With 20/20 hindsight, we can tell that Pokemon Red and Green were a huge success but thing did not always seemed that way for the development team during their 6 year development of the first games.
Recalling to Polygon, Pokemon Director, Junichi Masuda, said that when Pokemon was about to release, the Game Boy was already in decline, and it was not clear whether Pokemon was going to be a success, as friends and industry colleagues poured cold water on the idea.
Masuda:When we were first […] about to release the game, actually we were […] it’s six years of development. It really took us that long to get to a point where we could release it. Near the end of development, we started to get really worried because we were [developing it for the] Game Boy.
At the time in Japan, the Game Boy had been on a decline. You didn’t really see so many people playing it out and about at that point. Even when we were talking to our friends in the industry and saying that, “Oh, we’re working on a Game Boy game,” they were like, “Really? You’re working on a Game Boy game? That’s not going to sell very well, don’t you think?” That’s kind of what the atmosphere was like in Japan at the time.
At at one point the team even nearly lost all their development data because of a computer crash. Fortunately the team was able to recover the data and continue on their development, but imagine how close Pokemon was to not being possible.
We were developing the game on these Unix computer stations called the Sun SPARCstation 1. […] We’re developing, and they’re these Unix boxes, and they crashed quite a bit. Back then, computers would crash fairly frequently.
Somewhere midway through the development, maybe in the fourth year or so, we had a really bad crash that we couldn’t, we didn’t know how to recover the computer from. That had all of the data for the game, all of the Pokémon, the main character and everything. It really felt like, “Oh my God, if we can’t recover this data, we’re finished here.” I just remember doing a lot of different research. I called the company that I used to work for, seeing if they had any advice to recover the data.
I would go on this internet service provider back then called Nifty Serve. It’s like a Japanese version of CompuServe. I’d go on and ask people that I never talked to for advice on how to recover the data. I would look at these English books about the machine itself, because there wasn’t a lot of information in Japanese, just to figure it out. We eventually figured out how to recover it, but that was like the most nerve-racking moment, I think, in development.