How One Programmer Made Thousands Of People Play Pokemon Red Through Twitter

We’ve all heard about Twitch Plays Pokemon, a clever initiative designed to allow an entire community to collectively vote on every action taken throughout a Pokemon adventure. However, programmer Constantin Liétard recently pushed the envelope through a totally different letterbox – as it turns out, now we’ve got Twitter Plays Pokemon, too.

“It’s actually pretty easy to do,” Liétard tells me. “Twitter, like many other websites, has something called an API (Application Programming Interface). Basically, it’s a server that people can send requests to in order to use some of the website functionalities through script. For example, that’s how you would make a bot that tweets a bunch of quotes everyday.”

What this means is that Liétard was able to use Twitter’s programming interface to create a system that recognizes custom inputs. This works by analyzing the responses to the specific Twitter Plays Pokemon thread. Replies are grouped by popularity, with the most-voted-for action being pulled from the thread and implemented into the game every 15 seconds. This could be anything from “Up,” denoting a movement one square upwards, to “Thunderbolt,” meaning that Pikachu will use a super-effective move against Misty’s Goldeen – or, if Twitter is feeling cheeky, a completely ineffective one against Giovanni’s Rhydon.

Liétard notes that the response has been pretty overwhelming so far. Given how many players have become invested in Twitter Plays Pokemon, the entire project has already been rebooted several times. This has primarily been done to accommodate quality life of improvements, like changing the Twitter banner to reflect the game’s current party. At the time of writing, Liétard’s squad consists of Jigglypuff, Geodude, Pidgey, Wartortle, Spearow, and Paras – not too shabby!

Meanwhile, the actual game is displayed in freeze frames via the account’s profile picture. “The avatar was obviously not designed to display a game,” Liétard explains. “That’s what I found funny, and I think that’s the reason why it caught so much attention – people didn’t believe it was real at first!”

This rings true, as it’s quite odd to see game progress reflected in Twitter’s small avatar interface. I just switched tabs to have a quick look and the picture is currently stuck on a frame between traversing Mt. Moon and entering a battle. In 15 seconds’ time, I’ll be able to see which Pokemon showed up.

I’ve just refreshed the page. It’s obviously a Zubat – I’ve already said we’re in Mt. Moon.

“I definitely had no expectation whatsoever when starting this,” Liétard says. “I thought people would play from time to time and that my avatar would be different every couple of days. But seeing how big it got, maybe it’s the start of a community that will follow me in my next projects.

“The response is incredible,” Liétard continues. “I have reached a really diverse community of players. Some try a few commands then stop, some try to annoy everyone by sending start, and some others gather on my Discord server to discuss what Pokemon they should try to capture [and] how much grinding they should do – they got really invested!”

If you want to participate in this unique, community-based way of playing Pokemon Red, head on over to Liétard’s Twitter page. If you decide to take part shortly after this article is published, you’ll probably make it in before Liétard takes on Misty – although you might want to convince the other players to catch a Grass-type first.

Until then, this initiative has motivated Liétard to experiment with other innovative projects. “Seeing the overwhelmingly positive response of all those people working together was really inspiring,” Liétard tells me. “As a game developer, it definitely encourages me to make some community-focused games in the future.”

Next: I Tried Out Ash Ketchum’s Dream Team In Competitive Pokemon And It’s Pretty Good

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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