Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cloning, Splicing, and Cross-Breeding. Pokémon Geneticist!

So I may have made a huge mistake.

After doing some reading, apparently getting into competitive Pokémon battling is easier than ever with a few changes GameFreak has made to breeding, and thus I decided that this generation was going to be the one that I actually made a battle-ready team. Also partly because I’m tired of getting my butt handed to me in random online matches.

From there it was a steep, slippery slope to having hatched 90+ rejected Eevees.

Eevee are interesting because they have a lot of different evolutions.
In Pokémon, normally you play the happy-go-lucky role of the ten-year-old trainer who gallivants around the countryside, defeating children and the elderly alike and taking their lunch money. But once you’ve beaten the game and want to get into the competitive battle scene, you’re suddenly the biologist--cloning Pokémon, or cross-breeding them to get better genetics--and still beating the NPCs for their lunch money.

At its core, Pokémon is actually the most complicated game of Rock-Paper-Scissors you’ve ever seen. With eighteen types (from rock, fire, electric, and ice to psychic, dark, dragon, and fairy, for a few examples) rather than just rock, paper, and scissors, and the fact that at most each critter can only have four attacks of literally hundreds available, you have the underpinnings of an incredibly vibrant and complex metagame.

So why breed more Pokémon? What does it even get you? First of all, you can breed across some species, which allows you to get moves that a given Pokémon wouldn’t normally learn levelling up. While not all moves are capable of crossing that species divide, the increase in available move pool keeps people guessing. Secondly, Pokémon have different base stats, called IVs, or Individual Values. These are what a lot of people call a Pokémon’s “genes” (more accurately they’d be like the 2% of genes not shared by every member of that species, but close enough).

Conveniently, all Pokémon hatch from eggs. So stock up on eggs and run around to wait for them to hatch.
Now, when you do end up getting two critters to breed, you also end up getting Abilities, which are separate from attacks--each Pokémon can have only one Ability out of two or three available--and Nature, which is a sort of personality trait which further affects your stats. So every time you breed a Pokémon, you have to take into account what moves you’re passing down, ability, stats, and nature. That’s a lot of customization!

The hardest and most tedious part out of all this is definitely breeding for IVs. Each Pokémon has six stats (HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, Speed), and each stat has an IV value from 0 through 31. At maximum level, 31 in an IV means 31 extra points in that stat, which can be the difference between surviving that next attack, or defeating the other player in two attacks instead of three.

When you capture a Pokémon, these values are all random, unless you capture one from the new Friend Safari in Pokémon X and Y. These special critters start with a random two IVs maxed out at 31, with the rest randomized. Capturing a Pokémon with two 31’s is a 1 in 1024 chance, so starting out with that is a major time saver. I got my Eevee empire started out by getting lucky and capturing one from the wild with four IVs maxed. 1 in 1024 chance, which was amazingly lucky.

When you breed two Pokémon, like a true genetic algorithm of sorts, you end up get three IVs from random from the parents, and the other three are randomly generated. So choose three stats (say, Attack, Defense, and Speed), then for each stat, pick a parent at random. That IV is the one used for the child. Clearly the more maxed out IVs you have on both parents, the higher the chance you’ll get maxed out IVs on the child. And if you’re really lucky, the child will have some of both parents’ maxed out IVs (or get lucky and roll a natural 31).

Unless you use a Destiny Knot. You can make your Pokémon who you’re trying to breed hold items, and these items can affect the outcome of the child. An Everstone, for example, gives the child a 50% chance of inheriting the nature of the Pokémon holding the Everstone. The Destiny Knot causes five IVs to be selected from the parents instead of three! This makes the entire breeding process a lot less insane random.

I spend an awful lot of time circling this screen to hatch eggs... but it rotates so I just hold left and read a novel.
Still, in practice it can be pretty frustrating. I’ve got both parents with five perfect IVs right now, and still only about one in eight children come with five IVs itself. Lots of four IVs. Anything with less than four is junk to me. This all ends up leading to the slightly creepy destination of having a box filled with Eevee all named things like Sassy (4) and Jolly (5), delineating nature and how many perfect IVs they have. Certainly not cuddly friends anymore, but test subjects in my grand breeding program.

Jolly (5) was an excellent child. With only its Defense not being perfect, it may be a candidate for my team.

While the process is much, much easier than in previous generations, I think I’ve spent about six hours breeding these ninety Eevee, with pretty well seventy of them less than four IVs, so therefore away they go. Thankfully, the Wonder Trade feature has been an awesome siphon for excess critters. And I even got lucky a couple times and got other people’s breeding rejects, when I want to start in on other species. Even starting with three perfect IVs rather than two could save me a couple hours.

These aren't even the rejects. These all have 4+ perfect IVs. About six have 5 IVs, but not the correct natures.
We’ll see if this ends up being awesomely worth it. I have a couple teams planned, but they may take some work to get there, as noted above. Still, playing the amateur geneticist has been quite illuminating. I wonder if the metagame would hold as much allure if the cross-breeding grind was removed, however. There’s the fine line of just being given something versus building it on your own, but I’m not sure playing the random number generator via classic AI-style genetic algorithm is necessary.


  1. Haha, awesome! And there I thought *I* am bad with my 6 hatched Eevees in their own assigned box on the computer because I want to make a deck with the different evolutions (we're talking Pokémon Crystal, some of the evolutions of your picture above don't exist yet). Thanks for cheering up my day. ^^

    1. Pokékmania knows no boundaries! The Eevee project continues even now, albeit slowly. Crystal was classic.

      You're quite welcome, glad I could be of service. And thanks for the comment :)