the five elements concept. The wiki mentions the idea of 4 legendaries based on the four directional animals from Chinese mythology. Actually, there's a lesser known fifth: 金龙 the gold dragon of the center. Thus they match perfectly with the 5 elements. I'd be glad to come up with some more Chinese flavor.

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By Sanglorian 5 Sep 2017 08:55

Champion · 438 comments

Welcome Apollonios, and thank you for your thoughts.

In terms of you contributing, I wouldn't underestimate your ability to contribute art. Many of our contributors, myself included, aren't artists but we've contributed pixel art. And we'll always be there with constructive criticism. If you are interested, one way to start might be by making a sprite for a creature that's currently missing one or more sprites. That way you already have the colours chosen, the general shape and design, etc.

But of course art is just one of the ways to contribute. We could certainly use contributions for plot/mythos/flavour too.

Some examples of small-scale plot/mythos contributions are:

* Blurbs for each creature. We have those for our completed tuxemon, but most of the unfinished tuxemon could benefit from a blurb.
* Dialogue for characters that you meet. You might want to flick through the pages in the draft plot and see if there's some stuff you want to fill out. And of course the draft plot is far from complete, so there's lots of room to fill out the cities and towns with interesting characters and vignettes.
* New places - including maps, dialogue, trainers, etc.

The broader flavour and mythos of the Tuxemon project could also do with filling out, if you wanted to take a crack. I'm reluctant at this point to make any major changes to the plot, but there's always adding depth, spin-offs, new games, etc.

Apollonios wrote

Pokemon got the right combination of several elements to become the franchise that stood out.

- character design: I see a tripolar spectrum here – cute, cool, and strange/gross. Pokemon struck the right balance to draw in a wide fanbase. Digimon had a few cute and gross monsters at the outset (mostly due to its origins in Tamagochi), but came to focus on the cool side, ensuring a largely preteen male demographic. Dragon Quest Monsters drew largely on that franchise's pre-exisiting roster of monsters, which are mostly of “safe” design, ie: not very far in any of those three extremes. Some franchises had designs that were frankly boring or ugly in a bad way.

- battle system:  It's actually a pretty stock RPG battle system on the surface, simple enough for young kids to quickly understand. But in combination with the monster collecting aspect it lead to engrossing gameplay. Dragon Quest Monsters had a fairly similar battle system, which hewed more closely to traditional RPG in some ways, but less in others. I'd say Pokemon also mainstreamed RPGs. Before that they were mostly games for loners, whereas fighting games and side-scrollers were social games.

- media: Digimon's flagship was the anime, though other merchandise followed suit. The first Digimon World game felt like an afterthought, and was more like the handheld games than the show. The other franchises were mostly restricted to their video games. I actually watched the Pokemon anime before I even knew there was a game. So early hype helped, even if the show's writing was actually pretty terrible. Once those two took off heaps of merchandise followed. The pokeball being a particularly iconic accessory.

- incompleteness: This was a stroke of marketing genius. Giving the player the task of documenting all of the monsters, but not giving them all of them in one cartridge. Plus that immortal catchphrase.

I think Pokemon was extremely well-done, and the elements you identify go a big way towards that. I would also add the type system. A lot of games before and since have had elements, creature classes, weaknesses and resistances, etc., but a lot of them seem hamfisted or limited compared to Pokemon's type system. To have a system that is both understandable by a small child, and models ideas like mind over matter (Psychic vs Fighting), humans being afraid of bugs (Bug vs Psychic), the Chinese elements, a sword slaying a dragon (Steel vs Dragon), etc., is really something else.

Along with the incompleteness of the Pokedex, the world was also incomplete in a way that encouraged people to keep trying to "solve" things that had probably never been intended as mysteries to begin with: is Ditto the byproduct of cloning Mew? Was there a war involving Lieutenant Surge that killed Red's father? Is Cubone an orphaned Kangaskhan?

And the character design is a huge, huge part of it - for which Sugimori's iconic style has to be given the most credit.

Apollonios wrote

So what could Tuxemon learn from the above? Well, as a non-commerical venture some of the stuff doesn't apply. No need (or funding) to create monster plushies, or a TV show. The battle system seems to follow the tried and true format, and more variables could be plugged in for those interested in coding them. The main ingredient that seems to be missing is the social component. Since we're not selling the game there's no reason to do different versions. But surely there can be a similar mechanic that requires interaction with other players. Perhaps focus on monsters that can only evolve thru a trade. Maybe even have some that can only be received in an in-person exchange. This would increase word-of-mouth buy-in. Player creativity should probably also take center stage. Clearly there's a huge number of fan-created monsters that folks would love to see implemented in a game. I'm sure there must be an effective way to build hype around this aspect.

I think media might actually be a strength of Tuxemon's. Obviously plushies and a TV show are unlikely, but it would be great if someone wanted to make a Tuxemon webcomic, or write Tuxemon short stories, or a Tuxemon tabletop (miniatures or roleplaying) game.

Interactivity will be a major selling point too. It's already easy to design your own tuxemon and place it in the game. Perhaps trading could be set up so someone could send you new tuxemon, and the trading process would duplicate all the necessary data for you to have that tuxemon in your game too! People could create hundreds of tuxemon and place them on the web, and you could have exclusive tuxemon that would just be used by special groups, and getting your hands on them would be a special treat or a reward for attending an event or whatever.

Crawls too will ideally be designable and shareable. I envisage this as one area of competitive advantage: you could have streamers trying to do the most difficult crawls, and people competing to "beat" new crawls as soon as they're released.

PS I made Snarlon based on the White Tiger of the West. It hasn't been placed in the plot yet, so if you have any ideas we'd love to hear them.

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By Apollonios 7 Sep 2017 07:36

New member · 5 comments
Sanglorian wrote

The broader flavour and mythos of the Tuxemon project could also do with filling out, if you wanted to take a crack.

Thanks for your response. I tend to work from big picture down to details, so right now I'm looking at the mythos and plot. At this point it seems best to pin down some of the key aspects of the Tuxemon universe so that everyone is on the same page.

Sanglorian wrote

I'm reluctant at this point to make any major changes to the plot, but there's always adding depth, spin-offs, new games, etc.

For sure, I don't want to undo the work you guys have put in so far. I think the Spyder in the Cathedral outline is great, but still needs some work in terms of coherence. I'm going thru the wiki and forum threads and taking notes on some points that (seem to) remain unresolved. I'll give my impressions and ideas once I feel like I've achieved some internal consistency.

Sanglorian wrote

A lot of games before and since have had elements, creature classes, weaknesses and resistances, etc., but a lot of them seem hamfisted or limited compared to Pokemon's type system. To have a system that is both understandable by a small child, and models ideas like mind over matter (Psychic vs Fighting), humans being afraid of bugs (Bug vs Psychic), the Chinese elements, a sword slaying a dragon (Steel vs Dragon), etc., is really something else.

That's interesting, except for psychic > fighting I hadn't consciously realized how intuitive a lot of those are.

Sanglorian wrote

Along with the incompleteness of the Pokedex, the world was also incomplete in a way that encouraged people to keep trying to "solve" things that had probably never been intended as mysteries to begin with: is Ditto the byproduct of cloning Mew? Was there a war involving Lieutenant Surge that killed Red's father? Is Cubone an orphaned Kangaskhan?

I've been catching up on the fan theories that have developed since I lost contact with the series. This makes me think that we should deliberately leave some things open to interpretation by the players, but this also reinforces the importance of flavor details.

(Side note: When I first played Red version as a kid I didn't make the connection that an explicitly American character would be from a military background. Now as an American living in East Asia it's obvious how the game developers modelled Kanto and the character Red after their own childhood experiences in post-WWII Japan. The original audience of Japanese kids born in the 80's may or may not have read (intended or not) implications of Kanto having lost a war to America, but even now American military personnel are not an uncommon sight there, especially on the news.)

Sanglorian wrote

it would be great if someone wanted to make a Tuxemon webcomic, or write Tuxemon short stories, or a Tuxemon tabletop (miniatures or roleplaying) game.

Interactivity will be a major selling point too. It's already easy to design your own tuxemon and place it in the game. Perhaps trading could be set up so someone could send you new tuxemon, and the trading process would duplicate all the necessary data for you to have that tuxemon in your game too! People could create hundreds of tuxemon and place them on the web, and you could have exclusive tuxemon that would just be used by special groups, and getting your hands on them would be a special treat or a reward for attending an event or whatever.

"Interactive" is exactly the word I was looking for. The open-source nature of this project basically allows it to basically close the gap between the canon universe and fan creations.