When Nintendo announced the first round of Splatoon Global Testfire sessions we described the idea as a clever Nintendo Direct highlight, as it achieved multiple goals. It created 'event'-style hype, gave curious Wii U owners a look at the game, and also allowed Nintendo to stress-test the online component with an audience of a decent size. Despite some minor initial hiccups in the first session it went remarkably smoothly, proving to be a success all round.
Then Nintendo announced a 'final' round and we anticipated more of the same, but in actual fact encountered the sorts of problems quite typical of online games - major connection issues. Around ten minutes in the servers went down, and the hour-long session dwindled away with little for fans to do but play Squid Jump on their GamePad or, alternatively, hit up social networks to talk over the problem.
It's a reality of the modern world that when all is going smoothly little praise is given, but the tables can turn when things go wrong. Within a short spell of the Testfire going down #SplatoonGlobalTestfire was trending on Twitter in North America and around the world. In fairness there was a lot of humour and 'banter' in reaction, some were offering reasoned reactions and some were simply enjoying the social show. On the flipside some were declaring their loss of faith in Nintendo's ability to deliver the online play, and talking of 'not buying it any more'.
For one thing, we'd suggest those with pre-orders or plans to buy the game take a deep breath, count to ten and relax a little. If Splatoon's unique blend of shooter / territory war has lured you into a purchase, some server issues on one occasion shouldn't change that. It's also worth noting that the session wasn't a complete failure - Nintendo extended it by an hour and, in that second ad-hoc stint, it seemed to return largely to the solid performance that we've come to expect.
That certainly helped, and the passing of a night since the demo also seems to have calmed some down, with many recent tweets on the issues largely looking at the positive side. Quite right, too.
As we mentioned above, these tests gave Nintendo a vital opportunity to stress test its servers and net code, and also to experiment with approaches and settings. In terms of the challenges in processing and supporting Splatoon online play we suspect it's more in line with a game like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U than Mario Kart 8 - the latter can predict and estimate collisions with more leeway, while the brawler and upcoming shooter have to calculate quickly and in a more aggressive real-time.
Naturally we don't know what caused the problems last night, and the official line simply referred to 'high traffic', but it's also possible that Nintendo experimented with tweaked settings or code to be more efficient or streamlined. Perhaps it was simply a busier, more popular session than any of the first three, taking Nintendo's servers past the hard-to-define red line that prompts a collapse.
Whatever the case, the Testfire served a very useful purpose by going wrong. There's a truism that you learn more from mistakes than triumphs, and that's most definitely the case in the occasionally unpredictable world of net code and servers. We can be absolutely sure that Nintendo's technical team will be looking over the results and noting what went wrong and why, which could help when the real test comes on launch day.
It's also reassuring that Nintendo actually got the servers running again. While it made an already late session a little too late for some in the UK and Europe as a whole, an extra impromptu hour did give gamers in more sensible timezones a chance to enjoy an hour of play once again, helping to remind some of why they were interested in Splatoon in the first place.
If we have one criticism, it's that Nintendo was a little slow to keep fans appraised of the situation - likely due to it all happening on a Saturday. The company updated its official Network Status page, which told us what we already knew, but Nintendo's Japanese and North American Twitter accounts were silent for the whole initial hour. Just as the original session ended and many were getting ready to give up they sprung back into life, and then Nintendo of America's Twitter account confirmed an extended hour. It's possible that the decision to add another hour was a late decision, but some placeholder messages to assure fans it was on the case wouldn't have gone amiss.
Nevertheless, we feel there are real positives to take from the issues that transpired, simply by taking a glass-half-full approach. These sessions gave Nintendo opportunities to put its servers to the test, and the issues last night will give the company valuable data.
We'll see how the online play holds up on launch day and success isn't guaranteed, but we'd suggest the odds of all going smoothly on 29th May are now actually a little higher, not lower.