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New Pokemon Snap’s Centralised Mechanic Misses The Point

New Pokemon Snap has a layered scoring system that – once you understand it – is fairly simple. There are four different star ratings, but these don’t determine quality so much as they do behaviour. Snap Pichu chilling? That’s one star. Capture it leaping out of a flower patch with a crown of petals? That’s a four star. There’s then various categories you’re scored in, and they determine a picture’s overall value – but this system doesn’t always lead to good photographs.

A major focus of this system is the Pokemon’s position. The closer it is to the middle, the better the score is. On one level, I get it. Professor Mirror and the rest of his pointless gang of photographers are not actually real people – thankfully, who’d want to be mates with them? – and so the pictures are not judged by humans. They’re judged by an AI, and therefore the calculation needs to be mathematical rather than purely aesthetic.

That means the systems need to be straightforward and easily quantifiable. The bigger a Pokemon is in the shot, the higher the score. The more Pokemon in the background, how directly it’s looking at the camera, and of course, how close it is to the middle, all determine how high your score is. These are concepts that are very easy to understand, and after a few runs of the Nature Park, you know exactly what the game expects of you.

Capturing each Pokemon so that they score highly in these categories (and across four different poses) is harder, but at least it doesn’t leave you scratching your head as to what the game wants. The star ratings can be harder to figure out; looking at a fluffruit is a one star, while looking with intent is a two star, even though the difference is imperceptible to the human eye. Meanwhile, because the timing needs to be incredibly precise, a four star action might reward a one star photo – the game has decided the window has closed, despite the ‘mon still doing the action on camera.

These though are just minor gripes. There needs to be some semblance of timing when it comes to a photography sim. But the centralised mechanic doesn’t really make sense, especially in a game that already fights hard against giving us a proper photo mode. When was the last time you saw a great nature shot that was just a dopey lion staring at the camera? When was the last time Vogue just had a model stand there and give a little wave? Photography – especially nature photography – is about capturing the stillness of motion. There needs to be a sense that the world is alive and moving, that we’ve stolen a glimpse at life.

Most basic photography theory is built on the rule of thirds or the golden ratio, and both of those feel like they could have been taken into consideration easily enough – especially thirds. Size, direction, and pose are good choices for New Pokemon Snap’s scoring system, but needing to have Pokemon in the middle just misses the point a little. It means too many great photos are going to be thrown out, and is another example of how New Pokemon Snap blows its chance of being a real bridge between photography and video games.

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