Though the claims that Nintendo simply doesn't tackle new ideas aren't entirely fair, there's little denying that Splatoon has been a breath of fresh air on Wii U. As a new IP that utilises a genre so rarely entertained by Nintendo - a third-person shooter - it appears to have succeeded in grabbing attention and exciting established and new fans. The buzz in Nintendo communities can't be ignored, it's been critically acclaimed and early chart results for the UK and Japan show strong sales.
Splatoon is everywhere, then, and that's a major benefit for the Wii U in its hunt for evergreen titles that will, at the very least, keep it ticking over and maintain support from current owners. Its timing and impact, so far, will have surely given Nintendo confidence, and perhaps we can add Inklings to the list of Nintendo characters we'll happily see more of in years to come.
That's looking ahead a little too far, and as we're just days into release we have plenty of time to delve into the detail of this Wii U title. With that in mind we were fortunate enough to pose some questions to Splatoon producer Hisashi Nogami. Nogami-san has an intriguing history with Nintendo, with his lengthy CV including a prominent role in the creation of Mii characters, which made their début on Wii and have become an essential part of the Nintendo experience.
We asked Nogami-san about the design approaches behind Splatoon, its target audience and more.
Though often described as a 'shooter', Splatoon offers its own distinct approach to the genre. Can we begin with your perspective on what makes this title stand out as unique from other shooters?
We didn't set out to create a game that simply improved on something already out there. We wanted to create something from scratch with an entirely new form of gameplay; something that we felt was truly fun.
The prototype for Splatoon was a demo made by our Program Director Shintaro Sato. Two teams of four players would shoot ink at each other to paint the ground and compete over turf. The game really works because of the following elements included in this demo: a third person view and overview map shown on the TV and Wii U GamePad; having your progress instantly reflected on the map as you spray ink around to edge yourself closer to victory, allowing other players to know what you were doing; not having your position revealed to the enemy team so long as you remain in your team's coloured areas.
While there were also shooter elements already there from the start, it was by adding in the kind of playability you find in Nintendo action games that turned the game into what it is now.
If Splatoon looks unique as a shooter, I'd say it's because we didn't set out to make a unique shooter in the first place.
It's been stated that existing Nintendo IPs were previously considered for Splatoon, before the concept for squids was decided upon. How important was that decision in terms of the final concept and the player abilities that define the gameplay?
One option we had was to use an existing IP, but our biggest focus was on a character design that best communicated the gameplay. As our objective here was to create something with gameplay the likes of which hadn't been seen before, we felt new characters would be best to represent this as opposed to an existing IP, hence why we went in that direction.
The strategies to win in Splatoon are unique from standard shooters - do you think players will take time to learn and refine strategy, in terms of covering territory as opposed to primarily targeting opponents?
'Gain more turf than the opposing team' is an immediately understandable goal, and figuring out what you need to do to achieve this comes quickly once you start playing.
All you need to do is cover the ground in ink, and avoid interference by your opponents.
I think more complex strategies will emerge as users play over and over again and invest some time in the game.
Considering the unconventional moves of the squid and the inking mechanics, what were the biggest challenges in finding the right balancing with weapons and abilities?
Providing a rapid, three-dimensional moveset for the squid, while also enabling players to accurately aim at opponents was something we were only able to achieve thanks to the Motion Controls.
This control style is often mistaken as being similar to that used in Wii U Panorama View, but it's actually very different. Tilting the Wii U GamePad just a little moves the camera (field of view) a lot. If I were to make an analogy, it's like your wrists become a third analogue stick; they're perfectly suited for smoothly and fluidly changing the direction you are facing.
This control scheme allows for rapid and intuitive execution of complex moves; it's a cinch to make a lane by painting a wall in ink, swim up it as a squid, and aim at an opponent from high up before splatting them.
Players already familiar with controlling cameras using sticks can also use this style instead.
How important is the single player campaign in enhancing the overall experience, and do you think it's vital for players to complete it?
Completing the single-player campaign isn't a must, and users can just play however they want, even if it's just the online multiplayer and Battle Dojo sections.
However, we're confident that the single-player mode has something to offer too. Players not confident with the controls for the squid can hone their skills here, while users who are already familiar with them from online multiplayer will find this mode still has a lot to offer them too. We hope you don't skip it! There's also a small reward waiting for you once you complete it!
Can you explain the reasoning for gradually rolling out additional stages, items and modes in the months after release?
There are two reasons for this:
First, we put a lot of effort into every inch of the online stages, so by playing them over and over again users can get a better feel for the terrain, giving the gameplay more breadth and depth. The characteristics of the weapons and the strategies for using them vary with each weapon, and of course these will vary depending on the stage you use them in and even what combination of equipment your teammates and opponents are using. We want users to enjoy each and every single piece of content we've prepared, so rather than provide a lot at once, we're going to be adding them a little at a time.
Second, is that while we've paid a lot of attention to the balancing the game, the flip-side of this is that we feel the game needs weapons with a lot of variety as well as stages with complex layouts to really expand the gameplay.
The problem there is that these can sometimes disrupt the overall balance of the game.
The real fun of Splatoon comes when players are comfortable with the game, and are able to play to their full potential with other players they meet in the online matches.
We'll be adding more stages and weapons as we see how the community matures. We'll also do something similar with further game modes too.
The absence of voice chat, as a design choice, has been a notable topic - what's your perspective on the demands from some gamers for some chat functionality, even if it's limited to those on a system's Friends List?
As I mentioned, we didn't set out to create a game that simply improved on something already out there, but to create something entirely new. We want everyone to play this game from the same point, so that all players – those who haven't played shooters before, as well as those who have – can enjoy the game. Getting to this though meant going through a selection process for all features that should appear in the game, and as part of this process we decided to leave out voice chat.
We think there are two reasons for wanting to use it: to play strategically, and to know what you opponent is feeling. We designed the game so that it's still possible to play strategically, while also giving due consideration so that there is no extreme advantage one way or the other. In terms of knowing what your opponent is feeling, we really do understand the fun that can be had with this, but we hope that you will also understand that it can also have a negative effect too.
What was your reaction when told Splatoon would have its own amiibo range, and what were your priorities when developing the content linked to the figurines?
The Splatoon characters – the Inklings – were designed based on their abilities, but we're also fairly confident that we managed to make them visually appealing too. When we learned they would be made into amiibo, our first thought was that it would give users already interested in the game one more reason to like it.
We also wanted to get our hands on them before anyone else too!
We prioritized having the characters appear in game exactly as they do on the figurine. After that, we decided on what they should do for the player by looking at the other elements that already make up the structure of the game.
With its colourful graphics and style Splatoon can no doubt appeal to young gamers, but are you confident that players of all ages will be excited about the game?
As children, we all dreamed of being able to coat a town in ink (although of course we were never allowed), so being able to do this in a game is something we feel a lot of people are going to be interested in, regardless of age or gender.
We've also filled the game with things we loved when we were teenagers, including fashion and music and hope that users who can relate to this will find the graphics and audio of the game appealing too.
Having said that though, to really 100% understand what we're talking about you need to see and experience it for yourself as opposed to just imagining it in your head.
We hope that the parents of younger gamers, watching the screen from behind will feel compelled to jump in and play Splatoon too.
We'd like to thank Hisashi Nogami for his time. Be sure to check out our Splatoon review for our assessment of Nintendo's shooter.