Pre­pare To Dye

Nin­tendo’s ri­otous ter­ri­to­rial on­line shooter is pre­par­ing to make an in­deli­ble mark on the genre


How Nin­tendo is plan­ning to make an in­deli­ble mark on the shooter genre with Spla­toon

ev­ery year, Spla­toon co-direc­tor Yusuke

Amano goes fish­ing for squid. It’s a com­mon enough pas­time in his home na­tion, the crea­tures’ year-end spawn­ing and sub­se­quent migration north across the Sea Of Ja­pan for sum­mer cre­at­ing ideal con­di­tions for the sport. Yet de­spite the grin on his face as he an­nounces this, we get the im­pres­sion the break might have been less rest­ful than usual lately. Wind back to circa 2013 and his then-new project, a four-ver­sus-four mul­ti­player game full of squid, was in trou­ble. In trou­ble with Nin­tendo’s higher-ups.

“[Af­ter] the pro­to­type phase, we had all th­ese ideas about the height, the ink, the char­ac­ters, and the im­age of the char­ac­ter and the squid,” says co-direc­tor

Tsub­asa Sak­aguchi. “But we couldn’t kind of fil­ter it down to a fi­nal re­sult that would re­sult in a sim­ple, fun game. And dur­ing this pe­riod, we were be­ing scolded by Mr Miyamoto all the time.”

“He was say­ing, ‘I don’t un­der­stand. What do you want to do? There’s no ap­peal to this game,’” clar­i­fies pro­ducer

Hisashi Nogami, clad in an iden­ti­cal Spla­toon T-shirt to the one the Mario cre­ator wore when he spoke to us in E271. Clearly, Miyamoto’s opin­ion has changed.

With good rea­son: the brand-new devel­op­ment build we play to­day drips with al­lure. Inkopo­lis Plaza, the game’s stag­ing area, is es­pe­cially vi­brant and wel­com­ing. Inklings throng the cross­walk, their glossy ‘hair’ ten­ta­cles dan­gling out from un­der snorkels, caps, bean­ies and over­sized cans, no two alike. The sun beats down through per­fect blue skies on the neon-green Inkopo­lis Tower, through whose doors you’ll ac­cess a free-for-all Turf War or en­ter a pitched Ranked Battle on­line. To the left is an ar­ray of glass­fronted shops, while to the right, pok­ing out of a shaded man­hole cover by a vend­ing ma­chine, are the peaked cap and bul­bous eyes of Cap’n Cut­tle­fish, invit­ing us down to face the Oc­tar­ian threat in the sin­gle­player Hero mode.

It’s sorely tempt­ing, but we’re spun around and our eyes di­rected to an even more in­con­gru­ous sight: gi­ant Ami­ibo pack­ag­ing free­stand­ing by a graf­fiti­cov­ered wall. This is where you sum­mon the game’s three fig­ures – an Inkling male brim­ming with at­ti­tude, a fe­male with lively locks, and a green squid leap­ing out of a splash of ink – each with a pay­load of 15 sin­gle­player chal­lenges that will un­lock five rare pieces of gear. The fig­ures we’re shown are highly de­tailed, too, a sheen on the hu­manoids’ hair and half-filled ink tanks on their backs, colours pop­ping through the clear plas­tic cylin­ders.

Div­ing into Turf War, all the var­nish re­veals it­self to be lac­quered on top of sub­stance. Viewed in third­per­son and built around a dual moveset that sep­a­rates out pe­ri­ods of surg­ing mo­men­tum and gy­ro­scopic shoot­ing, Spla­toon es­chews years of FPS mus­cle mem­ory to de­liver some­thing de­light­fully en­er­getic. With the left trig­ger held down to en­ter squid form, you dart through your team’s ink, slip up painted walls, and press X to arc grace­fully through the air. What hap­pens when you press the right trig­ger is highly de­pen­dant on the gun in your hand, but whether you’re spray­ing out great glob­ules of ink or squelch­ing a paint roller down on some­one’s head, at­tack­ing is met with chunky feed­back. You have a sub weapon on the right bumper, while a press of the right stick trig­gers a spe­cial (as­sum­ing you’ve filled its gauge by cov­er­ing enough ground), which might wrap you in a tem­po­rary shield, or grant you the Inkzooka, which fires deadly dervishes that leave bold streaks across the arena.

The en­ergy to a match is ad­dic­tive, and there’s plenty of tac­ti­cal nu­ance to delve into. Squids are prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble if they


stay still while sub­merged in their own ink, for in­stance, only the rip­ples of their move­ment giv­ing them away, but en­emy ink is like tar, so stay­ing put for too long eas­ily re­sults in be­ing cut off or ex­posed. Tap a friendly on the map to su­per jump to their po­si­tion, elim­i­nat­ing down­time, but risk­ing fall­ing right into cross­fire.

The re­sult is game­play as ri­otously colour­ful as the plaza, that’s of­ten chaotic but never feels ran­dom. In­deed, spawn­ing in with your three team­mates, each geared up with their own weapon load­outs and clad in stat-boost­ing garb, the ob­jec­tive ahead of you could not be sim­pler: when the timer runs out, be the team that has inked the most of the map’s floor.

Yet it wasn’t al­ways like this. Back when the game at­tracted Miyamoto’s wag­ging fin­ger, the team agreed they had di­luted its clar­ity. Born of the Garage group – one of many such in­cu­ba­tors that Nogami says has been “a done thing for a long time” at Nin­tendo – the pro­to­type had been nec­es­sar­ily fo­cused. It had the ink­ing me­chanic that had so caught Nogami’s imag­i­na­tion. It had the con­cept of be­ing in­vis­i­ble when on top of your own ink. But the player char­ac­ters were just blocks, and be­ing in­vis­i­ble meant au­to­mat­i­cally van­ish­ing on the spot. The trio recog­nised how read­able hav­ing ink made the ac­tion, but it was ob­vi­ous the game needed more some­thing.

“We had the ba­sics,” Amano says. “And then we were like, ‘Let’s add the hid­ing [in ink] fea­ture; let’s add jump­ing; we need height, be­cause it’s a 3D map.’ And then we thought, ‘We need to be able to shoot up and down.’ And we re­alised we’d added all this stuff, and we got con­fused. We didn’t know what the game was about.”

The pro­to­type’s me­chan­ics had char­ac­ter, but they needed char­ac­ters – two of them, to be pre­cise. This wouldn’t come eas­ily, ei­ther. Squirt­ing ink is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with squid in Ja­pan, so the team joked about putting one on the box art. Yet they needed a hu­manoid to hold the guns. Sak­aguchi sketches out a squid-headed man as the two men be­side him chuckle. “At the be­gin­ning, we’d only been think­ing of a hu­manoid char­ac­ter mov­ing around and shoot­ing,” Amano ex­plains. “And when the idea of the squid came, we were think­ing: ‘A hu­man squid; that prob­a­bly won’t sell.’”

Sak­aguchi and Amano spent a lot of time get­ting nowhere. “It was one of the long­est parts of devel­op­ment,” Amano says, his smile broad­en­ing, if any­thing, “and we were cry­ing in our evenings – like, ‘How can the char­ac­ters make this game re­ally fun?”

Then an epiphany: what if they took the GamePad’s two trig­gers and the two types of char­ac­ter they wanted and mar­ried one of each to the other, split­ting move­ment pow­ers and shoot­ing across the con­troller? “We thought, ‘This is it!’” says Sak­aguchi. “The genre is ac­tion-shoot­ing, but un­like a lot of other games out there where it’s an amal­ga­ma­tion, this game has ac­tion and shoot­ing as its two pil­lars, and the user can switch be­tween ei­ther.”

Things would change rapidly af­ter that. “I re­mem­ber the ex­act date,” says Sak­aguchi. “On Jan­uary 6, 2014, I was like, ‘OK, we need to or­gan­ise and fil­ter this down.’ We started think­ing, ‘As the

03 Hisashi Nogami, pro­ducer, EAD Group 2 manager


02 Co-direc­tor Tsub­asa Sak­aguchi.


01 Co-direc­tor Yusuke Amano.


Hero mode’s ten­ta­cle-coiffed Oc­tol­ings can be tough, but they’re com­par­a­tively nor­mal next to walk­ing tor­pe­does and ink stamps you have to shoot once they slam onto the floor

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