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Inside The Monster Hunting MMO That Was Shaped Around Pokémon Franchise's Weaknesses

Temtem's director shares how frustration with Pokémon VGC's battles changed his game

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Artwork showing Temtem's Pokémon-alikes, running across some grass.
Image: Crema

When monster-catching RPG Temtem debuted in January 2020, Spanish studio CremaGames had a pretty simple plan: Launch the game in Early Access, use that to support ongoing development, and, a couple years down the line, bring out version 1.0. But as is often the case with plans of this nature, what may be simple in theory is seldom so in execution. We recently had a chat with Temtem game director Guillermo Andrades about the difficulty of balancing Early Access, the backlash to the game’s recently added Battle Pass, and why Crema believes its game deserves to be seen as so much more than a Pokémon clone.

“There wasn’t really anything to do in the game when you completed the campaign [early on],” says Temtem director Guillermo Andrades. “We ended up including some recurring activities because we saw our users were spending hundreds of hours playing the barebones content.”

Temtem is an MMO that takes the traditional Pokémon formula and attempts to make it its own. There are creatures to catch, tamers to defeat, and bad guys to batter—but there are also plenty of novel ideas that make it a worthy contender to Game Freak’s beloved RPG series.

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Andrades is sure that Early Access was “the right way” to roll out Temtem, but If he were to do it over, he’d definitely make some changes. “Instead of putting the game into Early Access with less than 50% of the content,” the developer told Kotaku, “we would have waited until there was much more.” He’d also want at least some of the end-game material to be intact from the get-go, so that the most devoted Tamers wouldn’t have to spend the majority of their time waiting for future story patches. As a long-time player myself, I can personally attest to the pain of your in-game detective pal Carlos saying, “Let’s go get Clan Belsoto!” before seeing something to the effect of “... in a few months, because the folks in the studio haven’t actually developed that bit yet.”

Humble Games

That being said, Crema has learned many valuable lessons from putting Temtem through Early Access. The developers never expected people to stick around after reaching the end of each patch, so seeing tamers take to shiny-hunting (called Luma-hunting in Temtem) or grinding competitively viable Tems before there was even a competitive circuit, came as a shock. As Crema continued working on the game, players began to voice what they wanted to see in future updates. When you’re competing with behemoth RPG series like Pokémon, listening to what lapsed fans want from new experiments is a surefire way of exciting them—particularly when your competitor is as famously resistant to change as Game Freak.

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Perhaps this is why Andrades cites the inception of a dedicated customer support service as one of the most vital actions Crema took during development of Temtem. “Before the Early Access,” says Andrades, “we hadn’t even thought about needing a dedicated person for that, and after the release it was something that required our full attention immediately.” While this might not sound like the most exciting aspect of games development, if not borderline bureaucratic, it proved pivotal to the game’s ability to carve out its own identity. Without it, Temtem could have easily landed itself a plot in the ever-growing cemetery of on-the-nose monster-tamers.

When Temtem originally came out, people were quick to label it as yet another Pokémon clone. This made sense—if it walks, talks, and in the case of some creatures, squawks like the highest-grossing entertainment franchise of all time, it probably owes at least part of its existence to it. Interestingly, Temtem’s success could be largely attributable to the ways in which it digresses from the Pokémon formula. While Andrades maintains that it’s neither superior nor inferior to Pokémon (in his eyes, it’s more accurate to call it “different”), some of its most impressive features are direct answers to corresponding problems in other catch-’em-ups. More specifically, he talks about seeing a competitive player miss two 90%-accurate attacks in a row during an official Pokémon VGC tournament.

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“It felt truly horrible,” Andrades says. “After that, I started rethinking all the battle systems in order to remove every single bit of randomness and simplify everything to reduce the possible [battle] formats. So we could only focus on 2v2, which has the most depth for us.” This is also the official format for Pokémon VGC tournaments, although those games have a wider range, and the circuit changes with every new generation

“The decision worked out perfectly,” Andrades continues. “I think battles are one of the things that we really nailed in Temtem, and the system has allowed the community to create a small competitive scene that we’re really proud of and looking forward to expanding with the introduction of ‘Temtem Showdown’ in a future patch.”

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Officer Level Guard enjoys a damned fine cup of coffee.
Screenshot: Crema / Kotaku

At time of writing, Crema is in the process of developing several patches, the most prominent of which is tied to that Showdown feature. This is designed to revamp the current matchmaking system and make competitive play in general more approachable. According to Andrades, all players will be able to participate in the official ranked ladder without needing to personally spend hours grinding for the perfect squad. When you consider the success of fan-run battle simulator Pokémon Showdown, which allows people to build powerful teams in a matter of minutes, it’s no secret from where Temtem’s new feature borrows its name.

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Aside from that, Crema says that Temtem will continue to expand post-1.0 through future seasons. This will see the introduction of the third Mythical Tem—rare, powerful monsters that are remarkably similar to Legendary Pokémon, and another new area. However, they will be feeling cautious about any changes, given reception to another recently implemented feature has been polarizing, to say the least.

After the launch of version 1.0, Crema added a Battle Pass to Temtem, which promptly caused long-time players to advocate for review-bombing the game. The main issue they cited was that Temtem isn’t free-to-play, and that the upfront purchase price doesn’t suggest the game also features a premium currency locked behind this newly implemented payment structure.

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Talking as a player, I’ve always loved Battle Passes—the fact that a game has a Battle Pass is an enticement for me to play it,” says Andrades. “Talking as a developer, Temtem has some running costs as an MMO, but it only has an upfront payment. There are no subscription fees, so we needed to have an additional revenue stream to support that.”

Despite a lot of players not being happy, this is something Crema is sticking with. “Including a cosmetic Battle Pass that is entirely optional but could help some players get more out of the game has always been in our plans,” Andrades explained to me. “We know there are major concerns about these kinds of systems, so we tried to make it friendly by pricing it cheap, giving enough premium currency back, and only featuring customization options.”

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This of course doesn’t directly address players’ main concerns, and many will still be frustrated that the developers are not backing down from additional payments in a full-price game.

Temtem creatures face off in battle.
Screenshot: Crema / Kotaku
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Anything that affects a game’s internal economy is also an enormous endeavor for developers. Andrades cites designing and balancing Temtem’s player economy as the most precarious challenge the developers faced while building the game, and says it’s still just as difficult to maintain today. This is directly related to the Battle Pass in that, according to Andrades, Temtem’s economic structure is designed such that casual players can dip in and out of the game, while more hardcore Tamers are able to actively participate in its financial framework. He says that there are balance changes implemented to adjust the economy’s functionality in every single patch—after all, the game was conceived as an MMO from day one, so this is a fundamental building block in its very foundation.

The rest of the building blocks are slightly more surprising, especially given the perhaps unfair consensus that Temtem unapologetically lifts the majority of its structure straight from Pokémon. In fact, its inspirations are far more varied. Andrades says that the aesthetic is directly inspired by third-person strategic battler Gigantic, while the game’s competitive circuit was influenced by Rocket League. Hell, Pokémon isn’t even the only Nintendo game that Crema looked to for ideas: Zelda also played a role in informing the game’s Airborne Archipelago setting. Andrades even cited Destiny 2 as a game they mined for ideas. There’s a lot more going on under the hood than meets the eye.

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Still, Pokémon is the game’s most obvious and discernible point of comparison. However, what differentiates the two more than anything else is that Temtem is a markedly less forgiving experience than Pokémon. It actually looks as if it shares DNA with popular, notoriously difficult ROM hacks for the Game Freak games, although Andrades himself has never played one. He reckons any common ground that exists here is attributable to the fact that both endeavors are an attempt at creating something different to Pokémon, a series which has remained more or less constant over the last two and a half decades.

“ROM hacks are a way to add or edit those things, the same as developing a whole new game in the genre,” he says. “While Temtem differs a lot from Pokémon, this is most obvious if you spend quite some time with the game.”

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More than anything else, Andrades just wants people to play his game before they dismiss it as a clone. “If you are only judging it from the looks of it or what you can see without playing, then you’re going to think it’s a Pokémon rip-off. But we’ve always been upfront that Temtem is designed to attract Pokémon fans and offer something different that they might like.”