October 18, 2018

Milken student creates his own suburban version of ‘Pokémon Go’

As a lifelong fan of Pokémon computer games, 14-year-old Shane Brunswick couldn’t wait to play the much-hyped “Pokémon Go” when it debuted in July. But when the teenager, who attends Milken Community Schools, tried out the game in his suburban Sherman Oaks neighborhood the day it was released, his hopes were dashed. 

“Pokémon Go” allows players to use mobile phones to locate and capture virtual creatures as they walk around and discover places in the real world. Players find different types of creatures depending on their location, and each species has its own point value. In Sherman Oaks, though, Shane could only find one type of creature: a brown- and cream-colored bird called a Pidgey, a low-level species that earns players very few points. 

“I was really disappointed when I found out that the game would be so hard to play in my local area,” Shane said. “I noticed that there were a lot of similar complaints online, so I thought: Why don’t I make a game that parodies this version of ‘Pokémon Go’ that I seem to be experiencing?”

That’s exactly what he did. For a week, Shane shut himself in his bedroom, taught himself how to use the programming language JavaScript and used it and the internet to figure out how to create an online game. With his newfound knowledge, Shane turned his vision into a reality, designing a game he’s called “Pokémon: Suburban Version.”

In contrast to the real “Pokémon Go,” Pidgeys are the star characters in Shane’s “Suburban Version.” Players earn points by colliding with and collecting flying Pidgeys, and only Pidgeys. They also have to dodge “version updates,” a jab at “Pokémon Go” developer Niantic’s frequent technical alterations to the game, another aspect that Shane said has frustrated players. The “Suburban Version” can be played online from anywhere and is in a 2-D platform, not an augmented-reality game like the original. 

“It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek way of trying to get the message to Niantic that they need to fix this issue in suburban and rural communities,” Shane said. “They need to put in these more valuable Pokémon so that kids can enjoy the game.”

So far, Shane hasn’t heard from Niantic. But his game has generated interest from all corners of the globe. Since he launched “Pokémon: Suburban Version” this summer, the game has been played about 170,000 times, he said. People have picked up the game in various parts of the United States, and also in China and Japan, where the lack of variety in Pokémon characters is also a point of contention, Shane said. He has received feedback and praise about the “Suburban Version” from other disgruntled players and has even been featured on news sites such as Yahoo News.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of positive comments. A lot of people say it really does capture their experience playing ‘Pokémon Go,’ ” Shane said. “This is a global issue for everyone playing ‘Pokémon Go.’ Everyone is really frustrated by it.”

Shane’s mother, Doris Perl Brunswick, said she and her husband, Glen, were amazed when they realized what their son had been up to in his bedroom over the summer. Doris Brunswick said she’d been urging Shane to spend less time on the computer, and though he’d been interested in computing and attended some computer programming camps before, she was unaware of the scope of the project he was working on. 

“I couldn’t believe he actually had the skills to put together something like that. And when he told us that he went out and registered the domain name and he made his own website, we were really impressed,” she said. “When he came down and said there was an article written about him, then I was shocked. I thought, Oh, my gosh, from just spending time in the summer in your room and coming up with this game … It was hard to believe.” 

Gary Weisserman, head of school at Milken Community Schools, said he also is impressed by Shane’s accomplishment. He said students at Milken are encouraged to pursue their individual passions and be entrepreneurial, and Shane exemplifies that. Weisserman said he was particularly impressed with the way Shane was able to tackle the problem he identified with “Pokémon Go” with humor, and to do that when he is only in ninth grade.

“I think it’s incredibly cool for a kid to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to make my point in a very tech-savvy and slightly funny way,’ ” Weisserman said. “He’s the kind of kid we’re very, very proud of and we’re thrilled that he’s doing such things. My guess is this is far from the last newspaper story you’re going to read about him.”