This Pokémon Modder Isn’t Angry, They Just Want Their Old Pokémon Back

This Pokémon Modder Isn’t Angry, They Just Want Their Old Pokémon Back

For decades, Pokémon has enjoyed a robust hacking community, with players scouring for unannounced Pokémon, letting people create wildly unbalanced creatures, and generally letting them screw with the series in unconventional ways. The hacking of a Pokémon game begins immediately, and so it’s not shocking that, only days after Pokémon Sword and Shield were released, people began seeing what they could do. It was also not surprising one of the first major efforts was adding old Pokémon into the game, as evidenced by modder SciresM revealing they’d snuck Omanyte back in, one of many Pokémon that didn’t make the cut.

“I guess we’re leaving it to the modders to finish making the game lol,” said one person.

“You’re doing gods work man,” said another.

Some fans saw SciresM’s work, which used a Omanyte from 2018’s Pokémon Let’s Go, as validation for the unfounded criticism Game Freak was “lazy” for not including all Pokémon from previous generations in Sword and Shield. Others were more sincere, merely disagreeing with Game Freak’s decision making.

There’s never been more controversy or drama leading up to the release of a Pokémon game the way there’s been with Sword and Shield, a game criticized for both too much and not enough change. #GameFreakLied. Uncomfortably close examinations of tree textures. And Dexit, the goofy name given to developer Game Freak’s decision to limit the series’ long running feature that’s allowed players to import every Pokémon from one game to the next. Not every Pokémon would make the journey to Sword and Shield. For a series that’s often traded on nostalgia, it’s understandable why this might’ve bummed some fans out, but it also brought out the worst and most toxic parts of the Pokémon community.

Becoming a weapon for Pokémon critics was never SciresM’s intention, a longtime and largely self-taught hacker who considers studying Pokémon code to be his primary hobby.

“Controlling what people do or say or think is impossible,” he said, calling his modding tweets nothing more than a proof of concept about what might eventually be possible. “I don’t think it’s possible to convey precise understandings, so my best is all I can really do.”

SciresM, who’s been playing the series 1999’s Pokémon Gold and Silver, became interested in looking under the hood of his favorite Nintendo series after the release of 2013’s Pokémon X and Y. He’d stumbled on an article about a clever hacking tool called Instacheck, which allowed you to see hidden attributes of a Pokémon, such as shiny values, by examining the network packets sent between two 3DS machines during a trade. Instacheck was later killed by Nintendo, thanks to a security patch. Nonetheless, it sparked SciresM’s interest.

He didn’t know anything about programming when he started staring at a hex editor in 2014, but figured if looked at the numbers long enough, patterns would emerge. They did.

“The Pokémon games are these things that I love and have a lot of memories about, but they’re also computer programs,” he said. “The games have mysteries, but if you stare at the code long enough you can unravel them and understand exactly what makes them tick.”

Conveniently, another person who would later become a well-known Pokémon hacker, Kaphotics, was in the same place. The two teamed up, and started learning from each other. Number staring turned into data testing, data testing turned into building their own software. SciresM settled into the role of researcher, trying to reverse engineer how the game works, while Kaphotics’ expertise lies in programming, leaving them in charge of creating the tools.

“We got better over time,” he said. “It was just a matter of pouring in the hours.”

Today, SciresM is a researcher at Project Pokémon, a community dedicated to better understanding and interacting with the Pokémon games, ranging from maintenance of software to modify saved games to compiling hidden distribution rates of in-game events.

SciresM’s work, the unpacking of Pokémon mysteries, was about to drop into a toxic stew, as every day leading up to the release of Sword and Shield brought new leaks for people to nitpick and obsess over. This culminated in a now infamous tweet where a Pokémon fan zoomed in on blurry footage from the game, obsessing over the way the game displayed, among other things, shadows and trees. It was a real-life version of the Pepe Silvia meme, and was both celebrated and dunked on in equal measure, a proxy for two perspectives: entitled “gamers” with armchair advice for the creators of one of gaming’s most popular franchises and precise evidence that, in fact, Game Freak has been bullshitting everyone.

The tweet was, of course, later deleted, and the person who made the video later issued a lengthy “apology of sorts” and claimed their intention was “never to attack fellow developers,” and wished Game Freak had “pushed for a delay, so [crunch] wouldn’t be an issue.”

And there was, of course, the triangles. The triangles. Tinfoil hat Pokémon fans started examining the number of triangles that made up the character models of Pokémon in Sword and Shield to prove one of their biggest theories: Game Freak was reusing old game assets.

“I don’t like the narrative I see that Game Freak developers are lazy. Obviously, they could have gotten the Pokémon in if they wanted to. That is extremely obvious to anyone paying attention.”

“What I saw with the triangle thing was a bunch of people yelling at each other about things that they don’t understand,” said SciresM. “A model could refer to any combination of a mesh, rigging, textures, or even animations, depending on who’s speaking. […] In reality, nobody actually has a clear meaning for model, and people are twisting that word to mean whatever best suits their argument. And then loudly yelling at each other.”

People using limited technical expertise to justify anger towards a game is nothing new. It’s the same way, a few years back, you’d see players raging at games with a Unity logo at the start, because they’d played a few games built in Unity with poor performance and figured it was something inherent to the technology, rather than a widely accessible game engine being used by a variety of teams without the resources to properly optimize their games.

With Pokémon, the narrative became that Game Freak was lying about the reasons for the game’s various controversial decisions, but SciresM doesn’t

“I don’t like the narrative I see that Game Freak developers are lazy,” said SciresM. “Obviously, they could have gotten the Pokémon in if they wanted to. That is extremely obvious to anyone paying attention. Whether they made the choice themselves or were instructed to do so externally, I would assume they were given some scope to meet and did their best to work to complete that scope with the time they had—and the older Pokémon weren’t in that scope.”

Whatever led to that decision, SciresM still thinks Game Freak made a “mistake,” and called the unusually hostile response from the Pokémon community to be “violently reactive.”

“There’s a line somewhere, I think, between trying to communicate reasonable frustration and unreasonably harassing developers,” he said. “I’m interested [in] the broader community doing what it can to correct that mistake.”

Most Pokémon fans are not in a position to do anything about Game Freak’s decisions. They can rage on Twitter, reddit, and other social media platforms, but that’s all they can do: rage. Which is where SciresM’s work comes in. SciresM thinks it’s “hard but doable” to hack old Pokémon into Sword and Shield, and it’s still extremely early days in figuring everything out.

“I see the importing of old Pokémon as an extension of that old ROM hacking tradition,” he said. “The games have been shifting away from catering to a certain kind of player for a long time, but we still love Pokémon, and want to experience those games in the way we’d hope for. I think my point of view, now that the game’s are released is that Sword and Shield are good Pokémon games, and I like them. But they’re not the Pokémon games that I want.”

Hacking Pokémon has existed nearly as long as Pokémon itself, and while the ambitions of the hacking community might be greater than ever this time around, the goal is the same.

“The appropriate response to disappointment about [Pokémon] cuts is to see how well we can do ourselves,” said SciresM.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).


Source : Patrick Klepek Link

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