At E3 this year, we had the opportunity to speak with some of the creative minds behind Nintendo’s new third-person shooter, Splatoon. Producer Hisashi Nogami’s history with Nintendo involves working on Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo, as well as games like Animal Crossing. Co-director Tsubasa Sakaguchi made character designs for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and worked most recently on Nintendo Land, before taking on his first directorial role on Splatoon.

We asked them about the development process of the game, what it’s like to build a new IP for Nintendo, and why the game’s mechanics couldn’t have worked with an established Nintendo franchise.

Note: translations for responses from Nogami and Sakaguchi came from a single translator making it difficult to attribute exactly who said what.

What goes into the process of making a totally new game within Nintendo?

The very start of this project was our boss, Kazumi Yamaguchi, got about 10 of us together with the idea of creating a new game. So, those 10 people got together and we were all individually coming up with different ideas, making different kinds of experiments, just trying to come up with as much new stuff as we could.

Among those people on the team, there was Shintaro Sato, a programmer for Splatoon, who created a program where it was just a four-on-four teams – white blocks and black blocks – and they would just shoot ink out to try and cover as much as possible. It was a territory control game.

We played that and we thought it was really fun so we brought it to Mr. Yamaguchi for presentation, and also Mr. Miyamoto. We had a few back and forths, a few more presentations, and we finally decided yeah, this should be a full game.

That’s just the case with Splatoon, though. Throughout EAD there are always lot of prototypes and experiments being made. It would be hard to say this is the defined process for creating a game, but that’s definitely how it worked with Splatoon. Along the way, there is always a step where Mr. Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, or Mr. Yamaguchi takes a look at it and gives it an ok, and that means, “Yeah, we’re going to go and make a full game.” And Mr. Miyamoto, he knows this game very well.

I’ve heard that experimental ideas within Nintendo typically get placed into established IP. Were the Splatoon mechanics ever considered for use with an established Nintendo IP?

With us, first we’re making the game, and then we think what kind of characters we would use with it, and obviously, one of those choices is established IP.

Of course, the most important thing is what matches. What matches with the gameplay and the abilities you are giving to the player, the play style, and ultimately what graphically will match the game you want to make. In the case of this game, we found that it really had to be new characters to would fit this game we were making. It would be kind of weird if Mario got splattered with ink and then exploded.

What about Super Mario Sunshine? Mario dealt with ink and fired liquid from a hose in that game.

Yeah, but it’s not like he blew up or anything [laughs].

First we started with the ability to shoot ink but then we added the ability to swim really fast through it, and as we kept adding more abilities to what the player was able to do, there was this kind of moment where we all realized, “Oh yeah, this would work really well with squids.”

Making them squids, it made a lot of the actions easy to explain and also made it really fun, and it was also this idea where all the actions we wanted to include in the game could be built around the idea of squids to get them all in there.

You can see all our existing IP on this Smash Bros. poster right here [there was a Smash Bros. poster in the interview room]. When we had a really good long think about, would one of those fit it? Or should this new squid idea be the way to go? we realized squids were definitely the only thing we could go with. If the Wii Fit Trainer would have been the perfect character for this game, we would have gone with the Wii Fit Trainer [laughs].

For more on Splatoon's development cycle, head to page two.