During E3 2019, Pokemon series developer Game Freak announced that Pokemon Sword and Shield would not carry forward every Pokemon from previous generations. Fans were unhappy, and a pretty nasty campaign swirled up around the deletions coming to the National Pokedex. But for an experienced take, some game developers have commented on what it means to actually build out a Pokedex in Pokemon.
An anonymous Tumblr account called Ask A Game Dev recently addressed the "Pokemon controversy" in response to a reader question: "Do you think the reasoning they cut the Pokemon is because of animation and graphics that a lot of people are complaining about?"
One of the references to this being the case is from our own interview with Sword and Shield's director and producer, where producer Junichi Masuda told us:
"There are a couple of different parts to the thinking behind it, but really the biggest reason for it is just the sheer number of Pokemon. We already have well over 800 Pokemon species, and there's going to be more added in these games. And now that they're on the Nintendo Switch, we're creating it with much higher fidelity with higher quality animations."
Masuda also addressed balance in the battle system and allowing new Pokemon the room to shine in their own way, but the graphics part has been what the outrage train has glommed onto.
The game dev in question is blunt about the National Pokedex. "There’s a very good reason every professional game developer I’ve spoken with about the Pokemon thing has basically said variations on the same thing: 'Holy crap, they need to update that many? I’m surprised they didn’t cut [the National Pokedex] years ago!'"
The game dev goes on to break down how much work goes into every detail of a single Pokmeon, using details and assets from a 2017 CGWorld feature on making Pokemon. There's the model, the details, the base colors, the base textures, the shadow map, normal map, shadow mask, sometimes a light map... It's an exhaustive list, and that's just building out the shape and color.
A common rebuff is to point out that previous gens have already had these, and that things can port over. On this alone, it's easy to note that previous Pokemon games were mostly on the 3DS and prior handhelds. Aside from Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee, there's not much basis to work on for the new platform, and transferring over models isn't as simple as 1:1, as the anonymous game dev puts it.
Don't just take it from them, though. Xavier Garcia, an artist at EA, posted in a ResetEra thread last week to comment on the idea of "future proof" assets for the many, many Pokemon.
"Updating your engine so it uses modern physics, modern shaders, better animation based solutions, different kind of lighting etc REQUIRES you to check every single old asset you are importing, thats unavoidable! Maybe the polycount needs to be changed, maybe the rigs are acting funky, maybe the textures dont work well with the new lights, maybe all new materials for every creature need to be made."
A longer post on the r/pokemon subreddit also breaks down the nitty-gritty of the differences between models in Pokemon Sword and Shield, and models in previous Pokemon games.
The gist is, as several developers here and elsewhere have said, making games is tough. Masuda and others have since made statements clarifying and sympathizing with distraught fans. But keep in mind the human toll that goes into making these games, and also that every Pokemon is someone's first. Sword and Shield still looks to deliver what Pokemon does, on an even grander scale than before. So maybe it's okay to not get overly worked up about making some cuts, for both Pokemon and Game Freak's sake.