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e3 2017

Splatoon 2 Team On Voice Chat Limitations, Replacing Miiverse, And Lessons Learned From Splatoon 1

by Brian Shea on Jun 18, 2017 at 10:22 AM

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With the recent launch of Arms, the next big Switch release is Splatoon 2, the follow-up to Nintendo's surprise Wii U hit. Though the core of the series remains intact, the team hopes to deliver several reasons for players to return to Inkopolis to take part in the messy festivities. I recently played Splatoon 2's new Salmon Run survival mode before sitting down with producer Hisashi Nogami and lead programmer Shintaro Sato to discuss the new entry in the series.

I had a chance to play Salmon Run and it was surprisingly difficult. Was there any concern about making it too difficult when you have such a broad player base with so many casual players?

Nogami: Here on the showfloor, we're showing off the local version of Salmon Run with having four players together in that physical space, but we also have the online version of Salmon Run in the game. That will not be available to you when you first start the game; you'll need to get some experience in multiplayer first before accessing it. You start off the game with a quick tutorial, then you make your way into multiplayer to continue your learning there. Once you've raised your level up to level 4, online Salmon Run will be available. Rather than a tutorial, we think of that first multiplayer experience as more of a warming up period.

After you've gone through this warming up period in multiplayer, in the online period of Salmon Run as well - you're being hired by Grizzco Industries in the online version as like a part-time job - so you have to go through your worker training once you enter the online version of Salmon Run. I think it is true what you said, but multiplayer and single-player sort of serve as training grounds for players where you can build your skills. Salmon Run does sort of require a base-level of competence and knowledge about that game. That's true.

Salmon Run is really for players wanting to set their sights a bit higher - players who have enjoyed some of the cooperative aspects of multiplayer, which does certainly involve a team effort, and want to take that cooperation to the next level in dedicated sort of cooperative mode. That said, for multiplayer, it doesn't take that long to raise your level up to level 4 in multiplayer, meaning the mode will be available relatively quickly. Also, unlike real-world job training where they really put you through your paces, the learning curve of the introductory period of online Salmon Run is not actually that steep. Once you've passed through that, players can, according to their skill levels and desires, can raise the difficulty on their own, bit by bit.

Another point about the job training period of online Salmon Run is that there are these boss Salmonids. There are seven of them in total, and in that job training period, you're shown tips and strategies for taking down all of them. The goal is not to just throw players into the fire of Salmon Run right away and come up with strategies for these newly appearing enemies on the fly, but instead to teach those strategies for taking down those boss Salmonids first, and then when they have that shared knowledge to put them into the mode.

Speaking of the over-the-top boss characters, so much of Splatoon's appeal was the design. What was your favorite boss character to design?

Nogami: Rather than us picking a certain type of character that we want to design, we started thinking 'How do we want to give players some trouble?' 'What might be some of the weak points that players might have?' and 'How can we design gameplay mechanisms to sort of aim at those weak points and we based our ideas around the boss Salmonids around that idea.

For example, we have a very snake-like boss Salmonid that will appear with a long and winding body that will aim for you and chase you down, but the weak point for that boss Salmonid is actually at the end. As it moves and travels, it will leave behind its own Salmonid ink. Because we have that gameplay element we wanted to design, we knew we wanted a creature like that so we sort of ended up with this iron monstrosity that makes its way around the map with this tiny little Salmonid character driving it from behind. I think that's an example where we had a well-formed idea for the gameplay mechanism that we wanted and found a design that fit well with that, so we have the snake.

If I was speaking personally just from a design that I like in a boss Salmonid, there's one that's an assemblage of cooking pots that stands as a tower with a stinger that I like a lot. In this case, the Salmonid pilot is at the top of the stack of pots and you take him out from the bottom up until you have this poor Salmonid at the bottom who you have to take out.

During the prototyping phase, this enemy was just a stack of cylinders without much definition to them. When I saw that the artist decided to turn them into cooking pots, I thought, 'Okay, this guy knows what he's doing!" For some reason, the boss Salmonids are linked together because a lot of them are made up of different cooking utensils and objects.

This is a bit related to the background of Salmonids, which you can learn more about by finding some of the sunken scrolls in single-player mode. This is a good point to bring up that when we design characters, the final look of the characters, we're not just going for something that looks cool, but it's something that has some sort of link or callback to the story. We don't want to reveal all the examples of that right here so we hope you'll look forward to discovering more when you play it.

The implementation of Miiverse in the first Splatoon was sort of bizarre and interesting. You see everything from people leaving funny messages on the walls of your plaza to even conspiracy theories. Is there any sort of implementation of a sharing of messages like this in Splatoon 2 with no Miiverse on Switch?

Nogami: That's a good question and it's nice to hear that you enjoyed in Splatoon 1 the ability to post messages and artwork. Our idea with that feature was that after playing multiplayer, your plaza is populated with some of the people you played with and in creating this Miiverse functionality, it was that you weren't just competing against these people but also that you were seeing what they are thinking and it's some way to meet players indirectly and maybe see what the player base is thinking and create a sort of community atmosphere. This would mean that each time you enter the plaza, you would have some sort of update and some sort of change to the environment.

As you pointed out, while we don't have Miiverse on the Nintendo Switch, we have made sure to allow players in the same way to post artwork on the ground and walls, or messages to other players. So I think players will be able to continue communicating in an indirect fashion and seeing what players from around the Splatoon 2 community are thinking.

Another way that the plaza got personality and updates was Splatfest. Will we see some new surprises with Splatfest this year? How do you keep that party-like atmosphere exciting?

Nogami: First of all, we are definitely planning to continue Splatfest in Splatoon 2. As I mentioned with the players posting messages and artwork in the plaza, Splatfest is a way that we feel that by creating that festival atmosphere, we're able to create a sense of unity or an indirect way of communicating that they are participating and sharing the same type of event. You can rest assured that while we'll give you more detailed information later on what that may look like, we will be decorating the Inkopolis Square in a party and festive way.

One of my criticisms of Splatoon 1 when it launched was the lack of content available at that time. How many maps will you be shipping with?

Sato: We haven't announced that yet. We haven't spoken about the number of stages concretely, but what we can say is that at launch, Splatoon 2 will have more stages available for multiplayer than Splatoon 1 did at launch. Also, with Splatoon 1, we did a process of continually updating the game after its release. We plan to continue that pattern with Splatoon 2 and by the time we finish the updates for Splatoon 2, the number of multiplayer stages will be greater than that of the multiplayer stages released for Splatoon 1.

Why did you decide to keep voice chat to friends and other close players as opposed to just general matchmaking?

Nogami: First off, I think it's appropriate to say that we think that voice chat is a type of communication that's not necessarily required for players to enjoy the game. At its core in the multiplayer gameplay, we think the most important thing is to be constantly paying attention to the conditions on the ground in the stage you're playing and to think about what your teammates are doing and what might the opponents be doing. That's sort of a core gameplay element.

But, it's true that in the development of its community, there have appeared a number of high-level players and players who want to take the game more seriously. For players like that who want to take their communication and coordination to the next level, we wanted to answer their expectations by including something like voice chat.

It's also natural that talking to your friends is fun. So even for the players who are seriously minded, we've realized that being able to share the experience via voice chat is fun and we wanted to make that possible for them. We wanted to include voice chat as an option for voice chat in Splatoon 2 without giving people the feeling that you need voice chat in order to play Splatoon 2.

In Splatoon 1, there was this bizarre captain creature hiding in the sewer and giving you your missions in single-player. So far in the single-player, we've only seen Callie and Marie featured. Will Cap'n Cuttlefish reappear in the single-player of Splatoon 2?

Nogami While it's not out of the question that sometime in the future he may make an appearance, we've received reports that he is seeing the sights and traveling around the world of Splatoon at the moment. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, he is still alive.

Another big part of Splatoon 1 was the customization of your Inkling. How has that element expanded with this entry?

Nogami: With the gear, we've put a lot of thought into ways we can refresh the gear, so to speak. In the same way of the stages that we mentioned previously, there will be a larger amount of gear in Splatoon 2 at launch than there was in Splatoon 1 at launch.

So while there are pieces of gear that are making a reappearance from Splatoon 1, we've done our best to reconfigure them and give them a new feel. The Splatoon world never sleeps as you may have noticed, so trends change quickly and we want to show that by the new and reconfigured gear in the game.

You may find some increase in the amount of ways the Inklings can find their own fashion style. So for example, they have some new hairstyles available and they can combine those with their clothes to be hipper than ever.

Sato: And it may just be that they've come up with some new technology to arrange their tentacles into new hairstyles.

In Splatoon 1, only Splatoon Amiibo figures had functionality in the game. In Splatoon 2, do Amiibos outside of the Splatoon series have any functionality at all?

Nogami: Just the Splatoon series of Amiibo will work with Splatoon 2.

Sato: One thing you may remember from Splatoon 1 was when you place the Amiibo, we wanted there to be some sort of interaction between the player character and the Amiibo. Because of that, we thought that in the Splatoon world, the best Amiibo to interact with the characters would be the Splatoon series Amiibo.

So you don't want to give a Mario hat to your Inkling?

Nogami: It is true, after all, that in the world of Splatoon 2, this is a world where the human civilization has fallen away and it's been 12,000 years of evolution since that time. It could be that if someone were to uncover or excavate a hat like [Mario's] that it may be possible. We can't cancel out that possibility entirely. It's also worth mentioning that you can use the Splatoon 1 Amiibo in Splatoon 2.

The multiplayer of the first game was very popular. How do you create new variations of those modes while still remaining faithful to all of the players who enjoyed the multiplayer of Splatoon 1?

Nogami: One of the things we've done with Splatoon 2 was take all of the special weapons and make them all completely different this time. The special weapons are something that in the heat of battle, they can really turn the tide. Players in the community have really learned the right ways and times to use them. In making the special weapons all new, we wanted to refresh that aspect of multiplayer to make even players who are familiar with the game, go through the enjoyment of how they are going to incorporate it into their strategy.

The stages are another really important element of the multiplayer modes, and as another way of refreshing the game, we've worked hard to build new stages for players to enjoy and come up with new strategies for. Even for stages that are returning from Splatoon 1, we've taken those back to the drawing board and reconfigured them with new pathways and obstacles. Players will have to rethink their strategies for locations they already know.

In this way, we're hoping that both players who are familiar with Splatoon 1 and players who are new to the series will begin from the same starting line when it comes to Splatoon 2.

That is to say that the main weapons that your character uses, the categories and types, all of your favorite weapons will be making a return. While we've made some small adjustments and balancing changes to these weapons, players will still be able to head into this new configured version of multiplayer with the weapons that they like.

In some of this reconfiguring effort, we hope that players will have to rethink about which weapon they'll want to take into each stage. That's really a core element of Splatoon: looking at the terrain in front of you and thinking about which weapon is best going to help you complete your goal. Players who are familiar with Splatoon will have to go back to the drawing board with some of those strategies.

Sato: To sum up, we want people to try out all different types of weapons.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from developing Splatoon 1 that you're bringing into Splatoon 2?

Nogami: It's a feature of Splatoon 1's development that after we released the game on a disc, that wasn't the end. We had this plan for continuing the series of updates and we would keep our eye on the community and what they were saying occasionally adjust our plans as necessary based on what we were seeing in the community. Some of those examples of that were adjustments to weapons-balancing or stage features, but also in the types of reactions that we saw in Splatfests and Splatfest themes we should create going forward.

Sato: In our work as developers up until now, we really had to work our best to try and imagine everything that players could want from a particular game and try to put all of that into the game and release it into the world and sit back and watch to see if we hit the mark or if we missed with those expectations.

Nogami: It was really a new experience for us to first take an action in creating a game, then see the player's reaction and be able to respond to it. That experience over the course of Splatoon 1 was really beneficial for us as developers in continuing to create the content and we want to take the learnings from that forward into Splatoon 2.

A lot of people grew very attached to the music of Splatoon 1. Will we see any of those songs return, or will it be mostly new music with some remixes of old songs?

Nogami: The music of Splatoon is another example of the trends that have continued to change in this two-year span of time we've seen, so we plan on filling Splatoon 2 with a lot of new types of music. And you will also find some new music that has been remixed in a traditional way and we hope you look forward to that as well.


Splatoon 2 launches on Switch July 21.