Pokemon Go Starter Guide

There are a lot of guides for Pokemon Go out there, but none of them are exactly helpful to people new to playing video games like Pokemon and other role playing games. So as a long time gamer with a decent amount of experience with MMORPGs and with the Pokemon franchise itself, I’m going to give you, the new trainer who is unfamiliar with RPG elements, Pokemon or Pokemon Go a few tips to make the most out of this amazing experience.

On Leveling

The number one focus of any player should be getting to as high a level as they possibly can in the shortest amount of time they possibly can.

Pokemon quality don’t really matter early on because they will be too weak to use for the end-game anyway.

Level up first

Leveling up comes with so many benefits when it comes to gameplay. A player’s level is directly related to the level, power and rarity of Pokemon they encounter. Needles to say, the higher the level, the stronger and rarer the Pokemon encountered in the “wild”.

According to some sources, Pokemon levels stop increasing by the time you reach level 30. So when you do reach level 30, that’s when you can start considering Pokemon quality because the Pokemon don’t get any stronger. Until then, keep playing with cards you’re dealt and keep finding new Pokemon instead of training the ones you have.

Evolve to Level up

The quickest way to gain experience for leveling up is through evolutions. Each time you evolve a Pidgey or Rattata, it’s 500xp instantly. Do the math and if you’ve caught 50 Pidgeys with each Pidgey giving you 3 Pidgey candy, at 12 Pidgey candy to evolve into a Pidgeotto, chances are you’ll be able to squeeze in 4 evolutions, meaning 2000xp.

Do this with a Lucky Egg on and that translates into 4000xp, a little more and you’re sure to level up.

Don’t bother evolving it into a Pidgeot just yet, often times second stage evolutions can be found in the “wild” anyway, and the chances are the moment you do find one, it will be stronger than any Pokemon you caught and evolved earlier because you caught them at a lower level.

Also note that evolving to second stage takes significantly more candies, Pidgey to Pidgeotto takes 12 candies but Pidgeotto to Pidgeot takes 50. Save up on those candy for when you hit level 30.

Don’t Power Up

Powering up a Pokemon all the way only to see that it’s kinda weak can be frustrating. I did the same for my Golduck and got its CP to 700+ only to, a day later, catch a Golduck with 800+ without being maxed out.

Unlike the main games, each Pokemon is even more unique in that its growth levels are drastically different and are unchangeable. As a trainer, your aim is not to see its current state but to consider its potential.

There are many programs online these days that can calculate Individual Values (IV). Unlike the IV’s of the console games, these are more vital to checking the competitive viability of each Pokemon. It determines in ranges the level and potential of each Pokemon.

Run your Pokemon through one of these IV calculators and you’ll find a field that describes maximum level. This is the level that your Pokemon will stop growing. Needless to say, a low level cap means low potential.

Even without an IV calculator you can see the potential of your Pokemon by the arc near the figure of its CP. The fuller the arc, the closer it is to being maxed out. You’ll also notice that the closer it is to being maxed, the more Star Dust is required to power it up.

From 200 Star Dust the power up cost reaches the thousands, so you’ll want to save your Star Dust for when it really matters and that’s when you’re sure of its potential.

Moving Incense/ Lures

It’s been said many times before, while Incense attracts Pokemon based on time, it also does the same based on distance traveled. That being the case, the best time to use Incense is on a 30-minute commute (not drive. Don’t play and drive). This way you’ll be spawning a Pokemon every 5-minutes and spawning another one for every 200 meters traveled. Doing this I managed to level up from level 3 to level 7 on one long commute catching all the Pokemon I could find.

The same trick applies to Lure Modules, however from a different perspective. Lure modules instantly spawn a Pokemon when you enter its range but take time to spawn a new one. The conventional idea is to just wait around for the next Pokemon to pop up. But if you’re in an area with multiple Pokestops that have Lure Modules on them, walk back and forth between them. You’re more likely to catch more Pokemon because the random encounter comes into play as well and you’re approximating the timing of the new spawn, giving you a bit of exercise between catches.

Plan Lucky Eggs

Lucky Eggs double the amount of xp you gain for 30 minutes. This is xp from ANYTHING. So when using a Lucky Egg, make sure you’re in position to do a lot of xp generating things in the next 30 minutes.

For example:

Maximize the number of evolutions you can trigger in that 30 minute span. If you’re evolving a Pokemon that you don’t yet have on your Pokedex, best do it while you have a Lucky Egg.

Evolutions give you 1000xp, new Pokemon entries give you another 500xp, so why wouldn’t you want to double them? And, the xp gained from new Pokedex entries can only be earned once in a gameplay, so why not maximize it?

Ideal scenario to trigger a Lucky Egg:

At the start of a long steady commute with Incubated Eggs about to hatch with several Pokemon ready to evolve while passing one Pokestop after another en route to take over a gym.

Desire sensor

Don’t tell the game what Pokemon you want to catch, it will not spawn that Pokemon if you do, just to spite you. Lol JK There’s not such thing.

Pick Team Instinct

Because that’s my team. Lol. #TeamInstinct

 

Well, here are just some ways I’ve found to maximize the training time spent on Pokemon Go. Do you have other tips to make training more efficient? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. Until then, GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!

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Under the hood of what makes Pokemon Go

What started out as an idea of an April Fool’s Day joke is now the most popular mobile app around the world. Needless to say, Pokemon Go has captivated the hearts and phones of many a-mobile phone users, many of which might not have necessarily been fans of the franchise but are familiar enough with it to recognize it.

But for people new to gaming and to the franchise, the question remains, “What makes Pokemon Go… go?”

From a gamer’s perspective, the massive initial success of Pokemon Go can be attributed to a lot of smart game design and well thought out choices but most importantly, recognizing very early on in its development just what kind of game it is and aims to be.

The Elements

GPS play

Despite what memes about business successes say, Pokemon Go is by no means the result of the genius of one company or one group of people.

Niantic Inc. invested on GPS based gameplay mechanics with its earlier app Ingress which is a GPS based turf war game.

While Ingress introduced the world to real time GPS gameplay, it did not come close to the success of Pokemon Go. But as a game on its own, it was intuitive, it functioned well and was well received by players.

The problem was that while the mechanics worked well, the skin it was wearing was not appealing enough to many. An alien invasion isn’t the most relate-able framing device, afterall.

GPS gameplay meant a new way of playing which means an oddity even for just a few days which alone is enough to make people curious for a few days.

Pokemon Skin

Everyone likes Pokemon.

Even if they don’t show it, deep down inside they like it. Even when they claim they don’t like it, there’s still a deep corner of their humanity that likes it.

In a survey done among gamers years ago, Pokemon was by far the most played and most recognized video game franchise among Filipinos.

Couple this with the long running desire of its large fan base to live out the dream of catching, raising and battling with Pokemon and you have a sure fire framing device that people not only recognize but need little to no orientation in order to appreciate.

Heck, the tutorial drops you off where most Pokemon games start, picking your starting Pokemon and teaching you how to catch Pokemon.

“Pick one”

“Here’s how to catch it”

“That’s a PokeStop”

“That’s a Gym”

“Don’t get killed while playing”

Aaaand you’re off.

With the Pokemon skin comes pre-made goals that have been brewing inside its fans long before the April Fool’s joke that started the concept. Because of it Niantic and GameFreak were spared the task of designing long term goals for the game, all they had to do was create the short term goals that facilitated the achievement of the long term ones.

Pokestops and Pokemon gyms were a great design choice to promote the core mechanic of GPS based gameplay and also to frame social goals.

In a nutshell, Niantic made it so that the game’s core mechanic determines the success of any player in the game, “the more you moved around, the more we reward you.”

Randomization and the Skinner box

One big difference between Niantic’s Ingress and Pokemon Go is its use of Skinnerbox mechanics to practically hook its players and never let them go.

Skinner box mechanics are those that use and abuse the natural response of people when given rewarding stimulus for performing certain tasks. It conditions the mind to feel happy when performing specific tasks in anticipation of the reward it might give out.

These are most evident in casinos where slot machines are abundant. These machines are programmed to payout every now and then and to pay out various amounts. There is no amount of skill involved and everything is a matter of luck. Yet people flock to these machines because of the “good” feeling they get with each pull of the lever and roll of the slots. Even if they win P100 for every P1000 they spend, it would have been all worth it to them for the sudden rush of happiness that flows through them when the winning combination finally comes.

The same concepts are used in games like Candy Crush where luck plays a big role in “winning” and the developers’ goal is to keep people playing for longer periods of time.

We see it implemented in how Pokestops are programmed. For each turn of the Pokestop, random items in random quantities are given to us as rewards. Sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less. This reinforces the player to continue looking for more of these Pokestops in the hopes of getting that rare item like an incense, lure module or advanced Pokeball.

The same happens with Lure Modules and Incense activation. These items promise more Pokemon sightings at certain intervals. Incense works by generating a Pokemon every 5 minutes and for every 200 meters travelled while (based on experience) Lure Modules spawn a Pokemon every 5 minutes you are within its radius. But the frequency and kinds of Pokemon are quite unpredictable. Sometimes two Pokemon spawn one after another, other times it takes forever for any Pokemon to spawn and you’d be happy just to see a Rattata.

The randomness in how often and what kind of Pokemon are coaxed out of these items gives players a sense of “rolling the dice”. Both Incense and Lure Modules come in limited quantities, the most efficient was to get them being through spending real money in the Store. Therefore each time a player uses one, he’s making a significant investment at the chances of Pokemon spawning. Every time Incense is used, players feel a rush as they are suddenly excited to try and coax as many Pokemon as they can out, trying to travel as far a distance as they can as they watch the timer count down the thirty minutes.

Lure Modules use the social aspect of the game to trigger a flood of emotional cues that keep players on the hunt. PokeStops with Lure Modules are clearly visible from a player’s map User Interface even if they are not within the radius. This announces to them that a Lure Module has been activated on this PokeStop, prompting the player to walk to if not at least want to walk to the said PokeStop. But if you think about it, the spawn rate of Lure Modules isn’t so high, but the fact that cherry blossoms are raining down from the PokeStop is enough reason to trigger giddy cheers as groups of trainers flock to the said Stop. Add the fact that unlike Incense, the lifespan of Lure Modules are not displayed as a counter, instead it’s a battery icon that barely tells players anything. This prevents players from being discouraged from chasing the PokeStop with the Lure Module if he knows the time it will remain active is limited.

Then there are the Pokemon themselves. Without the aid of Lures or Incense, Pokemon randomly appear around the map. You can try to find them with the “Sightings” function, but based on other reports, it’s based on a 200 meter radius, which is quite a distance.

Even the gym battle mechanic is an exercise of this principle. The fact that battle statistics are imprecise and that battles happen in real-time rather than turn based makes it more chance based. The higher the CP of the Pokemon you use, the higher the chances it might win in the battle. Chances, meaning it does not at any time guarantee victory just because the CP is higher.

What this does is it motivates people to go about the area hoping to run into the Pokemon because of the imprecise nature of the tracking system. You don’t know when you’re close or far, you just know it’s there, somewhere, which also means your search doesn’t end right away. It’s the randomness and uncertainty that keeps people coming back. Despite how illogical it may seem, people tend to play more often and invest more time in an activity when the rewards are uncertain in frequency, as long as the reward, when achieved is immediate.

Peer group tendencies

One of the core mechanics of the Pokemon franchise is the social interaction. But with limited Pokemon at first and soft and hardware capabilities that would make the traditional ability to trade Pokemon a game breaking feature, Niantic built in mechanics that integrate social interaction with the main goal of the game.

Lure Modules

Do you want to be the best friend of all your Pokemon trainer friends? Drop a Lure Module at a nearby PokeStop where you can all hang out and reap the benefits of randomly spawning Pokemon.

Heck, even the shopping malls have gotten into the craze and embrace the Lure Module party idea, offering to place Lure Modules on PokeStops found inside their establishments non-stop for hours.

This public nature of Lure Modules plays to our natural desire to play as a community. Using one benefits everyone, and who doesn’t want to be the guy responsible for the happiness of many friends and strangers alike, right?

Niantic knows people like to spread the love, with Lure Modules, you can. Great way to exploit our kindness, isn’t it?

Teams

At level 5, trainers are given the second most difficult choice they will have to make (first being the starter Pokemon). They can choose to join Team Instinct (my team btw), Team Valor or Team Mystic.

The only known function of these teams is to facilitate the gym battle feature where members of each team take turns fighting over control of the gym.

But beyond this delineation came an unintended (or maybe they did) consequence as the teams started growing in number. Instead of the 33% split among the three expected, Team Mystic has nearly 40% of the players joining them. This reinforces the natural urge of people to become loyal to a team they identify with. With the membership numbers being so telling, the teams took on characteristics of their own, the Mystics being the juggernaut team while the Valors playing opposition while Instinct carried their own way to domination despite the lack of number.

This is the same psyche that keeps people rooting for certain sports teams and identifying themselves a fans of the teams. Some root for teams based on choice, others because of what they represent, often times the school or nation they represent. In the Philippines, the product or company they represent.

Conclusion

Understanding how elements of a game affect us should help us appreciate the game even more. It also helps focus our goals and not get trapped in pitfalls that other not so responsible game developers put in place for gamers, trying to milk us based on our urges and desires.

As we can see so far, Niantic has developed a system that is both fun and humane. Its core mechanic of moving about is well used and well emphasized throughout its features meaning even the whales of this free to play endeavor will need to get off their butts in order to get ahead.

When the playing field is equalized and effort is the obvious determining factor, games like Pokemon Go shine brightly as an example of a well implemented concept that can keep people playing for years to come. As long as they stay focused on their primary goals, it won’t be difficult to imagine all seven generations of Pokemon spawning at Pokestops.

For the first time a video game has gotten so many people excited for their next road trip instead of their next staycation.

If nothing else, Pokemon Go as a free mobile app has at least made daily commutes more bearable.

 

The Balance of Narrative

 

Pokemon players who have delved into the competitive scene are familiar with its common formats and the ensuing turmoil surrounding discussions about which is more “competitive”.

First there’s the officially recognized format, created by Pokemon creator Nintendo, hosted by the creators and for the sake of the creator Nintendo. Official VGC (Video Game Championship) format is played with doubles on a ban list that Nintendo publishes every year for the sole purpose of making a ban list. Before VGC ’15 special and legendary Pokemon were banned from competitive play, one of the contentions most players of the other format often make to discredit the “competitiveness” of this format.

 

On the other hand there are players who favor the format that made Pokemon famous, the singles format. For this, players turn to Smogon for a tier list which everyone follows via agreement. In this format there is no distinction between legendary, special and ordinary Pokemon. This is often the reason many tout this to be the more “competitive” format since it allows the use of legendaries and special Pokemon like Zapdos, Volcanion, Heatran and even Mew for as long as they qualify as OU (Over Used) tier Pokemon. On the other hand the format bans certain Pokemon based on perceived superiority in competitive play. Normal Pokemon like Blaziken, Aegislash and Greninja have been called up to the Uber tier after several suspect tests for supposedly breaking the meta of the game, making their use “uncompetitive”.

 

But with all the griping about competition, is one format more competitive than the other? Why doesn’t Nintendo adapt Smogon’s tier system in order to allow VGC participants more freedom to use less “broken” legendaries and special Pokemon? Why does Smogon’s tier list work?

 

Tier list

Nintendo hosts the yearly VGC for money. Duh? You have to compete using the latest Pokemon game, so yes it’s hosted for money. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor a non-competitive thing.

The Nintendo ban list consists of objectively marked Pokemon throughout the game. Simply put, any Pokemon considered Legendary and or Special in game is (was) prohibited from competitive play. One main distinction between these Legendary and Special Pokemon against regular Pokemon is the fact that in a single game of Pokemon you are allowed to catch them only once and they do not breed using the Pokemon Breeder.

This distinction is vital in that it’s the reason Nintendo doesn’t allow special and legendaries.

Any competitive player knows that there are two vital extra statistics to consider when team building, them being the Effort Values (EV) and Individual Values (IV), plus the variable of Natures, competitive players mix and match these stats and variables in order to maximize the potential of each Pokemon. EVs are pretty straight forward, ever since the 6th generation of Pokemon, the open secret was institutionalized in the game using the Super Training mechanic to show the EV’s gained by the Pokemon and individually increasing them through Super Training. Before this trainers had to seek specific Pokemon which gave out specific EVs and knock hundreds of them out, a laborious endeavor considering this mechanic existed as far back as the first generation.

IV’s on the other hand are a bit trickier. Through repetition, trial and error with the Pokemon breeder, Pokemon are assigned random IV’s and Natures, but through certain hold items, trainers can maintain some degree of control over how IV’s and Natures will transfer onto the Pokemon egg.

Here’s the even trickier part.

Want certain egg moves? Gotta breed from certain Pokemon in the same egg group.

Want certain hidden abilities? Gotta breed from a Pokemon with said hidden ability.

Want a shiny? Good luck.

All of this repetitiveness, trial and error and what not are part of the built in mechanics of the game. They require you to simply work within the rules of the game itself, not necessarily breaking the narrative.

But legendary, mythical and special Pokemon don’t work the same way. In a game you can only catch one Zapdos, Articuno or Moltres in the wild. There is only one Mewtwo available in the wild. And once caught, these Pokemon are incapable of breeding. But these Pokemon do have natures, EV’s and yes, even IV’s.

Many don’t realize it, but this is Game Freak’s way of regulating the uniqueness of these legendaries. While by design they are supposed to have base stats superior to normal Pokemon, they are not intended for competitive use because they were made to not be used competitively. Those that might be allowed in competitive play are nerfed through the limited IV’s and random natures. Meaning they are extra strong but more vulnerable than other Pokemon.

So what’s a competitive trainer to do in order to get a competitively viable Mewtwo?

One route trainers might take is what is known as “soft resetting”. This involves saving the game right before the Pokemon battle in which the trainer intends to catch said Pokemon, catching the said Pokemon, checking for the right nature, checking for the right IV’s and then resetting the console until desired nature and IV is achieved.

It’s a tedious task as the numbers are all 100% random and the chances of getting the right combination are slim.

While tedious and not within the confines of the game narrative, soft resetting is perfectly legal as it merely exploits the gaming function.

For the more shady trainers, third party accessories exist that can do all the Pokemon breeding in an instant. Commonly known as PowerSavers, these data re-writers are able to look into the game’s data assets and edit them with relative ease. This means the ability to change values such as natures, IV’s and even EV’s in an instant.

So you can see now where the legendary, mythical and special Pokemon benefit from this.

All a trainer has to do now is catch the Pokemon, run it through the value editor and turn it into the competitive legendary he desires. No randomness, no soft resetting, all competitive fun.

But this method is ILLEGAL. Nintendo and Gamefreak penalizes players who are caught using third party devices to manipulate game data, for good reason. Methods like this can give Pokemon moves, abilities and stats beyond those programmed by the developers giving them an unfair advantage.

This is where the difference in platforms matters between the Smogon and VGC formats.

Platforms

Remember that Smogon is often played on its own battle simulator, Showdown. Teams are built by choosing your Pokemon and entering the desired values for IV, EV and nature. No catching, training, breeding or any of the in-game things involved at all.

This means everyone is at an even playing field when it comes to access to “perfect” Pokemon, or those which have 6IV and the desired natures.

This lifts the shroud of exclusivity over the legendaries, making them just as accessible as any other Pokemon.

So when Smogon implements its tier list, it does so considering a purely theoretical scenario where everyone has equal access to every Pokemon in existence. This makes sense as Smogon claims itself to exist only for the competitive battles.

Showdown imagines itself to be in a scenario where it desires to be like a game of chess where variables are minimized. It also explains the criteria for banning certain moves such as One Hit Knock Out moves, Petal Dance and the Sleep Clause. To create an atmosphere which places each turn squarely at the hands of the trainer, they claim they are for increasing competitiveness.

This puts into perspective the stringency with which Smogon as a community goes through to ensure that no single strategy is able to dominate the playing field, because in their playing field, the Pokemon are for rent and every resource is available to everyone all the time.

Take out this ability to simply generate Pokemon in seconds and you get the VGC format where trainers are forced to trade, breed and train battle ready Pokemon either themselves or through others. Allowing third party devices to mingle and mangle the game is out of the question. Encouraging the practice of soft resetting or glitch exploitation is out of the question as well. So when GameFreak hosts tournaments, they host them under the impression that their balancing mechanism is already built-in to the game through the narrative and the mechanics that help to expound on that narrative.

When The Pokemon Company decided to allow the use of one legendary Pokemon per team in VGC ‘15, they did so expecting the built in randomness discussed earlier, because it would make sense. Legendaries which are the strongest in-game Pokemon would have a reduced role compared to perfectly bred battle-ready Pokemon, except the trainers will want any advantage they can get, which meant maximizing the stats either through glitching, exploits or third party devices, which beats the purpose.

 

Final words

 

The two most dominant formats are the way they are simply because they are designed with different intentions.

Smogon is based on a simulator setting where everything is at its theoretical best, on the other hand VGC continues to push the narrative of being the official tournament where trainers test their skill not only in battling but also in Pokemon breeding and training, even if many do cheat this process (not playing by the narrative rules is cheating).

Smogon creates a chess-like environment where you can pick up the board and play in an instant as long as you remember the pieces you play with, while VGC wants and expects you to take your trusty Pikachu or Zubat which you’ve had since the first gym or at least a descendant of that Pikachu or Zubat or at least a team of Pokemon which you spent time hatching and training, to the real world league for them to enter the real world hall of fame.

So the next time someone chides the VGC format for allowing the use of overpowered legendaries or special Pokemon which are 6IV and the right nature, be reminded that it’s not supposed to and that it’s the trainers who break the system to gain the advantage.

The same can be said of other games wherein mods or unofficial versions are purported to be “more competitive” than the official game. Game design is an important matter when it comes to any video game, narrative is part of that design, so are mechanics and gameplay balance. Rarely do franchises as big as Pokemon make design decisions that they don’t rack their brains over. If it’s there, it’s there for a reason.

It doesn’t become their fault anymore if people don’t play by the designed rules. When this happens, companies can either correct it or reject it. Neither is a better move than the other.

Which one is more competitive? It depends on how you define “competitive”. Ideally, Smogon cuts to the chase and sends trainers straight to the battles, making cheesy tactics also easy to pull off. It becomes a crucible for battle strategies where only the most formidable survive. VGC tests trainers every step of the way (if done according to design) which means more effort being put on the road to the VGC Championships.

Go with Smogon if you’re after a battle of wits. Go with the official VGC if being a Pokemon master means more than just battling.

 

Post Script Update:

As many people pointed out, certain legendaries were already allowed to be used as early as VGC ’15 and some even earlier. In VGC ’16, two “big” legendaries were allowed.

Assuring three perfect IV’s might be a sign that they may have been intended for competitive play, however the limit and randomness were meant to serve as a crutch toward what are inherently overpowered Pokemon.

The Smogon format is currently used by console players and Showdown also has a VGC format, however, the Smogon was designed with Showdown in mind. Yes, trainers do carry over the rules of Smogon onto their consoles as the console game is the execution of the theory learned in Showdown. It’s not a declaration that one format cannot and is not used on the other platform, rather a statement of which the format is designed for.

Both Smogon and VGC update rules regularly, however Smogon’s process makes the rule changes more gradual and less surprising to trainers. It also adds to the question of what makes a good competitive game. Should it change with the times or should it be consistent for the players to be familiar with the mechanics?

 

 

An Open Letter to Gaming Stores

Dear gaming stores not named Datablitz or iTech:

I love gaming. I have been a gamer longer than I can remember.

It was… well… an ordinary afternoon when I was little kid taking a nap with my favorite auntie who was rocking me to sleep. I don’t quite remember what it was, but for some reason, I had an urge to get up, walk to the other room where I found my siblings and my parents playing with a newly bought multi-tap my dad bought for our Super NES. It was the first time my siblings and I played together, and it was punctuated by the fact that we were playing a Tiny Tunes party game.

Back then, I had no control over what games we got. My dad used to get us cartridge after cartridge for our Family Computer before it finally gave out. Since Tony Commercial was just in front of Divisoria Mall he bought games from stores there and brought home titles like 1000 in 1, 50 in 1, Rickey House etc. Yes, they were filled to the brim with ROMs of Contra, Mappy, Battle City and what not, but you know, stores that sell video games, the times have changed but you sure haven’t.

Needless to say my dad doesn’t buy me games anymore. Even if he wanted to, the seedy stalls of Divisoria aren’t there anymore and the prices of games these days are too steep to take uncalculated risks on.

So if you were my dad and wanted to buy games, where would you go?

Why, to the video games section of every department store of course!

Yes you, Toy Kingdom or Toys R Us inside the SM Store or Robinsons Department Store. I know your attendants haven’t been there very long. Those short term contracts you offered them bite you in the back when they need to read the labels just to know the features of the items they are selling. But that’s okay, gamers like myself know to steer clear of you and your overpriced games.

But for the love of all things decent, please don’t have your sales persons recommend Grand Theft Auto for a mom shopping for her 9 year old kid. Also, please let them tinker around with the merchandise enough to know the differences between Pokemon Black and Pokemon White aside from their colors.

We get it, we aren’t your target market. We for whom these games are made are not the people you want to sell to. You’re aiming for the likes of my dad. Not exactly clueless but not invested enough to search elsewhere.

Sky high prices give parents a reason to scold their children about how expensive those games are. Knock-off consoles next to the real ones give them a “cheap” alternative to the ones that people actually want. They’ll probably never go back after realizing that they’ve been milked or that they’ve been duped, and they may hate gaming and gaming culture even more because of it. But of course you don’t care. They bought from you and you earned a quick buck anyway.

Oh, pseudo gaming stores, I haven’t forgotten about you.

Please don’t add the word “Games” to your store if your inventory is mostly karaoke machines with a few overpriced video games for decoration. That PlayStation 3 bundle has been on sale for maybe 3 or 4 years now? At Php15,000 no matter what bundles you throw in with it, it’s hardly a sale price. Oh, that’s right, your game consoles stopped moving ever since you were forced to stop offering jailbreak services.

Greenhills and maybe Divisoria or 168 Mall are where people expect to buy knock offs or get piracy hacks, not Robinson’s Place, one of the country’s biggest malls (and recently tourist hotspot apparently). But that’s how you view gaming, isn’t it? Not worth spending the money to buy new games for.

Yes, back in the Playstation 2 era I was buying pirated games too. I bought the Php100-200 discs that worked on my console simply because I didn’t know any better. Often time I ended up with games that glitched and froze, but for Php100 each, who could complain?

You see, stores that sell games, I don’t particularly dislike you. In fact, I probably have you to thank for making Datablitz’ prices easier to swallow. Then again, even when I was buying those pirated games from AstroVision and DataVenture way back when, that little yellow store was always there, a few stalls before Headway. It has always sold legitimate copies of games, it has never sold pirated games or offered jailbreaking services. Their 100% genuine guarantee has yet to be broken despite immense market pressure.

We bought our first PC game there, Age of Empires. It came in a rather big box with a rather big manual with some rather interesting art books. Had it not been for Datablitz, we may have never known what licensed software looked like.

So when a few years back news broke out that the CIDG had raided Datablitz stores for “pirated software” you could understand all the raised eyebrows anyone familiar with the gaming scene would have had at the time. Any other store and we may have believed it, but not Datablitz, one of the few stores that actually treated gamers like us with respect.

In the early 2000’s I was hard pressed to find a working copy of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages for the GameBoy Color. I didn’t know where legitimate copies could be found or what they looked like. Mixed up with non-genuine cartridges 10-year old me couldn’t tell the difference, and had it not been for the few stores that guaranteed us genuine copies, I would probably be too skeptical of doling out the thousands of pesos that today’s games cost.

In short, gaming stores, while the gaming industry has evolved far beyond the old models of the 1990’s, your business practices haven’t and continue to hurt gaming and the industry alike. The only reason I can think of allowing you to exist is to make Datablitz and other legit gaming stores look good. Everything from your pricing, your inventory and the people who we meet in the stores says a lot about who you are marketing them to. As of now, you aren’t marketing them to gamers, and that’s fine, but don’t prey on ignorance and naivite just to score a quick buck at the expense of tarnishing the gaming experience for everyone.

Nothing New with Josie Rizal

First of all, my Pinoy gamer siblings, CALM YOSELVES!

Ever since Namco Bandai first announced the addition of a playable character in Tekken 7 whose backstory includes hailing from the Philippines, Pinoys everywhere couldn’t help but create buzz around it. Some were happy, some excited, others opened a can of “Pinoy pride” while others met it with cynicism.

Josie Rizal, an obvious homage to Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, is a morena skinned lady wearing what seem to be a modified baro’t saya with a ribbon on her head. She fights with a combination of Arnis (a Filipino martial art) and kick boxing. Her short hair, long sandals and overall appearance don’t really scream “Pinoy” but that’s what the creative heads at Namco Bandai are giving us, so… Yay?

But before we go bonkers over being recognized as a race fit to be portrayed in an international video game franchise, remember that this isn’t the first time a video game character has hailed from the Philippines. Fans were quick to point out that Namco Bandai’s other fighting game franchise, Soul Calibur has already been sporting a Filipina since the second installment of the franchise which started in 1998 (We’re at Soul Calibur 5 now). GMA News was also quick to point out other video game characters with Filipino origins written into their backstory.

What many point out, however, is the way that Josie’s final product looks. There are no tell-tale signs to say she is Filipina save for some icons like the sun necklace and the red, blue and yellow of her costume. Even THIS isn’t new when it comes to Japanese character design.

Take Dhalsim from StreetFighter. He’s one of those characters introduced in the second StreetFighter game in order to give it an “Around the World” feel. Dhalsim’s back story is that he’s from India. No, Indians don’t look like that at all, but CAPCOM went with it anyway and not much was thought of it. T. Hawk also from StreetFighter is easily identified as Native American. Unlike with Dhalsom, CAPCOM, employed the use of easy signals to show the ethnicity of T. Hawk, face paint, tassles, a feather on his cap all scream about his character. Heck, even the name is a reference to his ethnicity. And then there’s Guile. CAPCOM just said, “Hey, let’s make an American character.” and so they made Guile. You fight him in the USA, he’s wearing an army fatigue and has a tattoo of the stars and stripes on his arm, so you know he’s American. But… why blonde and the huge hair?

Extra Credits did a video on character design and how not all uses of stereotypes are bad. What it boils down to is a respect for the culture being portrayed. While Josie’s character design is careful not to tread into insensitive stereotypes, the fear of offending a nation of people with easily hurt feelz has resulted in, well, a pretty generic character. But even then, this trend of designing bland Filipinos is not new to gaming.

In the movies, the Green Hornet’s sidekick was Filipino, a change made during WWII which had America and Japan declare war against one another and the Philippines was one of America’s allies. Nothing about him was Filipino except that declaration. Talim from Soul Calibur hails from somewhere in the Visayas. Pre-colonial Visayas is rich in icons and unique character, yet the result is… well… she’s a babaylan, so I guess the more fantasy-eque design can be forgiven. Other than the description, she doesn’t appear to be Filipina. The same cycle and treatment was simply given to Josie. Is it a problem? I wouldn’t think so. Is it an indication of a bigger problem? Definitely yes.

When we look through the slew of characters who hail from Japan, USA, Korea, Jamaica, Brazil or even Russia, by simply looking at them or watching how they fight, people easily see their ethnic origins. That’s because the game designers are familiar enough with these cultures and know how to where to place emphasis on them. A sumo, samurai, ninja, karateka or judo fighter immediately screams “Japan” the same way a G.I., blonde or boxer is for USA. Adding distinct fighting styles like Capoeira is a great allusion Brazilian origins the same way Wushu is to the Chinese. Then there are the stereotypes of flamboyant Spanish or European fencers and pirates that are a reflection of an image they have through literature. These distinct hints of culture and understanding thereof is missing with Filipinos. Game devs do not know what makes a Filipino a Filipino and have no plans to learn.

Right now, the most famous Filipino to the Japanese is a short playboy polyglot who so happened to be a doctor and our national hero. Trying to fit the image of Rizal into a fighting game seems ridiculous and it should, the man was better known for his pen than his sword. As Filipinos we know who are better models for fighting game characters, (Andres Bonifacio with his pistol and bolo, General Antonio Luna with his mighty mustache and saber, General Aguinaldo with his face on five peso coins) but the problem lies in getting others to know it. Game devs, like anyone who creates characters of foreign origins can only input what they know about that country and its culture. Maybe, just maybe, if we let Namco Bandai know what quirks can help Josie Rizal become more Filipina, they might reference the Philippines a lot more, opening up our colorful culture for the world to see (and play with).

7 Reasons to get your Kids a Handheld Console instead of Mobile Devices

They are everywhere. Kids holding iPhones, Android phones, non-Android phones, iPads and tablets while strolling around the mall. Generally I don’t object to phone or tablet gaming because I believe they are great new gaming frontiers to be explored. I don’t mind kids using them either, especially since there are many apps that help with their cognitive development.

But when you’re shopping this holiday for a nifty gadget to give your inaanaks, if the entirety of the reason to get your 8-year old nephew or niece an iPad is so he can play with it, please take a moment to consider why you should be getting them a games console instead.

Note: I am presuming you want to get it for the kid with gaming in mind.

1. Price point

A phone/tablet can cost you astronomic figures ranging to Php90,000 at its peak while the cheapest decent tablet can eat up at least Php8,000. That’s without any assurance that the tablet will run smoothly and function as expected or run the games the kid would want to play. You’d also have to go through catalogues and check specification options, optimizations and a whole lot of stuff, or just settle for Php40,000 iPads.

A handheld console can range to as much as Php13,000 for a Nintendo 3DSxl limited edition The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds edition up to as little as Php 5000 for the Nintendo 2DS. Oh, the Playstation Vita is around Php 9000 and that’s considering the latest releases of handhelds. Playstation Portables (PSP) can go for as little as Php 3,500 and the same goes for Nintendo DSi. After determining which brand and model you want to get, there is little to worry about specs, compatibility and software as consoles are the easiest to plug-and-play. Very seldom will you need to worry about games running the way they should on your consoles or hardware specs not performing. The price range is narrower and you don’t lose much by getting a lower priced one since the 2DS is a pretty strong console itself.

2. Quality of games

Most parents or people who opt for mobile devices for their kids always reason out that the platform is more suited to kids because you can simply download games. I agree, you can download games for tablets and phones, but what they fail to consider is the quality of those games.

The best games on mobile are re-hashes of popular console games, one of the most popular being Minecraft which has been on PC for a long time already. At their best, mobile games are swipe-by-the-number games, well-made Skinner-boxes and limited by the medium they are played in. I’m all for exploration of the new platform, but right now, you just have to admit that the mobile gaming scene is narrow and limited in its ability.

Handheld consoles carry titles that have been on brew for generations. The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Sword Art Online, Super Mario just to name a few titles that are best played with physical buttons and on their proper platforms cannot be played on mobile devices without giving up a huge chunk of the experience. With the 3DS and Vita both having touch screen abilities, mobile games are more easily ported to them with little draw back so playing Angry Birds on either of them is not a problem at all. The same cannot be said when attempting to play Super Mario Bros. even on the best of mobile emulators.

3. Socialization

One of the biggest aspects of mobile gaming is the social gaming experience. Many if not all mobile games require you to connect with a friend or at least reward you for connecting with friends one way or another. Unfortunately despite what it might seem like, the social connectivity is rather limited. All you really do is hook it up to your Facebook account and it automatically connects with Facebook friends with the same games or starts annoying those who don’t. With poorly coded games, Facebook friends end up as player numbers and people aren’t really sure who are doing what.

The interaction is also limited. On Candy Crush, you’re connected to your friends to ask and give power-ups, tickets and extra lives. On Clash of Clans you raid your friends’ bases, which they’re oblivious to and can’t really prevent in real time. These don’t really promote social skills, these just promote having lots of Facebook friends who might accidentally gift you something on one of these games.

The closest they get to actual social interactivity are the ported games. Streetfighter for mobile, Heartstone for mobile, Pokemon Trading Card Game for mobile all have “real-time” competitive aspects, unfortunately the fighting games don’t give a full engagement as controls often have to be streamlined to accommodate for the fact that touchscreens don’t allow you to touch multiple buttons at once, something that’s kinda vital to fighting games. The trading card games work well, but that’s about it.

Nintendo’s Streetpass feature encourages gamers to get out there and move around (Internet photo)

Handheld consoles on the other hand have a different kind of social interactivity. The Nintendo 3DS alone has a feature called StreetPass wherein the unit detects nearby 3DS units and tags them with a simple greeting. Many games use this function and it encourages gamers to go out and seek out other gamers, creating new social circles and interacting with people they can actually see and recognize. The games on their own also encourage social interaction, Pokemon being one of the most obvious games. It forces people to trade with others, gives incentives for connecting with players across borders and even allows you to compete with one another in real time. In Fantasy Life you are questing in cooperation with other players. You are literally joining your friends on quests that you would normally not be able to accomplish on your own. One of the favorite meetup games is Monster Hunter where teams join one another to hunt gigantic monsters and forge great bonds. These are the social interactions that stay with you long after the game. It’s not a mere tag on Facebook pestering him/her to click a button.

4. Control

How do you control or monitor what games your kids play on a mobile device? Quite frankly, if your kid is resourceful enough (which is a good thing) you really can’t. Once you give the device to the kid, the kid owns it and will download games ad infinitum until the memory capacity runs out… or you take away the internet.

With a handheld, games are a treasure. First off you can lock online purchases on the 3DS so they’ll only get to download games if you let them. Physical cartridges can become treats for the kids too. I remember playing the Super Nintendo with my siblings and every now and then my dad would treat us to a new game. We enjoyed every one of those games he bought. It’ll be easier to say, “We’ll get you Pokemon Omega Ruby on your birthday,” or “Bravely Default comes with good grades,” than, “Pass your subjects or no more tablet.”

5. Discernment

Kids don’t have the best utility distinction faculties. My brother once told me of a baby who cried after being given a magazine. The baby was trying to swipe the pages in an attempt to trigger something. When the print wouldn’t move, he got frustrated and began to cry. This is because kids aren’t the best at understanding the purpose of gadgets. To kids, mobile devices become toys. Letting them play with these devices simply reinforce this idea. When it comes time to do some actual work with them they become confused and start resenting the idea that their toys are now being used to do work.

You won’t have that problem with a handheld console. These things are for gaming and anything else are bonuses. When they hold their handheld, they know it’s time to relax and play, when they get their tablets with their homework on it, they know to engage into study mode. It also avoids incidents where a parent tries to take away the tablet to stop the kid from gaming but it turns out all the homework is there too.

Work and play in equal parts, but make them distinct for more happiness.

6. Safety

Internet Photo

The internet is not a safe place for kids. Without your guidance they are prone to encounter bad content and bad people. Unless you are willing to spend hours teaching them the ropes and monitoring their online activities, giving a kid a mobile device is a bad idea. At 11, my kid cousin is already making sales transactions with complete strangers through Facebook. First of all, Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old. It goes without saying that if your less-than-13-year-old has a Facebook account, monitor it well, monitor it often.

They run the risk of chatting with complete strangers that might trick them into things that could be avoidable with parental consent, for example online sellers telling them to meetup outside their school or give them credit card numbers. Big no-no’s that can be easily avoided. Either orient them or guide them, but always take this aspect with caution.

On a 3DS or Vita, online interaction is restricted to in-game match sessions. Verbal communication is limited and players tend to focus on the game rather than the chit-chat. These games already expect their audience to be around the age of 10 so their social environments are designed to focus more on the game and less on deviant social interactions.

No need to constantly look over their shoulders because browsing and other social functions are already limited so there’s a smaller tendency for them to meet online strangers that might talk them into stuff.

7. Value

Value is not the same as price. Yes, paid apps on Google play and on the App store are as low as $10 or Php 500. There are thousands of free apps on both stores. A kid could access any of the thousands of apps at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, like a jailbroken game unit, the value of those games are lessened. Mincraft, even if you’ve paid $8.99 to purchase, becomes just one of many app icons in a see of freemium and pay-to-win.

With cartridges, they might have a higher price, normally around $30 or Php 1500, but each will bear more value. The reduced frequency and higher price point naturally teaches kids to value what they have. Games will have more meaning and each new one you get them will be greeted with wider smiles than the last one. Console games aren’t something you can just delete when you get bored, people often have difficulty selling them even when in dire need. The bond between gamer and game grows especially with games like Pokemon when your entire adventure is saved right on the cartridge itself.

This is not meant to demean those that have already given their kids tablets and phones. It’s my hope that with this, people looking to give kids a play-thing gadget for the holidays or whatever occasion will think twice. If you know what you’re doing giving your kid an iPad, go for it, good on you. If you don’t, here’s my advice.

Don’t agree with my thoughts on mobile devices? Did I miss any points? Let me know in the comments.

Happy holidays!

Holiday Guide to Shopping for Gamers

There’s no denying it, the holidays are around and with it comes the time to reap the fruits of your labor. Of course there’s also the gift giving part which nobody can escape, and of course everyone will have at least one friend who identifies as a gamer.

For those who want to get something for their gamer friends but don’t know where to start, here are some helpful shopping tips:

Know your target

Chances are, you’re shopping for one of two kinds of gamers; a console gamer or a PC gamer. Know which one he or she is and find out which console they own. From here you can break down your choices to either games or accessories.

Console groups

Nintendo

Wii, Wii U or 3DS

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Common issues:

  • Systems are region locked, so be sure that game regions match the console region
  • Online play is usually free
  • Most games sold here are from the USA region and Asian region
  • E-shop cards are readily available for USA accounts
  • Wii has been jailbroken to infinity; Wii U hasn’t neither has the N3DS
  • Find out if giftee’s Wii console can play the game you intent to buy

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Sony

Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita

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Common issues:

  • Not region locked, so any game will fit any console
  • DLC is region locked, so use the appropriate PSN Account
  • Playstation 4 requires a premium account to play online
  • Playstation Credits are available in USA dollars, HK dollars, SN dollars and JAP Yen
  • Playstation 3 has already been jailbroken but with limited functionality, Playstation 4 and Vita have not

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Microsoft

Xbox 360, Xbox One

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  • Not region locked, so any game will fit any console
  • DLC is region locked, so use the appropriate Xbox LIVE account
  • Online play is pay to play
  • Microsoft credits are available in USA dollars
  • Xbox 360 has been jailbroken with little impact to game performance
How to pick a game

Favorites aren’t always a wise choice

Everyone has a favorite series or genre of game. Personally I follow the Pokemon series as well as the Zelda games. Gamers would love to get a copy of the latest installment to their favorite game series for the holidays, but before you rush out of your chair to purchase that title, do a bit of research. If the person you are giving it to is a big fan of the series, there’s a big chance he got the game on launch date and a second copy wouldn’t do any good. Series like Pokemon, Zelda, NBA 2k, Assassin’s Creed are well followed and well advertised, so their fans are more than likely to get them early for launch-day DLC. Snoop around and know if he’s already got one or is frothing at the mouth to get one. If he doesn’t already, make sure he doesn’t get it until you do. He’ll be your best friend for the rest of the holidays.

Mainstream isn’t always too mainstream

Let’s presume your friend already has the copy of his or her favorite gaming series, time for plan B. Gamers won’t always admit it, but they want that triple-A title that just came out. Unfortunately their meager budgets don’t permit them from getting it with the latest in the series they are following. This is the perfect opportunity to fill in that void. Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty, Super Smash Bros or maybe Far Cry which they’ve seen countless trailers of but have never gotten the courage to buy for themselves because they might miss their favorite series or be called “too mainstream”. Maybe you could even get them a spin-off of their favorite titles, maybe a Pokemon Rumble Blast or a Shin Megami Tensei side-game. They’ve always wanted to at least try it but there’s a lot of reasons they won’t get it. They may not play it in public, but they’ll thank you for it for sure.

Under the radar

Okay, so your friend is a sucker for triple-A titles and doesn’t mind being called mainstream. Try an “art” game. Indie games and obscure titles might not be in their radar, but with a little research, you’ll find one that they can enjoy. Telltale games like The Walking Dead is sure to at least pique curiosity among any gamer. Games like Flower or Journey will give your friend a fresh gaming experience. Scout around the indie scene top-sellers, it’s likely they’ll fit your friend’s taste too. Love it or hate it, they’ll thank you for the gaming variety you introduced them to.

Where to shop

Datablitz/ i-Tech

Datablitz, because gamers trust gamers

Gamers trust these two retailers for a reason. By far, Datablitz is the most widely patronized gaming retail store in the Philippines and for good cause. Check out their website for a Datablitz branch near you and do your shopping there. Not only will they more likely have a better selection of games, accessories and consoles but they’ll have better prices and be a lot more helpful. Most of the people there know about region locks, compatibility, which system goes where and common issues with the items they have on sale. Not to mention these places are among the few that carry limited edition titles to go with their expansive array. They don’t sell jailbreaks or modified units, so you can be sure everything is legit and safe.

Stay away from SM Department Stores, Astrovision, Toys R Us or Toy Kingdom as much as you can. Their prices are naturally inflated and the sales representatives aren’t going to be much help. Most of the time you’ll be better off browsing on your own than talking to them, so just steer clear of these places unless you absolutely have to.

Small-time retailers are worth a look, but to find anything worth gifting you’d have to have a bit of gaming know-how yourself. Unless you know what you’re looking for, places that sell second-hand, non-branded or repaired gadgets should be a no-go. If you enter these places without knowing your stuff, you will be milked for every centavo you have.

 

Desperation moves

If all else fails and you’re absolutely clueless about games or just don’t know what game your friend might enjoy, try game credits. Nintendo E-shop cards, Playstation Store Credit, Xbox Arcade Credits and Steam Wallet Credits are all 100% hits with gamers. All you have to do is find out which console platform they play in and purchase the appropriate card for them. Heck, you don’t even have to wrap it, just text him the code, tell him to enter it into his Steam Wallet or whatever and watch the love flow in. You cannot go wrong with it.

It also helps that not all gamers want the same games and not all the games they want come out in the holiday season. If your friend follows a title which isn’t coming out till next year, the credits you give him will ensure that he’ll be able to afford it come release day. More than just giving your friend money, it’s money already invested on games from the get-go, so there’s no guilt when he splurges that 2500Php on the next Diablo 3 expansion.

More options

But gifting for gamers isn’t all about getting them a game. There are times that they lack that one accessory that they haven’t come around to getting for themselves. It could be a gaming keyboard, headset, control stick extensions or maybe a bigger SD card. Filling up one of these gaps for them this holiday season will ensure you will be thought of everytime they get a multi-kill on LoL.

 

Gift game recommendations:

Nintendo

Wii U

  • Super Smash Bros for WiiU
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Legend of Zelda Windwaker HD
  • Hyrule Warriors

Nintendo 3DS

  • Pokemon Omega Ruby/ Alpha Sapphire
  • Persona Q
  • Fantasy Life
  • Super Smash Bros for 3DS
  • Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright the Trilogy
  • Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies
  • Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright
  • Azure Gunvolt Striker

Playstation

Playstation 3

  • Borderlands the Pre-sequel
  • Dragon Age Inquisition

Playstation 4

  • NBA 2k15
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Dragon Age Inquisition
  • WWE 2k15
  • Far Cry 4
  • Telltale Games: The Walking Dead 2

Playstation Vita

  • Borderlands 2
  • Shin Megami Tensei
  • Final Fantasy X-X2

Microsoft

Xbox One

  • Destiny
  • Call of Duty Advanced Warfare
  • Halo
  • Killer Instinct

*Do you agree with my tips and recommendations? Would you recommend any game that would make an awesome gift this holiday season? Let me know in the comments!