There are very few sentences you can throw at me that would make me burn with anger and disgust as much as the oh-so-popular “GameFreak is running out of colors”. Oh god, anyone who ever said that, please raise your hand so I can count how many bullets I’ll need for you all. There’s literally no sentence more ignorant and stupid than this one.
If you ever said that, or thought that – I offer you a chance of redemption. This will be a long journey, consisting of 6 parts, but trust me – that’s how much there is to talk about. The best thing is that at the end, we will come to an interesting conclusion which, believe me, will turn everything upside down. Ready? Here we go.
CHAPTER 1: “THE HELL IS A COLOR THEORY?!”
Let me start with some tiny controversy. You say: they ran out of colors for Pokemon games. I answer: how could they, when they’ve been only using the same four colors all this time?
Now you’re thinking “what the hell is he talking about?” We will get there in the end, just wait. For now, remember this, so that you can recall it when the right time comes: “red, blue, green, yellow”. Back to the point.
We love generation I, no doubt about it. It started our beloved franchise, caused the Pokemon craze, planted the leech seeds in our pockets that drain our money every year to this day. There’s something really wrong with generation I though, and I’m not talking about the bugs – I’m speaking strictly about the games design wise.
Back in February 1996, when Pokemon Green and Red came out in Japan, no one really knew how the idea of catching monsters, battling and trading them with others, all done through the small screen of GameBoy, will be received. This was probably the most important moment in the career of every GameFreak employee at that time – a game they have been working on for SIX long years, now finally seeing the light of day. I can imagine their feelings, thrilled and excited, yet anxious and worried. Will the idea catch on? Will they like our game? Will our work be appreciated? Will it sell? They definitely ask themselves those questions constantly, whenever they release a new game, but back then, it was for the first time. They had no idea, no one knew about Pokemon other than those few interested that may have read about it before release.
The original two games, Japanese Red and Green.
At that time, they probably weren’t even thinking about making Pokemon a worldwide phenomenom. First you have conquer your own country before you advance further. And conquer they did, staggeringly fast. Pokemon Green and Red, despite their numerous flaws, were a hit. It was like wildfire or blitzkrieg. Not even a year passed when GameFreak released Pokemon Blue, a minor revision of Green and Red that was available only to CoroCoro subscribers. Anime debuted just 6 months later, and now the Pokemon madness was unstoppable.
The odd one out of the bunch, Japanese Blue.
It’s just natural that you start thinking about releasing something this successful outside of your country. And then it hits you, and it hits you hard. You fucked up. You weren’t thinking about the big picture, you didn’t think about releasing your work worldwide, design wise. You never thought it will get so popular, and so you didn’t think about design integrity.
After we worked so hard…
Making sense of the differences between japanese generation I and generation I everywhere else can make your head hurt. Is it Green and Red? Is it Red and Blue? So, is Red and Blue really Green and Red, but with a bit of Blue, or is Red and Blue really Red and Blue? What the hell, now there’s Yellow?!
Makes no sense
In all honesty, when it comes to the general concept of paired versions named after colors, generation I is a mess. A colorful puke after a spontaneous party that no one really prepared for.
First, when you plan to release 2 paired games, and decide to feature one of 3 starter Pokemon on the cover of each one… that’s bad design-wise on so many levels. 2=/=3, it doesn’t compute. Especially when the 3 starters are considered somewhat equal in design. It lacks integrity, and that’s why it caused so much confusion when the idea of releasing the games outside of Japan came up. Now what, do we release Green and Red, the flawed versions? Or do we release only the Blue version, the improved one? But what about the idea of paired versions to encourage trade, then? WHAT DO WE DO?!
That’s more like it.
And so the US Red and Blue were born, which were essentially Japanese Green and Red in their core, with updated graphics and script from the Japanese Blue. Aaaaaand shit hit the fan. To this day some people wonder what the hell happened to the Green version? There are 3 starters, why the hell do they favorize Charizard and Blastoise? Where’s the love for Venusaur?
It’s a bit like Final Fantasy, where suddenly you can’t count, because I’m quite sure SEVEN doesn’t come after THREE. But in the end it turned out that TWO wasn’t really TWO, but FOUR, while THREE was SIX all this time. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
It can make you angry
With the advent of Pocket Monsters Pikachu Edition (bleh), this got even more complicated – now you got Pokemon Green, Red, Blue and Pikachu in Japan, while in the US you have Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow? GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.
In all seriousness, this can be forgiven. Clearly GameFreak wasn’t really planning out the whole generation as they do today, they just… went with it. They were aware of that themselves apparently, as they reworked the paired version concept in the future generation, with Pokemon Gold and Silver (but we’ll find out that they’re not all that silver and gold in the end)… but they still won’t get it right until Generation III! It just shows how spontaneous some of the decisions in Generation I and II were, but I’ll explore this topic in Part 2. For now, let’s get to the point of this chapter – the color theory.
Why the whole concept crumbled? Why suddenly out of 2 paired versions, 4 weird things were born? That’s because GameFreak didn’t really agree on the concept of the paired version. They didn’t design it well before they put it into motion.
If you’re going to have TWO versions of something, two opposites that are supposed to work with each other seamlessly, design-wise, WHY THE HELL would you make them GREEN and RED. Those two are not opposites, those two are EQUALS, but only when you include BLUE. If you do that, then the balance is mantained, but as soon as you introduce YELLOW into the party, it all crumbles again.
You may be thinking: “Just what the fuck are you talking about?!”. I have one word for you:
When you want to design exactly TWO opposites, (yet equals), and name them after colors, you can’t just snap your fingers and came up with two random colors and slap them onto the box. What the hell would Pokemon Brown and Pokemon Pink be anyway? (other than a really dirty joke). You need to know how colors work, so that your concept is integral on the design level. Black and White? Perfect, but that didn’t come to play until way later.
Putting aside the poor choice of 2 out of 3 starter pokemon as the version mascots, out of those 3 the only logical choice for 2 paired versions are RED and BLUE. Why?
Because they’re primary colors.
Now, hold your horses! I know some of you may have slammed their desks and yelled at me for being ignorant, and I assure you, I KNOW that red, green and blue are as much primary colors as red, blue and yellow are. Chill, take a deep breath, I will explain everything in a second.
There are two kinds of primary colors: additive primaries and substractive primaries. The first set consists of RED, GREEN and BLUE, and it works the way LIGHT RAYS work – meaning that adding all those three together will give you WHITE. This can only work with light rays, it will never work with paint and pigments, because those ABSORB parts of the light spectrum, instead of combining them. For paints and pigments we use substractive primaries, which consist of RED, BLUE, YELLOW. Mixing them together gives you a very dark color, almost BLACK (but hardly ever fully black).
Now, having a set of colors GREEN, RED and BLUE, when you want to choose 2 colors that will be equal, yet OPPOSITE, the only logical choice are RED and BLUE. Why? Because that’s how our culture works. RED means fire, sun, body (blood), anger, offense, BLUE means water, moon, soul (neurons), calm, defense. When we look at symbolism, RED and BLUE are opposites, yet equals, while GREEN fits nowhere in the picture. In Additive primaries environment, GREEN is the opposite of the combination of the two in this set up, because when we add RED and BLUE light spectrum, we obtain PURPLE, and GREEN sits exactly opposite to that. In Substractive primaries environment, it’s not equal, it’s “one level” above RED and BLUE, it’s more complex than the two separate, it’s only equal somewhat equal when the two are combined. We can only use the three as equals if we think in RGB, but that’s a sterile environtment, scientific, washed of any cultural and historical association with those colors. You will never get YELLOW by mixing RED and GREEN paint, only some weird shit-stain color.
On the other hand, if we were to use THREE colors, and all of them equal, RED, BLUE and YELLOW are the best options. That’s because in “real life”, those three are used as equals to create all other colors by mixing. We’re talking outside of science and prisms, we’re just mixing paint here. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Additive primaries environment = 3 equals (red, green, blue, with green sitting on the opposite side of red and blue), co-dependent/2 equals (“red, blue”, or magenta and cyan if we are to be specific), 1 opposite (yellow) = SCIENCE/NATURE
Substractive primaries = 3 equals (“red, blue”, yellow, again we look at cyan and magenta as red and blue, yellow sits on the opposite side of the two), co-dependent/2 equals (red, blue), 1 opposite (green) = HISTORY/CULTURE
Depending on the environment, we can either look at green, red and blue as 3 equals, or 2 equals and 1 opposite. Those two theories coexist with each other on some level, but are fundamentally different.
Remember this, we will get back to it later, it’s VERY important.
Back to Generation I, I think Game Freak realized that, and that’s why we have RED and BLUE outside of Japan, not GREEN and RED. Those 2 just don’t work together on this level, design-wise. They released YELLOW later, to crumble the balance again, but it was past the saving point anyway (starters just don’t work as version mascots for paired versions). Maybe they though they can balance it all out if they include all 4 options: GREEN, RED, BLUE and YELLOW.
Generation I was nearing its end though, and now that the franchise was so popular, they really had to step their game up in the design matter. This was no longer just a popular game, this was a worldwide phenomenom, and those need some standards. It evolved from craft into art. What mistakes have been made, couldn’t be repaired, but they definitely taught Game Freak something – the devil is in the details…
Why was this chapter even important, you ask? All I did was babble about some colors, then science, then culture, red, green, blue, yellow, what the hell man, what’s your point? The realization will come later, when I will come back to the points I made here CONSTANTLY throughout the whole article.
And you will see how Game Freak loves RED and BLUE, just as I do.