First ‘Pokemon GO’ Footage Premieres at SXSW Panel, Analysis

Niantic’s John Hanke held a virtual reality panel today at South by Southwest, a film festival and emerging technology convention that takes place every year in Austin, Texas. (I went there to premiere one of my films a few years ago! :p)

During the panel, Hanke exhibited some footage from Pokemon Go. The footage shows his character standing on a real-world map of  Niantic’s headquarters when he encounters a wild Ivysaur. The map looks similar to Google Maps and even shows the logo for a Pokemon Gym in the distance, meaning you can walk up to Gyms at specific locations.

Like in the video games, he attempts to capture Ivysaur with a Poke Ball, then switches to a Master Ball when Ivysaur breaks free. Hanke says that to successfully capture a Pokemon depends on the strength of the Poke Ball and, unlike the video games, how well you aim your Poke Ball when throwing it at your target. (The game says “Nice throw!” when he attempts to capture it). We see a selection of standard Poke Balls when he tries to capture Ivysaur (and you can probably bet you will be able to purchase those for real-world money).

The footage demonstrates that Pokemon captures work differently the main series games. Ivysaur does not seem to have a level or attacks. The footage does not show Hanke sending out his own Pokemon either. This might be how the game works or perhaps what we’re seeing is an unfinished or stripped-down version of the final game. The latter might especially be the case since TPCi and Pokemon’s official outlets would want to be the ones to reveal all the scoops about the game, not a small presentation at a convention.

Upon encountering Ivysaur, the game switches to the phone’s camera and displays a CG model of Ivysaur over what the phone would see. This is our first glimpse of how the game will use augmented reality, and likely the purpose of hosting the panel.

In terms of game mechanics, Hanke’s character is shown at Level 9, meaning your character may level up the further you go. After capturing Iyvsaur, it appears his character gains 110 experience points. Then, we see that Iyvsaur has 94 out of 94 HP, implying that Pokemon can be weakened in this game (which might lend credence to the video footage not giving us the whole story). We also see a few other numbers whose meanings we’re unable to identify along with “Crystals,” some sort of mechanic whose purpose isn’t obvious. There is also a space on the map showing three Ivysaur sprites – we’re not sure what that means either.

Hanke mentions there is a Pokedex in the game, though we don’t see it or an icon to launch it in any of the footage. Again, we’re probably seeing a stripped-down version of the game.

We still don’t have a release date for Pokemon Go. A closed beta will launch in Japan next month, so we’ll likely have more details by then.