Pikachu and pals have had some impressive staying power. When Pokémon first exploded in the late-90s, most pundits pegged it as just another fad. That year’s Pogs or Tickle Me Elmo. 17 years and 270 million games sold later, those naysayers have been proven thoroughly wrong.
Pokémon may have become one of the most successful gaming phenomenons of all-time, but it all started with a simple, black and white Game Boy title largely created by a single visionary trying to express his obsessions in video game form. The original Pokémon Red and Blue was engineered from the ground up to be a phenomenon, but nearly failed in countless ways. Here are a few things you may not know about the games that first challenged us to catch ’em all…
1. Pokémon is the offspring of a photocopied gaming zine. Most hardcore Pokémon fans know the series is created by independent studio Game Freak as opposed to Nintendo itself. What many probably don’t know is that Game Freak didn’t start out as video game developer.
Game Freak was originally a hand-lettered, photocopied video game fan zine written by Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri. Early issues were photocopied by a teenage Tajiri, but eventually he switched to professional printing when the zine started selling upwards of 10,000 copies per issue. The underground popularity of the zine allowed Tajiri to bring other contributors on board. One of these contributors was artist Ken Sugimori, who would go on to design all the original creatures in Pokémon Red and Blue.
Copies of the magazine version of Game Freak. Note the familiar electric rat on the issue on the right.
Tired of writing about other people’s mostly lousy games, Tajiri and Sugimori would transform Game Freak into a development studio in 1989. Less than a year later, this new studio would being development of a strange little game about battling monsters.
2. Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. With its repetitive grinding, obsessive collecting and silent protagonist, the world of Pokémon would seem to be an Asperger sufferer’s dream. Well, it turns out it’s exactly that. Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri suffers from the disorder, which is characterized by social anxiety, trouble interacting appropriately with others, and a tendency to get hung up on repetitive obsessions and minutia.
Interviews with Tajiri are very rare, and he’s said to be a bit of a recluse, working on the Pokémon games alone, or with a very small group of trusted co-workers. In the few interviews he has done, he’s talked about the major, borderline creepy, fixation he had on bugs as a kid. Tajiri would devise all sorts of innovative ways to trap insects (which he would take home and watch fight) until the countryside around his suburban home was developed and paved over. With the collectible wildlife gone, Tajiri would instead focus on video games, but he never forgot those bugs that so fascinated him as a kid.