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Emulators Make Games Look Worse Than the Original CRT Did

Elizabeth Technology August 29, 2023

Old Nintendo games look very different from what people remembered them as. They’re not crazy, or blinded by nostalgia – the games really did look a lot better.

The secret is the CRT monitor.

The CRT – and Pixels

A pixel is defined as the smallest controllable unit of an image on-screen. This has changed some over time! In old digital clocks, the bars making up the numbers would act as its pixels. In CRTs, it was little cubes where the red, green, blue, and white projection lights lined up to give that cube the right color.

Old-style living-room CRTs usually had a resolution of 480p. When you see a number followed by ‘p’, like 480p, it’s referring to the number of rows of pixels lined up top-to-bottom, so any screen could theoretically be 480p – it’s just more impressive the smaller the screen is. 480p was the standard for many late 90’s/early 2000’s games, because CRTs were widely available. CRTs weren’t bad, for the time! Rear-projection models could get huge, but the kind that blasted the image directly onto the screen was limited to a size of about 30”.

CRTs also had the unique ‘CRT grid’. Because of how CRTs work, the individual pixels didn’t connect to each other neatly like they do on modern screens – a small outline of darkness surrounds each pixel. The pixel inside said outline isn’t perfectly ‘square’, either, like they are on modern displays. If you get up close to a CRT screen (don’t, it’s bad for your eyes) you’d be able to see the three colors being projected onto the glass of said screen, and they form a squarish blob or a series of colored lines, depending on brand. When you back up, it looks like a picture, and your brain automatically fills in the gaps left by the un-connected parts. This is a huge part of why these games don’t look as good as they used to! Current monitors don’t have gaps visible to the naked eye between pixels.

Old Games

Game designers were able to factor this in to give the illusion that the image was much clearer than it was – Pikachu in 480P looked incredible back then, but terrible today in that same 480p. Nostalgia hasn’t clouded vision, Pikachu really did look a lot less blocky. The CRT’s rounded off pixel-corners meant that developers could fill those pixels in right to the edge and still get a polished, rounded appearance – your brain, as mentioned previously, is also filling in gaps for you, as a sort of optical illusion. They couldn’t make a perfectly smooth curve, so they let you do it.

In absolute terms, games looked slightly worse before they got much better. 3-D games especially. Two-dimensional sprites could be fudged – there’s only so many positions for the characters to be in, so animate a jumping sequence, an attacking sequence, etc. and you’re good to go. Those games often still look great on modern monitors. 3-Dimensional games had to build a doll that the player could control and view from every angle, which was a lot for early computers. Their saving grace was that CRT – characters could be flawed and un-specific without being unreadable. With CRTs in the mix, many people didn’t notice that the PS1 games looked very different from PS2 games at the time, unless they were fancy and upgraded their screen without also upgrading to the next console. With the benefit of hindsight, games that were only a few years apart do look really different: Resident Evil 4 doesn’t look too bad on a modern screen, while Resident Evil 2 looks noticeably dated in comparison! But at the time, Resident Evil 3 looked marginally better than 2, and 4 only looked a little better than 3.

Most gamers never noticed that their old games were secretly ugly until many years down the line, in the modern era. Even that’s not a really fair statement – they weren’t ugly when they went in. It’s like trying to watch one of the old-style 3-D movies without the glasses, they were designed to be played on CRTs. We’re just noticing this now because emulators and ROMs for dead or missing games are more available than ever!  


Nowadays, with our perfectly square pixels, Pikachu looks much more… square. In fact, everything from old games does. Old games had very limited computer power to work with, so little hacks and tricks like this kept the games running smoothly. Blocky Pikachu is barely noticeable, but leaving him without fine detail frees up enough space to add extra plant textures to the island. Unfortunately, ROMs bring the old game to life without its limitations – the CRT monitor’s grid isn’t easy to recreate in a visually appealing way.

The original games with this art style weren’t meant for modern screens. The consoles are producing the same images now as they did back then, it’s just much clearer. I’m sure when we get to a point where projection or VR games are common, these old “3-D” games will look like trash compared to real 3-D, and it won’t be an accurate representation of the way we played those games.

Right now, the best option to get those nice-looking characters back is to recreate the CRT’s grid over top of the image, which many ROM creators are reluctant to do – many players would rather have a slightly uglier game in high-res than a more attractive game in low-res.

As a result, players are unintentionally led to believe the game really was that ugly. It just wasn’t.

At least the audio still sounds the same!


History of TV Pixels: From CRT to 8K

History of the Emulator

Elizabeth Technology August 24, 2023

An emulator is a program that emulates a game console, usually for the purpose of playing a game that is – either by price, age, or device – inaccessible. Streamers commonly use emulators to play Pokemon games made for the Gameboy, so they can screen-record their gameplay directly from their computer instead of having to somehow hook the Gameboy up to it. Zelda fans might want to play Ocarina of Time, but they might also find that the console to play it on is awfully expensive for one game, but an emulator is pretty cheap! In certain cases, games are geolocked – countries restrict access to certain forms of art as a means of censorship. Emulators can make those games accessible to people who want to play them in that country.

In the 1990s, consoles were on top when it came to games. Computers were rapidly gaining in power, however, and some folks realized that the console could be recreated using a home computer. The first emulators were born via reverse-engineering console coding. They evaded legal action by only copying devices that were outdated, but that changed too with a major emulator made for the Nintendo 64 while it was still in production. Nintendo pursued legal action to stop the primary creators, but other folks who had already gotten their hands on the source code kept the project going.

Ever since then, emulators have lived in a delicate balance of making games available and making them so available that the parent company decides to step in and try to wipe it out, which is nearly impossible once it’s out on the open web. Gamers simply won’t allow a good emulator to die!


Copyrights are crucial to the gaming ecosystem, and it’s a delicate balance of allowing fan art, but disallowing unauthorized gameplay. Allowing game mods, but disallowing tampering that could lead to free copies being distributed against the company’s wishes. Copyright laws are always evolving – new tech comes with new ways to copy, create, and distribute intellectual property. Generally, though, copyright falls back to permission: did the original company intend for their IP to be used in this way?

Emulators and copyright don’t get along very well at all! Emulators are, by their very definition, creating access to the game in a way the original company didn’t intend. As such, it’s unofficial, and if money is exchanged, it’s not normally between the copyright holder company and the customer, it’s the customer and some third unauthorized party.

Games aren’t selling you just the physical disk. You’re buying a license to play the game. If you take it as far as Xbox intended to back when the Xbox One was coming out, friends are only allowed to come over and play with you on your license because the company can’t enforce it. It’s a limitation of the system that they can’t keep you from sharing disks.

Not every company thinks like this (see the Playstation 5), but that’s the most extreme possible interpretation. You bought a disk so you could play a copy of their game that they have licensed out to you. You own the right to play that copy of the game, you don’t own the game itself.

Consider: Death of a Console

When a console dies, it’s taking all of its content with it. There is no more money to be made off of it, and the games are going to slowly disappear into collections and trash bins.

Does art need to exist forever, or is it okay if some art is temporary? Not every Rembrandt sketch is still in trade – some of it was just sketches, and he obviously discarded some of his own, immature art. Immature art is interesting to see, but it’s not what the artist wanted their audience to see. Otherwise it would have been better kept. Think about the ill-fated E.T. game that Atari made. They weren’t proud of it, they didn’t want it seen, and they saw fit to bury it. So they buried it. It was directly against their wishes for people to find this game and then play it. Emulating it is obviously not what the programmers who made it wanted for it.

But then consider all the little games included on a cartridge that’s just forgotten to the sands of time, made by a programmer who didn’t want it to fade away? Acrobat, also for the Atari, isn’t very well-remembered, but it still made it onto Atari’s anniversary console sold in-stores. 97 games on that bad boy, and Acrobat was included. It’s not a deep game, it’s nearly a single player Pong. But the programmers who made it didn’t ask for it to be excluded from the collection, so some amount of pride must exist over it, right? Does the game have to be good to be emulated? Is only good art allowed to continue existing officially?

Is all art meant to be accessible to everyone?

If some art is made with the intent to last forever, is it disregarding the creator’s wishes to not emulate it, against their production company’s wishes?

If art’s made to last forever but the artist (and society) accepts that that’s simply unrealistic, is it weird to emulate it, in the same way it’s weird to make chat-bots out of dead people? Every tomb we find, we open – even against the wishes of the grave owner, in the case of the Egyptians, or against the wishes of the living relatives, in the case of Native Americans. Video games are kind of like tombs for games that have lived their life and then died. But they’re also kind of like art.

When you get past the copyright, it’s a strange, strange world to be in.

Ethical Dilemma

Stealing goes against the ethics of most societies, modern or not. The case against emulators is that it’s stealing. It often is! An emulator/ROM (ROMs act as the ‘disc’ or ‘cartridge’ for the emulator) for Breath of the Wild was ready just a few weeks after the game launched, which could have seriously dampened sales if Nintendo didn’t step in to try and stop that. That first emulator, the one for the Nintendo 64, also drew a lot of negative attention for the same reasons, potentially siphoning away vital sales.

However, there’s a case to be made for games and consoles that aren’t in production anymore.

Is this a victimless crime, if the original game company really can’t make any more money off of it? It’s one thing to condemn piracy when the company is still relying on that income to make more games and pay their workers, it’s another entirely when the game studio isn’t interested in continuing support, and the console had a fatal fault in it that caused many of them to die after 10 years. That game is as good as gone forever without emulators. With no money to be made, why not emulate it?

In less extreme circumstances, the console’s still functioning, but the cartridges that went to it are incredibly rare. The company could potentially make money off of the game if they someday decided to remaster it, but that’s unknowable. Licenses could be available for purchases… but they aren’t right now.

Or, even better, the cartridges are still available for purchase in the secondary market. You just don’t happen to have the console, which has now spiked to a cost of 400 dollars due to reduced supply over time. You buy the cartridge – you’re still buying the license, you just don’t have the car, right?

According to copyright, you need a specific car for a specific license, but ethically, you’ve done the best you can as a consumer.

Assuming you have tried to buy a license for the car. The biggest issue with emulators is that they allow unlicensed drivers access to cars, making piracy much easier than it should be.

Brand Name

Much like Disney did with Club Penguin’s many spinoffs, emulators are kind-of sort-of overlooked up until they start eating into sales. Most companies just don’t want to spend money to enforce an issue like emulators – their game is still being played, their brand is still out there, and the users are going to be very upset if this big company decides to step in and ruin fun when they don’t need to. It may do more harm than good to try and wipe the emulator out when most people want to do the right thing.

Obviously, they’ll need to put a stop to emulating new games – the goal is to spend just enough money to do that effectively without also overstepping and destroying emulators for consoles no longer in production. It takes money to make games, games should earn money as a result. Removing emulators for games and consoles no longer in production isn’t helping them earn money – as such, many are allowed to stay. For now.



Elizabeth Technology July 18, 2023

Tetris, released in the 1980’s (the first version was released in 1985, but other countries received it from 1986-1988) is one of the most viral games ever. It’s simple enough that children can play it, but complex enough to keep players of all ages entertained for hours. It doesn’t require that the player speak any one language – the mechanics are simple enough to not need instructions. And, most importantly, it’s fun. Winning is satisfying. It gets harder the longer you play, so you’re never bored with the difficulty.

Versions of Tetris exist everywhere now. The game itself is as endlessly versatile as eggs. Physics-based. Efficiency based. Tetris games that want you to fill the board completely, like a puzzle. Tetris games that allow you to squeeze pieces in between gaps that are too small, and Tetris games that don’t. Tetris games that troll you. Competitive Tetris, where discarded lines are given to your enemies. Tetris games where the Tetriminos have 5 blocks, instead of four. The game is endlessly updateable, and the original remains the most ported game in all of video game history. Difficult, but fair, the standard games have chased since day one.

Tetris Effect

Some players develop what’s known as the Tetris Effect – they’ve played the game so long that it begins to seep into their dreams, and they unconsciously wait for blocks to start descending from somewhere whenever they aren’t occupied with another task. The Tetris Effect technically refers to any time a person is devoting so much time to an activity it starts to bleed into places it wouldn’t normally be – Rubix Cube speed-solvers sometimes unwillingly run through their algorithms in their head, and chess players may find themselves trying to identify what piece a traffic bollard would be and how it could move on the board.

When you look at it that way, sea legs are part of the Tetris effect. The Periodic Table in it’s solved state is as well! Tetris first put a name to the phenomenon because it is so genuinely interesting that people who weren’t accustomed to having it were experiencing the effect for the first time.

Repetitive Games and PTSD

Simple puzzle games have benefit beyond just immediate entertainment. Studies seem to suggest that repetitive games like Tetris or word games, something easy enough to be attention-absorbant, can help curb the effects of PTSD after a traumatic event, like a car crash. Specifically, games like Tetris help combat involuntary flashbacks. Treating PTSD after it develops with CBT shows promise, but intervening before it has a chance to really take root would be better. The study size in the initial research was small, but it shows promise: .

Wii: A Masterpiece of it’s Time

Elizabeth Technology February 21, 2023

The Wii, a motion-controller game console, used a combination of things to make sure it read your movements. The Wii was a truly special device!

Hardy Equipment

If you could only look at consoles to compare them, the Wii is at an advantage. It stands straight up, like a book on the shelf! It’s also much smaller. Other consoles can be stood up straight, but it’s not advisable – if doing so blocks the vent, the console can overheat and then die. The Playstation 5 recently advised against flipping the device on its side because the cooling system could break down and leak, which is not good.  

Aside from configuration, the Wii is the weakest of it’s generation of consoles, but that’s actually still a selling point – the device was so cheap because almost all of the interior computing hardware was coming ‘off the shelf’, which made it weaker, but meant the consumer was paying less for a device like no other on the market.

The Wii could sense motion in a way that other consoles simply had not dared to try – no doubt the Xbox or Playstation would manage to create a machine/controller pack that cost three times as much as the Wii did.

Differing Technologies

The Kinect, a much more unique approach to the matter of motion detection, is much more complex, but also more expensive. And Xbox’s mishandling of the new ‘always on’ era of gaming made it pretty contentious. Playstation had the most success by simply trying to emulate what the Wii had going for it.

And what did the Wii have going? It used a sensor bar in conjunction with the actual device to sense where the controller was pointing. The sensor bar itself didn’t actually do anything but light up!

This meant that in a pinch, you could simulate a missing Wii bar with a couple of candles – the machine is using the sensor bar as a frame of reference for where the controller is pointing at any given time. Within the controller itself was an accelerometer, which allowed the machine to tell if you were spinning, shaking, swinging, or otherwise moving the remote. Nintendo even later produced an optional set of control enhancers (the Wii Motion Plus) for games that required even finer tuning. The only downside was that controllers sometimes went through TVs or windows, which eventually stopped happening once users adjusted to the unfamiliar motions of bowling. 

Good Games

One of the biggest deciders of a console’s fate back in the 2000’s was what games would be available on launch day. Wonder why so many consoles come with games already downloaded to them? It’s because that system benefits every party involved, and may swing the purchasing party on whether or not to get the special edition of a particular console. Outside of built-ins, the console has to attract studios to make games, otherwise you end up with a catalogue full of repeats, sometimes even made by the console developers themselves. The Stadia, the Ouya, and a number of other small consoles make a great platform that doesn’t have any games on it. None attractive enough to swing the purchaser.

The Wii, because it was made by Nintendo, was already hand-in-hand with a number of games from a brand known for being family friendly. For families looking for a new console that a child of any age could play, this was a fantastic option. It had zombie games alongside party games and sport simulators. It really was a game-changer.

Bad Sequel

Given all of this , the most disappointing part of the Wii is the Wii U, the next console in the line. Not enough was done to ensure users knew the Wii U was a different console. It sounds ridiculous, but it was a real problem! The Wii U looked just like the Wii to someone who didn’t have either, and the game cases didn’t do a great job of telling users what console they were buying for, so once it came out, there was always the chance that a well-meaning relative would buy the wrong edition of a game.

Similarly, the Wii (just like all Nintendo products) didn’t make enough for the first run… and then broke pattern by drastically overproducing the WiiU, a business decision that haunts the choices made by execs to this day (it was impossible to get a Switch for a good three or so months after launch).

Still – the Wii did set standards for what AR really could be, even without a helmet or anything too fancy. In a way, it’s got tons of sequels. The Playstation started using motion controls after the Wii proved it was not only possible, it was fun! And it opened the door to gameplay mechanics that engineers and programmers could have only dreamed of.

Games Suffering For Patches

Elizabeth Technology January 10, 2023

I Can Finish it Later

Kangaroos are famous for keeping their children, known as joeys, in the big pouch on their belly. This adaptation means that the joeys can come out really early and then spend a significant portion of time finishing development in their mother’s pouch. By most comparisons, the kangaroo joeys come out woefully underbaked. They are only about an inch long. They can’t see or make noise, and they don’t have any fur. The pouch allows the mother to kick them out of the womb very early and then keep them with her always so she can go do kangaroo stuff without the joey losing out on milk or heat.

Compare this to, say, puppies, which are born without sight but not without smell and can crawl, or horses, which come out practically already running and with full vision. The joey pouch is truly a bizarre adaptation. But it works for the kangaroos – it means the adults, which are bipedal like us, don’t have so much downtime after giving birth, unlike us.

The long and the short of it is that the kangaroo has, over a very long time scale, learned what game developers have figured out in the past decade or two: you can release a product and then continue to work on it once it’s left the studio and as long as it works eventually everything will work out.

The Internet Will Let Me

It didn’t start this way.

Games used to be release-and-let-go, totally unmodifiable once they’d left the factory assembling the floppy discs. They were like horses – they were ready to go straight out of their plastic case and able to run from day one with no serious and very few minor flaws. Skyrim may have had funny character models that got stringy or stretched out when they died in a corner or near a door, but the game never had any problems with actually running and playing. Big studios had reliable quality, and customers were happy. Games could be patched after the fact, but they usually just didn’t need it. It was more of a hassle than it was worth most of the time.

However, once the internet started getting really good, and games came as downloads more and more often, the games themselves tended to get worse. If it’s a download from an online game platform, that means the user had internet when they downloaded it. They probably still have internet a few weeks later, when it’s discovered that a bug where you kick a baton off the edge of the map causes the game to freeze (real example from Fallout 76 initial launch) so you can probably push an update that fixes that issue without alienating your fanbase. Fans will be a little miffed at first but happier overall once they’ve got a more functional product.


This was horrible news for gaming developers. Fans will tolerate updates. Fans will tolerate bugs as long as an update is promised to fix them. The people making the game and the people controlling it’s release date are often not the same people at larger companies, the same way the person screwing in the bolts at a Ford factory is no longer friends with the owner of the company. The industry has expanded; games got bigger; there’s just no way for a distant manager who’s also watching the finance and advertising teams to be there on the ground floor with the developers themselves. The problems plaguing the game industry are plaguing many industries, but it becomes so easily visible in places where consumers are expecting a fun, fair experience.

Games that needed larger sets of playtesters in different computers and internet bandwidths used to go through a long period of beta testing, where the reward for the players was getting to play the game early, in a less complete state, sometimes for a reduced price or a limited-time prize. Beta testing is still around, of course, but when you read reviews of games like Halo: Infinity, you wonder why they even bothered if they were still going to release something that’s broken a year later despite several rounds of updates.

Deadlines were not helping. You can smooth out some codes with a little time to optimize it, but you have to do that carefully so that you don’t accidentally break anything that interconnects. As gamers get bigger and better computers, bigger gaming companies got more comfortable with releasing absurdly large games that they haven’t combed over to optimize. Sometimes, the release date actually prevents them from both using all the data crammed into the game or removing it, giving gamers the worst possible experience. For example: a game in the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise, Security Breach, is rumored to have been pushed out to be ready for Christmas. As a result, tons of areas in the game are underutilized but still present. The game has a comedy bot with a five minute routine and a whole stage and theater to itself, a bowling alley that has no bowling minigames in it, an intricately laid out arcade that may as well just be a maze of rectangular wall blocks, a brewery tank setup that’s in the files of the game but not currently in use, the list goes on. It was a wreck of a game for framerate and loading issues when it first came out, and probably a quarter of the map could have been removed without changing the gamer’s final experience. Maybe a third, including some cosmetic and simple map changes. The game’s file was massive when it didn’t need to be, and it’s final required size actually shrank quite a bit in the next couple of updates to the game as the developers took out stuff.

What sucks in particular is that it was supposed to have a bowling alley with games. The theater was supposed to be cool. The player was supposed to be able to have fun with all these places that ended up being decoration! Given another several months, they could have packed enough stuff into this game to make it a 20-hour game… but they didn’t. And they couldn’t cut it in time, either. The upper management wanted it done by Christmas, and so the game was ‘done’ by Christmas, with all this extra stuff that bloated an already mid game. Updates made it more playable, but it’s still not great. And this is pretty emblematic of all the problems that huge studios are having even though this specific game had it worse.

Patches and Pouches

Security Breach has been updated a number of times to become a more playable game. They never did add games to the bowling alley, but a number of quality-of-life problems have finally been fixed. Maybe in a DLC, they’ll finally release the features that the designers meant to include in the main game. Coincidentally this may also cost the players money, but as of writing this article they haven’t said either way.

The same goes for Cyberpunk 2077 – it didn’t come out right, and it was delayed, but they fixed it. No Man’s Sky – delayed, released broken, fixed. The pattern is becoming alarming: gaming studios are trying so hard to meet release dates that the games are coming out incomplete or weirdly buggy. They keep making money, though, so why stop?

In theory, the studio can always patch those issues out after launch – first day patches are now normal, when it used to be assumed the game was ready when you could buy it. If the developers had a poor launch, the sentiment was to go easy on them because they had no control over it. Unfortunately, the studio pushing these games out began hiding behind their developers to stave off hate and criticism. Now they don’t have to bother. Consumers are used to patches. Consumers are used to having to wait for the game to get good. Consumers are used to delays that aren’t long enough for the people who needed the delay to fix the game on top of that. We’ve gone from foal to puppy to joey, and the worst part is that the benefits of releasing a ‘joey’, a low recovery time, are no longer applicable: burnout is common because 80 hour crunch-weeks are common. The developers suffer for an art they can never finish in time for their patron to display to the public. Patching got easier with the rise of constant internet access, and as a result, games come out juuust playable enough that the consumer won’t ask for a refund before it gets polished and completed.

Pokemon Complexity Syndrome

Elizabeth Technology January 5, 2023

Video games are more complex, and at the same time the developers expect to have them out the door in the same timeframe as shovelware used to get. Even theoretically simple games that already have legacy game mechanics built in can’t do it. Look at Pokemon.

Pokemon, on its surface, doesn’t seem like a super complex game. Make the funny animals spar, get some medals, make some sandwiches, curry, or pastries for them to build teamwork, and bam – you’ve got a game.


It’s not that simple.

Each successive generation of Pokemon adds around 150 new animals to the PokeDex, many of which are usually intertwined in some way via Pokemon’s evolution path. These are almost never the only Pokemon in the game; classics from previous games, ones that you can’t just make more of like Zubat, the bat Pokemon, usually appear too. Each Pokemon has a ‘type’ that determines what moves it comes with, and they can be taught some outside of that. Careful considerations have to be made so nothing comes out of the gate unplayably unbalanced, but sometimes doing that makes the game predictable – a disproportionate number of fire Pokemon starters are fire/fighting types, because the way that the designers lay out the gyms makes it nearly impossible to use any other fire combo without creating a fragile starter early on. Due to a tradition spanning back nearly 30 years, they have to use fire for one of the starters, and they can’t break that now.

The first Pokemon to come without any type weakness came in generation three – it was a Dark/Ghost type Pokemon, which seems silly because the combo seems so obvious, but it’s a great example of how obvious things stop being obvious about 450 Pokemon in. Now there are over 1000. You can’t make an army of Pokemon with no type weaknesses, it would completely unbalance the game! There’s also necessary accounting for a number of Pokemon that are legendaries with their own rules.

This is not even describing the maps, the theme, the art, the fun minigames, etc. that all change every game – that’s just the Pokemon, by themselves. The game gets another heaping handful of cute little creatures with every new update alongside a new, usually themed map, new characters, new puzzles, etc. and then recently they also switched from 2-D top down to 3-D, so all of this has to be done again in the new format which allows for 3-D movement. 3-D movement allows for cool stuff like hills and mountains, another new design element that requires programming new to the series. Even worse still is that the new design makes wild Pokemon encounters look weird if they’re not visible when you encounter them (invisible/hiding Pokemon was always the case in the 2-D games), meaning the game designers also tossed in a bunch of wandering animals to program into the game for the developers to deal with too.

The jump from 2-D to 3-D is truly one of the most ambitious things the Pokemon franchise has had to deal with. It’s understandable that it has some bugs.

The Timeline

But would it maybe have less if it weren’t so rushed? If the game developers weren’t being pushed to make it so fast? For comparison, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl came out in North America in 2007. The next game, Pokemon Platinum, came out in 2009 in North America, but it was part of the same generation of Pokemon, meaning less added complexity if only in a few spots. The next generation, Black and White, didn’t come out until 2011 in North America, and I remember playing it after Diamond and Pearl – they have approximately the same difficulty level, approximately the same art style, and they’re both 2D. The game designers had four whole years between generations to perfect the games they were making. (If you don’t know Pokemon naming conventions, each generation of game actually comes with two games that are slightly different from eachother. Pokemon Black, for instance, has a different final boss Pokemon than Pokemon White, although the differences are mainly cosmetic. So every game generation actually comes with two games, and usually more after the fact.) Diamond and Pearl came with Platinum in that generation as well as Gold and Silver after the major releases.

It’s a lot of work, that is a lot of game, but it was 2-D and they had four years. They were also designing for the DS most of the time, meaning they had a pretty substantial amount of computing power to work with.

And then things started speeding up. Black 2 and White 2 came out in 2012 in North America, and then X and Y came out in 2013 followed by Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in 2014. The next console came out, so that slowed down production, but even so the first Pokemon game for the 3DS came out in 2016. After that, they began designing for the switch as well – Sword and Shield released in 2019 to much critical acclaim, although there were some complaints about the game’s balancing and over-tutorializing, and another set of games after that, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl in 2021. Finally, the most recent game, Scarlet and Ruby, released in 2022. It wasn’t the first 3-D game – but it’s the buggiest so far.

The Time is Why

This is a breakneck pace for games of this scale. GameFreak, which makes Pokemon, is a triple A studio to be sure, and it’s well-funded, but all the money in the world cannot replace time spent building and playtesting. Scarlet and Violet are poorly optimized, and thus have to cut corners were they wouldn’t have if they’d just been made a little better to begin with; characters and Pokemon alike tend to disappear, slide, and morph; there’s no fall damage, so once you go up you can come down wherever you like, leading to massive game skips; some of the walls and rocks and cliffs don’t have collision, so your character can fall straight through the world into nothingness. These aren’t constant, but they’re more common than they should be for a game of this scale made by a company this well-funded.

And what should the upper management expect? The games have totally changed and they’re coming out even faster than they used to in the old 2D days. The reason the games are becoming less fun is because the scripts and such have to be done faster so the game can come out on time. There’s less time to let creativity come to the writers and less time to put all the different aspects of the game together. There’s less time to make the Pokemon and the character models. There’s just less time, full stop, to make the game and give it the soul Pokemon is known for.  But hey – it came out in two years and broke records. They have no reason to stop releasing them on this timeframe.

Ultimately, the money has the final say, and customers like their games fast.