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A Temtem on a surfboard. Image: Crema

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The Pokémon hoax that found its way into Temtem

The blue Platypus that took the internet by storm

A new Pokémon generation doesn’t kick off when Game Freak announces another game — it starts when the world begins to circulate new pocket monster rumors. Sometimes, fans learn about features and starters weeks, if not months, in advance. Leopoldo Spagna was counting on this phenomenon back in 2018, when he decided to test his art skills in front of the entire internet. He had no idea his designs would end up in a Pokémon-inspired MMO called Temtem.

Spagna sat down two years ago to design three monsters, each of which represented one of the cardinal elements Pokémon starters are known for: fire, water, and grass. To sell the idea, he enlisted help from a Japanese friend who would try and make the designs look more legit. Each monster came with a series of notes in Japanese that pointed out specific parts of the design. The aim was to make everything look like internal documents at Game Freak, a Japanese company.

It was a gamble, and a particularly tricky one — at this point, Pokémon fans are practically experts at spotting fakes, given how often opportunists try and pull a fast one on the community. Game Freak also hadn’t announced Pokémon Sword and Shield yet, which would make starters a tremendous leak. All the same, Spagna uploaded the fateful images to 4chan and crossed his fingers.

A fake Pokemon design. Image: Leopoldo Spagna

It worked. A number of websites ran the images, and while they cautioned readers that the images could be fake, the pictures still went wide. Folks started dissecting the designs, trying to figure out how closely they resembled Game Freak’s iconic monsters. Others analyzed the strangely inconsistent Japanese. All the while, Spagna was having a laugh.

Soon enough, the Italian came forward and took responsibility for it all by uploading a series of new images that proved he faked it.

“Initially I didn’t think it would have so much relevance, then I saw it explode also on Youtube, Twitter, fan art, memes, even rule 34,” he wrote in a post, translated from Italian on Facebook. “And I couldn’t believe it.”

A fake Pokemon design. Image: Leopoldo Spagna

While it was all in good fun, Spagna apologized to those who fell for it.

“I congratulate those who were not convinced [...] But in general already the fact that I had all this reach makes me understand that maybe I managed to create something really convincing,” he wrote.

Somehow, this wasn’t the end of the story. That same year, Crema, a crew of Spanish developers launched a Kickstarter for Temtem, a promising-looking monster-collecting MMO. The project, which raised over $573,000, included a special $6,000 tier that would allow a backer to design a monster in the game. “Send us sketches and work with our art team to create a Temtem and help us brainstorm its name,” the description read.

PokéNinja, a Twitch streamer known for owning a Pokémon-themed Minecraft mod, went for it — but the design he put forth wasn’t his own. It was Spagna’s blue fakemon.

“When I saw the Platypet design as a fake starter leak for an upcoming Pokémon game I quickly fell in love with the design,” PokéNinja told Polygon. “It was potentially my favorite starter design ever, then it was revealed to be a fake and I was bummed at the opportunity to have it.”

So, PokéNinja decided to make it real by purchasing the special Kickstarter tier.

“He got [Crema] negotiating with me for the rights on the Platypus’ designs, which were both the first stage and the evolutions,” Spagna told Polygon.

While it was an expensive purchase, PokéNinja seems happy with it.

Temtem was able to give myself and every Platypet fan around the world an opportunity to have that dream come true,” he said.

Now that Temtem is in early access, trainers everywhere can catch the water-based pal, which now comes complete with a backstory. According to the in-game lore, Platypet has a popular cartoon series that is meant to teach kids that Toxic-elemental Temtem are friendly. Curiously, that fandom isn’t just make-believe — now that Temtem is out in the world, plenty of actual people have also fallen for the Platypus mascot. Searching for it on social media yields a selection of fan art and related works from devoted trainers. The monster went from being a total fiction to being an actual character in a real game.

“It’s such a weird feeling, in a good way,” Spagna told Polygon. “It was very intense to see it spread on the internet when it was still just a drawing, but to see that now many people actually play with it, interact with it, because now it is a living character in a game, it makes me feel as if I had actually created something fully complete.”

Spagna wants to be a character artist, and the whole experience has given him a spark that he wants to chase in his career.

“This is the feeling that I will try to pursue for my future,” he says.


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