Palworld: The Unsettling Anti-Pokemon Phenomenon | GAME3A
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Palworld: The Unsettling Anti-Pokemon Phenomenon

Gaming struggles for originality these days - it's as if every game is trying to imitate another. But amidst this sea of imitators, one game stands ou...

Chantal Da Silva Jan 22, 2024
Palworld: The Unsettling Anti-Pokemon Phenomenon

Gaming struggles for originality these days - it's as if every game is trying to imitate another. But amidst this sea of imitators, one game stands out: Palworld. Let's delve into why Palworld has sparked such a unique conversation.

Firstly, let's address the elephant in the room: the AI speculation surrounding Palworld. While there's no concrete proof that AI was involved in its creation, it's worth noting that the game credits several human character designers. Sure, the Pal designs bear some resemblance to Pokemon, but many games share similar traits. Palworld lacks the telltale signs of AI design, and its overall aesthetics don't align with modern generative AI creations.

Moreover, Palworld has been in development for quite some time, with trailers showcasing its designs dating back three years. It's easy to overlook the advancements in AI during that period, which suggests that Palworld's Pals were crafted with significant human input, potentially even entirely human.

Takuro Mizobe, CEO of Pocketpair, the developer behind Palworld, is undeniably a fan of AI. He has tweeted about its impressive ability to generate fake Pokemon designs, although none of those designs made it into Palworld. Pocketpair has also worked on an AI game similar to Pictionary, where AI guesses drawings. While there's no concrete evidence regarding AI involvement in Palworld, it's fair to say that Pocketpair represents an AI-fueled future that some may fear.

However, Palworld's alleged connection to AI has sparked two distinct reactions, both of which highlight the industry's struggle to grapple with this issue. On one side, there are those who immediately jump to conclusions, considering any suspicion of AI as definitive proof to shut down any discussion. According to them, anyone associated with this game is single-handedly destroying the industry. On the other side, there are those who simply shrug it off, saying, "Who cares about AI? It's fun!" Both reactions reveal that the gaming industry has a long way to go in safeguarding itself against the potential threats of AI.

Now, let's address the similarities between Palworld and Pokemon. There are undoubtedly several designs in Palworld that appear to be one-to-one recreations of Pokemon, whether created by humans or AI. However, it's important to note that these games all share some similar DNA. If Digimon were released today, people might accuse it of using AI due to its designs that bear resemblance to Pokemon. But this line of thinking assumes that Pokemon was the first of its kind, which is incorrect. Dragon Quest Monsters predates Pokemon, and many Pokemon designs seem heavily inspired by DQM. For instance, Wallop Scallop, a shell with a long tongue and two eyes perched in darkness, bears a striking similarity to Shellder. Pokemon fans might argue that Shellder is an original design based on existing artwork, but perhaps the most important words in that sentence are the first two.

Pokemon has an incredibly passionate fanbase, and Nintendo is so beloved that fans often cheer for legal action against anyone who may have wronged them. While games like Temtem, Cassette Beasts, and Coromon have been praised for their similarities to Pokemon, fans have been fervently hoping for Palworld's downfall. This sentiment may partially stem from the AI concerns, but it's likely fueled by something more than that.

Those other games are made with reverence, as if to say, "We love Pokemon so much that we made our own version!" On the other hand, Palworld seems to say, "Ha! Give 'em guns, that'd be hilarious!" It feels like Palworld is motivated by Pokemon's success rather than a deep love for the series itself. Now, that shouldn't make a legal difference, but it certainly affects public perception, which brings us to the third point.

The funny thing about Palworld is that it isn't really like Pokemon at all. While games like Cassette Beasts and Coromon mimic every aspect of the Pokemon formula, Palworld takes a completely different approach. It's a survival game without a hometown, starters, or a hero's path for your player character to follow. In Palworld, you simply catch Pals (by beating them up, which is quite different from Pokemon) and use them for battles. And even then, you're often battling mini-kaiju Pals instead of gym leaders or rival trainers.

Of course, being a survival game is nothing new. We don't call military shooters plagiaristic, and Fortnite took its base battle royale idea from PUBG while also releasing an Among Us-style mode during the viral game's peak. So, why is Pocketpair an easier target? Is it because of their size or their unapologetic support of AI and copying popular concepts? Games copy one another allthe time, but Palworld's combination of alleged AI involvement, striking visual similarities to Pokemon, and the perceived lack of love for the source material has created a perfect storm of controversy.

The gaming industry is at a crossroads. As technology advances and AI becomes more prevalent, developers must navigate the fine line between inspiration and imitation. While games like Cassette Beasts and Coromon have managed to pay homage to Pokemon while still offering unique experiences, Palworld seems to have missed the mark in terms of public perception. Whether or not AI was involved in its creation, the game's lack of reverence for Pokemon and its incorporation of firearms into a world of cute creatures have left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.

Ultimately, the reception and success of Palworld will depend on how players and the gaming community at large choose to engage with it. As discussions surrounding AI, intellectual property, and originality continue to evolve, it is crucial for the industry to find a balance that respects both innovation and the legacy of beloved franchises. Only time will tell how Palworld and similar games will shape the future of gaming, but one thing is clear: the gaming landscape is changing, and developers must adapt to meet the challenges and expectations of an ever-evolving audience.