Self-taught 18-year old Pokemon fan creates 3D Pokémon adventure, and you can play it now
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y aren't expected until later this year, but if the game's promise of letting you explore a 3D world in the Pokémon universe has you excited, good news: you can do that right now.
Where Pokémon come from
Pokémon3D is an independent project that recreates the Pokémon Gold and Silver games. The project was created by Nils Drecsher, an 18-year old German still in the country's equivalent of high school, and an avid Pokemon fan. “I started Pokémon3D when I was 17 years old,” he told the Report. “I always hoped for a game where you can visit all Pokémon regions along with a lot of other features the original Pokémon games are lacking of. So I started to work on my own Pokémon game, just for me and a few friends. But some of them really enjoyed it even in its early alpha stages so I decided to publish it on my blog and later on pages like IndieDB and Gamejolt.” Pokémon3D will probably remind you of Minecraft when you boot it up, thanks to its low polygon count and pixel art aesthetic. You can look around freely but, as in the official Pokémon games, can only move about the world in grid-like fashion: straight forward, straight back, straight to the side. Other quirks about Pokémon game designs can be jarring; it's not strange to see a character walk straight up to yours and stand next to you when the view is from a top-down angle, but here it can be almost frightening. You've experienced a shift in perspective, but are still playing what is essentially the same old Pokémon game. Was this just a re-skin, a mod, or something new? “I had to do everything from scratch and haven’t got any background knowledge since I didn’t learn anything about this in my Math class in school,” Drescher explained. Without the background knowledge to help him, Drescher created his own solutions. “I had to invent a map format to store the levels in, an interpreter for that and many other things even before you could even see that this game would become a Pokémon game. Also, the battle system was very difficult to implement because it’s very complicated and has a lot of exceptions in it. I had to rewrite the whole battle code around 10 times,” he said. The game's models were perhaps one of the biggest, most time-consuming issues to overcome. Drescher told the Report they were all hard-coded, meaning they weren't built using any kind of 3D editing software, but with Notepad. “Since I am not really familiar with 3D rendering and modelling tools, I had no other option than to create the models in the code. That means defining every single corner of a model in the code,” he said. Drescher forwarded a single line of code as an an example: vertexData.Add(New VertexPositionNormalTexture(New Vector3(-0.5, -0.5, 0.5), New Vector3(0, 0, 1), New Vector2(0.0, 1.0))) A cube with no lower face requires ten such lines, and the game is made entirely of such models - nothing is imported. We showed these solutions to veteran game developer Cary Brisebois (disclosure: he's also married to Kristin Lindsay, our copyeditor and Project Manager at Penny Arcade) for his thoughts. “He's going about it pretty much the hardest way possible, but without anyone to guide him that makes sense,” Brisebois said. “Also, this kid is brilliant!”
X's and O's
Drescher doesn't want to take any attention away from the work Nintendo and Game Freak are doing with the Pokémon games. He considers himself a fan first, and is eagerly awaiting Pokémon X and Y. “I will definitely buy one of them and play it day and night,” he told me. He likes the features newer games have introduced to the series, and in fact, you'll find some of them in Pokémon3D. So why model Pokémon3D after Gold and Silver? “I choose the Johto region from Gold, Silver and Crystal for my game because those are the first Pokémon games I got and I remember playing them so much years ago,” Drescher said. “I just really loved the games and the whole Pokémon universe where there is almost no violence, the ecosystem is working without trouble and the games are also well known and got a great community.” Community devotion is certainly evident here. The project's forums have more than 3000 members, and Drescher said there are already two mods out for the project. Those numbers are large for almost any indie project like this, but Pokémon3D is still in pre-alpha. Drescher said the community also voluntarily helps to fix bugs and issues with the game, something he's thankful for. “I never expected this game to become that popular it is right now. I hope it will stay that way,” Drescher said. And what if the project gets a little too much attention? What if Nintendo shuts it down? “I guess if they find a reason to take this game down, I wouldn't stop developing it, just remove it from the public. Of course, before that, I would try everything to keep this project alive,” Drescher said. “But for me and my friends, I would develop this game until it is finished.” I played through roughly two hours' worth of content, exploring and roaming around town while obsessively checking tall grass. There are bugs, and initial start-up had some struggles, but the code is updated weekly, and I'm excited to see what's to come.