In-Depth Stories

A tale of three Johtos: the evolution of the Gen II maps

You can’t make a game on your first try, and sometimes not even on your second. While developing Pokémon Gold and Silver, Game Freak went through several designs for Johto, which have now been leaked. Looking at how the world map was refined over the years tells us a lot about the evolution of the game as a whole.

Part 4: Mahogany Town – Route 46

Finally, we get to the home stretch for Johto. There are quite a few interesting changes here, mixed up with some maps that resisted surprisingly well. Let’s go.

Mahogany Town

Change level: A total revolution.

Beta Mahogany
What is with this build and the really tight paths?

Here we go, another “what is this” moment. No Gym (between this, Cherrygrove and the two beta southern towns, the Gym order was radically different), no Pokémon Centre, no gate leading north. And what is that small tower? Why are there two houses with signposts? What was this town supposed to be? A sanctuary of some sort?

Interestingly enough, we have a very different mid-development version that does resemble the final one a lot more closely.

Mahogany mid comparison
It just screams “old timey Japanese”.

This mid version now does look like Mahogany. Surprisingly enough, the small building next to the tower survived, and now appears to be Team Rocket’s hideout. The Gym is finally here, and so is the Pokémon Centre. But, uh, why is there a Mart here? The local shop was supposed to be the front for Team Rocket’s Hideout, and, once you defeat them, it becomes a perfectly normal store (with RageCandyBars!). Maybe they noticed that and fixed it later.

Mahogany evolution
Lots of changes, but the traces are there.

In the final version, now that Johto’s whole northeastern area has been filled with mountains and caves, essentially all the trees from the earlier drafts become rocks. Meanwhile, the Gym and the Pokémon Centre are swapped for some reason, and the “oldish building” design for the Rocket Hideout is changed in favour of a normal house, although the structure itself remains in the same location. The shop is reverted to the same small house from the original. Very interesting.

Mahogany Beta-Final fusion
Rest in pieces, small tower.

So, a whole lot of changes from the first draft to the last. However, the side exits, the contours and two buildings (out of four) survived from the first draft! That’s a better ratio than most other cities.

Route 43

Change level: As often, same idea, different execution.

Route 43 beta
Such a weird small-tree formation

Route 43! A path between Mahogany and the Lake of Rage. A pretty straightforward affair, and yet it went through many changes. The Rocket toll booth is nowhere to be found and instead we have what looks like a fisherman’s hut. Maybe that’s where the Fishing Guru used to live? (More on this later). Or, maybe it was a completely different place, or the house where you’d get Hidden Power. I’d also scream excitedly about “mandatory grass” if it weren’t because, by that point, you’d be 100% guaranteed to have Cut and Surf and be able to take the shortcut.

Route 43 comparison
The King trainer is a very funny gag.

Overall, we see the same idea: two different paths you can choose from, a house on the right side near the entrance, and a lot of trees and grass. What was missing from the early version: an alternate entrance to the Lake of Rage. Because that map has sure had some massive changes as well.

Lake of Rage

Change level: Strictly speaking, the lake itself is the same. Everything else, oh boy.

Lake of Rage beta
Beta Johto, also known as “the land of old-style towers”

This map is a mess. Well, just half of it. From the very first moment, they knew that this was going to be a lake. With that specific shape. But they had no clue what to do with the remaining roughly third of the map. No clue whatsoever.

Look at this early version. What do we have here? Another large tower. What was with early Johto and all those huge towers? This is the fifth place where we have seen them (and there’s still Blackthorn), compared to two in the final. Between that and Mahogany, it feels as if Team Rocket’s plan had little to do with their early draft. Or maybe this was a sidequest, because the tower is not really in an obvious place. Either way, we see that their first idea was to go for the tower.

And then they did this, mid-development.

Lake of rage mid
The tower spawned some houselings!

A… a town. Okay. We have known that for a while, but it’s still immensely weird. They had a tower and bunch of empty trees, decided to chop them all up to put a city in, and then they removed it all. That’s… sure, okay. Let’s try to work out what they were thinking about: I guess this is where one of Cherrygrove’s/Arida’s Gyms went after they were cut from the first draft, perhaps due to the game being very frontloaded, as I mentioned earlier. They had a spare town, Mahogany, which got one of them. But they needed to come up with some new place to put the second one, so they just grabbed the last “large place” map they had left, which was this one. But, eventually, they added Cianwood and decided it made more sense to put a gym there than here. And so, the city was scrapped (not the Fishing Guru’s house though!) and we went back to the original idea.

Lake of Rage comparison
It looks like a kidney, doesn’t it?

The final version seems like a mix of the two, with the fisherman’s hut by the right and the house about where the old tower used to be. On the plus side, they took advantage of all the tree culling to make a decent maze and the side entrance and, well, made the map more interesting. Looking at the older versions, you can tell how much they have improved over the time.

There is one last point I want to talk about before leaving this area: was the flying spot in the Lake of Rage just a forgotten leftover from the mid-development era? I believe there is a good chance that it was a conscious decision as much as it was a leftover, and the reason for this is clear: Nara and Arida. In this “mid-development” map, these two towns existed in locations where a flying spot is no longer in the final version, while Azalea and Cianwood were nowhere to be seen. That opens up two possibilities: either flying spots were added very late into development, once they had settled on the final world design, by which time the Lake of Rage no longer was a town and therefore had no reason to have a flying spot linked to it, or they were put in earlier but they weren’t hard-coded and instead were rearranged as needed during development. Either way, they must have made a conscious decision to add or keep the flying spot linked to this area, instead of it being a thing they added in late 1998 and couldn’t remove anymore in 1999 when it no longer made sense. After all, Gen I has an unused flying spot if they had wanted to, they could have just moved this flying spot out of the way as well.

Route 44

Change level: Basically the same.

Route 44 beta
The Quotation Mark Ponds

Hey, I know you! You’re Route 44. Instantly recognisable. They were relatively happy with this one and barely touched it up to make it prettier, but it’s essentially the same.

Route 44 comparison
The poor route had a rocky time.

The changes were really small. For some reason, the height of the new map is a whole 8 pixels smaller. The trees have been replaced by rocks, following the changes in the rest of northeast Johto, the two lakes have been redesigned a little bit, the grassy area in the middle has been extended, a new pond has been added following the shape of the old trees in the southwestern corner, and a few ledges have been introduced, leading up to Ice Path. Which, as we see, just didn’t exist in the original design. Still, a well-preserved map.

Blackthorn City

Change level: Unrecognisable.

Blackthorn beta
Who designed that maze? Please.

I mean, to be fair, you can sort of see the shape of the town here, with an indentation on the right side, a mountain separating it from the other side and the actual town on the south. But the changes are staggering: the old design was overshadowed by a ledge maze that is both extremely easy and incredibly annoying to solve, and seems to have been created just to make it impossible to complete a Twitch Plays Pokémon run of the beta game. Of course, there’s no Ice Path so you just walked straight from Route 44 on the west, and instead we have the eighth tower of the world. What did they need so many for? Was that a Dragon Tower?

Blaclthorn comparison
Now the Gym does dominate the town.

In the final version, the boundaries have been rockified, the tower has been replaced by the Ice Path and the ledges have given room to the Dragon Den and the Gym, which give them their due importance as the last challenge in the League quest. As other Northern maps, this one remained intact between the first and the second versions, so there isn’t anything new to compare to mid-development.

Also, for some reason, every remaining building in town was moved around just a little bit, and the PC and the Mart were flipped.

Blackthorn fusion
Some plate tectonic shifts happened here.

Route 45

Change level: You can’t improve perfection.

And this is when Game Freak was finally warmed up and on top of their game. They did this map and said, “We did it guys, we can ship this already”.

Route 45 beta
Don’t you love when you get something right on your first try?

So this route is a perfect summary of what the beta map was: lots of ledges and a remarkable lack of grass in many places. Like, come on, where exactly were you supposed to find any wild Pokémon here?

Route 45 comparison
Ready to serve, just add grass

To be fair, some things changed. They added the other entrance to Dark Cave, some more rocks on the top, removed one ledge and edited another one. But other than that, this… is quite literally the same map.

Route 45 b
That one pond looks so magnificently out of place.
Rute 45 b comparison
Literally perfect.

What is there to say? They moved around two ledges in the southeastern side and added grass. They must have loved this map a lot. So much that it was one of the most heavily redesigned routes in HGSS.

Route 46

Change level: The same but spiffier.

Route 46 beta
End of the loop.

And this is another route that was just prettied up a bit for the release. This one is pretty straightforward, but hey, mandatory grass! Shame this is the most optional of all optional routes once you have Fly.

Route 46 comparison
Just a remixed version.

The final version adds the Dark Cave entrance, mixes it up with the ledges and adds a gate to Route 29. Why? Because this is how the transition between both routes looked without it. Jarring, isn’t it?

26-46 transition
That sudden change of terrain looks lovely.