In this volume of Ask the Developer, an interview series in which Nintendo developers convey in their own words Nintendo's thoughts about creating products and the specific points they are particular about, we're talking to developers behind the Splatoon 3 game for the Nintendo Switch system, launching on Friday, September 9.
First, could you briefly introduce yourselves?
(referred to as Nogami from this point on)Hello. I’m Nogami, the producer of the Splatoon series. My main role is to stand behind the development team and provide support, but I'm also responsible for overseeing the development of the franchise as a whole.
(referred to as Inoue from this point on)Hi, I’m Inoue. I'm one of the game's directors and the art director. I was involved in planning, from how to develop the story to how to present the art of Splatoon 3, looking at the entire project holistically.
(referred to as Sato from this point on)Hi! I’m Sato, one of the directors on this title. I have been working on the development as a director with Inoue-san, but while Inoue-san is originally a designer, I am originally a programmer. I worked on online battles and gameplay cycles from a technical standpoint.
(referred to as Minegishi from this point on)Hello! I’m Minegishi, and I was in charge of the sound. Looking at the franchise as a whole, I decided on the direction for the sound, including the background music, and supported and supervised the sound team while composing the music myself.
Now, Nogami-san, could you please explain what kind of game Splatoon is?
Yes. Splatoon is a series in which Inklings – squid that can also take on a humanoid form - splat ink to claim turf in Turf War battles. It's an action shooter, but the fun of the action and competitive gameplay is uniquely Nintendo. I think we can say that the Splatoon series has grown in real-time along with its players as they've enjoyed the online battles and created excitement around the events themselves.
Thank you. What do you mean when you say the series has grown with its players?
For example, this title is set in the chaotic city of Splatsville, a densely populated area crowded with buildings from various eras. We decided on chaos as the theme for this title because Team Chaos won the "Chaos vs. Order" Splatfest, the final online battle event of Splatoon 2.
So, you decided on the theme of the next game based on the results of the Splatfest that players participated in? Does that mean even the developers didn't know until the end which team would win or what the theme of the next title would be?
Yes. I watched it all the way through without having a clue how it would turn out.
Well, I at least had some ideas in my head, imagining things like how the game would look if Team Order won. (Laughs)
But it was not until we saw the results that we began to think about it seriously.
So many players participate in the Splatoon series' Splatfests that even the developers can't predict the outcome. In the world of the Splatoon series, we create each game's design and sound, and the principles of characters' behaviors by reflecting how players have actually played the franchise. So, the trends and values in the Inkling world change significantly depending on the outcome of the final Splatfest. Therefore, the chaotic Splatsville is a city that rapidly developed with the arrival of the “Chaos” craze after the Splatfest.
Since what happens to the Inkling world is affected by the actions and reactions of players, we have no idea how the world will change.
This may be something a bit unusual for a Nintendo game. It is also the year 2022 in the Inkling world. In many other games, for example, the characters do not age even if time passes in the real world, or time moves forward in the game regardless of the time in the real world. But in Splatoon 1, 2, and 3, the same amount of time has passed in the squid world as in the real world. Therefore, the characters grow, and cities and cultures develop over time. For example, this character is called Murch, and he has grown so much taller in the five years between Splatoon 2 and Splatoon 3.
We wanted players to feel that the time in the game passes with their own real lives. In that sense, we could say that this is a game franchise in which players and developers walked side by side over the seven years since the first release. In terms of design, we were conscious that the game is set in modern times, and we depicted the world based on street culture. The characters are also dressed in street-style wear, including t-shirts and sneakers.
I see. So, when you created the Splatoon world, you accounted for the fact that the same amount of time passes between the game world and the real world. Speaking of t-shirts, I remember the developers wearing t-shirts in the Iwata Asks interview on the first title, which left quite an impression on me. Whose idea was that?
Well, that was... so to speak, the vibe of the moment. We didn’t discuss anything beforehand, but since we had made t-shirts that appear in the game, we thought, "why not wear these since we have them?" (Laughs)
Splatoon was not known to the public back then, so we thought we had to promote it actively. So, we wore the t-shirts to leverage the visuals and promote the game.
So, it was like an in-house venture.
Since those days, we have been striving to get as many people as possible to know and remember Splatoon, even through a small opportunity like this.
When you say, “since those days,” does that mean you are still striving now?
The struggle continues today... (Laughs)
Ah, you were all well preprepared. (Laughs) Seeing you all in the t-shirts makes me really feel that I’m talking to the Splatoon developers.
Now that you are dressed in your now-familiar t-shirts, I want to continue our conversation. You discussed how time passes and how cultures and values change, but could you be more specific and tell us how you have created and changed the world of Splatoon?
As I mentioned earlier, we depict the world based on street culture. This is an important aspect when designing the Inkling world. We chose street style partly because of its contemporary design, but the street culture is often derived from what we call counterculture. In other words, it implies some kind of rebellion against the mainstream.
Considering this, we depicted a world of simple, mischievous street culture in the first title. In the second title, we created a world in which urban sophistication is trendy, to counter the world in the first title. In the third game, however, we tried to express that "sophistication has gone stale but disorder is now fresh" to counter the world of the second title. In this way, we felt that we could depict the world of “Chaos,” which is the theme of this title, but also express the transition caused by the countercultural rebellion. This is how we reflected the results of the Splatfest to the trends in the Inkling world.
We also came up with the Japanese keyword “Bankara” at this time. In the Japanese version, we use the term "Haikara,"(1) to imply an advanced and sophisticated culture from other countries throughout the series. In contrast, "Bankara" (2) in the third title implies something rough and a bit wild. "Bankara," a term used in the Japanese version of this game, represents a counterculture to "Haikara." The "Bankara" culture became popular as Inklings tried to restore what was being lost. In the Japanese version, the word is used in the name of the city where this title’s story takes place. In versions outside of Japan, we named the city so that you can tell it is in the countryside as opposed to an urban area to express a sense of counterculture.
(1) A term used in Japan at the end of the 19th century to describe Western fashions and lifestyles as well as the people who enjoyed them. The term was coined in reference to the "high collar" of shirts, which symbolized Western-style clothing at the time. Later, the term also came to imply "progressive," "modern," and "fashionable."
(2) A concept that arose in the early 20th century as a reaction against the "high-collar" western culture flowing into Japan. Those who claimed to be "Bankara" deliberately dressed and acted wildly.
In the Japanese version, I recall that the setting was called "Haikara City" (Inkopolis Plaza in English versions) in the first title, and it was called "Haikara Square" (Inkopolis Square in English versions) in the second title. So, you created a setting named "Bankara Town" in the Japanese version (Splatsville in English versions) which counters the previous settings?
Yes. We created a tentative document that gives us a sense of distance between the three settings and discussed the positioning and background of the three titles.
As you can see, Inkopolis Plaza in the first title and Inkopolis Square in the second title are both located in the heart of the city, and they are only about as far apart as Shibuya Station and Harajuku Station on the train in Tokyo. In terms of distance, it is about 1.2 kilometers (approx. 0.75 miles). However, we were discussing how we wanted Splatsville to be set in a region far away from the locations in the previous two titles and with a completely different climate. We prepared a map like this so that we could develop the game with an understanding of the geographical distances.
Splatsville is barely accessible from Inkopolis Plaza and Inkopolis Square by taking a single local train line. The distance is similar to that from Tokyo to Atami or thereabouts in Japan. It is in a rural area that would take a few hours to drive on the highway. For people in the United States, it may be like driving to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. Although geographically quite distant, highways that opened up in the five years between the second and third titles allow convenient access to the area.
While Inkopolis, the setting of the previous titles, was a fashionable and youthful area, the Splatlands, where
Splatsville is located, is much more spacious, open, and full of nature. A place like this, far from the urban center, became popular after the final Splatfest and developed rapidly. For example, Scorch Gorge is a stage in a national park with strangely shaped stone pillars lined up.
You can see a spectacular view if you look around from the air with the new action, Squid Spawn. Also, Undertow Spillway is a huge spillway that used to be in operation but has been neglected and dilapidated over the years. The place has recently been renovated as a battle stage and is starting to catch on.
I see. So as time passes in our world, the world in Splatoon changes as well. I think I now understand what you meant by the world of Splatoon being set in the present day.
To add depth to the game, I believe it is important for players to feel as if the world of Splatoon exists in real life.
In that sense, music is also an important element. The music played during battles is not mere background music of the game but also hit songs played by popular bands in the Inkling world. These are the songs the Inklings listen to every day during Turf War battles to hype them up. During the early development of the first title, Inoue-san said, “Maybe we could start by considering what kind of band is playing this background music.” Although I was a bit taken aback at the time, in retrospect, I believe this was an important suggestion that has led us to create a unique sound for the series.
I thought if the music can account for not only bands existing in this world, but also things like their history, the relationship between their members and how their approaches to life changed over time, it would add depth to the Inkling world.
Bands in the game playing the music that players listen to is a feature you wouldn’t see in many other games.
Not only the bands' music, but also their names and the song titles appear in the game. In the third title, we have a band with in-game characters as its members. We also have album covers. For example, this is the album cover of the main band in this game, C-Side.
I see that details like these are contributing to make the Inkling World feel more realistic.
As Inoue-san explained earlier, the world in the second title counters the first and the world in the third title counters the second. We created the music considering this transition. What was at the forefront of music in the first game was a fast, playful and summery feel using just a few notes. For C-Side, which plays a central role in the third game's music, we made the deep bass and upbeat melody stand out in their music while reminding the audience of the sound from the first game.
One of the things we adjusted to express the realistic changes in the Inkling world was the characteristics of its trendy music. This changed according to the events and cultures of each title's time period: in the first title seven years ago, in the second set five years ago, and in this title...even if we do not depict everything in the game, we are always considering a variety of details like that.
Even with a single illustration, the team looks at not only its quality as an end product, but also whether or not it feels realistic as a key factor in evaluation.
Even if the band members don’t appear in the game as characters, players still enjoy the bands and their place in the world of Splatoon. Perhaps, something like this happens because we create such a detailed setting.
I see. Not only did you reflect the results of player experience in the game, but you also put the effort into creating details that are not visible on the surface, so that players enjoy the experience even more by expanding their imaginations of what's happening in the Inkling world. I now see what Nogami-san meant when he said that the developers walked side by side with players.