March 20, 2020

GTS Fun! Heavy Metal!

Snake. Snaaaake. Aah! It’s a snaaaake.

Did you know that in Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver, you get to exchange Pokémon with Gym Leaders? How cool is that! One of them is Jasmine’s pensioned Steelix, nicknamed Rusty. Because that’s totally what you want your Steelix to be – oxidised and corroded, and might give rival Pokémon lockjaw during battle. Guess he’s not stainless.

I didn’t find any Rusty on the GTS. But I did find many, many lustrous, polished, shiny Steelix from the smokestacks region of Galar.

Like Torkoal, Steelix meets all criteria for relative abundance. It appears in two Wild areas under all weather conditions (at Lv.60). It’s in 3* to 5* Max Raid battles (Lv.35-59) in six different Dens (Torkoal is in eight). And most importantly, It’s unsightly and unloved, and people can’t wait to get rid of the disappointing shiny Steelix that, with a touch better luck, could have been a Tyranitar or Duraladon.

I didn’t quite get to 100 time, mostly because my HOME sub lapsed, free Bank trial expired, and I can’t be bothered to sink more money into either service. Did you know that if you’re no longer subbed to HOME, the platform doesn’t permit you to even look at whatever’s in cloud storage? The Pokémon are rendered invisible and simply not available for display, as though they’re absent entirely. It’s disgraceful.

In any case, here’s 63 metallic snakes.


I was also able to GTS-trade for three dozen Onix, two dozen Delibird and Cloyster, and a few Shellder – all Pokémon that lack eye-appeal, are terrible in battle, and won’t win any popularity contests even as they’re omnipresent in Dens. I can’t show ’em to you, because HOME won’t let me view them anymore. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that, like Steelix, trading for them was smooth sailing.

Now, each successive generation of Pokémon games has, in some way, made (subsets of) shinies vastly more obtainable and simply less rare. XY’s Friend Safari revolutionised overworld shiny hunting, pinning odds at 1/512 for dozens of different and mostly desirable species of Pokémon, your selection limited only by the number of 3DS friend slots. USUM’s Ultra Wormholes made 20 Pokémon readily available as shiny at mouth-watering odds of one in three (!).1 Even Generation II, which pioneered the shiny, had an odds-boosting technique. (Breed with a shiny Ditto for best results!)

Yet it feels like with Sword & Shield, GameFreak has crossed the Rubicon. For streamers and casual players alike, finding a shiny is no longer an “if” but a “when”, less a lucky privilege and more an inevitability, a certainty. To quote the timeless mockumentary Spinal Tap, shiny accessibility has been turned up to 11. The numbers tell the story. Thanks to chaining and the Masuda Method, coupled with the Shiny Charm, odds for both overworld encounters and breeding are now a uniform 1/512. (Up from 1/4096 not long ago.) Dens are theoretically still locked at odds of 1/4096 for a shiny, but in practice seed-finding and bots have made it fairly simple to manipulate shiny Dens, which moreover can then be shared with countless other players. This “RNG made easy” may be why Den shinies are so ubiquitous on the GTS.

To emphasise: we’re talking GTS trading here, that infamous, somewhat dysfunctional dumping ground for undesirables. Yet I was able to first pull 420+ shiny Magikarp off of it, then over a 100 shiny Torkoal, and now dozens of Steelix, Onix, Cloyster and Delibird. All legitimate, all untouched. The GTS itself hasn’t changed – it’s inefficient and borderline broken as ever – what’s changed is the increased availability of clean, honest shiny Pokémon for trade. A corner’s been turned in the shiny’s ongoing evolution, no doubt about it.

This shiny devaluation, if you want to call it that, clearly has implications for the franchise going forward. I think it’s illustrative how GameFreak has already seen fit to tack a second layer of rarity onto shiny calculations, effectively separating them out into two variants. I’m talking, of course, about the square shinies that sparkle a bit differently, just enough to be noticeable. By virtue of its PID-derived formula, only one out of every sixteen shinies will be square. Which, not at all coincidentally, marks a return to ye’ olde baseline rarity of 1/8192, assuming the shiny was caught with odds of 1/512. (If not, you’re not hunting right.)2 Undoubtedly, some other innovation will follow in Gen IX or X to keep players chasing that digital unicorn – an ultra-rare rainbow shiny, perhaps, or a dynamicshiny™ that adapts to weather conditions. (Not gonna lie, that sounds pretty cool, even if it’s my own idea.)

More broadly, it’s a tad surreal just how much playing Pokémon has been reduced to hunting shinies. Yes, Pokémon has always been about dice-rolls, finding that 1% encounter or breeding the IVs you want. Still it’s apparent how hard Sword & Shield are leaning into nakedly mathematical gacha-like “roll the dice for this artificially rare thing” elements to keep players engaged to the exclusion and sacrifice of everything else. The main adventure is sleep-inducing, bereft of surprises. Characters at times feel copy-pasted from Gen VII. (Was it Hau or Hop?) And the postgame is MIA. It wasn’t always this way. Growing up I was fascinated by the journey and meaningful sense of adventure Pokémon games provided. I didn’t give a hoot about Pokémon surface pigments. That Golden Magikarp was just a quirk, a sideshow to the meat of the experience. My favourite entries in the franchise are easily the ones with some narrative weight to them: the artistic, character development-oriented BW/B2W2; Ruby / Sapphire, with its philosophical tug-of-war over the direction of a changing world, and (surprise!) Generation I, which compensates for its clunky mechanics with clever, charming and at times profound writing.

Perhaps, informed by the (relative) commercial failures of RSE and BW/B2W2 plus the exigencies of deadline-driven development where inexhaustible content is king, Pokémon simply doesn’t want to prioritise story anymore and is happy to be a chiefly mechanistic game instead, with shinies as the poster child. Which makes me sad. How long before we realise that at odds of 1/512, palette swaps are no longer something to be excited about? And then what is left, or will take its place?

  1.  36%, to be exact.
  2.  Any shiny transferred from the Virtual Console will be square shiny.