I’m trying to cool off right now, having broken a sweat after venturing outside to do something I haven’t done in a while: hunt for Pokémon. I raced out the door when I saw that Niantic had rolled out a new “nearby” fix called “Sightings,” which is supposed to make wild Pokémon trackable again. Supposedly this feature is being tested among a smaller subset of users, but thankfully I made the cut, and I can now report my findings. (Update: “Sightings” actually rolled out to everyone, and a more specific fix is being tested in San Francisco only right now, more details below).
It works. It actually works.
I’m not yet convinced this is a return to the glory days of the 1-3 footstep tracking system back when that was functional, but the new system that has been put in place does allow you to see nearby Pokémon, and actually walk around and find them. Imagine that. I caught three Pokémon I was specifically trying to track in about 15 minutes, something I have not been able to do (at least on purpose) for weeks now. It’s a significant upgrade from the zero and all-three-footprint systems we’ve suffered through for the past few weeks, and if implemented broadly without breaking the servers, this very well may be the fix fans are looking for.
So, how does “Sightings” work? Let me explain:
• The new system replaces the nearby system altogether, as I suppose that word now has negative connotations. There’s a new graphic where Pokémon appear by a little tuft of grass, and the list changes periodically due to spawns and despawns.
• The new system works by “pulsing” the area every ten seconds. This will refresh the list to show new Pokémon, depending on what’s spawned around you. This is more or less how it always has worked, but now you can actually use the list to track specific things.
• To “track” Pokémon, you simply use the original method of tracking I recommended at launch. You walk in a direction. If the Pokémon stays on your “Sightings” screen, keep going. When it disappears, go back a bit until it returns, then go left or right. If it stays there, keep going. If it disappears, turn around and walk the other way. Using the method (in city blocks it’s easy to be pretty rigid about these hard 90- and 180-degree turns) I was able to track down nearby Pokémon within a few minutes of them appearing on my “Sightings” list.
• It was still a fair amount of walking. I would say most Pokémon were within a block and a half of when they appeared on my Sightings readout. Maybe 500-800 feet away. The radius does seem a little smaller than the old three-footprint system, but that might be because it’s actually taking away Pokémon on the list more frequently, and accurate despawns (both time and location based) go a long way to making this tracking system actually work. Previously, three-footprints would stay on your nearby seemingly forever, even if they were nowhere to be found, but now, it seems like if a Pokémon is on your sightings list, it does actually exist.
• I saw quite a few Pokémon (more common ones) that showed up despite not being on the Sightings readout at all. It seems like multiple spawns of the same Pokémon might be messing with the system, as I’m not sure it can/wants to show more than one of a type at a time. For rare Pokémon, this may not matter since there will only be one copy, but for common stuff it might be making the readouts unreliable or unclear. Everything I was able to track was not something that would have likely had multiple spawns in the same area. This may be a design decision so that your list isn’t cluttered with six Drowzees or Pidgeys, pushing more relevant stuff off the page. This was a pretty big issue with the step system, even back when it was working. This…might actually not be a bad idea, given that you will rarely be tracking the most common spawns in your area.
• I’m not sure if this is a bug or not, but unlike the original footstep tracking system, the order of these Pokémon on the grid does not seem to matter. They shift around as you move, but I do not think the top left slot of the grid means they’re closer. I’m not sure if order matters at all, in fact. I stood five feet away from my Eevee nest, and it was fourth on my list, in the second row, even as it appeared in front of me. The removal of this aspect, and one and two footprints makes this a bit less precise than the tracking system the game launched with, but miles better than the all-three or zero footprint systems the game has had since. Fundamentally, you can track Pokémon again. It’s not perfect, but it legitimately seems to work.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this new system, but I can’t dispute the results of seeing Pokémon on my readout, walking with the express purpose of trying to find them, and actually catching them. Sure, I was just doing this with Horseas and Krabbys and Ghastlys and didn’t find anything amazing, but it doesn’t matter. The point is, if something rare and amazing did appear, I probably would have been able to actually find it. If you can find a “Sighted” Nidoran, you can find a Scyther, if it spawns.
I’m impressed. I’m going to do some more testing, so check back here for updates. I’m not sure how long Niantic will want to experiment with this before it implements it globally, but remember that the reason we’re in this mess is because of server trouble. This might only be possible because it’s a smaller group using it right now. If you’re part of the lucky few, get out there and start tracking again.
Update: I’m getting a bug at times where the entire Sightings list goes blank, but it usually fixes itself after another 10 second pulse. The same Pokémon usually show up, but their order’s jumbled. Not that order matters. Also, I didn’t notice this at first, but Niantic has removed all the “rustling grass” from the map. While that was in keeping with the original games, I think it really confused people who didn’t understand why stuff wasn’t spawning if they were standing on the grass plumes. Honestly, after a month, I still didn’t really even understand the grass system, and I think removing it was probably for the best.
Update 2 (The Actual Test): Alright, so I’ve discovered a few things that in my rush to test/review Sightings, I missed a larger point that was coming down the pipeline. Sightings actually rolled out to most players, while a different, more specific test has now started in San Francisco, just a few hours after the Sightings update went live. It’s a complete overhaul of “Nearby,” which now tells you where Pokémon are by attaching them to specific PokéStop landmarks. I’ve seen a ton of videos and photos of this new system, and it seems to completely rewrite the rules for tracking, apparently just outright telling you that a certain Pokémon is near a certain PokéStop. And somehow this is being used alongside the Sighted system.
If this is really how the new system works, and specific Pokémon just spawn within X radius of a stop, that’s a major change, and a little odd. As seen above, I actually think the new Sighted system works just fine for tracking and catching stuff, if you can track the spawns and despawns. This seems a little…like overkill? I don’t know. In terms of specificity, Sighted is in between the original 1-3 step system and the complete lack of a system, which is what we’ve endured for weeks. This new Nearby seems like it’s far more specific than the original step system ever was. I don’t know, maybe that’s actually fun in practice, but it seems a bit strange. I liked the original step system, and I kind of like the new Sighted system too. Maybe there’s still a “thrill of the hunt” aspect to it, but it seems more like a treasure map to a specific spawn. Treasure maps are fun too, I guess, but we’ll see how it works in practice, as this literally just rolled out hours ago at this point. One more initial thought is that this might work well in a city with a lot of PokéStops, but if spawns are now tied to those, it seems like it could be bad for rural players who don’t have nearly as many landmarks nearby. We’ll see how this plays out. Stay tuned.
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