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Pokemon Go, the mobile craze of 2016

Pokemon Go is the mobile game that has taken over summer 2016
A woman playing Pokemon Go
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"Gotta catch 'em all!" is the motto you've probably heard too much this month

It may feel like people have been getting distracted by Pidgeys for months but Pokemon Go has only been in our lives for a few weeks.

The game was officially launched on 6 July in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. 

It arrived in Europe a week later and Japan soon followed. 

By August the augmented reality app was available across Central and South America and most of Southeast Asia.

It now has millions of users across the world and is the most talked about game in years.

WATCH: Pokemon Go: WTF?

Players walk around real-world locations catching Pokemon which appear on their screens
Pokemon Go opening screen
Niantic
Pokemon Go's opening screen warns players to "keep their wits about them"

How the game works at first

    • Once a player has downloaded the app, it's time to build a character
    • Players can choose things like clothing and accessories
    • Now you're ready to start hunting Pokemon monsters
    • Players walk around real-world locations visiting Pokestops and Gyms 
    • Pokestops and Gyms are normally at real-world locations, including local landmarks
    • When Pokemon appear players can capture them using a Pokeball
    • At Pokestops you can also refuel on Pokeballs and other items 
    • You can use "incense" to attract creatures towards you
    • Deploying a "lure" module attracts them towards a particular Pokestop, so it also helps other Pokemon hunters
Red Pokemon gym
Niantic
Strolling past a red gym - there are three teams you can join. Team Valour (red), Team Mystic (Blue), Team Instinct (yellow)

How the game works after level five

    • Once you get past level five you are becoming a more experienced "trainer" and can start battling for Pokemon Gyms
    • You must choose a team - one of three, blue, red or yellow, Mystic, Valour or Instinct
    • You can team up with other players on the same team to win and strengthen Gyms
    • You've probably now caught enough characters to start trading in lower value Pokemon 
    • Pokemon have "combat power" - the higher the better for taking over Gyms
    • Catching and evolving Pokemon earns you experience points, helping you reach the next level
    • Lucky eggs, which you can pick up at Pokestops, double your points
    • At level 12 you get access to a new kind of ball - a "Great Ball". these give you more power to catch Pokemon, in theory
Pokemon locations are key to the game - and part of the mystery
A Bulbasaur
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A player tries to catch a Bulbasaur

The mystery of the locations is a big part of many people's current obsession with the augmented reality game. So how are Pokemon placed on the map?

Much can be learned from similar GPS-based software, which may explain how Pokemon locations are decided.

A good reason for good maps

The idea of tech-meets-real-world has a history of blowing people's minds. 

When Google Earth launched in 2005, the number of people looking at their home from space for the first time broke the company's servers. 

The man behind that, John Hanke, was in charge of running the software at the heart of Pokemon Go. "A lot of us worked on Google Maps and Google Earth for many, many years, so we want the mapping to be good," he told Mashable.

Google Earth
Google Earth
The game is constantly changing thanks to new ways of using mapping data

Jo Reid is the managing director of Calvium Ltd - a mobile app developer, specialising in GPS and location-based apps. She reckons nostalgia combined with a generation of gamers who've grown up with a smartphone is behind the current craze. 

"This just seems like a winning formula... and seems to have pushed it over the edge."

Ingress
Niantic/Ingress
Niantic also made Ingress. Its fixed point coordinates may be part of the layers of Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is more than likely using "a combination of crowd-sourcing and knowledge about the local environment". 

She explains that developers will have "mapped on two dimensions" - one being the base map, so the game knows where you are, and another pre-loaded with hotspots in which different types of Pokemon appear. 

"If they've got a list of Pokemon types that are associated with those areas they can create an algorithm to spawn those Pokemon there." 

This essentially means water-based characters will be in ponds, lakes or by the coast and ghost-type Pokemon will appear at graveyards or cemeteries.

Aim for tourist areas to catch 'em all

It looks like Nintendo has taken the bulk of its mapping information from Ingress, a previous game from Niantic.

"Prioritising public attractions and generally known public spaces is something the guys will have developed from the Ingress games and will be applying those lessons to this." 

Pokemon Go's creators have also gathered data about what the game's users have done at certain points, according to Jo's analysis. 

"They can record that activity," she explains, which is then fed back into the data that is driving future locations.

Based on the theory that certain areas will have been programmed as hotspots, and that the app will react to busy areas, tourist attractions are prime hunting grounds. 

There are many stories about Pokemon hunters getting into sticky situations

Meet the 21-year-old who carried on playing after being stabbed

Michael Baker was playing the game in the US state of Oregon at about one in the morning.

He said he noticed another person and thought he was also out trying to catch a monster.

It turns out he wasn't and the man stabbed him in the shoulder before running off.

But instead of getting medical help, Michael carried on playing.

Michael Baker
Fox 12 Oregon

And then there's the man who played Pokemon Go in a hospital delivery room...

Another American, Jonathan Theriot, accompanied his wife to hospital but while she was waiting to have a C-section he spotted a Pidgey. 

Not being able to resist making a catch, he screengrabbed his attempt while his wife rested on a bed in the background. 

Jonathan Theriot
Jonathan Theriot
New mum Jessica wasn't too bothered and the couple had their third daughter, Ireland, a few hours later hours later

Pokemon Go even helped catch an attempted murder suspect, apparently

Marines Seth Ortega and Javier Soch were playing the game in Fullerton, a district of Los Angeles, when they noticed a man acting strangely.   

Seth Ortega and Javier Soch with a local TV news reporter
Seth Ortega

They told police that he'd approached a woman with two children, who were also playing Pokemon Go, and he'd started touching the boy's foot and leg. 

The man was arrested for child annoyance. 

Officers then discovered that he had an outstanding warrant for attempted murder in Sonoma, California.

And this guy gave even up his job to hunt Pokemon full time in New Zealand

Tom Currie worked as a bartender at a seaside restaurant near Auckland, but decided to jack it in to play Pokemon Go.  

Tom Currie
Tom Currie

He admits his parents are "a little bit baffled".

"When I resigned, I didn't tell my manager I was going out into the world to hunt Pokemon," he told Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"But after my story got picked up I gave him a courtesy call to update him just in case the media contacted him."

"I got an absolutely lovely response, 'Good on you Tom. It is really funny. I hope everything is OK. Have fun for your Pokemon trip.'"  

There are some easy tips and tricks to make your Pokemon life easier (and safe)
Young woman holding up her phone
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    1. Find a cluster of Pokestops and hover between them, cashing in on lures
    2. Turn off augmented reality (AR) mode to make catching Pokemon easier. It keeps them central
    3. Farm more Poke balls by going back to a stop every five minutes
    4. Play at different times of the day when different types of Pokemon come out to play
    5. Learn to throw a curve ball  because there are four catch bonuses: Nice, Great, Excellent, and Curve. When your ball curves you get 10XP - and a better chance of catching the Pokemon
    6. Take notice of the coloured rings around a Pokemon. Green = Easy to catch and common. Orange = More rare and harder to catch. Red = Really tough to catch
    7. Move if you're using incense 
    8. Empty your backpack - you can delete potions and "revives". Make room for more balls - you need them more!
    9. Save up weaker Pokemon and the transfer/evolve them when you've got a Lucky Egg. This massively boosts your points and sends you speeding through the levels
    10. Use your Razz Berries! Feeding them to high-powered Pokemon is your only hope of a successful catch. Good luck!
Lures on several Pokestops
Niantic
A lure fest - if you see this on your phone it's a good time to stop for a Pokemon lunch
Incense
Niantic
This player has used "incense" to lure a Spearow Pokemon

Take the quiz: Just how addicted to Pokemon Go are you?

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