One of the Pokemon franchise's curators has explained the secrets behind how new Pokemon are made. In a wide-ranging interview with Game Informer, Junichi Masuda revealed some details as to how Game Freak developers come up with new Pokemon.
"The graphic designers are obviously going to be the ones finalizing the look, but it’s not just the graphic designers who come up with ideas or draw the Pokémon," Masuda said. Often times, new Pokemon are developed to fill the needs of the battle designers or story writers, who are developing other aspects of a new Pokemon game. For instance, if developers decide they want to add a new move, it may require a new Pokemon that can use it.
Other times, new Pokemon are developed simply because a real-world animal hasn't served as inspiration for a Pokemon yet.
"These ideas come from a lot of different places, the gameplay, the visuals, the story, and in the end those ideas just get centralized and designed," Masuda said.
Surprisingly, there's not a lot of hard rules as to how to design a Pokemon. "One thing we always really pay attention to is treating them like living creatures so you have to try and imagine where it would live in the environment and why it looks the way it does, what would it eat?" Masuda said. "When designing Pokémon, and not just from a graphic design perspective, there must be a reason for why it looks the way it does and you have to think about why it might live in the Pokémon world."
That may seem contradictory to all the odd Pokemon designs out there, but it makes a lot of sense once you consider the backhistory that goes into each Pokemon. Not only do the games flesh out a Pokemon's in-world behavior, there's also the anime and PokeDex entries to consider as well.
Although Game Freak has really gotten the "art" of designing new Pokemon down to a science, one problematic part of the process is evolution. "One thing that happens sometimes, is that you start out with a cat, and when it evolves one easy idea is to say, ‘Okay, now there’s more heads’," Masuda told Game Informer. "We always want to make sure we think, ‘Why does that happen?’ And when it evolves why does it have three heads? So that’s just something we’re always trying to think of – what’s the reason for what changes and how it looks?"
While Pokemon evolutions do occasionally have more than one head, it makes sense that designers try to apply some logic to the evolution process, as random and mysterious as it is.
One of the surprising revelations from Game Informer's interview was that Game Freak rarely rejects an in-process Pokemon design. While some potential Pokemon are scrapped early in development, Masuda noted that Game Freak rarely pumps the break once a design team really gets underway.
"Once you’re in the middle of creating it and someone were to say, ‘No!, that’s not a Pokémon,’ and the design process gets killed? That doesn’t really happen that much," Masuda said in the interview. "Usually, instead, maybe the person who is directing the game might say it won’t work in its current form, but maybe if you did this and adding ideas onto it might make it work better."
Although there doesn't seem to be a lot of "rules" as to how a Pokemon is created, it's obvious that a lot of time, thought, and effort goes into each new character added to the franchise.