Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, sat down with the developers of Splatoon for the latest in his Iwata Asks series of interviews. Five of Splatoon‘s developers joined Iwata for the interview: Shintaro Sato (Program Director), Seita Inoue (Art Director), Tsubasa Sakaguchi (Director), Yusuke Amano (Director), and Hisashi Nogami (Producer). They hail from Nintendo’s Production Department, Entertainment & Analysis Division, which usually works on Nintendo’s character franchises such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda.
Splatoon got a good reception when it was first shown at the 2014 E3, with the trailer having been made by one of the developers who had studied film (rather than by an outside agency as is usually the case). Splatoon was born after development on the Wii U and its launch titles settled down. Some of the developers of Splatoon worked on such projects as the Wii U menu, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Nintendo Land.
In the first part of the interview, after talking about the game’s debut at the 2014 E3, Iwata gets into the details of how the game initially came to be. Until now, this department at Nintendo has not created a new game character since the birth of the Pikmin franchise, 14 years ago. The initial goal of Splatoon did not revolve around the creation of a new character, though. The plan was to create a game with a new structure, and then create the rest of the design around that idea. Nintendo’s famous designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, designs games in a similar fashion, where the main idea or function of the game comes first and the rest is designed around it (rather than saying lets make a game with this character and then designing around said character).
After work on the Wii U and its launch titles settled down, Nogami-san gathered together the developers of Splatoon and said “Let’s make a new kind of game, without worrying about trying to fit into existing game genres.” They brainstormed and came up with a plethora of ideas, giving a few presentations to each other along the way. The brainstorming went on for about six months before one idea graduated from the pool of many and went on to grow into what is now Splatoon. Program Director on the project, Shintaro Sato, created a demo of the idea that would grow into the final game.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the original demo featured a couple of blocks in a maze. One white, one black. After hearing about the white block, Iwata jokingly said “Tofu?” The blocks could shoot ink and the goal was to take over the most turf in the level by painting it with ink. They gave each block a nose so it was clear which side was the front. Iwata jokingly comments about the black block saying “But tofu is usually white”. Sakaguchi then exclaims jokingly “The black one was sesame tofu!”
From there, they tried humanoid characters, followed by rabbits. Rabbits have long ears that move as they do (making it easy to tell which way another character is facing), and rabbits are white so it’s obvious when they’ve been inked. They shared the demo with others at Nintendo. However, the rabbit characters just didn’t quite work out. People wondered why the rabbits were shooting ink and just couldn’t quite identify with them and how they fit in the game world.
Eventually they came back to their idea of squids and tried humanoid squids, but squids aren’t the most lovable creature to base a character on. Then the idea of giving the creatures two forms was born. The dual form design gave the characters an ink form that can swim quickly while in ink (with the perk of being invisible to enemies), and a human form that can shoot ink and do other actions. It solved many of the large problems the developers were still stuck on too. The human form made the characters easier to relate to. Taking it a step further, they added various outfits so players can customize the appearance of their creature’s human form. This allowed players to develop a deeper connection with their character.
The creation of Splatoon was quite a rollercoaster ride for the developers. They encountered many tough dilemmas along the way, but through their teamwork the hurdles were passed and a unique new game was born. That is how a small idea became what is now Splatoon, the game about squid/humanoid creatures and a very inky turf war.
There is a lot more interesting information in the interview, so check it out at the link below.