There was a time Game Freak was developing Famicom and Super Famicom titles for other companies. That period of time came before Pokemon Red and Green were made. Thanks to a recent interview with Game Freak by Game Informer, we have a closer look at the company’s history before Pokemon existed.
Game Freak started life as a magazine, rather than a game development company. In its early days, Satoshi Tajiri, the man credited with the creation of Pokemon, would visit different arcades and speak with their owners to gather tips that would be featured in their magazine. However, game development has always been the goal of Game Freak right from the beginning.
The opportunity to create video games finally came with the release of Famicom in Japan, as the small group of video game fans thought they could “make something with it”. Thus, Quinty (known as Mendel Palace in the west) became Game Freak’s first project for the Famicom.
Development of Quinty wasn’t easy though. “When we first started making the game we didn’t really have any official development equipment, so we just sort of had to hack the NES and figure out how it worked so we could develop on it ourselves without the official sort of development tools,” Masuda said.
Quinty would go on to be published by Namco, and the Game Freak company was formally formed after Namco told them they couldn’t sign a contract with an individual. After Quinty, Game Freak worked on Smart Ball, a Super Famicom title where players “play as a platforming jelly bean named Jerry.”
In the early days, Taijiri helped to open the door with Nintendo, which resulted in the development of Yoshi, a puzzle game for Famicom. With the huge success of Yoshi, a new relationship was formed between Game Freak and Nintendo. It was also during this time Tajiri developed a relationship with Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi.
Besides the Famicom and Super Famicom, Game Freak worked on Magical Taluluto, based on a popular manga and anime, which launched on Sega Genesis only in Japan. Mario and Wario, another Super Famicom game that never made it to the west, was another project by Game Freak. Masuda said the idea was to originally use the Super Nintendo Super Scope to launch nets to catch monsters. Due to technical difficulties, they ended up with the SNES Mouse instead.
Game Freak released Pokemon Red and Green in 1996 in Japan, which took 6 years to develop. According to Masuda, Game Freak was initially working on the project alone, with Nintendo offering advice and suggestions at times. For instance, Shigeru Miyamoto came out with the idea of release multiple cartridges for the same game. It was a time when there weren’t any contracts drafted out for the game.
Although Pokemon is now Game Freak’s biggest priority, the company continues to work on various side projects, as it’s important to experiment with different things and explore new opportunities. “But the reality of the games industry is with other projects, just to get people to notice you, there are so many games out there these days that we definitely feel that tough situation is the reality of the video game market,” Masuda added.