I'll give this a go.
- What makes a good/bad Pokémon design to you?
I couldn't begin to start. First, I believe that ugly != bad. An ugly design can still be a great design; back in gen V (and even now) Garbodor got a lot of trash talk (heheh) for being ugly, and many translated their dislike as being "poorly designed". But idk if any other design would get the idea across more. It's a monster made of garbage. How beautiful do you expect it to get? It's goofy, and nonthreatening, and functions in the Poke-universe. You won't hear complaints from me about Garbodor. Similarly, scale of complexity != scale of quality. While I don't necessarily appreciate every Pokemon's design quirks (mega Garchomp's extraneous spikes, aurorus's ice crystals) and I don't always like the really simple designs (Persian), Pokemon on either end of the scale aren't automatically bad. (those qualities can play a part, but they're rarely gonna be the core reason behind a good or bad design.)
This is a working theory, but off the top of my head, if I wanted to quantify design I'd have to do it in terms of Concept, Execution, and Context. Each of those is pretty subjective, but IMO it helps to break it down.
- Are there any Pokémon designs you like or dislike for specific reasons? Can you point out exactly what the designers did right/wrong?
I don't like the Genie trio as a whole.
Not because of their human qualities, the world of Pokemon is varied and interesting and I see no reason why we can't have Pokemon that look more humanshape. Specifically I dislike them because they are carbon copies of each other, sans colour and a few features. [Execution]. ESPECIALLY since the BW sprites (their debuts) were ACTUALLY COPIED, pixel for pixel, before being changed in key areas. This offends me on a I-survived-the-great-Sonic-OC-apocalypse-of-2009 level. I also dislike them because they contributed pretty significantly to power creep, with few if any flaws and great attributes in battle, and flaws make a 'mon as much as their strengths do. Older trio or non-box legendaries don't tend to age as well saving meta-trends (Raikou) or new features (Raikou) and I much prefer it that way. (the opposite leads to last year's VGC.)
Separately, their formes do a lot to alleviate those reasons. Torn-T gets a pass for being really bloody interesting across the board, if not necessarily pretty. Thun-T isn't quite as good as Thun-I but is still pretty unique, and... fuck, I still can't like Landorus-T. Landorus is very clearly a tiger. A legendary tiger. Raikou is also a well-known legendary tiger and it looks badass, with a great balance of simple and complex features and raw character. Lando-T looks like Landorus molded into a tiger shape. It does
, though. I have to fail it on [Context] and loosely [Concept], since it hasn't got enough in its visual design to claim a niche outside of tiger-that-floats, so it's forced into a battle it can't win versus Raikou, who has had longer to fill the niche and commits to it more. Also, it's a total douche in VGC and that plays a very significant part of my dislike for its design even outside of how it looks. Seriously, game devs, flaws. C'mon.
A few of the Pokemon I don't like "fail" for specific reasons. Unfezant, for [context] and [execution]. Conceptually, it's a bird, we need those in a new gen, and gen V kind of ran with the gen-1 expy thing so I don't mind it filling another land-based avian. And the gender difference is cool. Unfortunately, that is literally all it has going for it
. It competes with every other regular bird in the series, of which there are many, and has zero redeeming qualities outside of the mask that it only wears *half* the time. Staraptor was designed to be intimidating, (helped by Intimidate of course) Swellow to be swift. They have clearly communicated quirks and niches, backed up by their abilities in battle. Unfezant... is a large bird? ....??????? Jeez. Yeah, definitely not a good design.
It's easier to define someone's ideas by what they don't like than what they do, and I can find things to like about 99.9% of every Pokemon, so I won't discuss the positives.
- How do other aspects of the Pokémon work with or against the design? Can movepool, abilities, lore or the design basis affect the way you view a Pokémon design? That is, can it ruin an otherwise good design, or remedy a bad one?
Absolutely. See above for the in-battle parts. I view a Pokemon's abilities outside of its appearance as an important part of a design, since, well, it is part of how to design a Pokemon. They all come with a function, even if that function is "to be the butt of a joke/pretty lame." That's a valid function. Lore comes into this. [Concept] Honestly there's a lot of people who will choose favourites based purely on their appearances and then judge would-be Smogonites for having competitively viable favourites. But I'd imagine that those people haven't considered "not judging a book by its cover", no?
- For a long time, we've been used to see Pokémon in sprites only, but now 3D models have entered the main series games (console games nonwithstanding). Do you think some Pokémon made this transition better or worse than others? Were Pokémon troubled by bad sprites finally justified when seen in glorious 3D? Or did the 3D transition reveal that the Pokémon only looked good in specific poses from specific angles?
It's hard to appreciate how flat Stunfisk is until you see it in 3D. It's flat. It's really, really flat.
Something I noticed while playing XY is that moving away from sprites lets GF mess around with Gradients. I don't think Aurorus would have been able to work as well pre Gen 6 as it does now. No complaints from me since this is pretty well covered by everyone else!
No but seriously get a load of how flat stunfisk is. So flat!
- Have you ever immediately liked/disliked a Pokémon when you first saw it, only to change your mind after seeing the Pokémon in a different pose/setting, or learning a new aspect of its lore or design background?
My gut reaction on seeing the starters was disappointment, but it probably always has been? Outside of gen 6 when I actually immediately liked all of the starters. It's a combination of factors. Litten... was a little fake-mon-y. Just in the sense of being a cat without any of the classic (or rather, common) starter features, e.g. large head and large anime eyes. E.G Fennekin. Not that a starter needs those, it was just an instinctive feeling based on prior patterns. Rowlet was just a total curveball for a starter. Grass owl? One that wasn't mostly green? Don't think anybody would have guessed that. But it really works as a design, I was just surprised at first. And Popplio... poor Popplio. In an alternate universe I'd totally really like it, but... [Context]. You can't see it and not immediately think of Oshawott, Samurott or the other assorted seal/sea lion Pokemon. Spheal did the whole ball-thing ages ago, and Samurott looks more like Popplio than Oshawott does, outside of the additional features. It suggests Shenanigans in the design department at Game Freak.
I actually like Samurott, so I'm not complaining, but it means either its evolution is going to deviate a lot
, which is risky, or not do so enough and risk being eternally compared to Samurott [context again]. The clown/circus performer aspect suggests the former, which is risky in itself because Clowns are, uhh... contentious.
As a trio, and as of right now, I don't feel they mesh particularly well. Their colour palettes are pretty muted, but not in a particularly coherent way, which contributed to the reflexive dislike. But we'll see where that goes, and separately they're fine.