Pixelmon is a mod I have held a passion for for many years, playing mostly in singleplayer mode. The Pixelmon team's unwavering commitment to delivering free, high-quality updates is nothing short of remarkable, and they have my utmost respect for their dedication. With that being said however, I have recently grown concerned with the implementation of Gyms in Pixelmon, and I believe there is more that could be done for this feature to explore its potential and better cater to more players of varying playstyles. I also hold some concerns that Pixelmon may not be giving singleplayer enough attention, and hopefully, this thread will inspire some ideas to change that in the form of gyms.
Gyms originate from the original Pokémon games and are a staple of the Pokémon experience. Gyms have found their way into Pixelmon and currently stand as a way for motivated players to challenge themselves with difficult battles. However, I have recently been considering whether this is the correct approach to implement such a well-known part of the Pokémon experience.
In the original Pokémon games, gyms appear as mandatory and (usually) linear points of progression where the player is given an opportunity to test their strength, They appear naturally in the story and upon beating a gym, you are rewarded with a gym badge, and a TM to teach a unique move to your Pokémon. This method of progression works perfectly for a linear game like Pokémon, however, when you try to transfer that concept to Minecraft, some problems arise.
Minecraft is an open-world sandbox game and is inherently non-linear, Progression comes in the form of tool and armour upgrades, but exploration and building are largely extrinsically motivating aspects of the game. As a result, implementing gyms in Minecraft, via Pixelmon has been approached as such: Every village that spawns in Minecraft has a chance to have a gym, every gym specialises in a different type, inside the gym is a variety of trainers, most of the time they will adapt to have the same level Pokémon that you currently have, this is to account for Minecraft's non-linear playstyle, where if gyms were set levels, the player may not find that gym until they are over-levelled, or maybe under-levelled at the time of finding the gym. Then there is the gym leader, who is usually considered "Legendary", The gym leader will always have Pokémon considerably higher levels to the player, even at level 100, the gym leader will break past the level cap and have Pokémon that are level 130, which as you may know, is impossible under normal conventions.
These gym teams boast competitive setups, including maximum IVs, EVs, optimal items, and strategic movesets. The AI is also intelligent, mimicking human player tactics by making effective switches and assessing threats. My experience with these gyms, even at lower levels, has left me with the belief that the current gym system in Pixelmon is not only challenging but, more importantly, unfun.
The reason for this is that In Pixelmon, the discovery of certain competitive items, the grinding and evolving of team members, the building of competitive movesets, and EV and IV training among many other things, is extremely slow and extremely luck based (For instance, you may have to hope a move tutor spawns, or hope you find a grotto that happens to have a competitive held item you require), which overall contributes to a LOT of time being spent building a competitive team, which is something more Pokémon players don't do in the original games, let alone in Minecraft. Usually, in Pokémon, you can face your first gym at level ~10, and the second at around level ~18, then ~25 and so on, because the usually linear progression allows for it, and over-levelling is not easy, but with Minecraft being open world, this poses problems. What this results in is being left with no choice but to tackle all of the gyms in Pixelmon at level 100, because the amount of prep work in order to beat these extremely competitive teams warrants it. So instead of gradually taking out gyms as you progress through Pixelmon, you are forced to leave them until the end-game where you must systematically and critically analyse their teams and plan specific playstyles and counters to beat them. Some players may like this, but it is such a deviation from tradition that a lot of casual players won't enjoy this experience. Perhaps the level of effort required to beat these gyms might be worth it, but outside of testing only the toughest and most dedicated competitive player's prowess, there is no reason to beat these gyms, which is not inherently or intuitively obvious. For a new player, you expect gyms to be just as important as they are in the main series, but based on what I've deduced, gyms only serve to be niche overpowered battle houses for competitively minded players, which doesn't make sense given how much of a staple gyms are to the Pokémon series. You might say it will soon become obvious to the player that they are geared towards competitive players, because of how quickly you will lose, but what they won't realise until a lot of grinding (or cheating) later, is they beat the gym leader and receive nothing (I believe you don't even receive a badge in 1.20, but that may be a glitch), which gives gyms even less reason to exist. I will reiterate that it is a shame that such a prominent feature in Pokémon should be left only to be an overly difficult boss rush aimed at only a portion of the player base when I believe it has a lot more potential than that.
The issue isn't merely the difficulty or lack of intuitiveness; it's that gyms are one of the few intrinsically motivating features in Pixelmon, yet they seem to lack a clear purpose. Players must invest a significant amount of time in discovering competitive items, grinding and evolving their team members, perfecting movesets, and training EVs and IVs—all of which are heavily luck-based. This extensive preparation necessitates building a competitive team, often forcing players to face gyms at level 100 to stand a chance.
I have heard some differing opinions expressed towards my criticism of gyms in Pixelmon, Some of those are:
- 1. Gyms are geared towards competitive players
- 2. It's in the scope of server owners and players to create their own gyms
- 3. Just ignore gyms if you are not competitive
While these points have their merits, addressing them requires a broader perspective:
- 1. Gyms, which are omnipresent in the original games, may benefit from a more inclusive approach that caters to a wider player base. Additionally, I think gyms have a lot more potential than simply being an end-game competitive player's battlehouse.
- 2. Shifting the onus onto the server owners and individual players is perhaps not a healthy way of approaching the problem. While it's true that the mod gives a large multitude of customisation options, not everybody knows how to do that, has the time, or even wants to do that, as they may feel it is cheating to modify the game or may play without cheats. You could refute any criticism with "Just learn to program and do it yourself" but that is not helpful. Using that same logic I might as well tell people who support competitive gyms to: "Go use Pokémon Showdown instead".
- 3. "Just ignore it if you're not competitive" Isn't a satisfactory solution, especially given gyms importance in the original games, having them be simply "there to be ignored" by casual players is a waste of potential. There's a balance to be struck here that benefits everyone.
So how can we improve Gyms in the Pixelmon mod?
Here are some things I suggest:
- Higher Rewards: A common consensus was that Gyms should yield higher rewards, higher rewards would justify the amount of time it takes to build a team competitive enough to go to the effort of beating the gyms. Some ways of improving the loot might be the inclusion of rewards like bottle caps, TMs/TRs, rare minerals (such as diamonds, netherite, emeralds), XP Candy, Z Crystals, large rewards of enchanting levels for players, unique items specific to gyms, and more could serve as excellent incentives to go to the effort of beating the gyms.
- Progressive Gym System: Overhaul the gyms to be more based on progress. This is difficult to achieve as we've discussed, but some ways to go about it might be: 8 Gyms will spawn in a Minecraft world, within a 10,000-block radius of the centre of the world. You would need to have the badge from the previous gyms to access the higher levelled ones and so on. Finding the gyms would be a matter of completing quests to acquire maps to locate the gyms. The further out you go, the higher levels the gyms are, so better off starting near the middle of the world. This would give the player a clear path to reaching certain milestones, it may even be worth considering having harder gyms appear in the Nether and End dimensions to further instil the feeling of progression.
- Clarity for Players: Indicate to the player that gyms are more competitively based, This could be done simply by having a trainer stand outside the door with a notification above their head to attract the player's attention, and they would simply explain the purpose of the gyms and their more competitive nature, and to best prepare before trying to face it.
- Dimensional Shift for Competitively Geared Gyms: Relegate the original, more competitively geared gyms to the Ultra Space dimension, The ultra space dimension is largely focused on being a dangerous and crazy place, and would be the perfect place for the current and very difficult version of gyms to reside, meanwhile, the overworld gyms could be replaced with more casual players in mind, that way everybody wins, and it gives an opportunity to explore the potential of gyms. Additionally, super-hard competitive leaders could be also moved to a "battle tower" that could spawn in the world randomly.
- Universal Buff for Completing All Gyms: Acquiring all badges gives the player a universal buff towards catch rate, shiny odds, and/or experience gains. This would incentivise not just the completion of one gym, but all gyms, and may justify the difficult grind to get to this point.
I think a combination of these ideas could be implemented to make a more engaging experience for the player.
Ultimately the topic of how to improve Gyms in Pixelmon is a multifaceted and complex issue, requiring considerable thought not just for the implementation of features, but also being mindful of what is possible and reasonable for the developers. Striking a balance between, fun, fair, and rewarding is paramount.
Thank you for reading my thread, I sincerely hope some of my ideas are considered for future updates, I also hope that this thread can serve as inspiration for the developers to consider what they might be able to add in future updates to improve gyms, and hopefully unlock gym's full potential and establish them as a properly fleshed out part of the Pixelmon experience. I encourage you to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences with this topic.