Splatoon 2 is one of Nintendo's biggest critical hits of 2017, but it's not a game which plays by the rules. Instead of offering players the chance to pick whichever map they like, the game automatically rotates maps throughout the day. Not only that, but one of its most popular modes - Salmon Run - can only be played at certain points of the day.
The game's critics have attacked these seemingly arbitrary limitations, but speaking to Rolling Stone, Splatoon 2 designer Jordan Amaro states that these are a deliberate design choices by Nintendo, and stem from Japanese culture:
Rolling Stone: You once said that when you went to work for Kojima at Konami, you possessed “westerner’s knowledge” that was a hindrance rather than a help.
Jordan Amaro: “Hindrance” is probably not the word. It is a hindrance if you persist in that way of thinking while the team is going in a different direction.
It’s not just language. It’s a way to perceive games, and the user. I see it on Splatoon right now. You look at Splatoon, and then people look at Overwatch. These are two totally different games. Overwatch is a self-service game. You boot the game and say, “Hey, I like this mode. I like this character. And I’m only ever going to play this mode, this character, and this map.” You’re like, “I’m going to get what I want.”
But in Japan, everything is tailored. You’ve probably heard Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk, in which she went to a restaurant in Japan and tried to order sugar in her green tea. The people at the cafe said, “One does not put sugar in green tea,” and then, “We don’t have sugar.” But when she ordered coffee instead, it did come with sugar! In Japan, there’s a sense of, “We’re making this thing for you, and this is how we think this thing is better enjoyed.” This is why, in Splatoon, the maps rotate every couple of hours. And the modes change. “I bought this game. Why can’t I just enjoy this game the way I want?” That’s not how we think here. Yes, you did buy the game. But we made this game. And we’re pretty confident about how this game should be enjoyed. If you stick with us, and if you get past your initial resistance, you’re going to have the time of your life with this game. You’re really going to love it.
Rolling Stone: You think you know what we want better than we know what we want?
Jordan Amaro: We think we know what you don’t know you want.
You think you know what you want. But we know what you will want once you understand it. There has to be some effort from the player to play ball with the developer, just like in a restaurant where there is a course menu. You enter the restaurant, and this is the course today. It’s displayed outside the restaurant. When you enter the restaurant, you know what you’re going to eat. Once you’re inside, if you want to eat something different, that’s not how it works.
Rolling Stone: With Splatoon 2, there definitely are people who want to know why they can’t play the Salmon Run mode all the time.
Jordan Amaro: I’m not allowed to speak on it, because I’m not the game director. What I can say, and what I think can be said, is that there are lots of reasons. You have to trust us that if you could play Salmon Run online anytime, that would result in a worse experience for you and everybody.
The full interview is well worth a read, as Amaro talks about working for Konami, his favourite game designers and much more besides.