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How The Original Game Boy Set Back Pokemon Red And Blue's Development

Pokemon Red & Blue
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Gamers interested in a little blast from the past with a history lesson the development of two of the most popular games of all time, might be pleasantly surprised at some of the info revealed regarding the development of Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue.

Nintendo Everything picked up some choice quotes from a great interview that Retro Gamer conducted with Game Freak designers Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori, some of the minds behind the Pokemon games on Nintendo's handheld systems.

Masuda in particular discussed how challenging it was to get everything working right on the Game Boy and that due to the limited hardware capacity and processing, it required a lot of sacrifice and effort to make Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Red work right on the device...

It was difficult. The thing we wanted to focus on at the start was communication and trading but it was difficult to do that as we could only transfer small amounts of data between two consoles. Communication itself was a big challenge -- the technology just wasn't there but we really wanted to do it, so we fought to get it in there. That was an overriding theme -- it was a fight against capacity, a fight against what we could fit onto the cartridge. We had designed these 150-odd Pokémon to get in as well. But then we had the problem of movement, so we came up with the idea of the map tiles being the things that moved while the character was animated in place. With these ideas, we found ways to squeeze as much in as we possibly could. I like the Game Boy as a machine but trying to work with all these challenges and make a game that anyone could get into and enjoy was difficult.

According to Masuda, they had put in about six years in total of work to get Pokemon Red and Blue off the ground and onto store shelves for the Game Boy. He states that they started off with way more than 150 Pokemon but due to cartridge limitations they had to narrow it down to just 150 of their most favorite and then go from there.

It's a very interesting look into the development of the early Pokemon games, especially when Masuda reveals that three of the six years of development was just spent creating and working on the moves of the initial 150 Pokemon that were going to be featured in the Game Boy games.

Another big revelation was that those cartridge problems with memory capacity extended well into localization. Anyone who has played a Japanese game knows that a lot of times in earlier titles the name spaces were usually pretty small to accommodate for Kanji characters, which allow the Japanese to formulate longer expressions within smaller character combinations. This allows many older Japanese games to squeeze in more lexicon while requiring smaller space. In the case of Pokemon, they had problems arise when it was revealed that localizing the games into English would require more space because English words take up more room.

Crazy stuff, eh?

Back in the day game design was hard not necessarily just for the mechanical techniques required to make the game work or the limited graphics engines back in the day, but memory and processing were really huge problems just for getting simple things done. It's amazing that they were able to create Pokemon Blue and Red in the way that they did so many years ago on the Game Boy hardware.

Will Usher

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.