The three designers who created Pikachu revealed the secret origin of the popular Pokemon in a recent interview with a Japanese newspaper.
Pikachu is one of the most popular video game characters in the world and the face of the Pokemon franchise. However, the cuddly electric rodent wasn't designed with branding in mind. During a recent interview with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, Ken Sugimori, Atsuko Nishida, and Koji Nishino revealed the design process behind this popular Pokemon.
Ken Sugimori, the illustrator of much of the original Pokemon artwork and the person in charge of the original Pokemon design, told the newspaper that he decided the game needed more "cute" Pokemon in the game. However, Sugimori had trouble conceiving of cuter Pokemon, so he turned to female designer Atsuko Nishida for assistance.
Nishida was given only two instructions: it needed to be an Electric-Type Pokemon and it needed to have two illustrations. According to the interview, her original design was basically a daifuku (a Japanese confection that's basically a rice cake with filling) with ears. While she totally scrapped that design, she later decided to name her creation Pikachu...a name that ended up sticking.
With the name set, Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of the Pokemon franchise) decided to turn Pikachu into an electric mouse. However, several of the Pokemon's characteristics came from another rodent. Nishada noted that Pikachu's cheeks and tail were both designed with a squirrel in mind. Ironically, Pokemon would later release another Pokemon, Pachirisu, that is literally an Electric-Type squirrel.
Nishino, a game designer who was primarily responsible for map design in the early games, liked Pikachu so much he decided to make it a "rare" Pokemon, in part because he didn't want players to "have" Pikachu in the game. Of course, Pikachu's rarity backfired on Nishino, as its rarity made players want the Pokemon even more.
Although Pikachu's "big break" came when it was chosen as the co-protagonist of the Pokemon anime, the designers knew they had something special with Pikachu even before the game went live. Sugimori recalled that he printed off all the pixel art of the different Pokemon and held an internal poll at Game Freak of which Pokemon they liked best and Pikachu was easily the most popular.
Of course, we also recently learned that Pikachu was originally supposed to have two evolutions. Game Freak ended up scrapping Pikachu's final evolved form (Gorochu, a devil-horned Pokemon) solely due to balance issues.0comments
In the end, Pikachu transcended Game Freak's wildest expectations and became one of the most recognizable video game characters in the world. "I think there’s a strong sense that comes from being raised by the fans," Nishida said of Pikachu's popularity. "And I believe that’s what made Pikachu what it is today. I like to see Pikachu as the fruit of everybody’s love."