September 25, 2020

On Switch Cloud Saves and Pokémon.

 


It’s easy to dismiss the Cloud Save Backups as kind of moot.

After all, Nintendo used to let you locally backup saves. And other platforms let you do that too, right now – you can locally backup files on external hard drives on the PS4 and XBox One, though I doubt many have actually done so when cloud storage for saves is so prevalent and when you need the subscription to play online. Whilst Cloud Saves are a critical addition to the Switch Online ecosystem, many are still accusing Nintendo of not letting people just manually backup their saves to their MicroSD card; and on the superficial surface, there’s an argument to be had there. It sounds like a good idea. It sounds like an obvious idea.

But there’s a fly in the ointment in this situation and it’s name… is Pokémon.

Now, this gets complicated when you look in detail but the basic background to this is that over numerous years, Pokémon has seen an explosion in save data exploits; there are programs that you could download during the DS and even early 3DS era which allowed you to manually insert Pokémon into your game. Want a shiny Victini? You can have that. Shiny Legendaries? That’s possible too. Perfect IV Pokémon? It was possible. Whatever you wanted, however you wanted it; 99 Rare Candies? That was possible.

There were even unofficial Pokémon Trade Servers, which would let you “officially” transfer these ‘Mon into your game so as to bypass fail-safes being added in patches to catch them out. After all, they were “traded” into the game; yes, through Smartphone apps and unofficial wi-fi services but the fact remained that you could, in fact, cheat your way to a solid Pokémon team. All you needed was an app, an internet connection and to be able to read the step-by-step instructions.

PKHex: I do not endorse this app.
And some made it very, very easy to do as well.

Which is why Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire existed as a catch-up system; it was far too late to put that genie back in the bottle, might as well let people finish their Pokédex the right way.

It seems stupid, but cheating has been a problem in Pokémon for more than a decade now. Before the advent of wifi connections, sure, a GameShark or Action Replay (remember those things?) could insert whatever you wanted but they had their inherent risks – unstable games, crashing, needing to reset your whole game… some cards reportedly even stopped working entirely. As the Internet developed, and Pokémon’s fanbase grew, knowledgeable people began to take advantage of the systems at their disposal and the end result was eventually being able to have whatever the hell you wanted, whenever the heck you wanted it. There were no real boundaries; it was simply a matter of patience and practice and GameFreak spent a lot of time over the years fighting this battle. It was one they lost a long time ago, however, and every time they tried to make it harder to cheat – people found ever more ingenious and terrifying ways of getting around the walls of that garden.

Pokémon Switch is coming. We know that. And this… is part of why I think Nintendo is wary of local saves. At least they are for the moment.

Give people the ability to access their local save files on the Switch easily and watch helplessly as a hundred new programs drop on the ‘net within a few weeks of its release, all offering the tantalising prospect of getting you the best ‘Mon for the job (hell, how long do you think it’d take to update PKHex for this? My guess is… not long at all…). All you’d need to do is transfer a save file in, use the editor to make some changes, export it out and load it back into the Switch and suddenly you’ve got everything you need to cheat your way to the end, and make online battles so much easier.

Years ago, I coined the joke term “A Peculiarly Nintendo Problem” – that was based on the knowledge that for some reason, Nintendo’s problems were unlike anything the Industry had to deal with. Why did the Wii U need to “prove itself”? After all, the XBox One wasn’t that much more popular at the time, so why was that a safe option and a Nintendo customer base now proven to buy tons of software was some kind of terrible, terrifying gamble? Why did Nintendo need to do anything differently? And why when Nintendo did follow market trends that wasn’t good enough either? It was confusing, like people were going out of their way to create problems for Nintendo to solve, often conflicting with themselves entirely.

But the Pokémon Problem is a very different kettle of fish. This was an unintentionally self-inflicted wound; a victim of its own success and the gameplay model the series had built itself on for years. Nintendo and GameFreak likely had no idea this would become the headache it ultimately ended up being, and since so much effort over the years has been expended trying to solve this particular issue through checks, marks and fail-safes which can still to this day be worked around… you begin to understand that Nintendo may not want to have to spend any more time or money trying to prevent this from happening. After all, hackers are generally smart people who want to find a workaround. And code, however neat and tidy it is, will always have a crack or two in which you can jam something into.

So having no local saves makes it that much harder.

Pokémon QR code
But people always try and find a way…

And of course, Nintendo has business reasons to want to stop this from happening. The PokéBank is a thing; you can pay a nominal annual fee to get a massive online storage space for all your Pokémon, with the sweetener of a few freebies from time to time. If people can just inject any Pokémon they want into this new game… why pay for the storage? Suddenly, the PokéBank doesn’t look worth the money. It’s unnecessary. It’s redundant, because there are other cheaper and free ways to perform the same task.

This might all sound a bit silly really, and it’s a daft reason to not have local backup options, but as I said before – this is a very specifically Nintendo problem. It’s been a problem for a long, long time now and no small amount of time, money and effort has been dedicated to finding ways of stopping the flood of cheated Pokémon landing on the scene, flooding the Wonder Trade and GTS, causing no small amount of headaches in match-ups as Pokémon have moves they probably shouldn’t really have (yeah, you could do that too). All that was necessary was for the game to think the Pokémon was legitimate. And that wasn’t too hard to do, if you had friends to trade with, or a bit of time to breed things together. A few hours, a few items and you could have a completely “native” end result!

Pokémon Switch is going to be a massive deal. It’s probably, alongside Smash Bros., one of the single most anticipated Switch titles. Pokémon Sun and Moon set sales records for the series. It made an enormous amount of money, with an opening every bit as strong as Grand Theft Auto 5. And with a new Pokémon game and a new console comes a new fight to protect the Pokémon ecosystem from exploitation, from cheats and other various crazy stuff. It’s actually rather incredible that this is as massive an issue as it currently is, but genuinely it’s been a real problem for GameFreak to deal with. It’s been hard, it’s required a lot of updates and a lot of patches and whilst they have been able to slow it down, they haven’t entirely gotten rid of the dark underbelly of the Pokémon series.

No local saves is a problem. But giving people such an easy avenue to abuse a new Pokémon game is also a problem. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation and yes, a “A Peculiarly Nintendo Problem”.

There’s no real win to be had here. Nintendo is likely just trying to protect arguably one of its most profitable and popular IP’s. And they can do that… but it might piss some other people off.

I guess that’s just the hit Nintendo is willing to take. And as much as it bothers people like me… I can’t really say I blame them either…


Two posts in one day?
I’m clearly not feeling well. I will get this checked out.

Kami

I'm the big cheese here. Comment, subscribe, direct waves of hate at me - all the same. Just hope you've had some partial enjoyment here!

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