Blog /We Can Do Better Than Pokémon Go

July 17, 2016 19:23 +0000  |  Programming 3

Back in 2010, Stephanie came to me with an idea that she'd been batting around with a friend of hers. Now that Gowalla was dead, we were all looking for a replacement and she had the idea to create one of our own: a geolocational game for finding and collecting monsters.

The mechanics were simple: there are little monsters all over the real world, and you could use your phone to find them, fight them, and capture them. Importantly, the monsters are native to their environment: water monsters only appear near water, darkness monsters only at night, bosses only when Jupiter is above the horizon, etc.

I thought it was a brilliant idea, and started hacking on a server-side implementation. It turns out that this is a lot harder than it sounds. There were all sorts of concepts that were totally new to me:

  • GIS extensions for PostgreSQL to handle geographical queries
  • Timezone information (which varies widely) by geographic point
  • National border information had to be loaded and queried for every request
  • Ladder logic for all of the monsters' experience levelling
  • Figuring out the position of various celestial bodies based on the time & place
  • Figuring out how to tell whether the user was actually near water or green space (that was fun)
  • Building a vagrant box (this is pre-Docker) so Stephanie could have an environment to work with

All of this was solved, by me, over the course of many years, but I never had enough time to put into it, and there was of course the considerable barrier that neither of us had any illustrative talent. When 2015 rolled around and Nintendo announced that it was going to build Pokémon Go in partnership with Niantic, I accepted defeat and stopped tinkering with it altogether.

Except... Pokémon Go kinda sucks. More to the point, it doesn't scratch the itch Stephanie and I wanted scratched when we started Spirithunter (working title). Niantic decided to go the multiplayer route, which is (a) more complicated, and (b) pretty much sucks the fun out of the game for many of us. If you want to collect monsters and don't fancy getting your butt kicked by "professional" players out there with all of the best gear and time in the world, then with Pokémon Go you're pretty much out of luck.

By its nature, Pokémon Go forces people to compete with each other rather than just passively have fun, and I think that sucks.

So that more-or-less leaves Spirithunter as still viable really. I think I'm going to give it another whack over the next week or so. I believe that last I left it it was running Django 1.5 with an older version of DRF so I'll upgrade those first. Then I'll see about getting it up & running on my Linode.

I've also unlocked the repository so that other people can take a look if they're curious. At present, the copyright is still mine, though I might just GPL it if I decide not to pursue this as a corporate venture.

Anyway, if you're reading this and think that you'd like to contribute -- especially if you have artistic skills and want to see your art brought to life in an indie game -- drop me a line. There's 7 billion people in the world, more than enough to support two geolocational games, so why cant ours be one of them?


28 Jul 2016, 7:22 p.m.  | 

Craig and I tried pokemon go the other night. It was a failure and I was bored. He thought it was stupid. Unless you're very familiar with the storyline, you don't know why you're catching these creatures (actually it doesn't even teach you how to do it - you're expected to learn on your own). I had this idea that if you truly want people to walk around and "play" virtually, then it would be awesome if the neighbourhood was a part of the game. For example, when walking around, the game would recognize a store that you see on your camera and that would prompt them to bring out a merchant character, etc as part of the story. Of course, this pulls all kinds of potential corporate influence (e.g. Starbucks paying you money to be included in the game as one of the stores). Or maybe a landmark would be where a monster would be housed specific to that region or culture. Stuff like that would be fun and interesting - even educational depending on how you approach it. Btw, did I ever tell you that Craig can draw. Like really well?

Daniel Quinn
28 Jul 2016, 8:06 p.m.  | 

Some of what you'd like to do is really difficult but not impossible, some of the other stuff isn't too tough.

The hardest part is nailing the UI really. Pokémon Go is pretty lame, but the AR feature is what's making everyone crazy about it.

What made Gowalla fun to play wasn't so much the feature set as it was that the game was a pleasure to use. This isn't something that I'm any good at, so I'll definitely need help in that area.

In terms of look-and-feel, I was thinking of abandoning the whole 3D look of the Pokémon game and instead going with a retro look like this, this, or this. Do you think Craig can do anything like that?

29 Jul 2016, 3:37 a.m.  | 

He can do the retro thing, but might need some brainstorming depending on how the character is supposed to look and act, I can email you some of his drawings. He took an art class a little while ago to freshen up.

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