Pokémon Uranium is the latest fan-made tribute to hit the Internet, but suited attorneys representing Nintendo have already taken action.
A lot has happened over the past nine years: Barack Obama was elected as the 44th U.S. president in 2008, Michael Jackson died in 2009, Osama Bin Laden was supposedly killed in 2011 and, most recently, a silly mobile game called Pokémon GO won the world over. But through it all, a small team of passionate Pokémon fans have tightened up the nuts and bolts on their video game project called Pokémon Uranium.
Nintendo News recently spoke to the game’s 22-year-old female creative director, “Involuntary Twitch,” to gain a better understanding of how the project took shape and its reception among fans. We also look at the game’s current post-launch state and future plans. Pokémon Uranium’s creator and programmer, “JV,” was unable to comment due to attending the Rio 2016 Olympic Games ceremony.
Pokémon Uranium Before
“I’m the one who designs and sprites all the original Pokémon and characters,” Twitch told Nintendo News on Friday. “I also wrote almost all of the in-game text and the story, and I manage our community as well as various websites connected to the game.”
The first public version of Pokémon Uranium was released into the wild on Saturday, August 6. But unlike the recent AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake) project that took 10 years to develop, Uranium’s download links remained unscathed well after 48 hours (more on that later).
“It’s a misconception that most fan games get shut down,” Twitch explained. “The reality is there is just a few high-profile news stories about ones that do. Meanwhile, there are dozens of fan projects just like ours that have been operating under the radar for years and have built up pretty sizable communities around them. I guess what’s different about fan games is that they’re not for any of the same systems of Nintendo games — they’re also free to play, and obviously made by amateur developers, so I think it would be impossible to mistake [Pokémon Uranium] for an official Pokémon game.
Twitch said most of the game’s work was done by just her and its creator. “JV does our custom scripts, maps, events, user interface, and fixes all of the bugs — he’s basically the one who takes all my design ideas and converts them into a real, tangible game. We’ve been working on this game for approximately nine years (since we were just starting high school), and now we’ve either graduated college or are soon to graduate.”
But most recently, other members were added to the development team. “ElectricMudkip” composed the original music tracks for the game, according to Twitch. A handful of other artists and designers have contributed artwork and Pokémon designs, and a dedicated team of beta testers helped weed out bugs a few months prior to the game’s launch. “In the end, there’s actually quite a few people who are part of the Uranium Team.”
As with any fan-made project based on existing intellectual property, there’s always legal risk involved. “Naturally, we are worried about The Pokémon Company or Nintendo taking legal action against us,” Twitch said. “We don’t want to step on any toes — we made this game because we’re passionate about Pokémon. The franchise has had a huge impact on our lives, and we wanted to create something like this as a tribute to the games that shaped our childhoods.”
But while the game may have its own story and other original aspects, there are portions of it that came directly from existing, official Pokémon games. For example, Magikarp, Ekans, Dunsparce, Corsola, and Mankey all make appearances in Uranium. “We used some official music and sound effects as well, to really capture the Pokémon experience,” Twitch said.
As for the game’s name, Twitch said there wasn’t really a reason behind it. “We just thought it sounded cool. But the name is what gave me the inspiration for the story, which is about nuclear energy and the new Pokémon Type we added: Nuclear.”
JV coded the online systems for the game from scratch, which allows players to battle and trade with each other. “We thought that being able to trade and battle with other players [online] has been a core feature of Pokémon since the beginning, and that’s what it’s done for our game community too — it’s allowed players to reach out and connect with one another.”
Pokémon Uranium is a free game developed as a hobby. Both Twitch and JV have day jobs, but their plan is to use the game’s ad revenue to keep the servers going for its online features. “We currently do not have plans to use this money personally. This is a labor of love and a tribute to Pokémon,” Twitch said.
Since going public, people have complained about lag, bugs, and corrupted save files. However, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “Fans have been saying it has gotten them back into Pokémon again. They like the new Pokémon and the areas and the music, and they can see it’s evident how much love and effort went into the creation of this game.”
As of Friday, Pokémon Uranium had already amassed “hundreds of thousands” of downloads, but Twitch put that number closer to one million, crediting press coverage. “It’s not hard to see why: the game is free, and everybody loves Pokémon right now.”
Twitch and crew are not currently working on any other projects. “We’re taking a bit of a breather and trying to deal with the fallout of our game having gone viral beyond our wildest dreams. We’d like to continue working on the game by adding in ways to get the eight currently unobtainable Pokémon in the Tandor Pokédex and some more post-game areas and side quests. If I make a game after this, it probably won’t be another Pokémon fan game — I’d like to do something original that isn’t based on an existing IP.”
Pokémon Uranium After
On Saturday, August 13, the Pokémon Uranium team released a statement related to the availability of the game:
“After receiving more than 1.5 million downloads of our game, we have been notified of multiple takedown notices from lawyers representing Nintendo of America. While we have not personally been contacted, it’s clear what their wishes are, and we respect those wishes deeply. Therefore, we will no longer provide download links for the game through our website.”
But just like the AM2R project, the damage, if you will, has already been done. While download links from the game’s official website have vanished, Pokémon Uranium can still be easily shared via email attachment, and alternative download links created by other people can be found just as easily using a quick Google search.
Pokémon Uranium is currently available on PC, but there are plans to eventually bring it to Mac and Linux. In fact, there’s already “a small team of people who are working on that.” There are no plans to bring it to Android, iOS, or any other mobile platform.