May 23, 2020

Duck and Beetle

GameFreak Director Junichi Masuda’s love for Psyduck is well-documented. It’s his favourite Pokémon! Really. He’s said so multiple times over the years. Like in this XY era interview, and here, talking about LGPE. But there’s more. In 2016, a special “Masuda Psyduck” was available from PokeCenters in Japan to enshrine his adulation celebrate Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary. And if that’s not enough to convince you: when Masuda competed as a special guest in 2019’s Pokémon Go Invitational, he fielded Psyduck, and playfully kept him from fainting as long as possible. Mr. Masuda adores the yellow peril.

In the development of Diamond & Pearl, Masuda found a second love. All throughout 2006/07, Masuda blogged excitedly on his Director’s Column about the global WiFi features of the upcoming games. Diamond & Pearl had to be “something that go[es] beyond the differences of race or national borders”, he wrote, a “game [to] play with, and communicate with, everyone on this planet.”1 Clearly, the implemention of global WiFi was of tremendous symbolic and practical significance to Masuda. The language of Pokémon had already proven universal; now its community would be, too. Satoshi Tajiri’s original “collect, trade, battle” concept was about to evolve into its ultimate form.

When Diamond & Pearl released in Japan in September 2006, its global WiFi features proved a revelation. No longer was Pokémon trading and battling a strictly local affair – now anyone, anywhere in the world could be your partner, rival or challenger. Player enthusiasm found expression in the popularity of the GTS: in less than a year, over 10 million trades were made. To celebrate the new reality, Japan saw a string of GTS special events, such as the Mail bonanza of Magikarp Valentine and Daisuki Club mini giveaways. With the games yet to be released in the US and Europe, there was scope to plan something similar.

In December 2006, Masuda took a four-day trip to NoA in Seattle to discuss the localisation and upcoming release of Diamond & Pearl there. Encouraged by what he saw, Masuda reminded readers how the games “include the function of an ultimate trading system called Global Trade Station! You will be able to trade with people in North America!” Adding “[i]t’s just exciting only to think about it!!”2 Clearly, universal Pokémon trading was much on his mind, and it appears the idea for a simultaneous, trans-national GTS exhange event found its genesis there and then, on American soil.

When Diamond & Pearl landed in North America in April 2007, players there, too, instantly embraced GTS. Masuda took notice, writing how “[e]specially in North America, the WiFi connection rate is high.”3 So, by way of reward, incentive, or both, it was decided to hold a simultaneous GTS exchange on either side of the Pacific. The Daisuki Club would distribute to Japanese players 90 Heracross bearing the names of US Nintendo staff. And Nintendo of America (NoA) would trade away 90 – you guessed it! – Psyduck, carrying the names of three iconic GameFreak staff: Ken (けン) for Ken Sugimori, GameFreak’s lead artist; ShigeShige (しげしげ) for Shigeki Morimoto, the franchise’s Battle Director; and Jun (ジュン)… For Junichi Masuda.

GameFreak Psyduck
August 19-23 & 26-30, 2007

Getting the word out would require him to speak a few lines of English, though. In mid-August 2007, a “Creator” Psyduck event announcement went live on Pokemon-games.com, and it included a video message from the man himself. In English. Masuda later revealed how it was initially planned for him to speak Japanese to the camera (and be subtitled), but, to better connect with the American target audience, the GameFreak crew decided on a last-minute switch to English.4 Yup, they took this seriously! A language coach helped Masuda straighten his pronunciation. After, by his own admission, practicing “many times”, GameFreak settled for this video. And thanks to the magic of the internet, it survives. Hurrah! (Incidentally, is this the only clandestine “GameFreak Direct” we’ve ever had?!)

 

The initiative went over rather well with the US Pokémon community. One messageboarder wrote how a “giveaway on the GTS” was “sweet” and “something new for a change”.5 Some needed enlightening who exactly were Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori.6 Not so forum user RiderLeangle, who astutely observed the distribution’s special varnish: “Alone, a Japanese Psyduck means nothing[.] But this could be from the CREATORS of Pokemon[.] If that’s not awesome I don’t know what i[s]!”7

Snagging a special Psyduck, however, wouldn’t prove so simple. A mere “90 Psyducks (30 from each) w[ould] be traded on the GTS in 10 days.” This was an incredibly small number, both in absolute and relative terms: within five days of its US release, Diamond & Pearl sold over a million copies, half of which pre-orders.8 The eligible playerbase was therefore enormous; the announcement’s assertion that players would have “plenty of chances” to get a Creator Psyduck a touch delusional. Meaningful as the initiative was to Masuda and GameFreak at large, it was in practice more of a commemorative publicity stunt to encourage players to use global WiFi, and not at all designed to actually deliver a piece of history to a reasonable proportion of fans.

At least the process was easy: deposit an English Ponyta on the GTS during the distribution window and request a Psyduck of any level and gender. Ken’s your uncle. Came August 19, participants did all they could to improve their odds, including thinning out the competition. As one TwilightBlade wrote: “I haven’t gotten a Gamefreak Psyduck yet… Too busy stealing people’s Ponyta with my ugly Psyduck army.”9 Fellow hopefuls didn’t take kindly to this cheeky competition strategy. But, all’s fair in love and Pokémon, right? In the grand scheme of things, flooding the GTS with self-caught Psyduck was a fairly harmless method to eliminate the opposition. Far more malicious were the select few who circulated fake Ken, Jun and Shigeshige Psyduck of every level, in every ball, with every met location to trick people into thinking they’d gotten a real one. And this, in the long run, turned out to be a true double-edged sword.

You see, as part of the event’s appeal, GameFreak duly published the Trainer Names & IDs of their Psyduck in advance. But no more than that, making the available information both awfully specific and suitable for hacks, and awfully vague at the same time. Without knowledge of defining characteristics and fakes out the wazoo, who could even know what a real Creator Psyduck was supposed to look like? This was not a prize contest in the Daisuki mold, which at least had their distribution specifics (like level, and nickname) announced behind closed doors and, in some instances, only after the competition had concluded. Moreover, the Daisuki Pokémon all carried Mail. GameFreak Psyduck did not (we think); they were themselves the prize, and without attached Mail, there was (and is) no external way to validate their authenticity. The Trade Station’s giant “Geonet” dot would presumably have indicated that an authentic Psyduck came from Tokyo, Japan, but otherwise…

To a preservationist, then, the distribution design is a true headache. (Get it?) Even in 2007, players couldn’t decide what an authentic GameFreak Psyduck looked like, and to this day, the conundrum hasn’t been satisfyingly solved. Take for example the simple aspect of the Psyducks’ level. Was each of the 90 Psyduck bred and hatched, caught (say, in the Great Marsh), or generated through a Wonder Card? The distribution page did not – and would not – say. As such they could theoretically range anywhere from Lv.1 as fresh hatches, to their mid-Lv.20s as Marsh catches, or even the full breadth of Lv.1-100, if raised up to some random marker (like the mini-Daisuki) or procedurally generated. As early as August 23, a PokeCommunity user by the name of “ufo” sought to ascertain the Psyducks’ technical info, asking if anyone knew “where it was caught or whether its fateful encounter or not?” Through September 1, ufo fruitlessly continued to look for confirmation, ultimately concluding that the Lv.1 Psyduck already in circulation were likely not authentic.10

Which, if correct, is a problem. Our only two serious contenders for authenticity are a Jun (Bashful) and Ken (Bold), and both are Lv.1. They admittedly are very strange. Their met locations are Solaceon Town, which is Diamond & Pearl’s breeding hub. Yet their Secret IDs (SID) aren’t the randomly-generated numbers one would expect to see, but rather all zeroes (00000). Which could equally indicate some shoddy hackjobs, or, if we assume the pair is in fact authentic, the rather bizarre use of a Wonder Card to mimic Pokémon hatched from eggs. Ninety total Pokémon is a decent number to hatch by hand, and I very much doubt that Masuda, Sugimori and Morimoto had that kind of time, even for a commemorative event. Perhaps a staffer took care of it. Or, perhaps, a useful shortcut was found in a crummy Wonder Card. Who is to say.

In verifying authenticity, we can approach the issue from another angle: who put Bashful Jun and Bold Ken into circulation? Were they upstanding, dependable members of the Pokémon community? For Bashful Jun, the answer seems to be “yes”. It was obtained by one NovaX on August 24, cloned and traded out the following day. Other traders “really wanted it”.11 For Bold Ken, the answer is a touch more complicated, since it’s not entirely clear exactly who pulled it off the GTS. It may have been one Tri-Edge, who traded it to ufo on August 24, who then passed it onto NovaX in a duck-for-duck exchange.12 This Bold Ken was in a “Pokeball lv.1 hatched in [S]olaceon”.13 These earliest two Psyduck traded on PokeCommunity both had SID 00000.14 Interestingly, what became of Bold Ken is uncertain, as it lost ground to a Careful Ken of unknown origin that became ubiquitous. An untraceable Sassy Shigeshige, too, was around by late August.

The sad reality is that there’s no (surviving) hard evidence to anchor the notion that Psyduck was Lv.1, not on Pokecommunity, Neoseeker, the poorly archived GameFAQs, nor any other trade forum and especially official sources. I choose to believe that where’s smoke is fire, but… It’s equally possible that all earliest SID 00000 Psyduck were hacks, with later Psyduck harmonised to look like them. Who is to say that authentic Ken, Jun and Shigeshige Psyduck weren’t “just a regular Psyduck caught in [the] Great Marsh and lv.26”?15. One contemporary news source did say there would be “many levels and genders”…16

Do we have no other leads at all, then? Just one. A spike6958 claimed to have gotten a Jun Psyduck by August 26.17 It’s unclear if he ever put it into circulation. Another user by the handle of Jav829 tried his hardest to trade spike6958 for it, offering a Ken Psyduck (or literally anything else), but spike6958 wrote he preferred Jun to Ken, and was not normally interested in event Pokémon, only now because these were Creator Psyduck: “I don’t like events[,] I only got this one c[a]use I thoug[ht] it would be cool to own a Pokémon caught by one of the creators of the games”.18 And with that, we’ve come full circle.

Nintendo of America “Daisuki” Heracross
August 20-24 & 27-31, 2007

It’s another Daisuki distribution! And in a familiar refrain… We know far too little about it. No, seriously. Most of the would-be primary sources have gone poof. Why was Heracross chosen, of all Pokémon? No idea!

The distribution was a bit of an… Odd duck. It ran parallel to Creator Psyduck, yet it was more a false mirror image than full complement. The event offered a special Nintendo of America (NoA) Heracross, so you’d expect Nintendo’s US-based, Seattle offices to be tasked with sending these into the ether, right? Nope. Japan’s Daisuki Club implemented NoA Heracross, and it followed their model of Mail-based prize contests. NoA staff just lent their names, and Daisuki handled the logistics. Fun fact: Creator Psyduck was the only GTS distribution to date not managed by the Daisuki Club!

Palkia Stylus, indicative only…

So, to have a shot at a bombtastic “Tom”, “Seth” or “Christy” Heracross straight from America (ahum), players were asked to deposit a Japanese Roselia of either gender, Lv.10+, holding Air Mail. Ninety total Heracross were traded out over two weeks at a rate of 3×3 Pokémon per working day. Collective memory has it that all Heracross were freshly hatched in or around Diamond & Pearl’s Solaceon Town on August 19, with a conspicuous absence of eye-catching moves. And all seem to have carried an EasyChat message on exclusive Brick Mail. As always, these Mails contained Pokémon keywords that could be entered in a drop-down menu on a dedicated section of the Daisuki website, confirming the lucky recipient as a prize winner. Or… Not quite, this time. Only 12 special gifts were available. Surely, if the gift wasn’t guaranteed, it must’ve been exceedingly valuable! Well… It was a “DS stylus pen” (DSスタイラスペン), seemingly outfitted with a spring-mounted, bobblehead-style figurine of either Dialga or Palkia on top (see image).19 Terrific.

That we know this much technical detail is a minor miracle, for Heracross’ primary sources fail us completely. Take Pokemon.co.jp, which looks to have had the scoop with an event announcement on August 10. A surviving headline bears witness to it, reading: “At the Pokémon Daisuki Club, GTS exchange with American trainers!” What’s supremely frustrating, however, is how this hugely promising article wasn’t archived. The Wayback crawler skipped it on a first pass, and by the time it returned to take a full(er) snapshot of the Pokémon news archive, the event was over and the page had been taken down. This is an eternal pity, for the article included a video featuring NoA’s Seth, pitching Heracross directly to the Japanese audience by, presumably, speaking in Japanese. I’ve searched high and low for this video, to no avail. If anyone has it, or knows where to find it, please get in touch.20

Naturally, the Daisuki Club itself also put out a more detailed newspiece, most likely on August 17 and possibly concurrent with the Creator Psyduck announcement over on Pokémon-games.com.21 This particular text covered exchange specifics and who knows what else – as we discussed at length in the “mini-Daisuki” article, all the Club’s content was shielded by a login portal and therefore not archived (either). Any coverage on Nintendo.com was lost due to the website running on Flash, which was incompatible with archival trawlers of the time.

Right. So, with official sources dead, perhaps the (in)famous Japanese 2channel forums will help us capture the mood of the Heracross distribution. And certainly, discussion of the event occupied a good chunk of Daisuki Thread #20.22 Just one day into the distribution, on August 21, the first mention of a possibly authentic Tom Heracross was made. Poster 677 provided details of a “Tom” Heracross with Glass Mail (グラスメール), and shared the Mail template to boot. Unfortunately, it was quickly identified as an elaborate forgery. The Heracross’ attached message followed a template that made little sense, did not exclusively contain Pokémon names,23 and was composed on Glass Mail rather than Brick Mail. Poster 689 shared another fake Mail attached to an equally fake Heracross. Poster 720 received a Seth Heracross with Mail that named only Pokémon, but the input on the Daisuki site failed – his stagbeetle held spoofed Tunnel Mail, not the official Brick Mail. Poster 747 even got a counterfeit Tom with rare Mosaic Mail, a variety unobtainable by normal means.

Surveying the happenings in the thread, Poster 739 commented on August 22 how, evidently, many hoax Heracross were being traded for deposited Roselia to “reduce rivals”.24 This perhaps didn’t come as a surprise to participants, since select 2channellers had organised a formal “spanner in the works” campaign. No great secret was made of this scheme, and a dedicated Heracross interference thread proposed that anyone looking to “participate in the jamming but can’t because you don’t have Roselia … please pick up [a Roselia here].”25 Daisuki Thread #20 described the devilish plan as “intricate mischief” or “elaborate pranks”, depending on your favoured translation.26 As Poster 856 added, Daisuki WiFi Corner data showed that the regions of Kagoshima, Osaka, Hiroshima in particular were putting out large numbers of fake Lv.1 Heracross and exchanging them with deposited Roselia.27

A week into the competition, the initial buzz died down as players began taking stock of participation success, or rather the want of it. On August 27, Poster 830 posed the public question whether anyone at all had gotten a real Heracross, to which replied Poster 834 by saying he possibly did, and had (successfully) entered the Mail contents on the Daisuki website.28 He / she attached an image link, which is long since dead.29 Poster 842 also came forward, stating they received both a Seth and a Tom Heracross principally similar to Poster 830’s, likely referring to the long-lost image. Indeed, whatever Poster 834 showed off appears to have been the real deal, with later forum users (like 865) asking whether anyone else got something comparable, but no-one else did. Sadly, we can’t ascertain what the separate Heracross of Posters 834 and 842 looked like, and equally don’t know whether they were cloned and traded out as collector’s items, or never circulated beyond their original owners.

While the 2channel discussions make for a fascinating parable of the trials and tribulations in chasing an authentic NoA Heracross, it leaves us none the wiser on their specs. Other outside sources are unfortunately of little help. One committed blogger prepared 80 Roselia for trade and, some weeks later, reported to have gotten a Seth Heracross, but concluded crestfallen it was likely a fake. He provided zero specifics of the Pokémon or its Mail.30 Fast-forward two years, and another blogger proudly shared an image of their “Christy” Heracross, which plainly had the wrong TID.31 This is entirely emblematic of our communal level of understanding: we simply don’t have any hard sources for something as elementary as TID, let alone less visible details such as met date, met location, hidden identifiers, or even this particular Daisuki Mail template.

So let me leave you with this. If you made it this far into the article, surely you must be wondering by now: Seth who? Tom who? Christy who? Ah! This, at least, I can answer. Seth Heracross is likely named for Seth McMahill, a longtime playtester, localisation technician and developer for Pokémon whose career spanned the Stadium games down to X&Y.32 “Tom” may or may not reference Tom Wayland, renowned Pokémon voice actor and director for the English anime dub.33. And Christy? No idea!

  1. “Hidden Power of Masuda – Director’s Columns, Entry 55, December 28 2005, https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir_english/2005/12/index.html
  2.  Post 63, December 5 2006, https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir_english/2006/12/index.html
  3.  “特に北米の方々はWi-Fi接続率が高いそうです”, Entry 88, 2007/06/15: https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir/2007/06/index.html
  4.  Post 97, August 22 2007, https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir_english/2007/08/index.html
  5.  https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2794335#post2794335
  6.  Which is an interesting throwback to the pre-social media era and a keen reminder that the brains behind Pokémon franchise weren’t always household names; https://www.neoseeker.com/forums/24412/t985532-how-know-if-have-legit-gamefreak-psyduck
  7.  RiderLeangle, August 22, https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=102601
  8.  https://www.gamespot.com/articles/ds-pokymons-caught-1-million-times/1100-6169770
  9. TwilightBlade, August 26 2007,
    https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=103354
  10.  See: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=10365
  11.  See: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2800990#post2800990; and https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2813076#post2813076
  12.  Tri-Edge trade with ufo: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=102908
  13.  Inferred from: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=103803; and
    https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=102601&page=2
  14.  Evident from: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2816646#post2816646
  15.  https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2811897#post2811897
  16.  “レベルや性別は多数あり”, http://park3.wakwak.com/~pokepale/news/0/old/7/z7_007_01.htm
  17.  https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2809323#post2809323
  18.  See: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=103290&page=3. Note that spike6958 wrote on September 6 that he might trade the Ken Psyduck after all, or perhaps he was just looking to flaunt: https://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=2863354#post2863354
  19.  It could yet have been separate figurine entirely, I’m not positive on the translation: “”応募することでディアルガ(またはパルキア)のフィギュアが付いた「DSスタイラスペン」が12名に貰えます。” Source is: http://park3.wakwak.com/~pokepale/news/0/old/7/z7_007_01.htm
  20.  “ポケモンだいすきクラブで、GTSを使ってアメリカのトレーナーとポケモン交換しちゃおう!”, on its erstwhile URL: http://www.pokemon.co.jp/info/hotnews/n070810_01.html
  21. Per 2channel’s Daisuki Thread #20, Post 696 & 697:
    http://jump.5ch.net/?www.pokemon.jp/portal/html/access/count30.html; and https://www.pokemon.jp/portal/html/access/count30.html
  22.  Find it here: http://game11.5ch.net/test/read.cgi/poke/1185955630/?v=pc
  23.  In particular, the Mail’s final stanza was incompatible with the Daisuki mold: “この ○○○ は, ○○○ でしょ!” or “This () is (), isn’t it?”, translated to English EasyChat
  24.  “絶対ライバル減らしにたくさんヘラ流してるヤシいるな”.
  25.  http://game11.5ch.net/test/read.cgi/wifi/1187264690?v=pc
  26.  込んだイタズラや
  27.  “鹿児島、大阪、広島、福岡の香具師がLv.1の偽へらクロスを大量放出してロゼリアと交換している模様”
  28.  “本物かどうかはわからんけど来たよ。一応応募はした。”
  29.  http://vista.undo.jp/img/vi8822094836.jpg
  30.  See:https://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/ratewitch/diary/200708220000/; and https://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/ratewitch/diary/200709090000/
  31.  http://lifeofpokemon.blog38.fc2.com/blog-entry-13.html
  32.  See, for example: https://m.imdb.com/name/nm2140131; and
    https://www.wired.com/2012/03/seth-mcmahill-i-choose-you-to-play-pokepark2; and https://youtu.be/dQNYvKj6Rww
  33.  https://m.bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Tom_Wayland